Its chilly outside. Tomorrow is the winter solstice. And I am sitting in the cool sunshine holding my warm, heavy, almost alive coffee mug. Its energy is tangible. Its smooth contours were made by the careful hands of Don Sergio, a master potter who lives in Uayma, a remote village on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula.
The prefix of Don delineates the holder of a gift. Sergio is a Don because his gift for making pottery in the old Maya ways is recognized not just by his peers, but by INAH, the Mexican National Institute of Anthropology. You see, Don Sergio and his family still make pottery the same way it was made a thousand years ago, before the fall of the Spanish on these jungle shores.
So, what does that mean? And why does this mug feel alive?
It almost breathes. Its energy is peaceful and grounded. The mug is made from raw elements that Don Sergio and his family dug from the earth itself. Two types of clay and even the crystals that are sometimes added to the mix are found in the land the family owns.
For generations the family has been molding the clay mixed with water into plates, and cups, and masks of shapeshifting beings, and rosary beads, and serpent-wrapped incense burners, and even aluxes, the small dolls that are brought to life in ceremony that they might serve as guardians for people in the region.
So much magic is created from the earth.
I was there (I have been there many times) watching as they formed the pieces. I have seen them drying in the sun, the leaves of the anona tree scattered throughout the drying pieces to absorb any negative energy that might cause them to break. I have watched as family members worked diligently to buff the dried pieces with stones and bits of rough hemp-like fibers. I have seen the process of washing the dried white artisanal pottery with terracotta earth to stain it a blood orange. And I have been there deep into the evening when the fire blazes to more than 1500f degrees (900c) and the old man in the white hat tends the fire inside the earthen kiln.
I have smelled the smoke from the wood and listened to the quiet voices sharing stories of the alux that Don Sergio made last summer to guard their property and of how the ceremony lasted a full 48 hours and was done by a local shaman. I have seen the photos of the smoke from the incense and listened to the recording of the prayers that brought it to life. These are more than campfire stories. They are stories of deep magic that is alive, deep magic that resides within the pottery, somehow instilled there by people who understand how it moves, who channel it without thought, but simply by being.
I have not only seen the images of created shapeshifting beings and touched the kiln fired masks, but I have heard the stories of how shapeshifters still move in the pueblo just down the winding narrow road out the backside of town. Don Sergio’s wife shared them with me. She told of how she has seen them herself, of how her brother has seen them too.
And so magic is part of life. And it seeps into this pottery still made without the use of electricity, without even a potter’s wheel, but completely by hand. For when something is formed, the intent of the former slips into it. The earth, in her power, bends to the will of the potter. And together they make a coffee mug that I now hold in my hands. And as I sit and sip my coffee, as I feel the smooth form of the clay twice baked in the kiln to give it its blackened color, I feel both the earth and the former. I feel the magic. For the mug is breathing. Both she and I know that she is indeed alive.
Enjoying my coffee,