Posted by: ktzefr | April 30, 2010

Garden Gnomes: Mayan Magic

A perfect day!  Blue skies, bright sunlight, sweet scents clinging to the breeze…  I was walking and daydreaming past the home of one of my elderly neighbors when I saw the little people out of the corner of my eye — green britches, red jackets, big ears.   Sitting, dancing, standing erect.  Smiling, laughing, looking secretive.  Posed in stone.  Other yards have freshly-planted petunias and geraniums, but this one has elf-like people with little pointy caps.

I was reminded of the alux (pronounced a’lush) in the Yucatan.  According to ancient Mayan belief, little gnomes called aluxes live in the caves, forests, and cenotes (sinkholes scattered across the Yucatan Peninsula).  Headaches, confusion, illnesses, and troubles were believed to be caused by “bad winds” that are always on the move, but the aluxes are able to disrupt the winds and bring joy and good health.  If there’s no alux in sight, however, the next best thing is a good  dusting with a branch from the sipche plant.  The Ix’Men, Mayan healers, use the sipche, a native evergreen, in holistic cleansing ceremonies to purify the “aura” of a person — the sort of work an alux would do if you could ever catch one of the little fellows.

With the neighbor’s gnomes still scampering through my head when I got home, I started looking for my notes from the Yucatan.  Ah… Hacienda Chichen.  Built by the conquistadors in 1523 in the shadow of Chichen Itza, the inn is a green oasis in the dusty scrub jungle, a place of tall palms and fruit trees and stands of gumbo limbo.  Food comes from the organic gardens, music from the wild bird sanctuary, and natural beauty from the hundreds of species of flowering plants.  And, in the surrounding forests, there are anteaters, kinkajous, white-tail deer…

Hacienda Chichen, Yucatan, Mexico

Organic gardens, Hacienda Chichen

football-sized papaya ripening

…and Yaxkin, the spa run by Beatriz Correa, one of the local Ix’Men, a Mayan female priest.


From my notes…Some people say Senora Beatriz has golden hands.  They are drawn to the rough and calloused places, they say, the hills and valleys of flesh and bone and muscles tight with tension.  A healer’s hands know the body’s road map by heart.  So, after two days of walking the dusty sacbes from one ancient ruin to the next, we (my niece and I) head for the spa.  Normally, I’m not a spa person, whatever that means, but I’m hot, sweaty, tired, and ready to consider the possible rewards of a good Mayan cleansing.

We dismiss some of the choices — rubs with blue-green algae, raw honey, pureed fruits, mud — and opt for the kakaw treatment — getting pummeled in all the right places and painted head to toe with chocolate.  Yum!

But first — the blessing of the water.  In sarongs and bare feet, we’re separated by a round basin that looks like a tall birdbath and is filled with colored stones and clear water from a nearby cenote. We choose a few stones to take with us as talisman, good luck pieces.  Whispered prayers, songs, chanting in the background…candles lit…incense burning.  The scent of sahumados, copal smoke, begins to fill the room.   Mayan ritual includes water, fire, earth, and air.  Healers prepare and fill clay pots with natural oils and herbal remedies to represent the earth.  Voices symbolize the air.  Sound travels through air and unites, according to Mayan belief.  Sacred words heal the body, mind, and spirit.  The real world and the world of magic become one.

And then there’s chocolate!

Stretched out face down, eyes closed, the green curtain of jungle disappears, dissolves into birdsong.  I feel the warm, raw sugar and cacao butter on my arms and legs, trailing down my spine, like melting Hershey bars, warm truffles, cocoa on a cold day.  Being a human canvas is not so bad!  Ah…but then comes the best part — getting wrapped in wet banana leaves and left to steep in the cool, moist and chocolaty cocoon.  Later, I turn over and catch a glimpse of my niece across the room, eyes closed, smiling at the ceiling.  We look like gingerbread people all browned in the oven with big white circles around our eyes, but it sure feels great — and we smell delicioso!

bougainvillea at Yaxkin

Still later…We feel like limp dishrags!  Getting rid of all the “bad wind” can sure take the wind out of your sails.  The sipche plant and chocolate worked wonders; there’s no way those river sprites, the aluxes, could have done a better job.  We watch the last red-gold streaks of sunset disappear behind El Caracol, the observatory where the ancient Mayans, who believed in the little people, also followed the stars with scientific accuracy.

The night is velvet, peaceful.  Birds come to roost in the trees — tamarind, neem, papaya, sapodilla. We light a candle, sit on the front porch.  Tomorrow we’ll be on our way, three hours back through the scrub jungle to the beach, with a few smooth stones in our pockets — luck at our fingertips.

(Extra note to think about the next time you see a garden gnome: those little conical caps they wear are called Phrygian caps, first associated with the peoples of Anatolia in Asia Minor.  They’ve been worn by kings and slaves; to the Romans they signified freedom and liberty; they’ve been painted on antique vases and discussed in Greek myths; several Latin American nations have the pointy cap on their coats of arms.  And they also appear on a number of US state flags, as well as on the seal of the United States Senate.)


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