You know I’ve been downsizing and moved from my two-story 1500 sq. ft. office into a much smaller space in my home. This change has meant sharing my memorabilia with people I know will appreciate them and tell their stories.
One of these objects was a hat given to me by a Huichol shaman deep in the canyons of the Sierra Madre mountains of central Mexico. It’s been hanging in my office as a sacred reminder of the most impactful healing experience I’ve ever participated in. Here is the short story (and if you want all the details see the attached file).
I was invited by a Mexican civil engineer, Fernando Ortiz-Monasterio who’d been working with the Huichol for more than twenty years. He knew of my experience working with the Native tribes in North America and asked me if I could help treat an epidemic among the children who became possessed by an evil spirit that turned them into wild, aggressive animals.
These manifestations had been going on for a decade, and the tribe sought help from traditional healers called Marakame, who are also the ceremonial chiefs, and carriers of the sacred stories. They worked their magic, but it did not stop the illness. Psychiatrists were brought in from Mexico City who believed the illness was a psychotic manifestation and prescribed drugs, which also had no impact.
It took us a year to make this healing journey happen, during which the community formally invited us in and we brought together a team of six experienced professionals, who formulated a basic plan (open to all spontaneous revelations) to mobilize a force that was more powerful than the one causing the illness.
After talking to kids, parents, teachers and tribal officials we found a tribe deeply divided between its traditionalists and its more progressive elements. The traditionalists lived deep in the isolated canyons of the Sierra Huichol in villages a day’s walk (sometimes longer) from the boarding schools located on the top of the mesas. The traditionalists were increasingly concerned that their children were often choosing not to come home for ceremonies. Seduced by electricity, television, flush toilets, and hot showers, a powerful seduction. The traditionalists were seeing their children moving away from a traditional path that has sustained them since the beginning of time.
The progressives, also lived on the mesa tops, believed that the future of the tribe would be determined by education and adaptation. It is a matter of fact that compulsory education and boarding schools have been the greatest force for the acculturation of Indigenous people all over the world. The ”illness” was actually a conversion reaction with the children becoming the symptomatic manifestation of this on-going unresolved conflict.
One result of our interventions was that we were led to a well-recognized and powerful Marakame, Eutimio de La Cruz (his portrait, painted by Diego Rivera hangs in the Museum of Art in Mexico City). Eutimio, lived in a village a 3 hour walk from the school, and had been accused, even jailed as being responsible for the illness.
We made plans to meet with him. It was our hope he would make a contribution to the offering we were gathering. We made a powerful connection which turned out to be a critical element in the success of our work.
After 13 years, it was time the Marakame’s hat went home. Fernando will tell its story, and then pass it on to someone else who will. Stories/legends/myths/ told around fireplaces, in ceremony, are how a culture transmits its values. Those tales help us make sense of our lives.
Those who tell the stories define the culture! We live in troubling times, and the stories we are telling (now told in a sentence fragment) are not sustaining us. We are a Nation divided, frightened and demoralized. We need to be telling better stories, it’s the most important thing we leave behind.
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And if you are interested in exploring more of our stories together. Join me at the next Schlagchat on Mon. Jan. 29 @ 6 PM Phoenix time https://zoom.us/j/342925933