Author: Geraldine Patrick

What is Ethnoecology?

Ethnoecology is an interdisciplinary field of study that enables a human group with a land-based culture to share how they conceive the ecosystem they inhabit. The root ‘ethno’ points to the native character of the human group; however, ethnoecology is also pertinent to those who are indigenous to a place, meaning those who have been interacting in harmonious and reciprocal ways for decades or generations, such as forest or desert dwellers, or small farmers, herders or fishermen. In all instances, what characterizes the human groups is the way in which they perceive the web of life and conceive their participation in it. They have come to understand, from accumulated experience, that dynamic processes are constantly shaping the way they see and interact with the natural world. The resulting outcome of such interaction is a bioculture, and, even if it retains identifiable and distinguishable features over time, the bioculture is always susceptible to acquiring, modifying or losing some identity traits.

Ethnoecology encourages people from a common bioregion to come together and integrate a descriptive picture’ of how they have been living with the natural world that they call home. There is both a theoretical and a methodological framework that facilitates the integration of such picture. It is a description that includes detailed mappings of skyscapes, landscapes and underworlds—or subsurface territories— where both tangible and intangible aspects are equally relevant. The full picture is achieved by integrating three main dimensions which we call: kosmos, corpus and praxis.



Figure 1. An example of integration of the kosmos-corpus-praxis of a community presented by Pauli et al. on a worldview review of farmer’s knowledge systems.

Kosmos refers to the belief and value systems that give sense to the mysterious aspects of the world. Belief systems produce societal cohesion, and the human groups that are immersed in the natural world and are connected to its unfolding get to experience biocultural cohesion. Among indigenous peoples who have intentionally remained in the margins of colonizing paradigms, the natural world enables the development of a spiritual reverence to, and respect for, the seen and the unseen. This is easily ascertained by those who, when collaboratively integrating this kind of information, do so from a neutral place in terms of religious dogma. All in all, the kosmos dimension highlights the symbolic and spiritual world of these peoples.

Corpus refers to the knowledge acquired about the natural world by minds that periodically come together and integrate information perceived through the senses and apprehended and assimilated in different ways. In general, indigenous minds have been culturally induced/educated/motivated to discern what information from the natural world is relevant in order to maintain or recover collective harmony—and never to secure immediate individual satisfaction. In favorable conditions, indigenous people become skilled in paying attention to how healthy ecosystemsand all withinact and interact. Whilst keeping track of predictable and cyclic unfoldings, they are also mindful that nature is always experimenting; thus, surprising emergences, creative responses and innovation of complex living systems are carefully observed. Wisdom goes beyond the capacity of the mind to rationally process information at different scales of time and space. It requires a prayerful and meditative way of being in the world and the capacity to connect to dreams and to the realm of the intangible world. The corpus of knowledge and wisdom enables human groups to contribute in a creative way to the overall purpose set by their anteceding generations: one of building endurance and resilience with the ecosystem they inhabit, so to become a single entity which we call a socioecosystem.

Praxis refers to the practical and technological systems that enable the physical, hands-on interaction with both the tangible and intangible aspects of the natural world. There are many skills that people develop in order to grow crops, farm animals, cultivate bees, forage edible plants, fruits, mushrooms and medicinal plants, fish or hunt. These skills go hand in hand with knowledge that has been accumulated, affirmed and complemented for generations. Complementary to skills are the ritual acts that are performed to ensure good communication with the spirit world. Asking for permission to sow seeds, to set up a beehive or to fish, and asking the spirits when and how much can be grown or fished, or when and how much it will rain, is all achieved through rituals; and it is only after listening to the spirits, that the tangible aspect of praxis may be carried out. Technological systems developed in these socioecosystems avoid being invasive or disruptive to natural cyclessmall or largebecause there is an understanding that their thresholds cannot be surpassed. There are all kinds of creation stories, songs, traditional dances, elder-youth dialogues, initiation rites, planting and harvesting feasts and healing practices that keep community members in a harmonious connection with the complex and mysterious living systems. Such is the way in which, in ideal conditions, these societies have put in place an observance system so to prevent human interference with natural processes.

