The life of a Mayan shaman from afar can seem mysterious. In this insightful interview, Jose Santos Tamay reveals how down-to-earth, practical, and intuitive many Mayan spiritual practices are.
Jose is from the village of Xcalacoop, near the ruins of Chichen Itza. For many years, he was the Mayan Eco-Cultural Spokesman and Guest Services Director of Hacienda Chichen, where he worked since he was a teenager. Jose loves to share his Mayan heritage and traditions as much as to serve his fellow man.
Jose was a founding member of the Maya Foundation In Laakeech, a non-profit sustainable civil society dedicated to the welfare of the Maya rural communities near Chichen Itza. The Foundation's social volunteer work supports Maya rural children's nutrition needs and education as well as many rural Maya communities schools, health care centers, and social services. Volunteers are welcomed by the Foundation to teach English and other languages. Jose loves to share his Mayan heritage and traditions as much as to serve his fellow man.
In Laakeech translated from Mayan means “I recognize in you my other I,” a philosophy that actually serves as the guiding principle of People Are Culture. I know you'll enjoy Jose's perspective on the role of a Mayan shaman and the history of the Mayan people.
Mayan Shaman and History: An Introduction
Meg: Can you give an overview of the history of Mayan Shaman?
Jose: The ancient Maya civilization is the highest cultural legacy of Mesoamerica. The Maya are believed to originate in the Yucatán around 2600 B.C. They developed the mathematical position of zero, along with a highly advanced understanding of many sciences including a unique mathematical system; impressive knowledge about the Cosmos; astronomy; an exact multi-calendar system; majestic architectural achievements; medicinal care including herbal healing; sacred holistic ceremonies; and a complex hieroglyphic writing combining phonetic suffixes, prefixes and detailed artistic symbols.
Ancient Maya had a spectacular and advanced architecture; many of the Mayan ancient cities and pyramids were based on Maya Cosmo-vision and in many instances served as temples to honor the Gods and the royal families. All ancient Mayan pyramids were made of hand-cut limestone blocks carefully aligned to form intricate architectural designs with impressive stone reliefs depicting many aspects of the Cosmos, life, death, warfare, mythology, and royal linage. The complexity of ancient Mayan architecture design and its majestic beauty speaks of the cultural and scientific achievements this civilization reached.
A Mayan Shaman Shares Healing Practices
Meg: You are a Mayan healer—what does that mean to you, and what does it involve?
Jose: In an effort to preserve and share our Mayan ancestors’ traditions and wisdom, we J-Men continue teaching and practicing sacred Mayan knowledge, healing and spiritual traditions that are passed verbally and through practice from generation to generation. As a J’Men I have the privilege to serve God and my community’s health and spiritual needs and to continue to preserve my Mayan shaman and spiritual heritage and share the Mayan Cosmo-vision knowledge with future generations.
Meg: Could you give an overview of the Mayan spiritual beliefs?
Jose: To the Maya people who continue to revere our Mayan spiritual beliefs and Maya Cosmo-vision traditions, our planet Earth is an amazing expression of unfolding life in a continual creation of non-visible and visible energy forces. We, the Maya J’Men or wiseman, recognize the universe as a Cosmo-hologram of living consciousness, a primal spirit permeated with a vast creative intelligence. That spirit transforms energy in many manifestations of matter and non-matter.
Spirit flows in a continual dance of non-manifested and manifested expressions of living energy. Those who hold to the Maya spiritual beliefs understand such reality as the matrix of all that exists. All visible forms are conscious energy-field units of creative bio-physic intelligence manifested in numerous fields of life, in holistic communion with the living Cosmos. Thus, we live our earthly life with reverence to the planet, the material manifested world and the spiritual energy-fields that interact with it.
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The Gift of Healing in Mayan Shaman
Meg: When did you realize you had the gift of healing and begin the journey to becoming a Mayan shaman?
Jose: Since I was young I became aware I had the gift of healing and smoothing a person’s pain with my hands and touch in meditation and prayer. I was blessed with the Mayan healing traditions as part of my upbringing and was always interested in learning about medicinal plants, natural remedies and healing ways. Mayan elders observe their young and can recognize who has the gift of healing; I was blessed to have it and continue to learn many healing holistic processes from the elder healers and my mentor. The gift of healing is a true responsibility to a Mayan person and one must understand such power and learn to work with Mother Nature, the spiritual elements, and the powers with it.
