Lessons for the People of the Corn
Can we prepare ourselves so that the transformation of 2012 is a time of celebration instead of lamentation?
An interview with OmeAkaEhekatl (Erick Gonzalez)
Erick Gonzalez was born in Guatemala in 1959. At two, paralyzed by polio, he was taken to traditional Mayan healers by his grandmother. He recovered and, as he grew, he spent many hours with the elders as they shared their medicine. He remembers how, at four or five in the morning, there would be lines of people bearing gifts in exchange.
Erick came to California in the 70’s during the indigenous genocide of the Guatemalan civil war. His life changed when he met the Mexika elder, Tlakaelel, who was bringing the teachings of the four arrows north into America. He “fell in love” with his teachings of traditional ways, and traveled with him throughout Mexico and the American Southwest, learning the ceremonies, sacred dances and way of the council fire.
He was called back to Guatemala to work with elders in village cooperatives, but the 80’s were a dangerous time. During the war, indigenous ceremonies had to be kept hidden, as those who participated were regularly targeted by death squads. The situation improved somewhat with the Peace Accord of 1996, which recognized and protected 68,000 ancestral sacred sites. But even today, Mayanswho practice their ancient ways are heavily and often violently persecuted by Evangelical Christians, who call them brujos – witches.
Erick, whose Mexika name, OmeAkaEhekatl, means “Get This,” spent more than 25 years learning the healing ways of ceremony and council with Native spiritual elders from Mexico, North America, Colombia, Peru, and Guatemala. In 2005, he was adopted into the Ts’aalth Clan, the five-finned killer whale people of the Eagle Clan of the Haida, and given the name Gaada, meaning “Supernatural Light.”
When we meet, Erick lights a candle. “It’s important to do this first,” he says. His voice is soft and his Guatemalan accent flavors his English with melodic flow. He has an enveloping presence, and when he prays in Maya, I can feel the prayer without understanding a single word.
Sacred Fire: What is the nature of your work?
Erick Gonzalez: First, we do a lot of personal healing, if there is any conflict in the body and in the mind. The other is to kind of energetically, spiritually, open the doors of the individual to have an experience with Divine. We do our ceremony through the fire, through the sweat lodge, through working with the mesa (altar), drums, different journeys through the night, or spiritual walks through the woods and mountains. It’s to get people to reconnect to the spiritual. Through the ceremonies we’re in the profound place where we can recollect and we can connect with spirit and find again our personal vision, instead of being into fear.
What is the message you’re trying to bring to people? Is it just about individuals and their healing, or is it broader?
I think that one of the exciting things to see is when people have a divine experience. Their spirituality opens. Their spirits just come flying and they see that a lot of healing can come through at that moment. A lot of feelings of betrayal, anger, shame, guilt—all these things the body connects. Then they start realizing, “Oh my god, this is my commitment to the land, to the earth! What are we doing to the earth, to the water?”
People have emotions come up when they realize what we’ve been doing to destroy the world around us. What happens next?
That’s when we come in to hold the space. All we can do is hold the space to create a spiritual experience that people can witness for themselves. And then, of course, each person has to make their own decision about what’s next. We have to go through the experience of the individual recollecting what is sacred. And this is where our humanity comes for them—what is sacred? What is worth loving? What is worth caring for and preserving, you know?
When we forget that, then we do what we’re doing today. We kill by the millions. We destroy the trees. We have annihilated almost every species on the planet—plants, animal and mineral. We’re doing that because people think, “This is just for us to do what we want.” And that’s not true. We are just part of the web of life.
In the time before, people could really create great civilizations, but they didn’t destroy the earth. They worked with Her. They didn’t genetically alter everything to kill for them. They didn’t create weapons to mass kill people with viruses. We had wars and stuff, but it wasn’t that way. We didn’t need to destroy, to really exterminate things.
How important is it to find a teacher to work with? What would you recommend to someone who feels stirrings, but does not know what to do next?