Ethnoecology is based on a post normal science approach. Conventional science requires a subject-object approach to indigenous and small farming communities, whereas post normal science, as proposed by Functowitz and Ravez, dissolves those categories and recognizes expertise in every member of a society, especially in times of crisis. Ethnoecology uses tools from disciplines as varied as cultural geography, new ecology and environmental humanities. All of these share in common a postmodern perspective, challenging to deconstruct conceptsstarting with the human conceptand questioning long-standing statements about the ‘human condition. In the past few decades humanities have thus been addressing the ontological exceptionality of the human, and more particularly, of the Westernized and colonized person. In this regard, the sense of superiority of the Western scientist over nature and over communities linked to nature, is also dissolved, eliminating—or, at least, minimizing—the possibility of reductionism, misinterpretations and the detrimental outcomes.

It is comforting to see the emergence of indigenous thinkers and scientists like Vine Deloria, Leroy Littlebear or Robin Wall Kimmerer, and Oren Lyons, for they offer the foundational basis of native thought to begin dialogue with those who are ready to go beyond the boundaries of anthropocentrism and its paradigms. In these times of civilizational crisis in tandem with planetary crisis, we are offering the ethnoecological framework to enrich such a needed dialogue. This framework has been mainly cultivated by my Mexican mentors Victor Toledo and Narciso Barrera-Bassols, founders of the Thematic Network of Biocultural Heritage, and it has shaped participatory research in land-based communities in many continents in empowering ways. Hopefully it will become adopted by indigenous communities and their younger members. Regardless of whether they are attending or not formal education, they might find benefit in Ethnoecology to communicate, in a holistic way, their way of thinking and living in community with all their relations.

Indigenous Timekeeping – A Different Accounting for Leap Year’s February 29th

Figure 1


“Thanks, no need for February 29”, says Maya calendar to Gregorian calendar.

Ever since the first friars were describing the clockwork of the Mesoamerican calendar system, there has been a hot dispute about whether a 365-day reckoning system could remain fixed to a single solar date. This is because, as we know, a trained observer of the Sun’s year cycle will notice that the Sun returns to its middle point on the horizon after a number of days that fluctuates between 365, 365, 365 and 366. 

In the Yucatan Peninsula, Franciscan friar Juan Diego de Landa explained that the Maya calendar accounted for 365 k’in and six hours, the same is said in the contemporary Huichapan Codex for the Otomi calendar. However, the abstract thought required to explain how that actually worked seems to have been absent among Western scholars. Did the six hours (or quarter-day) build up for four consecutive years so to produce an extra day? Did the quarter-day play in the timekeeping immediately after the 365 k’in? 

As centuries went by and traditional timekeepers were systematically deprived of maintaining their original timekeeping rituals, it became a convention to say that the Mesoamerican Calendar is imprecise or imperfect. Just as inquisitorial processes accused Maya priests and astronomers of working with evil, their calendar system, a most precious intellectual product, was sentenced to forever lag behind and be useless as an instrument to keep track of seasons and related year-cycle festivities.

After almost two decades of collective research with Otomi, Yucatec, K’iche and Kaqchikel scholars and traditional priests, we have advanced in understanding that the ‘mystery’ of the last quarter-day lies in the role played by the so-called four Year Bearers. They stand in each quadrant of a traditional community and have the key task of counting 365 k’in a quarter of a day later than their neighboring bearer within a four-year cycle. The Year Bearers are reported by friar Landa but are no longer present in Yucatan time keeping. They had specific names and orientations, and people were in charge of activating each Year Bearer from east to north to west to south. In Santiago Atitlan, a traditional Guatemalan community at the feet of two sacred volcanoes by the shore of a lake, it is Maximom who is the keeper of four community wards. His image appears on Figure 1. Every year, he is moved from ward to ward and a new tie is wrapped around his neck to symbolize the completion of a new cycle. 

These practices show the importance of rituals in preserving key aspects of traditional knowledge. As reminiscence of the original ways of keeping the calendar in pace with the Sun cycle, they are key today in helping communities recover its harmonious way of relating with natural cycles.

Today we are closer to the day when Maya timekeepers will say, “Thanks, no need for February 29, our ancestors developed their own way of keeping in pace with the Sun!”

