When I reached the top of the Balam Ch’ab’s wall, I almost fell and could understand why Chahel growled. There were patches of a slippery substance on the rounded top. With care, I flipped my body over it to position myself to climb down the other side. The uppermost stone was a sand-colored marble, in the shape of half-cylinders, which matched the rock under it. It was slick and smooth.
Once I was inside the camp, I smelled my hands. They were greasy and smelled like smoked animal; it was lard. Either the Jaguar Knights were messy eaters or they took irritating measures to make their camp difficult to enter. The height of the wall was well over a man’s height, but someone could climb over it with assistance. The lard was merely an annoyance. I could not imagine that it would impose much of an impediment.
The training camp had fooled my eyes from the outside. Inside, I could not see the other side of the camp. The area I was in was broad with a worn perimeter path inside the wall. Beyond were footpaths through gardens leading to a trio of wooden huts. Behind the huts were trees and bushes. I could not see Chahel, yet felt that she was in the bushes.
The nobility, to indicate their territory, often used stone walls. They, however, would never accept homes made of trees. For a roof, it was acceptable, for a dwelling, it was not.
The Balam Ch’ab caught me laughing and asked me why. I told him that the place appeared to house nobles, beyond the wall, but inside it seemed that it housed peons.
He looked at the huts and told me that they only housed the finest men and women, adding that the vast majority were from the noble classes.
“Women visit their men in the training camp? How can you allow that?”
The Balam Ch’ab raised his eyebrows and blinked a few times as if unsure what to say. He smirked and seemed about to say something when he burst out with a deep snort and began laughing. “What do you think we are doing out here, Zaki, running a hiding place for sin? Do not tell me that you did not know that some of our knights could be women.”
I protested that I had not known and that it was unthinkable that they allowed women to become warriors and killers. Women should stay at home cooking, cleaning, and raising children, I told him. Underneath my words was the belief that women were not strong enough. I believed men should protect them and shelter them away from the realities of war. “Why are we burdening them with such awfulness and strife, don’t they do enough?”
The Balam Ch’ab doubled over and clutched his sides. The origin of his braid was at the top of his head, so it bounced more than a regular one. The braid danced along his back like an agitated snake. Irritated that he was laughing at me, I stressed my points over again.
Laughing, he laid face down on the grass with his hands stretched to the sides. I ended my argument with the words, “Once I am king, no longer will the women have to do these dreadful things.”
“Oh, please stop.”
I saw that tears were running from his eyes. Aggravated that he did not give my arguments the attention they deserved, I walked away and stared at the wall. When I was there for a short time, I realized, with wonder, that I was no longer nervous around the Balam Ch’ab and that I had argued with him. A cold feeling overtook me; it dispelled the heat I felt when I voiced my beliefs in anger. Now I felt exposed and foolish, and began worrying that the Balam Ch’ab would punish me somehow. I turned around to see where he was.
He sat up and brushed dirt from his palms. He looked over to where I was and motioned me to return and sit with him.
When I was before him, I began to apologize for my outburst, but he stopped me.
“Quiet yourself and sit down. Do not say another word or I will begin laughing again.” He waited for me to sit in front of him and told me that he had not laughed that hard in many years. He even thanked me.
Before he could stop me, I told him that I did not recognize myself and that I was not usually argumentative.
Stopping my apology with a wave of his hand, he said, “That is your reaction to stressful or difficult circumstances. Do not bother apologizing. You were unafraid and you thought clearly about your arguments. That is a good quality for a jaguar knight. I am pleased. Only afterward did you worry about your actions. In the fury of the moment, you are no coward.”
I slouched with relief. As soon as I relaxed, I noticed that I had been clutching all of my muscles, especially those in my buttocks.
“We do have to clear a few things up before we begin, though,” he said. “We use huts here because we are in the jungle and many creatures live in it. Occasionally, if we are not vigilant, we must set fire to the huts and build new ones. We could not easily clean stone buildings with fire.”
Mice infested the huts a few years back, he told me, and several knights and students died because of them. It was after a long rainy season, when the trees were particularly fruitful. Because of the abundance of food, the mice bred more profusely. They spread and began looking for hiding places and food. They chanced upon the training camp. Since the presence of the knights kept natural predators away, especially jaguars, the mice quickly reproduced and nested in the walls and roofs of the huts. The droppings were everywhere. No one noticed since the dirt floor was dark in color. The mice were stealthy and would hide or be still when people were about.
