Jerome, my newly-found Mayan Shaman friend, was born in Belize, and had travelled before settling, for the present, in Yucatan, Mexico.
I had been surprised at how vividly alive the Mayan culture was in this part of Central America. It was not just a done-for-tourists thing, it was deeply real; an identity with a gentle, spiritual and creative race, even down to the carefully-preserved ancient Mayan language that an increasing number of the region’s people speak.
Initially, I had presumed that what was Mayan had been contained in what is now Mexico; but its peaceful ’empire’ had stretched far along the narrow strip of land that links the Americas.
“Everyone was poor in Belize,” he said. There was no regret in his words, it was simply how things were.
“How things are…” His eyes flashed the deeper meaning up at me as we sat, otherwise alone, in the quiet of his afternoon break at the resort, within what we have come to know as the ‘peace-hut’, due to its dearth of alcohol and noisy wedding parties.
I had noticed at our first meeting that, on his right hand, he wore a silver ring with a black design on its face; but every time I tried to study it, his hand turned side-on, as though the sigil was an ingredient not yet ready for the moment’s pot.
I’m not a fanciful person. Sue and Stuart will tell you, possibly ruefully, that I resist the spiritually ‘fluffy’ at every turn. But I swear that ring was laughing at me…
“I’ll tell you a little about me, so you can see my journey, and how our two journeys have come together,” he said, openly enthusiastic.
I was not ready for the horror of what came, like a silent knife, into the next moment.
“When I was a child, four men came and strung my mother up in the village square. They were wearing black masks and they had a whip. They whipped her from the four corners of a square they had drawn around her in the dirt, and offered me the whip to also whip my mother, but I would not do it.”
He looked into my uncomprehending eyes. “She was loving but weak. She drank and took other things and lay with many men, selling herself. The masked men were trying to drive the devil from her flesh. They thought that having her son do it would break the curse of her addictions.”
I was overwhelmed at the sadness of the image. My eyes felt wet, inside. But not outwardly, as though unnecessary emotion had been warded away.
“I was three…” he said.
In the way that Shamans do, he shifted…
His face was shining at me, again. “You will enjoy Chichen Itza,” he said. “I made my own journey there when I came to live in Mexico, though I had no money…” he looked at me and smiled. “There are always ways if you want it enough…”
He got up, leaving the storm of the moment swirling around the space where my head had been, as though the seven ancient planets were pulling my mind into a psychic pancake.
When he came back, he had a sheet of cleaning paper – the kind he got from the barista to wipe the Spanish lessons off the white-board. He unfolded it and took out his plastic hotel pen.
I always travel with a notebook. You can draw in a notebook, and, for me, ideas can tumble best from the mind and into sketches. When I have a big project on, like next April’s Jewel in the Claw, I use a Moleskine, with a vertical flip over cover. They are horribly expensive but tough and long-lasting. Tough is important: the body of notes and images in it will become the nucleus of the whole workshop for next April.
I never envisaged that something equally precious would occupy its newly-opened pages.
Still clutching his sheet of cleaning roll, Jerome watched, amused, as I flicked open the Moleskine to the spread which, on one face, contained the notes and drawings that I had prepared after our first meeting, that morning.
I had meant to indicate the blank page opposite for him to write on more easily, but, smiling, he put down his pen and began to study my scribblings.
He read them carefully, then looked up at me, laughing. “You are getting to know my soul,” he said, nodding his approval. The silver ring turned towards me. In the quarter second before he spoke, I recognised it’s Masonic significance…
I’m not a Freemason. I was raised in a Rosicrucian family, and that tradition has a degree of overlap. I do, though, understand Masonic symbolism to some depth.
Jerome continued: “My mother took her own life, and my father wasn’t much interested in bringing up a child, alone,” he said. “My grandfather – my mother’s father – and my grandmother brought me up, after that. They were very kind.”
“He was the Mayan Shaman?” I asked.
“Yes, and he had predicted that one of his grandchildren would follow him, but he didn’t think it was me!”
I wondered how much of the trauma of his own daughter’s shame and death had coloured that view. I said nothing.
“But I had the light inside me,” he continued. “and I knew it – it was my friend and teacher – but in a very unstructured way; but it was the heart of it all…”
He flattened the fingers of his hand. The Masonic symbol was prominent. “One day the light disappeared and I was so much in despair that I wanted to die. I slept with a herbal poison by my bed, and when I woke up in the middle of the night, and the light inside me was still gone, I drank it…”
I studied his eyes carefully. This was so fantastical I wondered if I was being played… It’s a reasonable doubt in such circumstances and it took me right to the sharp edge of doubt and trust; a very uneasy place to be. For twenty-three years I ran a software company and I know that intelligent discretion is hard-won.
He waited, watching my inner turmoil, and, I think, knowing…
“When I fell into my death-slumber, I dreamt of two lengths of wood that crossed over at their bases,” he continued, softly. “Then, in the dream, they were nailed on a door and I wanted, desperately, to go through that door…”
He stopped, the memory searingly intense for him.
“That longing pulled me away from death and I survived. The morning after, I was very sick, but a stranger was drinking coffee in the village square. He was wearing a ring just like this – the two lengths of wood in the dream were part of the design on his ring.”
He tapped the sides of the Masonic ‘square’ the tool that forms the stone of the human into the refined cube of the adept. Had I known how prophetic that was to be, I think I would have shivered…
He sipped from his glass of water – he had refused my offer of coffee.
“I sat down with him,” he said. “although I knew I was only a child, and begged him to take me through that doorway…”
I could feel his intensity and his love for those to whom he had reached.
“They took me in, bending all their rules. They brought me up to be a 33rd Degree Mason, though my own inner truth remains at the heart of what I do.” He spread his hands in what looked like the rays of the sun. “They taught me the inner language of the Mysteries, with which I can have conversations like this…
He drank the last of his water.
“Mayan Shaman and ‘stonemason’: the perfect guide to prepare you for your journey to Chichen Itza, no?”
Not waiting for my answer, he took up his, pen (only it wasn’t till later that I remembered it was my pen), and for twenty minutes or so, told me what to expect and what to do when we got to Chichen Itza.
At the end, the single page of my Moleskine was dense with his characteristic overscribble, and what was left of my head was dizzy.
He stood up to leave. “You are already a priest of the mysteries, no?”
I nodded mutely. I had, in the short time with him, shared my own Rosicrucian and magical past, making him smile with much of the shared detail. He had also enjoyed my tour of the Silent Eye’s magical version of the enneagram.
He pointed to the page of his notes in the Moleskine pad. “Then this will be familiar…”
“Yes.” My voice had become a whisper in the intense heat. I realised I was very thirsty.
He laughed. “You will not arrive a stranger at Chichen Itza, but your journey will be challenged just as much as mine was – but for different reasons…”
I watched him skip off to take his next class, beneath the harsh afternoon sun.
He had not asked for money, nor for help.
His departing figure reminded me of a warrior and I was to learn, the day after, how apt that image was.
“We will meet again, my Brother,” he called back from between two tall pine trees that lined the walkway to the nearest pool.
Later, I would reflect on that, too…
To be continued…
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