Watch this Video to learn more!


Geraldine Ann Patrick Encina is a Scholar in Residence for Union Theological Seminary and Original Caretakers Fellow at the Center for Earth Ethics. She is a member of the Otomi-Hñahñu Regional Council in Mexico, and a professor of ethnoecology. Born to Chilean parents of Celtic and Mapuche origins, Patrick Encina received her doctorate in ethnoecology and social sciences from El Colegio Mexiquense, A. C. in 2007; she also holds a bachelor’s degree in biological sciences. She has been a visiting professor in Honduras and Argentina, and held faculty positions at several Mexican universities. Her research focuses on archaeoastronomy and cultural astronomy, particularly on ancestral and current ways of measuring and conceiving time and natural cycles in Mesoamerica, especially among Maya, Nahua and Otomian cultures.

Learn more…

Parenting in the Time of Climate Change Part II: Geraldine Patrick at the BPL

Concerned About Parenting? Try Humbling Yourself And Paying Attention

Last month, about fifty parents gathered at Brooklyn Public Library thanks to a series that they put together with 350 Brooklyn called Climate Wednesdays

At the talk our moderator Tom Roderick asked people to share their feelings. Anger, anxiety, fear, incertitude, overwhelming thoughts, self-blame or guilt, unrest, despair… all were expressed, in words or in body language –even in weeping faces. We, the speakers who had been featured on the events page as ‘experts’ presented ourselves as non-experts, but as proactive parents trying to figure out how to stand in a world so fragile. 

What I had jotted down a few days before the talk had been this: children are essentially Wisdom bringers, Truth tellers, Keepers of the word and Messengers of original principles of life. Such is the impression I have of children, and I referred to those aspects indirectly, using some brief anecdotes. What might catch the eye is that I consider they are ‘keepers of the word’. Yes: when they are very small they quickly acquire a concept of what keeping the word means; and they hold high hopes when a sacred pact is set with their adult party for the first time. I’m talking of an agreement such as, if I do my chores on time, you’ll take me to play in the park, or, you’ll get me a teddy bear if I give my best at school. But when the adult breaks the pact –even if out of mere distraction or obliviousness— we may have lost the precious opportunity to raise a child that trusts the word –and world– of adults. If parents/tutors carry on disregarding or disrespecting what keeping the word means, socializing stages and emotional intelligence may be severely affected. It may then become very difficult for the child to advance some initiative within the family, the school or broader community spheres. Whatever we as adults do to repair that condition of mistrust, we must openly show that we believe in the words and intentions of our child, leaving room for them to come up with creative ideas and supporting them all the way. Urgency is such that we can only humble ourselves, recognize our mistake and offer to keep the word of commitment so to co-participate in creating harmonious and sustainable livelihoods. 

In this humbling process, we adults need to pay attention to many of our own actions, for, aren’t we trying to model a way of life that makes sense to our children and motivates them to stand up? So here go some introspective questions that I didn’t get to share with the parents that day, but that might help us to pay attention on a daily basis:

Are we living each day in gratefulness for who brought us to the world, starting with the first of mothers, Mother Earth?

Are we honoring each of the four elements of life on every occasion?

Are we giving life back to the plants and animals whose lives we take?

Are we showing what a responsible consumer cares for in all scales of time and space? 

Are we considering all externalities involved in what we produce or consume?

Are we growing at least some of our own food, however small or large it may be in proportion to our needs? Are we respecting seasonal cycles and preferring local produce so to reduce footprints?

Are we showing that we care for human communities of all sociocultural conditions that live within and are related to ecological communities under some current or future level of threat, and in so doing, are we listening to those we offer to support and work with? 

As we wake up every morning, let us go over these and similar questions, and also schedule time to continue sharing what it means to be parenting in these very sensitive times, when building endurance and resilience with wisdom and love is crucial. Thank you Amy Adelman and Tom Roderick for the opportunity to share with all parents and especially with Liat and Nikki.


Geraldine Ann Patrick Encina is an Original Caretakers Fellow for the Center for Earth Ethics and a Scholar in Residence at Union Theological Seminary.