“Many breathed in that filth and died. We thought they only had minor fevers, but within days, they were dead.”
“How did you realize what was wrong or know how to fix it?”
“We called in the healers. They could not overcome it because it killed so rapidly. The Cabicacmotz came after they were baffled and saw into the problem. He also gave us the solution. Fortunately, we noticed quickly that those who slept in the huts were the ones who fell ill. Not one of those people were old or infirm, Zaki. We burned the huts and they scorched the earth when they fell. Fire kills, but it also cleanses.”
I asked him whether the original huts were stone and he told me that they were not because the outer wall made it too difficult to bring in stones.
“Why do you not use the main entrance?”
“There is no entrance to the camp. Either one enters it as a jaguar would or one is provided with a ladder as you were today.”
“Can you not cut a hole for stone to be brought in, then?”
He looked at me with disgust. “The wall is our most splendid tool for teaching the steps of the jaguar. We would never mutilate it for a mere luxury.”
I decided not to ask any further questions when I heard the acid in his voice.
“Come. We have sat for long enough,” he said. “I will show you where to leave your satchel and where you will sleep.” He walked to the smallest hut and I followed.
My spirits sank when I saw the crude lodgings and the hammock where I was to sleep. Only peons used hammocks. To sleep on a mat or bed indicated that a man was wealthy enough to have servants ensure its cleanliness. Recently, I saw my father’s home for the first time and was surprised to see that he slept in a hammock. It shocked me and made me feel embarrassed for him. A thought occurred to me.
“Was my father a Jaguar Knight?”
The Balam Ch’ab smiled with delight and said, “He trained here, but he cannot be a knight.”
It hurt me to ask, but I finally said, “Was he unable to transform himself?”
He shook his head. “Of course he could turn himself into a jaguar, Zaki. He is a talented and capable man. Never think otherwise. He cannot be a mere knight simply because he is the king who commands us.”
“Take off your clothes,” he ordered me, “and remove your stone.”
I protested, telling him that I did not wish to take a nap and that Zotabah, Ahtoobalvar and the Cabicacmotz demanded that I always wear my navel stone.
“You are mistaken if you think I will let you take a nap so soon. It is time for work. I am going to show you the wall.” He looked me over, focusing on my necklace. The stones were the same as the one I used in my navel. “Don’t worry about the navel stone, Zaki. The necklace will suffice to keep you safe. This way you will not lose your stone or ruin your belt. Now, remove your clothes while I fetch you a proper training garment.”
He left me in the hut. I took off my tunic and removed the leather belt that kept my navel stone in place. Afterwards, I stored the belt and stone in my satchel and threw it onto the hammock. His story made me paranoid about vermin. A few moments later, he peered in and handed me a leather thong that tied on either side of my hips. With chagrin, I put it on and emerged from the hut. The crotch area was too thick and unwieldy; it hindered my gait. I complained that it made me walk like a monkey.
I stopped complaining when I looked up and saw that he was wearing an identical thong. He did not walk funny in it, however. It looked well worn and discolored.
“Make sure that your sides are tightly tied,” he said as he walked to the largest hut. “This is what we wear for the wall. The wide crotch is used because no one wants their privates to fall out while they straddle the wall.”
The hut was a few times larger than mine was and it was as austere. There were a few more hammocks and some trunks of trees for seating.
Near the entrance, there was a large clay vat of lard. He directed me to apply the lard to my leathers, thighs, stomach and chest area. When he saw that I was being sparse applying the lard to my groin, he told me that I would be uncomfortable until the lard seeped into the leather and made it supple. After hearing that, I slapped it on as thick as I could. I sniffed myself and knew I smelled like a roasted boar.
The Balam Ch’ab deftly applied his own lard and then dipped his hands in a vat of talc. He told me to do the same, telling me that the talc would soak up the oil on my hands and make them less slippery.
When we reached the stone wall, he told me to stay on the ground while he demonstrated what he wished me to do. He climbed the ladder and straddled the wall.
“The first step to becoming a jaguar is to learn to move like one,” he said. “The jaguar is a being composed of balanced sides. Its sense of self is located primarily upon its spine at the base of its head and its awareness switches from the left to the right side alternatively. The eyes connect to the shoulders. You will see.”