I wish I could explain to you the experience or describe it, but I don’t have the words for it. I can say it is a gift from God and I honor it with all my heart, soul, and conscious commitment to be of service to my fellow man.
Meg: What does the title J’Men mean?
Jose: To the Maya people, a J’Men is a holistic healer and shaman. J’Men is the title given by the senior healers and priests to a respected medicine wiseman known for his understanding of holistic Mayan healings and sacred healing rituals. Maya healing requires more than knowledge of medicinal plants and natural remedies. J’Men works with Mayan healing rituals and sacred ceremonies, as well as with spiritual vision and insight to understand a person’s Chu’el, which means integral energies—soul, mind, body, emotions, aura, and non-physical bodies. A person’s Chu’el holistic harmony may be imbalanced due to internal or external factors that affect a person’s wholeness and can manifest in spiritual, mental, emotional, or/and physical ailments.
Studying Mayan Healing Techniques
Meg: Was there a particular teacher you studied Mayan healing techniques with?
Jose: I have studied with many Mayan J’Men and medicine females who have taught me about Mayan medicinal plants, preparation of healing remedies, healing techniques and holistic healing energy care, as well as the importance of holistic healing rituals and ceremonies… all part of the Mayan healing traditions still practiced today in Yucatan and other Mayan lands in Central America.
Senior Mayan priest and elder J’Men, Don Bartolomee Poot Nahuat has taken me under his guidance and teachings for many years. He recognizes the spiritual healing gift in me and is committed to help me continue growing in my medicinal and shamanic education and service to my people.
Meg: Can you describe who the types of people are that seek your help, and the kind of things they are looking for help with?
Jose: All sorts of people, from rural families to foreign people seek help of the J’Men. Most of them understand that holistic healing cares for the root of their health problems in an integral way. Medicine practiced by doctors from universities only treats the manifested effect of illness without considering the whole energies that cause it to manifest, such as the emotional energy of the individual, his lifestyle, personal spiritual beliefs, inner mental attitude, stress, resentments, etc. Such energies influence the immune system of a person and determine the manifestation of illness, infections and other health issues that are not by accident—say a plane crash. These need to be view with a holistic approach, not just focus on the actual manifestation, but on what causes it.
People who understand their need for a healthy life—mentally, emotionally, and spiritually, as well as physically—are more likely to look for the help of holistic healing traditions and care than people hooked only in material world ideas and beliefs. Natural medicine methods are holistic in nature and approach the healing process and the healthy energy of each individual. That is what we do.
Today’s society and general global life practices bring additional stresses and anxieties that block the emotional energy flow of an individual, create negative fields of energy. When not filtered with prayer and meditation, this can cause damage to the person, creating physical manifestation, such as illnesses and weakened immune and nervous systems.
The Mayan Connection Between Nature and People
Meg: Can you explain nature’s role in the Maya way of life?
Jose: Our understanding and observation of nature, earth's cycles, the cosmos, and life and death, play an important role in the Maya spiritual and religious beliefs and way of life. The shamanic Mayan traditions teach us J’Men that humans are a holistic expression of the Universe's cosmic creative intelligence. We are expressions of the spiritual unfolding of living consciousness manifested in a soul/body hologram, emerging within planet Earth’s evolutionary trajectory.
Maya Cosmo-vision traditions help us appreciate that we share a common holistic foundation of existence with all living matter and non-visual powers of our planet. Spiritual reverence in our daily appreciation of our planet’s natural life source and reconciliation with our planets unique living global system is a central teaching in the Mayan holistic spiritual traditions.
Meg: Could you describe some of the Maya gods and what they represent to the Maya people?