A Very Special Evening with Dr. Robin Wall Kimmerer: Reflection & Video

“Last night I had the joyful opportunity to interview Robin Wall Kimmerer, author of Braiding Sweetgrass, Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants. She is sweet as the sweetgrass, loving as a mother and attentive as a wise elder. She was delighted to hear that we, from the Center for Earth Ethics, are offering the course Plant Wisdom and Ecological Consciousness and wants to know all about it. Surely we will have opportunities to interact with her, as we actively engage in braiding together plant wisdom, science and traditional knowledge as a practice of being in the world. Certainly all of humanity needs to remember that communing with all sentient beings is the original purpose of living a human experience. The art of reminding about this purpose is something that Robin has become exquisitely passionate about. Last night, over two hundred people stood in ovation to express their deep gratitude for her overflow of wisdom, joy for life and caring for Mother Earth. Let us spread her word and make her dream –a shared dream– come true in her lifetime.”
~  Geraldine Ann Patrick Encina
Join us for a conversation with Robin Wall Kimmerer as she helps us rethink, reimagine and, renarrate our relationship to the sacred and the natural world. Can the objective, data-driven approach of science be enriched by non-anthropocentric spiritual worldviews? As a botanist and a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, Dr. Kimmerer draws on both indigenous wisdom and scientific knowledge to enrich and animate our understanding of the natural world. This expansive way of seeing and relating to creation privileges regeneration and reciprocity, and offers novel solutions for ecological restoration and climate change resilience.

Dr. Kimmerer will be joined in conversation with Union faculty member John Thatamanil, and Geraldine Ann Patrick Encina, Scholar in Residence for Union’s Center for Earth Ethics.


About Robin Wall Kimmerer:
Dr. Kimmerer is a mother, plant ecologist, writer and SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor at the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse, New York. She serves as the founding Director of the Center for Native Peoples and the Environment whose mission is to create programs which draw on the wisdom of both indigenous and scientific knowledge for our shared goals of sustainability. Her research interests include the role of traditional ecological knowledge in ecological restoration and the ecology of mosses. In collaboration with tribal partners, she and her students have an active research program in the ecology and restoration of plants of cultural significance to Native people. Read More.

About The Insight Project:
The Insight Project is a new multi-year program series that explores modern conceptions of theology and spirituality through a diverse array of thought-provoking lectures, screenings, performances, and on-stage conversations. Click HERE to learn more.

The Inquisition in Yucatan, Mexico: Mistreatment of Mayan Priests

Last December 15-19, I attended a Symposium on Mayan History and Religion in Malmö University, Sweden.  One of the most outstanding components of the program was the offer of three-day courses, among which featured one on Paleography of Colonial Texts. It was offered by John Chuchiak, Director of both the Honors College and the Latin American, Caribbean, and Hispanic Studies Program at Missouri State University (photo above). Dr. Chuchiak has focused most of his research on the Franciscan Missions, the Inquisition and the Catholic Church in Colonial Yucatán, Mexico.

Author of The Inquisition in New Spain 1536-1820. A Documentary History, Dr. Chuchiak has translated and examined hundreds of documents of inquisitorial proceedings made against traditional Mayan priests who were trialed and sentenced to death or to jail by the inquisidores of New Spain.

Mayan priests were severely punished for performing ritual ceremonies that had been systematically executed for at least three thousand years. The highly conservative character of ceremonial protocols can be attested by comparing ceremonies depicted in Mayan codexes with those described during inquisitorial trials and those still performed by traditional Mayan priests today.

Rituals are propitiatory for the well-being of socio-ecological systems, where human beings are conscious of how their thoughts and actions facilitate or disrupt the web of life. Priests carry out ceremonies to help maintain harmony in the world at all scales of the time-space matrix. They do this because they abide by the original instructions and laws of co-evolution that were set in place by the first Father-Mother who made life spring from Mother Earth, the Green Turtle (indeed, the same term as Turtle Island for northern first nations).

The thriving landscapes that invaders first saw was the unfolding process of peoples interconnected to the web of life through year-round ceremonies under very elaborate protocols that included fasting and abstinence.