The sense of self was a concept that my uncle, the Cabicacmotz, had acquainted me with. It consisted of tracing backwards to where my sense of self originated. To even notice is difficult. While it sounds simple, it is difficult to do because we do not wish to expend the effort. Keeping a thought at the forefront of our minds is an exertion of will.
If a man sees that the sight of a mountaintop gives him a sense of joy and he wishes to replicate that feeling, he must move his awareness from the point before his eyes that he associates with the joy. The joy does not come from the mountaintop; it comes from the sight acting upon the man. He traces it back to the point behind his eyes that emitted the joy. Joy is a burst that erupts from a man. Recently I had followed the Cabicacmotz’ advice and followed the source to come from behind my heart. How odd it was to discover that my sense of self was not always located right behind my eyes or even connected to them. The place of self could be anywhere.
Both the Cabicacmotz and the Balam Ch’ab gave me instructions to perform the check upon my sense of self whenever I felt or encountered strangeness. If I could feel where Chahel was, without the use of my eyes or hearing, I was to trace my sense of self to determine where that sense of knowing came from. I was lazy and could not remember to do it, however, unless I was relaxing and remembering what my teachers spoke to me. Finding the burst of joy was a fluke for me. Most times, I forgot the technique existed.
“When the jaguar runs, it hunts prey. He is a creature of efficiency and purpose. His focus is on what he must do. If stalking, he creeps. When chasing, he runs. His shoulders lead his forward movement and his sense of self confines itself to the tight wire of his spine. Usually the sense of self is where his skull meets his neck, but it can be anywhere. He is balance incarnate and can easily switch his awareness from the right to the left. With that, he maintains balance. That movement is connected to his shoulders and eyes. Remember that the sense of self is separate from awareness.”
His words confused me and I began to ask him to explain.
The Balam Ch’ab told me that only action could resolve my questions and he demonstrated the actions I should perform on the wall. “For now, you must tuck your feet behind you, so they rest on the wall.” He pulled his legs up and rested the front of his feet on the rounded edge, soles to the sky. What I thought was a carved line of adornment in the wall was a ridge that was three hand-lengths from the top of the wall. The Balam Ch’ab put his hands on the line and pulled himself forward, going counterclockwise on the wall.
I ran along the perimeter path beside him while he used his hands to slide along the wall. The training camp was enormous. We passed a stream twice that flowed in and out of the camp through a shallow hole in the wall. The rest was trees, pasture and gardens. It resembled the estate I shared with Maricua, my sister.
When the Balam Ch’ab completed his circuit around the camp, he did not appear out of breath. His ride ended at the other side of the ladder. I was anxious to get up and try it. I waited for him to climb back down.
Instead, he sat up and said, “One of the most important things for the transformation is the knowledge of where the jaguar’s sense of self resides. As men, we feel that our sense of self is often dependent upon a line that is vertical. We are upright beings. The jaguar is not, it is a horizontal creature. It parallels the ground. We are earth to sky; he is earth to earth in forward motion.”
He climbed down from the ladder and came to where I stood. “All right, Zaki. You need to get up there and position yourself the same as I showed you. Remember to tuck your feet up on the back.”
I climbed the ladder as quickly as possible and positioned myself. It was a relief to discover that the line for the hands was at a comfortable distance for me. He decided that I needed to apply some lard to the front of my feet to avoid blisters. From a small pouch hanging from the ladder, he found some lard and applied it to my feet. I was ready to go and almost pushed off, when he grabbed my ankle and held me there.
I wanted to get going, but he wanted to bore me with more talk about the jaguar’s sense of self.
He crouched down, resting on his haunches, and drew a straight dotted line in the sand of the perimeter walk. There was an arrow at one point. Next, he drew an inverted arrow, a vee, whose point originated midway along the dotted line. The ends of the vee extended a small bit from the end of the line with the arrow.
He stood up, brushing dirt from his hands. With his toe, he pointed at the dotted line and said, “This is the spine and tail of the jaguar.” The arrow indicated the advancing movement of the jaguar. The vee was a difficult concept for me to grasp.