The ceremonies were kept secret, really hidden for generations. There were instructions a long time ago that the grandmother would teach the daughter, the daughter would teach the granddaughter, the granddaughter would teach the great granddaughter. And the same for the men. The grandfather would teach the fathers, and they would teach their sons and grandsons, and it was supposed to be kept in the home.
The weaving of the women was like books of oral tradition. A lot was kept in oral tradition.
A lot of times the elder circle has been closed to non-Native people. Only First Nations people were allowed in there, and so there’s a huge gap, where maybe our own children, our own wives or husbands are not allowed in there. And the elders keep crossing over. We see more of a mess and more cares in the world.
We need to share something. So I’m opening up. I’m making my own decision, with a lot of support with a lot of our elders, to build places so we can unite the four colors of the corn. All the different colors. We’re not going to discriminate, you know, black, white, yellow, blue, vegetable or animal. We need to come together. We need to hear each other in the way of the council. Because the fire creates a place of respect. And we’ve got to honor that.
I remember seeing a council one day with elders from the United States saying, “No pictures. No film.” And our (Mayan) people—because we’ve lost so many elders, and we know how precious it is to document them—our argument went like this, saying, “Yes, you better do this, for our children’s sake. Look at here, we’re numbering maybe 50—how are we going to share with millions?” Because we can’t go and share with millions by word. The kids are not coming. What if they saw a little video? A YouTube thing?
The Mayan elders said, “I’ll bet you that almost every single one of the North people has at least two TV’s in the house. And I can bet you that they’re not watching anything that’s gonna help the people, you know?” It’s true.
So they allowed the filming of that. We’ve got a lot of hours of things documented because we want to share, to show and inspire what our work and Deer Mountain is about; because we offer an invitation to come participate, to be part of the change you want to see.
Where can we go wrong if we grow our own food? Where can we go wrong if we are in the land and in nature, praying, working with the elements there? Where can we go wrong if we share the spiritual experiences with people? It’s opening their minds and their hearts to a spiritual way.
That’s the invitation. It’s not like it’s going to be “go and find your teacher,” you know?
Some Euro-Americans disregard teachers entirely and rely only upon their own guidance for spiritual direction. I think the white nation, the white corn people, have to find their roots again, and some of them have to reinvent it. But I think the opportunity is there. Why reinvent the wheel when you have indigenous nations that are holding the last bits of the rainforest, or the desert, or the medicine and the cosmology and the ceremonial ways?
But so often they cannot come in and support that. They do not have the respect. It’s like if I come in and I go to your house, I’m under your roof. When you get to that level of ceremony, there’s a lot of respect and a lot of norms. You don’t just do whatever you want to do. There are norms of respect and ways of being.
That’s how indigenous people have kept their relationships so long and strong. That’s the way it is. So that’s the invitation. All people are welcome, but it’s how you conduct yourself in it that makes it a success or not. We’ve had to ask people not to come back.
What is your advice to those people who have this experience and then return to the “real world” of the consumer culture?
Yes, you know, that’s hard. Sometimes we have these divine experiences and it is hard to go back to business as usual, because now we see. And so I see many people really taking the effort to change their whole patterns. And that’s when we have to reinvent. Now, how are we going to behave? How are we going to restructure community so we can hold the model of what the whole is?
Nature is changing, and we’ve got to adapt to it. But we’ve got to feel that the indigenous relationships have been kept alive and vibrant with nature. The spiritual is going to be one of the guiding tools of humanity.
The American model of consumer culture continues to colonize the world. What is the lure of economic progress? Are greed and acquisitiveness part of human nature?
That’s like a sickness of our minds. It’s the illusionary world we think we live in, where we can continue doing this at the expense of our relations in the world and the species that we are destroying. And it is very attractive. I mean, this is the seduction that separates us spiritually from the universe—the thinking that by creating this, and making that, and by having these, that we’re going to be even better.