For most Mayan families and communities, the violence perpetrated to their complex living systems at the symbolic, psychological, moral, emotional and physical level is still patent. Undeniably, their spiritual and ecological integrity is under threat today as harshly as in yester days. This is because the Doctrine of Discovery and its logic are still at work: idle lands must be taken and exploited for the sake of capitalism, and dispossessed inhabitants must be forced to accept new laws, be of service, keep a low profile and remain obedient.

Idolatry has been a deeply stigmatizing accusation and a violation to the integrity of original peoples whose way of living is defined by a spirituality of the collective soul. Every ceremony has many prayers, songs, dances and spiritual foods for the continuity of life processes and death processes. The belief that many spiritual forms of the Great Spirit manifest among us because of the diverse and creative ways of expressing love to us, must be respected without prejudice. The reciprocal practices that we have consistently seen are well received by the Great Spirit, must be respected too. Such practices entail sympathetic magic and a great deal of symbolic interplay with the pantheon of spirits –both good and evil. The mastery lies in knowing how and when to acknowledge each kind of spirit, and how to make the ones that give life and love prevail. Life and love, the most potent co-creative energies in all realms of Earth and the cosmos, must be fed with thoughts and intentions of ongoing life and love. That is how good spirits and the goodness of the Great Spirit, prevail.

Accusers of idolatry must have had close encounters with evil forces, most probably because of the impurity of their minds and illness of their intentions as they set foot on Turtle Island with granted authority to vanquish, enslave and kill. Traumatizing experiences of evil is the only explanation of their phobia for ancestral traditional ceremonial practices and practitioners. To see today accusers of idolatry within Mayan towns is not surprising: wise Mayan priests persevere in their practices because, to them, connection with divine forces of creation and life is how the continuing evolution of Mother Earth’s life can be maintained.

Ethiopia, Land of Origins, Hosted Interfaith Event for a Culture of Peace, Harmony and Human Dignity

By Mindahi Bastida

Let us be the change we want to see in the world by living according to the teaching of the Golden Rule as stated in different religious holy books, which says “Treat others the way you want to be treated”, was the call of the organizers of an Interfaith encounter for a Culture of Peace, Harmony and Human Dignity.

The event took place on February 2nd, 2018, as part of the World Interfaith Harmony Week of United Nations. It was organized by the Inter-Religious Council of Ethiopia, the United Religious Initiative-Africa, U-Day Festival, the African Ombudsman and Mediators Association and World Peace Prayer Society in partnership with the Africa Union Commission Department of Civil Society and Diaspora Directorate.

Guest of honor President of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia gave the opening remarks while Honorable Mr. Antonio Guterres, Secretary General of the United Nations, offered a message of peace. Religious and spiritual leaders also spoke words of wisdom and hope, among which featured the Patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, the President of Ethiopian Islamic Affairs Supreme Council and international figures like Thai Buddhist Monk Venerable Phramaha Boonchuay Doojai as well as representatives of the Orthodox Jewish, the Bahai’ Faith and the Sikh Faith.

Indigenous spiritual leaders whose call for peace and unity has been heard beyond their local regions, were invited to share how they too remind their people of the covenants and laws of origin, that speak of how to treat Mother Earth and all her beings with kindness, respect and love.

Indigenous Delegation at the Closing Official Ceremony of the Event at the Africa Union Commission Plenary Hall.

Phil Lane Jr., Chairman of the Compassion Games, Sam Cook and Australian Indigenous representative and Mindahi Bastida, from the Otomi Peoples of Mexico and director of Original Caretakers initiative at the Center for Earth Ethics, each had the opportunity to expose their commitment to care for Earth and all beings to achieve Peace, Harmony and Dignity.

Mindahi Speech Feb 2 2018 African Union

Message at the African Union – Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. February, 2018.

Mindahi Bastida

My name is Mindahi Bastida, of the Otomi-Toltec ancestral Peoples of Mexico. I am representing the Center for Earth Ethics and its Original Caretakers Program. It is a big honor to greet Ethiopia, Land of Origins. We pay respect to the original peoples and territories and also to the African Union.