Jose: There is an intricate complexity of the Mayan Shaman, spiritual belief system and Cosmo-vision. All of these gods and deities have a dualistic nature and qualities, normally associated with day and night, life and death, health and illness, light and dark, etc. Ancient Mayan gods, deities and supernatural beings represent different aspects of the cosmos, and they also play an important role in many aspects of human life. A number, day, week, month or year within the calendar systems symbolize cycles observed by the Maya in nature. Today, rural Mayans have transferred many of their ancient spiritual connections to a mix of Mayan mythology and the Catholic faith.
Catholicism, Mayan Beliefs, and Mayan Shaman
Meg: How does Catholicism fit with the Maya beliefs?
Jose: Today many Mayan Priests, J’Men and wisemen mix Catholic symbols and images within their Mayan spiritual beliefs, cleansing ceremonies and holistic rituals. This is due to 500 years of religious repression that led the Maya to mix in Catholic traditions to their spiritual teachings in order to safe-guard the true essence of their ancient beliefs. Nowadays, many of us J’Men are dedicated to regain our right to a pure Mayan spiritual belief expression. We have gathered several ancient holistic sacred ceremonial rituals that have been taught verbally and practiced without public displays by our ancestors and older generations throughout the decades. Nowadays, these genuinely Mayan ancestral ceremonies are being held in the Hacienda Chichen’s sacred Mayan ceremonial site, thanks to the support given to us by Mrs. Belisa B. Gordon, owner of a vast private land within Chichen Itza in the Yucatan.
Meg: How do you practice the Maya faith today?
Jose: Prayer is the most powerful tool any Mayan healer has. Healing takes place with the support and guidance of Junab K’uj (God’s Spirit) and the Yuumtsiloób (Mayan gods). The J’Men role is that of a spiritual healing channel during his work. Prayer opens the channel of holistic healing by bringing vital balance to a person’s ch’ulel, which is the life energy force between the physical and spiritual worlds. Mayan prayers are spoken with reverence in a deep state of meditation. Prayer is the power that unites us with the divine. Prayers are repeated in numerical sequences and accompanied with aromatherapy or incense burning of copal and other sacred resins.
Healing rituals and ceremonies have tremendous spiritual power. They provide the frame in which mind, emotions, soul and spirit become one to purify the invasive energy to heal its effect. Holistic ceremonies and healing ritual calls upon different aspects of the self to be restored to a harmonious healthy balance.
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Communicating with Spiritual Guides
Spiritual guides communicate with the Mayan priests and healers through intuition, insight vision, dreams, and sometimes even with physical manifestations that act as conduits and guidance to the Mayan healer.
Blessing of water is of utmost importance to Mayan healers. Blessed cenote fresh water has a powerful purifying energy that cleans, heals and balances a person’s body, mind, emotions, and inner-energy by revitalizing harmonious energy flow within.
Fire follows the blessing of the water as the symbol of purification and energy. New fire is offered to Junab K’uj (Supreme God) prior to initiating all rituals or ceremonies.
Earth and gifts of Mother Nature are an integral part of a J’Men healing elements. Sacred Mayan clays and medicinal plants, sacred stones and gems, tree bark, leafs, and roots, as well as honey and corn, are all part of the spiritual connection that help the Mayan healer cure and restore the life energy flow in each of us.
Air is the element that carries vital energy and the spirit of life. Chanting and prayer help bring powerful vibrations that heal a person’s mind, emotions, and body. The spiritual power of wind and sahumados (copal or burning aromas) purify and unblock the effects of blocked energy and emotional trauma.
For the Maya healer, all illnesses exist within cold or hot energy fields. Mayan healing rituals take great care to control changes in temperature within and outside a person to bring a holistic healthy energy balance.
Healing Practices of a Mayan Shaman
Meg: Could you describe in general the healing practices of a Mayan shaman?
Jose: All Mayan healers use only Mother Nature's gifts in their healing practices. Mainly, medicinal plants and aromatherapy are integrated but in treating some illnesses, body massages, wraps, infusions, and bone alignment are also necessary to purify the energy flow of the person.
Those that experience the Mayan shaman of healing arts and rituals come to renew the vital energy fields of their physical, emotional, and mental bodies. These people come for the first time without truly understanding what they are about to experience yet they allow us to care for them and find release of their tensions, anxieties, body pains and toxins, as their soul unites with Nature. Their senses are soothed by Mother Nature's elements: smoothing plant oils, organic cacao butter and oils, gentle aromas of orchids, healing power of raw honey, clays, medicinal herbs and roots, and the healing pure energy of touch and prayer.