For a time it seems like it makes it better because, you know, now we have a blender, we don’t have to spend so much time stirring; or we have a radio that can keep good track of the weather. But a lot of the third world, the “poor people,” don’t know the consequences of all these technologies yet. Even here, in the United States, we still don’t know. We’re starting to see our way of life is destroying the earth.
So what are we doing? We’re not doing anything about it. Most of the people don’t really get the thing because we feel comfortable. Now we’re tied up into the system, so we gotta go to work. Everyone’s got two, three TV’s and whatever. So it’s very seductive. It’s like a drug. We’re all kind of guilty of that. As we start to decontaminate ourselves, to reorient ourselves, we start being awake. We say, “I can’t keep eating the divine mother’s body. It is not healthy now. I can’t keep doing that.” And we start making changes.
Whether Nature is going to give us that time is another question. We’ve seen this ourselves in our own communities. There’s a lot of sleepiness and a lot of shutting down. We’ve been requesting more commitment and more dedication. You can’t go wishy washy. We’ve got to make the commitment to make the change. It’s not up to our convenience.
Right now, in the worst year, we still have the illusion that we’re not going to pay the price for that. Thinking we have time for our luxuries. “Um, I have a luxury, I want to become an activist. Uh, I want to become a student of a shaman.” Or the luxury, “I want to go to this ceremony today, then, next weekend, I’ll go to another one.” It’s an illusion, thinking that we’re gaining something and then we go back to the city and do whatever we want, you know?
No. If we can even contemplate a little bit of that, then ask Nature, “What is my future here, my Creator? What is my future here, Spirit?” then we will be worried. We should be worried. We should be like busy bees like when you see it’s going to be a rough winter. “The bees were real busy this summer. Everybody’s been busy.” We should be, like, “Don’t these people ever rest?” No, they’re preparing for something.
I have to ask you about 2012.
It just gives me a cosmic map to apply myself.
Our people, the Maya, were astronomers and visionaries. They said,at this time, this is a natural moment when we are crossing different energies of the galaxy. It is in the records, for four times before, how the earth was destroyed. We are living in the fifth world, and even the Mexika/Aztec calendar talks about how this fifth world will be destroyed, through changes.
And it’s a time-view, the era where everything is pointing to a symbol—Oxlajuj, Thirteen Aj. It is the thirteen staffs, and that’s what a lot of the prophesies are talking about. It translates to collaboration, cooperation, and having your intentions be planted.
The indigenous nations need to unite for this transition. It’s the same thing with the Maya and our oral tradition, and the Hopi prophecies, and the Kogi, the Q’uero down in Peru and other places, talking about the same thing. It’s like you can’t ignore it.
Growing up with that and being inside the circles with these people talking, the beautiful elders, and seeing the changes for myself and having my own spiritual experiences at all the sacred sites, I can say from these experiences, “Wow!” They tell us to prepare here. They tell us what happened here. They gave us very simple instructions: “Don’t let the fire go out. Don’t let the fire go out. Don’t let the fire go out.” Just like when you’re named three times, the important things they tell us three times.
The fire for us is motion, the heart, the love, the connection to the sacred fire the sun, the sacred fire the ceremonial fire, the sacred fire that we play with inside our pipes. When you stand in line, and you look through your pipe and you look in that fire and you look down on the ground where you have your fire, and you connect with that Grandfather Fire, and you know the fire that you have in your body is aligned, whew, you are a light being and it transports you. It transports you to having a divine experience.
So my instruction is—work with that. Follow where the sun is. Follow what the water is doing. Say what she’s saying. Follow where the relatives are gathering. Who’s there? When you get there, who’s around? Who?
The ceremony for us is a place with a different focus. The third element comes up strong. It’s like if you and me are husband and wife, and we’re having a trouble, we need a third element to come in if we want to work it out. We need somebody to be objective.