We greet the original peoples of Ethiopia and all of Africa as an important continent that can give light to the world in times of Climate Change and concerning biocultural erosion.

According to our prophecies and ancestral knowledge, 5000 years B.C. ago some human beings began to go in another direction and began to take over Nature. Others remained as caretakers of what original peoples call Mother Earth, living in harmony and balance with divine creation. But in many places harmony was broken, and this situation prevails until today, deeply affecting the material and spiritual compounds of life.

Furthermore, the invasions and colonization of the world that biocultures were affected and many species and cultures disappeared provoking imbalance of the good living. In spite of the devastating effects of global colonialism, many Original Peoples, also known as Indigenous Peoples, have successfully kept their ancestral practices, cosmologies and philosophies. An ancient basis of wisdom is known collectively as the life originating principles, through which we continue to interact with the sacred-spiritual, nature-material and with other cultures.

This original counsel, based in the original instructions, brings together our ancestral wisdom, our current perception of the endangered world and our actions. 

People, who have acted as allies of ancestral cultures and wisdom for the permanence of life and of original peoples, are aware of the mounting crisis that all beings face in many levels. The world is experiencing the end result of a different kind of knowledge whose implementation has been provoking a des-harmonious, fragmented and highly destructive way of interaction and relationship with nature, cultures and celestial bodies.

More and more, it becomes evident that the recovery of harmony, peace, unity and dignity lies in our return to the sacred origins of the ancestral wisdom, where human beings are an integral part of creation and not the peak of creation.

The recovery of harmony is not just tangible but also intangible, and collective consciousness is vital to address harmony in the spiritual and material worlds.  This harmony and balance must be reflected among all beings, according to time and space order.

Then, peace can be achieved not just among human beings but also with Nature and Mother Earth. It is urgent to restrict the anthropocentric thought and return to the original principles. We need to make peace with Mother Earth and her sacred elements and nature.

Peace and Dignity are intertwined principles; we as human beings can achieve dignity if we go beyond the greed and commodification of “things” and respect life through reciprocal actions. We want to strengthen families, communities, biocultures, Mother Earth and our relationship with all beings working together and pulling together. We want an integrated world based on dialogue, reciprocity and complementarity that will carry all through far more than just seven generations.

For us unity is all about the Unification Process. This process is a mandate from indigenous spiritual leaders to respond to our planetary and civilizational crisis, emphasizing that all beings, including the celestial bodies are integral components of the life systems, must be taken into account to produce balance and harmonization in the world.

In achieving Harmony, Peace, Unity and Dignity we should:

Strengthen the work of those who, in continuity with their “originating principles/law of origin”, sustain to this date the ancient wisdom and spiritual traditional practices that preserve the sacred balance of Earth.

Remind those who were given their “original instructions”, and that may have drifted from them due to their own historical processes, to revive their biocultural identity as a way back to their ancient ways, which will give them once again a sense of belonging and meaning in the sacred web of life.

Bring awareness to those who have completely lost, or never had, the understanding that they too are an integral part of the natural world and as such need to learn they are here to contribute to sustaining it for themselves and for those who are yet to come.

Practice tolerance, intercultural dialogue and mutual cooperation for the sake of biocultural diversity. These are among the strongest warranties of peace and security at local and international levels.

In sum, we, together, in a Process of Unification, need to be engaged in restoring harmony and balance of Mother Earth for the sake of human life and all beings. We need to think and act at local and global levels and think beyond intergenerational equity: we must leave a legacy of good generations for Mother Earth.

Kjamadi – May love and blessings be with us, the land of origins and your families.


Encounters with Plant Medicine Tradition in Mexico

While in Mexico last July, 2017, I had three encounters with traditional, local, Medicinal Plants experts. The first was in the recently created Clinic of Mazahua Traditional Medicine at the Intercultural University of Mexico State which Mindahi Bastida Munoz co-founded in 2004 in San Felipe del Progreso, Estado de Mexico.

Geraldine at Phytomedicine Lab in the Mazahua Medical Center, Universidad Intercultural del Estado de Mexico.



