20 July 2009
Purified at Last
Saturday I received a sudden invitation to an indigenous people's purification ceremony courtesy of Maria Teresa.
Today by the way Maria Teresa is off to the airport for one of her periodic forays into the American lecture circuit. She couples her immense knowledge of native American lore and story-telling with a beautiful command of the English language. And that is exactly how she makes her living. The little old ladies in Peoria must absolutely take bread at her feet when she is through with them.
At the risk of sounding snooty, this purification was an affair by invitation only. All I had to do was buy a white, long-sleeved shirt. As it turned out, Frank and Allyson, formerly from Montana, and I were the only gringos in attendance among approximately 35, perhaps 40, participants.
Maria Teresa and my other new acquaintance, Teresa, just to make things more utterly confusing, drove the five of us up to San Luis Potosí in Maria Teresa's old Volvo. Has anyone heard or read any of reports of Volvos wearing out? In many places Maria Teresa's Volvo is held together by nothing more than duct tape. Yet it runs like a top.
I thought this trip would involve camping again. I had taken my little cheap tent and my cheap sleeping bag. Actually, it turned out to be a bit different deal.
We stayed at a facility that reminded me of a church summer camp for young people.
There were dormitories for boys and dormitories for girls set in the middle of beautifully healthy, irrigated fields of peppers.
We never slept in those bunk beds though.
Here is what constituted a native American purification ceremony like this one that I attended.
Everyone sat in a circle around a beautifully maintained campfire in the middle of the old soccer field. The ceremony was presided over by a head shaman and two assistant shamans. The head shaman was dressed in an elaborate, indescribably colorful costume. There was an opening ceremony during which all the equipment was blessed.
Then one sat around that campfire all night while various sub-ceremonies, if I may coin a word, were undertaken. These consisted for the most part of individually cleansing and purifying the participants by waiving feathered wands over and around them and swinging smoking censers over and around them. There was a lot of chanting and many group singing sessions. There was one very long dance around the campfire to an accompaniment of drums.
Luckily, it was perfectly permissible to lie back on the ground and take a nap. I took a very long nap in the early morning hours. I had no idea I could still sleep so soundly directly on the ground with only an old Army blanket over me. Young Frank and Allyson have been teasing me unmercifully about my nap ever since.
So then we had a closing ceremony and watched a stunning sunrise together while we ate fruit.
This is Teresa with my other new acquaintance, the Frenchman, Fabian, newly purified in the morning. As you may be able to tell, Fabian is the most entertaining goof ball with whom I have become acquainted in a long time.
The Frenchman and I newly purified early Sunday morning.
Here Frank and Allyson are packing the Volvo for the return trip.