So humanity, we’re having our problems. And we’re having a problem with Nature. We’re like bashing Her, our Grandmother. So what do we need? We need a third element. The third element is the focus on the ceremonial fire.
And so with 2012, it’s our moment to prepare to celebrate, not to mourn. You see, we can celebrate for another era. Because the people after this can become the people made out of honey. Or we will be lamenting for all times.
I didn’t know there was a choice like that.
That’s what we are told in our oral traditions. That when the Fifth Sun closes, and the people made out of corn return to the earth, return to wherever the spirit…
The fifth age is the people that are made out of corn?
We are The People Made Out of Corn. And the rising of the Sixth Sun will be The People Made Out of Honey. So if we start thinking, “How do we get honey? What is honey?” Then we have our guidance. How do we get honey? What is honey about? We see the bees dying across the land. The bees are dying. What’s going on? What do they do? They pollinate. What do they carry? Medicine. They carry the genetic codes that takes love from one to another to procreate life. If we don’t become the people made out
of honey, we won’t procreate. We won’t survive the earth changes.
I’ve never heard this before. It’s a choice, or the Sixth Age will be lamentation forever?
Lamentation for all eternity. We see the Hopi and the rhythm of sun, and they say we’ve already passed the place of no return, the place of destruction, because we took the wrong road already.
At an Earth Day on Maui several years ago, they asked me to do a closing prayer. And you know, Maui, of course, reggae on the beach—everybody’s high on something, drinking, pot, mushrooms—and they asked me to do the closing prayer. And I was like, “Wow, how do you—you got to be kidding!”
But I got to meet the spirit of Maui—a 60-foot tall, huge warrior came through me. And you know, I’m a soft-spoken person, but I yelled so high that the microphone and the speakers were about to blow up. I yelled, “If you’re ready, I’m ready!” And there were some Navy guys drinking, saying “Yeah, dude, go ahead!” But when I yelled it again, they were like, “Whoa, what’s going on with this guy?” And by the third one, I had their attention.
And I grabbed a big drum, a Mayan drum, and I sang a powerful war song and everybody was quiet. Even the ocean. And you could hear a pin drop on the sand. Everybody was there—the beer, and the drunken, you know—and everybody is quiet and standing and I did my prayer in Maya. And I said, “Remember what Earth Day is about. It’s not just a
celebration, to get high, and have a good time. As we speak, our earth is dying, and we’ve got to have the strength to make the changes we need.”
It took me 30 years of training—praying by myself or with our people, listening to and sitting around our circles, listening to people talk around the fires—that made the difference. There have been some other times that I’ve done that, too, where spirit has come in and I’ve focused everybody.
Because if I’m given the opportunity to say something, I don’t want to jeopardize the moment just because I might make somebody angry. We got to take the moment and make it count. Because that might be our last opportunity.
About the Author
Sharon Brown is Publisher of Sacred Fire magazine and serves as Executive Director of Educuation and Communication for the Sacred Fire Foundation. Sharon is a media specialist and an initiated Granicero (weather worker) in the Nahau tradition of Mexico and is a fire keeper in Olympia, Wa. She can be reached at email@example.com
This article was originally published in Sacred Fire magazine.
Sacred Fire magazine is an initiative of the Sacred Fire Foundation which seeks to help all people re-discover and celebrate the sacred, interconnected nature of life, a perspective held by indigenous peoples and spiritual traditions everywhere which is the source of all personal, cultural and environmental well-being.
Key initiatives include:
- Sacred Fire magazine, which offers a fresh outlook on modern culture by showing the relevance of ancient ways to today’s world
- Ancient Wisdom Rising, a series of gatherings with elders and wisdom keepers that offer hope, healing and renewed relationship with our sacred world
- Sacred Fire Press, a book imprint that preserves and presents spiritual teachings from ancient and original sources
- Wisdom Fellowships, bi-annual awards to tradition holders who are keeping the sacred fires of their people burning.
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