Rocio Albino, a dear ex-colleague and agro-ecologist who built the greenhouse at the Intercultural University of Mexico State as a hands-on teaching tool.
At the university there is also a greenhouse where native and non-native students, local Mazahua farmers and local agro-ecology professors grow a wide variety of native plants that are sold locally to promote organic nutrition among local native Mazahua people.
The next encounter was in Tulum, Yucatán with an expert in Mayan medicine and Chinese acupuncture, Javier Hirose, PhD. He has been able to describe the similarities between the Mayan and Chinese energy meridians and has published a great resource document about it.
Javier Hirose and his students from across the area of Yucatan.
Preparing a tincture with local plants and local residents.
Finally, I was able to share with a community of young Mayan researchers who are also making plant medicine according to their elder’s guidance. Their center is called Raxalaj Mayan AC and they are very interested in my research on the Mayan Calendar. We held a very enriching conversation about how they are exploring ways to recover traditional philosophy and wisdom, and how to share it with younger generations. It was deeply moving! Thanks to Angel and the rest of the group!
Entrance to the Community Center of Mayan Art and Wisdom.
As you may know, our Herbalist in Residence and dear colleague Poppy Jones is beginning to offer a series of workshops about plant medicine to Union students. It is such an opportunity for us to connect with Earth and with the principles of healing and harmonizing that she unconditionally offers. It is a kind of connection that is spiritual and reciprocal in ways that can fully be comprehended when having an immersive experience. Walking with Poppy in the woods is one way of entering that space of our psyche where the heart becomes our ears and eyes, and words need not be spoken to communicate what plants are telling.

The Return of the Dead in Mayan Tradition

Corn-Human Life and Death Cycles

In the wake of Mayan civilization some 5,000 years ago, corn and humans became one. Till today, humankind’s flesh is believed to made from corn dough. The intimate corn-human relation is kept alive by reflecting how death and birth cycles are interwoven. When the corn seed is in-terred, it is as though a dead human is buried. When, at the closing of the season, corn cobs are fully ripe, it is as if the dead person surfaces to join the living.

An antagonist corn-human metaphor in Mayan philosophy entails alive impersonators instead of dead impersonators. It speaks of how a human seed travels into the womb so to emerge as a baby, and how a corn seed enters the earth so to become a baby, too. Human and corn seeds go through a 260-day full-being formation cycle. For both, the 260-day cycle is lead by Venus, a time-councilor for mothers who are home-and-cornfield caretakers.

Be it as morning star or evening star, when Venus’s first appearance coincides with February 12th “blessing of the seeds” -seeds soon to be buried- and with the “announcement of human pregnancy” -no menstrual blood-, something striking happens. The star accompanies the gestation cycle of both the human baby and the corn baby. Both will ripen and be ready by November 1st. Only then, Venus star shall sink in the horizon, for its infusion of vital energy is now completed.

Month “Skull” in the Original Calendar of the Maya

Societies of Mesoamerica have always been organized by calendars that mark times for rituals. Back then and till today there are specific times for hunting, rain making, corn growing and harvesting. For the Mayan peoples in Southern Mexico, the Original Calendar instructed them to expect their dead on November 1st through to November 20th. That month was called Tzec, meaning “Skull”, and the glyph of the month was a skull. (Image above.)

For Mayan people of Pomuch, Campeche, tradition says that skulls of their dead relatives must be pulled out of the boxes and cleaned with much reverence and respect -like the rest of the bones. Once clean, family members offer their dead special food and drink, including toys if children and liquor and tobacco if adults. Eight days later another offering is made and, towards the end of November, there is a special farewell.


Skulls in Homuch, Campeche.
Skulls in Homuch, Campeche, are brought among the living in month Tzek (Skull). Photo by Katelyn published by Julio Garcia Castillo.

Why Did Two Cultures Pick November For Their Dead?

Currently my colleagues from Universidad de Oriente are visiting places and promoting intergenerational conversations. They intend to better understand how the original twenty-day ‘month’ of Tzec was juxtaposed by the Christian month of November. Surely, there are reasons of cultural survival: not using Christian references cost Mayan priests their lives. But it is fascinating to see how a culture as old as the Mayan picked November 1st some 2,600 years ago, while All Saints celebration (also on November 1st) was incepted by Gregory IV in middle of the ninth century.

