Standing in the centre of Mexico City, surrounded by noise and the biggest flea market in the world (it really seems that way). On all sides there are tall old buildings, including the main cathedral. I walk along this impressive monolith, past the vendors selling trinkets, sandals, jewelry,
beaded wrist bands and purses, hats, fruit laced with chili powder, peanuts, crispy morsels of
grasshopper. I pass a group of dancers dressed as Aztecs about to beat their drums and perform. As I pass them, in front of me the world changes and I am face to face with an ancient city – Tenochtitlan. I see snakes and snakeheads jutting from a wall, stick figures and eagle heads and frogs. I forget the noise and business around me and enter into what Mexico City was a long time ago.
I’m here on a medicine journey. According to ICSS (Institute of Contemporary Shamanic Studies), who sponsored the journey, a medicine journey is a sort of pilgrimage: we travel to sacred places in order to regain a piece of that sacredness for ourselves. As we walk through these sites we are literally digging for sacredness. Regaining sacredness in my life brings me peace and groundedness; it helps me more clearly see the path I am on and the changes I need to make to live a meaningful life. It connects me to my world. I don’t know of anything else that does this as quickly or as well.
This trip was primarily to a place called Teotihuacan. It’s an ancient site in Mexico, predating the Mayan era, which has been the
inspiration for many, if not most, of the subsequent sites in this geographic area. Teotihuacan has inspired many cultures, ancient and modern, and in a sense, each culture so touched was digging for sacredness within its ruins. It is huge, the uncovered portion spanning over half a marathon; and it is estimated that only a third of it has been uncovered.
Tenochtitlan is an Aztec city located in the heart of Mexico City. Much of this ancient city is hidden under the surrounding blocks of buildings, and most especially hidden under the huge main cathedral of The Assumption of Mary.
I have conflicting feelings about this: the Aztecs were violent and aggressive, and so were the conquistadores, and for that matter, the church. To me, it represents one aggressive conqueror laying down their ways deliberately on top of another’s. Even so, the church did this no matter what; throughout the Americas, I have seen churches raised on top of sacred sites, often using the building stones of these sacred sites.
I also feel anger at the conquistadores and the church of the day who brought their ways (and diseases) into this “new world”, wiping out as much as they could the cultures and ways that were established on this part of the Earth.
However, I also feel hope with each honouring of the ancients as we learn to explore what they have been teaching us through the ages, including religious leaders of, in this case, the catholic faith.
As I wander through the site, I see both beauty and ugliness. I see flowers and snakes; eagles and frogs; I see rooms of worship
and a wall of human skulls. I am reminded that we – all of us – take what is there and rework it in our own image so that we feel we live a meaningful life. The Aztecs did this with the cities and peoples they conquered, reworking the legends, the philosophies, and the beauty into their way of seeing the world. And they were able to do so because the Olmecs, the Mayans, and the peoples preceding them built Teotihuacan and honoured life and life’s meaning through celebration, beauty, and ceremony.
Where are you digging for sacredness? How do you feel about what you unearth?
Maryanne Nicholls is a Toronto based, certified Psychotherapist offering a balanced approach to mental health. Please visit www.joyofliving.co for information on her services, or contact her directly to find out how she can help you reclaim the joy of living.