We, healers, open the energy union of love through our spiritual guides with the inner person we are to help. We begin the journey of healing the mental blockages and physical pains of the person we are helping, to regain a harmonious energy flow within. Mother Earth has given us all the unique healing elements to use, plenty of them, from spirulina algae, to the fresh pure energies of cenote waters, to the harmonic energy of jade and other semi-precious stones, such as asavache quartz.
Meg: Are the cenotes of any particular significance to the Maya?
Jose: Cenotes are the mouth of the underground rivers, geological formations that continue to provide vital fresh water to the people of Yucatan. Since ancient times, cenotes have played an important role, allowing the Maya to develop great cities and their unique cultural endeavors. Many ancient objects and human skeletons have been found by archaeologists that may indicate cenotes were used for religious ceremonies of some sort in ancient times.
Cenote water is precious to us, it is vital to our life and, when blessed, it becomes holy. Our physical body is mainly water and it is our belief that water carries pure spiritual energies when blessed by a J’Men. Such energies as love and health are active healing elements to aid a person.
Water is affected by our energy charge, and can be polluted with negative energies such as hate and anger, as well as with physical elements like poisons. We can also purify its molecules and charge it with the vital energy flow of love through blessing it. Such blessing produces highly pure energy charges and filters the negative polluting energy flow; thus, the water becomes pure, creative, full of healthy charges. Healers like myself understand the need to detoxify water from negative energy that blocks the flow of health and holistic well-being in a person, thus we perform blessings of the water to increase its vital purifying forces and healing powers.
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Mayan Shaman: Traditions, Rituals and Ceremonies
Jose: Ya’axche’ is one of the most important Cosmo-vision symbols of all times for the Maya people; this highly sacred Maya ceremony is performed only by the most qualified Maya Priests. Ya’axche celebrates the sacred Ceiba tree as the center of life on earth, the connection between heaven, earth, and the underworld. The Maya’s most sacred tree, Ceiba pentandra, is the symbol of creation, life, the 13th levels of heaven, Planet Earth, the 9th levels of the Underworld. Its roots cover the underworld levels, its branches reach the heavens and bless the skies, its trunk connects life and the four cardinal points where the Bacabo’ob or Bacabs reside—these are the four cardinal guardians between planet Earth and the cosmos or heavens.
Ya’axche’ is also the sacred holistic Mother Tree to the Maya mystics and the Maya Cosmovision, a blend of physical and spiritual force manifesting life and vital cosmic energy. In the shade of these sacred trees, Maya priests and J’Men find spiritual wisdom and brotherhood.
Another important ceremony is one in which the sacred beverage of the Báalche'is offered by the J’Men to request from K’ujo’ob’ (Maya Gods) the peace and harmony of people in their villages and the satisfactory development of their society at work. Bark from the Báalche' tree is crushed and fermented with pure wild honey, anis, and other sacred herbs. This beverage has a smooth sweet wine-like flavor and is given in small cured gourds to the participants once the ceremony is about to end.
Taajche is a Mayan sacred ceremony of the new fire; celebrated during the Equinox afternoons each year at Hacienda Chichen sacred Mayan ceremonial site. This Mayan new fire ceremony is rooted in the holistic understanding of the Universe found in the Mayan Cosmo-vision principals: a living universe and humans within it, where the Cosmic living energy dances of creative-destructive forces shape and transform our Universe.
Meg: Can you explain what the Maya Foundation In Laakeech is and what it does?
Jose: A few years ago, Mrs. Belisa’s support to the rural Mayan communities’ families and her commitment to protect the environment and preserve Mayan shaman traditions gave birth to the Mayan Foundation In Laakeech. I am a proud founder member and part of the MFIL Board of Trustees Team; I love what I do!
The Maya Foundation In Láakeech is a non-profit sustainable civil society NGO dedicated to the welfare of the Mayan rural communities, families, and to preserve the ecology of the region, bringing “green” awareness and caring programs to preserve the flora and fauna as well as natural resources of Mother Nature. The social support programs are geared to better the life of our community’s families, and the environmental awareness programs are geared to care for Mother Nature and to preserve the health of our eco-systems.
