We in the West have at least a nodding acquaintance with the coded language of various mythic traditions - the Greco-Roman, the Norse, the Celtic - but here is something unique. It is a centuries-old story to live by - an ecology of the spirit - told by an ancient people, recorded and interpreted by Martin Prechtel.
Prechtel gathered the Story over years of living among the Tzutujil Maya in Guatemala where he learned their language. Since these people were almost totally wiped out by American-backed death squads in the '80s, this a treasure book.
The Story, then, is of the beautiful Tall Daughter of the Sun (a workaholic) and his wife, the Moon (somewhat of a shrew). Their daughter weaves the world alive on her loom - a womb of creation. She is a being too elevated in her parents' eyes to have a mate because, of course, no man is good enough for her. [Sound familiar?]
Enter the Short Boy - a little man shining with "...a green brilliance, which in the right light sparkled iridescent..." He comes in the morning after her parents have gone to work. They recognize each other immediately as the Beloved. Turns out that he is the son of Hurricane and Ocean (but she doesn't find that out until she is running away with him). When their liaison is inevitably discovered, the Daughter, in her own defense, truly maintains that they never touched. "What they did do for hours was lose each other fast and far inside the other's eyes." [Remember that?] She loves him.
Mother Moon, in a hissy fit and a twirling rage, says.."Love him! Him! How can you love something that can only lick your knees? Well?!! And the Daughter is "...chilled by the winds of her mother's hatred and by the shock of being hated for the first time." [Been there, done that - yet?]
How their arch-enemy, the Northwind, blows all their hopes to smithereens and how the Beloved Daughter of all creation is re-membered into a new form, is the substance of the rest of the story. It has elements of other world myths in it (the gathering of her parts somewhat like Isis gathering Osiris, for instance), but unlike the Norse Baldar myth where all present pass the buck for the god's demise, or the compromise cyclic disappearance and return myth of the Greek Eleusinian Mysteries, all creatures in the Mayan world accept responsibility for their complicity in either precipitating the tragedy or letting it happen. And they all cooperate, with grief, repentance and hope, in an effort to bring the Daughter, who is life itself, back to life in any form.
Told with humor, compassion, mystery and understanding, I wouldn't call this story a myth set in granite. It's an interactive live Story of Life reverberating through time. I read the entire book with the author's five levels of commentaries (aloud in parts. The entire narrative reads like a prose poem). And then I went back and read the Story again, and its world view began to enter my dreams. [No kidding!]
Prechtel's commentaries add layers of understanding. In the first layer, he observes that, "To punish or trivialize the youth for having subtlety of vision is what makes depression an epidemic in modern culture."
"So often the artist is sacrificed for the art and the art is what lives. This story tells us that our art must be sacrificed, turned into a magic that puts us back together in a new way and hatches the world back to life" and that "...living the life of an artist is not as useful as living our lives as a work of art."
In the second layer, he notes that: "In this story-method of learning, we humans become part of the geography of nature, important not because of our inventories or conquests, or chronicles of having been victimized, or our labor-saving inventions that kill this geography, or our egalitarianism or our capacity to get to heaven, but just for having been born and showing up for work, the work of living out our part of the story."
In the third layer, the author talks about indigenous languages that eliminate the verb "to be." I'm still having trouble wrapping my mind around this concept, but as I understand it, "to be" is an abstraction and indigenous people don't distance themselves from the rest of creation by abstractions.
"The brilliant ingenuity of Indigenous language...though often mounted on rails of metaphor, is the way they zoom way past metaphor into realms of undertandings that have metaphor looking rather naive," says Prechtel.
"A ritual can "be" the universe, because the ritual and the universe can be the same thing. In this way our bodies are not metaphors of the Earth; they are the Earth."
Unlike her future in-law, the Sun, whose Time only lives now, the Ocean is nonsequential time, time already done, time to come, time that will never happen, time that could have happened and more, all mixed into one large matrix of Gathered Time." Time and water. "To the Tzutujil there is only one water which rushes, puddles or is captured in a multitude of diverse forms like plant leaves, hot springs, rivers, lakes, ponds, ice, tears and streams, and like the amniotic flood at our births, all this water is trying to get back home to the original mother of life, the Great Grandmother Ocean, the great dream pool."
The fourth layer is a true story in present time that puts it all on the palm of your hand like a Hummingbird and the fifth layer is a perfect round waterdrop - a distillation like brandy from the wine of the Story.
I wish I could give this work 8 stars. Eight would be just about right.