Updated: Jul 12
I met a healer, not a shaman by virtue of not having been “called”. I met him when I was exploring in the ruins of Muyil and was bitten by a tabano (like a biting deer fly). I am terribly allergic and was worried as the site began to swell more quickly than you can imagine. Being a big believer in natural cures, I looked around for someone working on the grounds who might know of a natural cure. That was when I saw him, a humble man pushing a wheelbarrow full of branches. His name was Felipe. He was kind and helpful and immediately went and got shears and cut a big piece of aloe for me. He scarped out the gel and showed me how to apply it to the bite. I asked him if he was a shaman and he told me that to be a shaman, one must be called. He was simply a healer and only shared his gift with friends and family with the understanding that if he ever went beyond that, he would be outside of blessing and things could go badly. I remember his name and his kindness.
If you missed part 1,2 and 3, Here are the links!
Then just a few weeks ago I was back in the ruins, this time with Max and a couple of friends. We were hoping to find more information about Don Damanzo and his church. I was very curious and doubly so since it seemed to be so secretive! We walked under the zapote trees and along the stone paths among the ruins and I kept an eye out for anyone who might be able to answer my questions.
Soon enough, Felipe appeared. He was raking up palm leaves. He recognized me and was happy to chat for a few moments. I explained that I had once received a blessing from a priest in the nearby village of Chumpon and I asked if Felipe was familiar with the man. YES! Of course, he was. He knew him well and said he was the priest for the Maya Church. When I asked specifically if that was also known as the Church of the Speaking Cross, he confirmed with a cheerful smile that, yes, it was!
Oh, wow! The man who had originally blessed my journey into the Maya cosmovision had been a priest of the cult of the Speaking Cross! I wonder…what is in that little blue building? The blue building that we were not allowed to look at, the one where the girls had to RUN and get candles to burn and PRAY so nothing bad would happen. Could it be one of the original three crosses? One of the original three crosses that SPOKE!?
Felipe said he attended the church and so did most of the people in Muyil, Chumpon, and the surrounding around area. I did not feel any guile nor any scary energy nor anything dangerous from this gentle man. Only kindness. I thanked him for the information and thanked him again for helping cure my dangerous insect bite the year before.
We drove south to a beach town called Mahaual. It is almost on the border of Mexico and Belize. We drove right through Felipe Carillo Puerto, the town where the legend of the Speaking Crosses began (so I presumed). I have driven through this town on my way to Bacalar many times and never seen anything regarding the speaking crosses. This time, however, we took a different route and guess what I saw by the side of the road near the edge of town? The shrine, small and unassuming, at the original location where the cross on the tree by the cenote spoke to the Maya man!
I was thrilled. We stopped the car and I got out and approached the shrine. It was small, unassuming. Nothing about it shouted, “Here I am!” I few candles were left, unlit. Someone had been attending to the crosses, feeding them energy. In all honesty, I don’t think these are the original crosses, just the original spot. The crosses looked too fresh and new and I think the original crosses are in carefully guarded places, not a roadside shrine. I took a couple of photos and just stood there, feeling. In all honesty, it did not have the impact on me that I thought it would. The impact of the stone cross in the church at the center of the world was MUCH greater. But still, I was happy to see something I had been looking for.
I felt like I had some answers. Don Domanzo was indeed a priest of the Church of the Speaking Cross. I had finally found the original spot where the legend/religion began. But I still didn’t know what was in the little blue church (although I can imagine it is one of the original crosses).
And still, there was so much mystery surrounding other questions related to the entire journey. Why was the main cross in the church of the center of the world stone and not wood? Why were so many of the crosses painted green? Why were the crosses all dressed in what looked like traditional Maya flowered dresses?
The more I focused on the mystery of the talking crosses, the more crosses I ran into! They began to pop up everywhere. I saw three at the entrance to the eco park Kin Ha on the Route de Los Cenotes. I saw them at the home of a Maya man named Esteben who guards a beautiful water-filled cave. I saw 5 crosses at a tiny shrine/church near a haunted cenote called Cenote Fantasma. All five were painted green and wearing the little flowered dresses. My attention seemed to be calling them. Or perhaps they were calling me?
I am looking for answers. And yet, I know this quest is not one where I will suddenly find all the answers. And anyway, part of the fun is the seeking. And so, I decided to write this saga and bring you up to date so that when I discover the next clues, you can be right there along with me.
Never in my wildest imagination did I suspect that the next discovery would come WHILE I was writing the saga of the Secret of the Speaking Cross!
I do feel as if I am being directed. It is as if someone (or something) is leaving me a trail of breadcrumbs to follow. I have no idea why. I am so drawn to Maya mystery and I cannot stop thinking about it. My days are filled with adventure, research, and conjecture. I am always working to puzzle out the magic of the modern Maya people.
And today is no different.
Yesterday when I was writing this saga, I was looking for photos I had taken at the ruined “Catholic” church. I vividly remember standing before the altar there. I take tons of photos and I save everything. I put the best ones in folders on my computer and put everything else on an external hard drive. I could not find any photos of the altar in folders (which are all clearly marked) and so I retrieved the hard drive. I remember dolls in display boxes. Mary and Jesus and a few saints, all with three crosses on their heads. I remember three small green crosses standing on the altar, dresses in flowered Maya dresses and wearing mirrors around their necks. I remember offerings of green strings with beads and amulets and all manner of candles and colorful flowers. But I could not find the photos anywhere. I looked for over an hour and found nothing.
Finally, I gave up.