Sharing Knowledge of Mayan Shaman Traditions
Meg: In 2008, you represented the Maya Foundation In Laakeech at the 8th International Mayan Encounter, a three-day convention dedicated preserve the Maya culture and traditions held in Guatemala. Could you describe your experience at the convention?
Jose: To participate in the 8th International Mayan Encounter was one of the highlights of my personal holistic understanding of the Maya cultural legacy I am privileged to have been born into. This encounter helped me to know many different aspects of my Mayan heritage, the diversity of the Mayan shaman and traditions, the mystical beauty of our spiritual path, as well as the vast knowledge of healing the Mayan Elder J’Men posses and are willing to share with the next generations, like mine.
I had personal contact with many Elder J’Men and wiseman who spoke dialects of the Maya language different from mine and helped me enrich my knowledge, not only of holistic sacred ceremonies but also of healing plants and traditions. The experience helped me grow and commit to a path of service to my people. It brought me the opportunity to increase my commitment to preserving my ancestor’s beliefs, traditions, and legacy and to continue teaching our Mayan shaman, language, traditions, and ways.
Meg: You spoke of the Hacienda Chichen's Sacred Mayan Ceremonial Site—could you explain what this is and what takes place there?
Jose: Mayan wiseman are not allowed to celebrate their ancestral rituals and ceremonies within the Mayan ancient cities near their temples by the INAH Officials. INAH is Mexico's Federal Institude of Archaeology and History, geared only to guard, protect and study the country’s ancient pre-Hispanic temples.
Mrs. Belisa has great respect for the Mayan shaman, its healing traditions, and the Mayan wisemen, J'Men, senior healers, and priests. In order for us J'Men to have a sacred place to celebrate, teach and share our spiritual traditions, she decided to dedicate a large portion of her property within the Hacienda Chichen's Mayan Jungle Reserve to be used as a Mayan sacred ceremonial site.
The Hacienda Chichen's sacred Mayan ceremonial site today serves not only as a holy place where we practice our Mayan spiritual sacred traditions, but also where we can help preserve our healing rituals, ceremonies, and share with the Mayan communities our way of life and beliefs. This ensures people do not forget who we are and what made our ancestors' a highly knowledgeable people in the healing arts, as well as our other cultural achievements, including our native language.
Today the Hacienda Chichen has two holy grounds, one very secluded where the Zumpulche or sacred Mayan purification cave is located, overlooking Chichen Itza's magnificent temples and sunsets. The other is the sacred ceremonial site where more public ceremonial rituals are performed for the good of all people. I personally oversee their care and respectful keeping and have celebrated many private and public Mayan rituals and holistic sacred ceremonies in the company of other J'Men.
Since the Maya Foundation In Laakeech and the Hacienda Chichen started promoting our Mayan shaman and spiritual heritage, many native Mayan people have increased their pride in our language and heritage. For that, I am more than grateful, as our people had little support in the past to continue our ancestral beliefs and wisdom.
Meg: If you could describe a few Maya practices that people could incorporate into their daily lives, what are a few suggestions you would make?
Jose: We live in a hurried world and the Maya holistic healing traditions teach us to sit still, get in contact with our holistic self—emotional, spiritual, astral, mental, and physical bodies—as we observe Mother Nature and the gift of life.
Set time aside daily to meditate at least 20 minutes. Practice a spiritual discipline that helps you remember who you are, keep alive your own spiritual awakening path and vision. Learn to know your emotional body needs, feed your emotional body with healthy thoughts. Practice forgiveness to let go of resentments. Practice daily correct breathing and learn to know your own physical body needs. Eat healthy, what your body responds to, not what others belief is best for you to eat, but what your body needs to feel good and healthy.
The Mayan Calendar De-Coded
Meg: The Mayan calendar remains in the news long after the date of Dec. 21 2012, heralded as some type of cosmic turning point. Can you educate us on the Mayan calendar?