Is there some natural phenomenon at that instant of time that facilitates communication between the dead and the alive? Perhaps yes, but clearly, agricultural cycles must be playing a role in how human minds conceive the interring of a seed as an act of bringing to life fully-grown fruits. Both Western and Mesoamerican are agricultural societies on the same hemisphere. Surely, November is a good month to reflect about how the hoop of death and life is closed.




Time Space: The Return of the Days of the Sun and of the Mesoamerican Calendar

We are living in a time of renewal, preparing our communities to enter a time-space of wider consciousness. The calendars of our ancestors were mistakenly read since the colonial takeover and five centuries years later we have finally learned how to read them. This is perfect timing, because Mesoamerican calendars hold sacred information on harmonious ways of living with Mother Earth and the Cosmos.

Organized by the Center for Earth Ethics at Union Theological Seminary, the event “The Return of the days of the Sun and of the Mesoamerican Calendar” took place on May 7, 2017. It was an open invitation to share the Otomi-Hñahñu and the Mexica-Aztec Calendars, and members of five Dance Groups of the Anahuaka tradition answered the call. We were honored to host Cetliliztli, Chichimeca, Tetetl and Tezca groups, and dancers Jorge and Xochitl. Five of our Union allies and colleagues came too: Gregory Simpson, Petra Thombs, Thia Reggio, Sara Walcott and Gabrielle Sclafani. We were fortunate to have guests like Ken Kitatani from Forum 21 Institute and Anele Heiges, OP – a Dominican Sister who, among other titles, is a member of the NGO Committee for Indigenous People. Brothers and sisters, keepers of deep traditions and cosmovisions, came from many directions to share and bring blessings to this unique space at Union. The sweet scent of the Mexican pine-tree resin Copal and the rhythmic vibrations of the Teponastle drums filled the Social Hall from 4pm till 7:30pm, making it a very special and unforgettable occasion for all who practice Earth-based spirituality and traditions.

Dancers from as far as Pennsylvania and Albuquerque, NM, also came to dance and share knowledge and wisdom. Jorge García, from Centro La Raza, UNM, spoke about the importance of understanding the implications of the New Dawn for our original nations across the Americas. Also, a Narraganset representative came from Rhode Island and shared a prayer and song to the four directions.

The calendar that was handed out is the result of a decade-long research carried out by Geraldine Patrick Encina, our fellow from the Original Caretakers Program. It is a year-round calendar designed by forefathers and foremothers after centuries of observation and record-keeping of celestial bodies, weather cycles, ecosystem cycles, corn-cycles and the reproductive cycles of birds, deer, bees, fruit trees and reeds. The calendar enabled societies to experience the harmonious interrelation with natural and cosmic cycles by marking the times within which rituals were to be celebrated so as to acknowledge and integrate the agency of celestial and terrestrial beings in the life and death cycles.

The calendar that was designed for 2017-2018 year cycle articulates the Hñahñu-Otomi and the Mexica-Aztec versions in a clear manner, replicating the way in which it was being presented in pre-colonial and early-contact codexes.

Copies of this beautifully designed calendar are available and can be sent to you, per request to our Center.

The misinterpretation of the original calendar books by the first friars who attempted to read them seriously undermined any attempt to re-construct the self-identity of the spiritually and politically crushed Hñahñu-Otomi and Mexica-Aztec nations after the violations carried out during fifteen and sixteen hundreds and even later on. With scholarly books stipulating that the original calendars were useless because of no means of dealing with the leap day, the Mesoamerican culture was eclipsed and doomed to live in a prolonged period of confusion about the intellectual and philosophical substratum of their mother culture. This substratum was the calendar itself.

Our commitment and direct involvement with local native communities practicing traditions for healing and balancing Mother Earth is growing stronger. Because the Mesoamerican calendars are in synchronicity with seasonal times as far north as latitudes in the middle portion of north America, we shall be offering workshops in NYC and neighboring states to native people vindicating their traditional ways of living according to the land’s cycles. We shall also teach about traditional timekeeping to groups that study or want to learn about the Anahuaka traditions.