Since I wanted pictures to go with the saga so that YOU could see for yourself what I was remembering, I decided to look online and see if I could find any photos there. I typed in “Speaking Cross Church” and was stunned when one of the first things I found was an academic article on the FAMSI site. I go there often because it is a wealth of information. I have spent countless hours perusing photos of ancient Maya art on the site which stands for Foundation for the Advancement of MesoAmerican Studies Inc. Jeff Kerr’s Mayavase collection of panoramic pottery photos is there and Linda Schele’s extensive drawing collection of Maya glyphs and art found on stones in the ruins all across the Mayalands. But never had I seen academic research papers published there! And just imagine, if I had found my own photos, I never would have come across the paper!
Excited, I opened the document. It is called Survey of Talking Cross Shrines in Yucatán and Quintana Roo. The author begins by explaining that he spent an entire summer here, so very close to where I live, talking to the local people about the crosses. I was stunned by what I learned through his exploration!
The Maya gods had heard my query and seen my dedication to write even though I still did not have so many of the answers I was looking for. They saw my dedication and fervency, and they handed me a gift!
You will probably think I am nuts, but I was so excited I could hardly focus enough to read! And now I have so MUCH to tell you that I hardly know where to begin!
Let’s begin with the age of the speaking cross. Indeed, it is not as young as the Caste Wars of the turn of the 20th century. Friar Diego de Landa wrote about speaking crosses in his Relation of the Things of the Yucatan way back in the early 1600s! He was a Spanish priest who came to the “New World” to convert the heathens to Catholicism. He wrote extensively about their ways of life and beliefs (after he burned almost all of their books!)
And are the crosses a Catholic symbol? We already know the Maya have a cross that represents the 4 directions, but I discovered something more! And THIS is spectacular! The Word the Maya people use for the crosses is “santo” which means both holy and saint. So, you might think they are referring to a Catholic saint. But the word they use for a cross or anything else depicting a saint is imagen which means image. This is because they differentiate between the actual person and an image. The word santo or saint is only used when speaking directly to the actual saint (not a representation of them). The use of the word santo regarding the speaking cross suggests that the cross is not just a cross, it is a saint, or rather an actual ENTITY! It is a being that is powerful and alive!
And the dresses that they all wear? Well they are not miniature versions of the traditional flowered dresses the women wear, which are called huilpes. They are shrouds or grave clothes called sudarios! This would suggest that the crosses are dead! However, when you speak to a Maya person, some will tell you that, “"le kruzo ku nojoch ta te tu sudario yetel te luma," -- "the cross grows from the sudario and the earth;"
You see, everything about the Maya belief is about death and rebirth. They are so very tied to the cycle of the earth. A corn seed dies and falls into the ground and sprouts up again as a living plant. And so, the crosses do the same!
And that is because the cross is a tree. It is the World Tree or the axis mundo. The sacred tree here on the Yucatan is the ceiba. Its roots are in Xibalaba, the Underworld. Its trunk is in this world, and its branches are in the Overworld, the 13 levels of heaven where the gods reside. This tree is a road that can be traveled from the Underworld to this world to Heaven to talk with the gods.
This is why the crosses are made of wood and why they are painted green! Green (or blue-green) is the color of the center where the world tree grows. When you see a cross painted green, you know it is not just a cross, it is the tree that connects everything, and that means it is alive and it is one of the "speaking" crosses!
Now a speaking cross does not necessarily actually talk. It communicates. Here is a story from the FAMSI site. (credits below)
A woman in Quintana Roo has a private "chan iglesia," a small "church," which is sometimes referred to as an oratorio. In this small thatch hut she keeps three 16 clothed green crosses (Figure 11). The woman states that these "crosses" called out to her husband while he was working on his "kool" (cornfield), and thereafter the man took the crosses home and built them the oratory. The woman and her sons claim that the objects continued to communicate with her husband through dreams. Since his passing away the crosses now communicate with his widow.
The cross-tree is also used in Maya rituals, especially the Cha’ Chaac ceremony where the shaman seeks an audience with the rain god Chaac and asks for rain. In fact, the cross is placed in the center of the ceremonial altar and is “activated” by the shaman. It then becomes an oracle, a portal, a connection to the gods, a way to speak directly with Chaac!
So, the speaking cross is actually an oracle. It is a portal. And through it one can talk with the gods. And here on the Yucatan where the crosses can be found in MANY households, the principal gods are Itzamna, the creator, and Chaac the god of rain.
And the stone cross? The one that is so powerful I could not stand before it?
It is, according to the local Maya who live in Xocen, the manifestation of both Itzamna and Chaac on earth! No wonder I felt such strong energy emanating from it!
Now get this: The green crosses in the “catholic” church in the ruins not far from the Most Holy Church of the Stone Cross, are the “secretaries” of the stone cross! And the mirrors they wear are so that the Most super holy stone cross can see. The secretary crosses lend the stone cross their vision!
(Note: Photo taken by Sandra Salvado of the altar of the Church inside the church in ruins)
I still have not seen what is in the little blue church in Chumpon, but now I know that the crosses, the speaking crosses, are indeed much older than the religion that grew up during the Caste Wars. Rather, that religion is simply one example of the MANY living entities that are scattered across the Yucatan and every one of those entities is a direct link to the gods!
I have a wooden cross around my neck. It was made for me by my good friend and shaman, Francisco. It took him 2 weeks to make it and with much ceremony. I wonder now, is it too a mouthpiece for the gods?
I will have to ask him. Maybe the gods want to talk to me!
Still curious, still learning, and still following the lovey trail the Maya gods have laid out so carefully for me,
Thank you to http://www.famsi.org/ for so much great information!