Jose: The Maya timekeepers created many calendars by calculating various celestial orbits. The solar calendar of 365 days is called "Haab;” it is divided into 18 months of 20 days each, with a period of five days called “Uayeb” left over at the end of the year. The most important calendar cycle for the Maya J’Men or healers is the Tzolkin, a ritual calendar of 260 days also known as the Sacred Almanac. Every day in the Tzolkin and in the “Haab” calendar has a unique corresponding position in time. Each day’s position in the calendars only repeats itself every 52 solar years. A cycle of 52 solar years, called the Sacred Calendar Round, intermeshes with both Haab and Tzolkin calendars to form a calendar system of the Maya’s Cosmo-vision and time.
This Holographic Mayan Calendar System includes the Long Count Mayan Calendar cycle, with its fifty-two thousand solar calendar year periods, counted as units of time/space cycles. The Maya interpretation of time and space was perfected during the 1st millennium A.D. by ancient Mayan wisemen. It still fascinates even today's scholars for its accuracy and the simplicity of a complex mathematical calculation and interpretation of time/space.
The Maya calculated dates millions of years in the past and the future for ritual purposes with the use of their “Long Count.”
The "End of the World"
Meg: Could you speak to the popular references made on TV and elsewhere that the end of the Haab calendar meant "the end of the world," which obviously did not happen. When I was in the Yucatan, I was told that, to the Maya, it never meant the end of the world, but a time of significant change, possibly even for the better. Could you explain what you understand the end of the Haab calendar on Dec. 21, 2012 to have signified?
Jose: TV programs are commercial in nature, and the easiest way to make money nowadays for TV producers seems to be with bad news, killings, destruction of all sorts to create alarming news when sex is impossible to add to their script. You see this trend even on channels that are known for their “real life” documentaries about Mother Earth and human history, also in current movies, you see it even in video games. It seems like our whole global interest currently is focusing on alarming, negative news. The way I see it is that the media take a topic and spits it out with all type of bad endings, including the Maya Calendar systems, which seems to be the new sales tag of “catastrophic times”… and I do not wish to add to their ways.
Ancient Maya did not predict what was to come after their last calculated Long Count Calendar cycle which ended at the Winter Equinox of 2012. The fact is that this acceptance by the ancient Maya, that they could not describe the world as they knew it would come to be is, frankly, impressive. It is easy to see how ancient man could not relate to us, as our global civilization has changed so much. We almost resemble science fiction, with cellular phones, internet services, wireless communications, live TV, hologram videos, understanding of quantum physics, fantastic cultural happenings! How could anyone from ancient times have imagined our current world?
The significance of the end of the Long Count was that the cycle would conclude, and a new count will start the next day, such is the nature of calendar counts. As for the catastrophes and “signs of destruction and the end of the world,” it is for sure that our Planet Earth has suffered catastrophic global natural disasters, and it is expected to experience them again in the future.
Mythological sources, including some Maya writings, speak of times to come when once more the Earth will face massive significant changes but I won’t venture into “The End of The World” like the media producers who love to scare the public. It is true that should a big enough celestial body hit the Earth again, the end of our era will come, just like the dinosaurs. It is also true that nuclear global war will do the same.
But Earth will again be populated by other life forms adapted to the new conditions of the planet. All physical forms have a beginning and an end, and our universe and planetary system is no exception. When that end will come, only God our supreme creator knows.
Practice daily energy cleansing activities such as hugs with love, laughter, and moments of true affection. Take time to enjoy nature, and marvel with what God has created, from a small micro-organism to a macro cosmos. Make a habit to enjoy a sunset, the rain, or any other natural manifestation of God’s creative powers. Avoid addictions including violent movies and video games, any form of abuse and power struggle; such energies destroy our mystical flow and encourage rage, power games, frustration and other energies that are sure to bring stress, anxiety, and illness into your life.
"In Laakeech - (I recognize in you my other I)"
— Mayan Proverb
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Meg Pier is publisher and editor of People Are Culture (PAC) and an award-winning communications professional and journalist, creative change-maker, digital entrepreneur and mentor. She is the author of this piece, which was created by original reporting and cites expert commentary from local cultural standard-bearers. Those quoted provide cultural and historical context that is unique to their role in the community and to this article.