“Always,” the Balam Ch’ab said, “the two separate lines of the vee flow from the origin of the spine. Physically, they attach to the shoulders of the jaguar. The jaguar leads with its shoulders. Watch Chahel sometime and you will see the truth of my words. Even when she walks in that languid way of hers, she leads with her shoulders. The difficult thing is to keep in mind that the awareness attaches to the movement of the shoulders and alternates with the shoulders. Right, front and back while the left does the same. The sense of self shifts slightly, though not as largely as the sense of awareness shifts. It will feel as though it is moving in a half circle. Its forward motion balances at the spine. When the cat runs, the balance can be anywhere along the spine.”
I pretended to know what he meant since I was restless and eager to push off. I nodded with a serious look on my face as if I was weighing his words, when all I could think of was the fast ride he took upon the wall and how it looked like incredible fun.
“The jaguar’s sense of self is parallel to the ground and is always at the level of his spine. It moves forward and back along that level. A man’s sense of self can be anywhere and strives to go up as far as it can. The jaguar’s strives to move forward. Our natural inclination is to move upwards, the jaguar’s is to go forward.”
I needed to put a stop to his explanations and said, “I’m having a bit of trouble imaging what you said. Maybe I have to feel it while I am moving.”
He gave me a sly half-smile and said, “Perhaps. One final piece of advice: imagine that your hands are claws while you use them to grasp hold of the ridges along the wall.”
Without waiting for him to change his mind, I grabbed hold of the ridged line and pulled myself forward.
I zoomed on that wall. With the lard lubricating me, I was able to reach speeds that I found incredible. The more momentum I gained, the less effort it took to move faster. Several times, I almost slipped from the wall and had to unhook my feet to balance myself. There is something magical about speed. It somehow unleashes the elation we hold inside of us. Decorum demands a great price from us, it requires us to subdue our delight and only evidence it with a smile. Nothing held me back when I was on that wall. I whooped and yelled my happiness without a care about how I looked.
After my fifth circuit around the camp, the tips of my fingers hurt. When I was close to where the Balam Ch’ab sat waiting for me, I felt a familiar stickiness on my hands. I did not dare look to check, but I knew that my fingers were bleeding.
The Balam Ch’ab stood up and came to where I waited for him, still atop the wall. He glanced at my hands and said, “Come. We must clean them and apply a salve to them. I tried to stop you after your first run, but there was no stopping you, boy.” He threw the ladder over the wall before me and urged me to climb down.
I tried to move forward. My body did not wish to cooperate. My feet, hooked at the ankles, felt weighted and glued together. The muscles of my thighs refused to unclench and did not ease enough for me to move them. Even my hands froze in a clawing grip. “Balam Ch’ab, I cannot move. Something is wrong with me.”
“Nothing is wrong with you, Zaki, except that you enjoy excess. If you had not pretended not to see me trying to stop you, that is your own fault. This occurred because you over exerted yourself on the wall. You are in fine company, however, because it happens to almost every student.”
He came over to me and first unhooked my ankles. Then he took my clawed left hand in his, wrenched my fingers into a natural position, and massaged them. Next, he climbed the ladder and straddled the wall. He did the same to my right hand. He directed me to let my hands and legs hang down the wall to get the blood flowing to them.
I did as he told me and experienced the painful prickling of renewed circulation.
When he saw the faces I made, he told me to swing my arms and legs back and forth to relieve the sensations. After a while, I was able to make my way to the ladder and begin climbing down. If had not assisted me, I would have slipped because I was still clumsy and stiff.
As soon as I was on the ground, I looked down at my bloody hands. A few of my nails had split and the skin on the tips of my fingers was raw and red.
We walked to the stream in the camp and he told me to leave them in the flowing water for a while. The cool water felt good on my wounds. The ride on the wall removed most of the lard on me, but there was still a bit on me. The Balam Ch’ab told me to sit in the stream and use a sea sponge that he packed with sand from the bottom of the stream to rub off the rest of the lard. I removed the thong and did so.
When I got out of the water, I almost dried my fingers in my hair, but he admonished me and told me to let them dry naturally because it was more sanitary. There were some aloe plants around and he cut off a leaf, removing the thorny edges with his knife. I squeezed the leaf and rubbed the sticky goo into my fingers.
We then went to the large hut and he opened a covered gourd filled with a green salve and handed me a large flat brush. I had to dip the brush in the salve and paint my body with the salve, except my face, groin and feet. The salve irritated some cuts I had, but soon turned cool and numbed my muscles. Then I put my tunic back on.
The Balam Ch’ab settled down on a hammock and told me to do the same. I took the one next to his and kept my eyes on the thatched roof.
He told me that it was common for new students to feel worn out after a few circuits along the wall. “Most of them do not overdo it as you did, though. After the third round, they are usually too tired to continue. The wall looks easy, but it is hard on the hands and the need to maintain balance demands watchfulness. This creates a tension of the body that is difficult to sustain.”
We were through with the wall for the day, he said, because my hands needed time to adjust and that eventually I would notice that the tips of my fingers developed protective calluses that would let me ride the wall for longer periods.
“Did you notice where your sense of self was on your ride?” he asked.
I told him that the wall was so exhilarating that I thought of nothing else.
“That is a pity,” he said. “I hoped that you would keep my words in mind. I cannot blame you, though. We do not have such devices in the city. It is only natural that you would drop all thoughts.”
Sleepiness was overtaking me even though it was early in the day. I nodded at his words and decided to look over at him to see if he saw me nod. He reclined on his hammock staring at the ceiling as I had. He nodded to himself as if he had seen my nod.
“Before you fall asleep, Zaki, I wish to ask you about the story my father, the Ahtzic Uinac, told you. What did he say?”
I told him about the four lineages as best I could.
“I suspected something like that would occur,” he said.
I did not understand and asked him to explain.
“My father is old. I fear he tires of telling stories. Lately, he prefers to tell unvarnished truths without the cushion of formal tales. The proper method would have been for him to have one of his apprentices accompany you and whisper in your ear as he speaks his tale. He must have purposely left the apprentice behind. That way, he could reveal the hidden truths within the story himself.” He sighed. “I have not decided whether it is a result of dementia or determination. I should not interfere.”
I did not want to appear callous by not saying anything, yet I did not really know what to say to him. After a brief time, I said, “Then it must be determination, Balam Ch’ab, because he was quick and clear in his conversation. He was kind enough to teach me about several things. His eyes were not the dull eyes of an old man; they were as shiny as an eagle’s eyes and seemed to notice everything. Tukumux was with us because your father worried about him. He was taking him to some weavers to learn a new trade. You are lucky to be able to claim him as your father. He is kind and intelligent.”
My words must have relieved him because he smiled.
After that, we both fell asleep for a time.
We woke up later in the afternoon when the shadows covered the camp.
We sat on the grass with our backs against some squat stones. The remains of the stew and fruits we ate for dinner were next to us on the grass.
“Balam Ch’ab, how does riding the wall help one turn into a jaguar?”
“One must acquaint oneself with the different parts that compose the jaguar. One part involves the outer physical-ness, feeling the shape and skin of the cat and still another part involves knowing the sensations that occur within the jaguar. Your voice must even become that of the jaguar… for who ever heard of a jaguar speaking as a man? Only the man speaks as a man. The jaguar rolls his growls and his audible vocabulary is singular. Unlike man, he does not engage in idle chatter. Everything the jaguar speaks is to be listened to. His inner voice is harder still for it is composed of assurance and power. His demeanor is one of watchfulness coupled with the assuredness of triumph should battle be called for.”
He stood up then and began pacing around me aimlessly, caught up in his thoughts. “All of this is difficult to explain because you do not yet have the proper background to appreciate my words or put them into context within your own life. You have never bothered to feel how your skin feels wrapped around your muscles or even observed your breath as it flows in and out of you, have you?”
With great embarrassment, I softly shook my head to indicate that I had not done any of those things. Truly, they had never occurred to me.
Still pacing around, he grabbed his lower lip, doubling it as he thought. “Right now, your lessons with the Cabicacmotz are suspended until things settle a bit regarding the pochtecas and the visiting tribes, but soon he will have to address these deficiencies. Or someone else will have to.” He sighed loudly, “Since I have noticed, I must correct it. It is imperative that you notice everything about you, Zaki. Feel which parts of your head are virtually hairless and which are hirsute. Go on now, feel.”
His demand sounded silly to me, but I complied. I felt the smooth curve of my cheek, without the benefit of my hands, and then I felt the fuzzy covered feeling of my scalp. From my scalp, I could only feel a short distance before the feeling diminished and vanished. It was as if my hair no longer connected to me the farther it was from my head. He made me feel the parts with my hands and forearms. Then I repeated the exercise without hands again.
After that, he made me observe how it felt when I swallowed and how often, how my heart felt beating inside my chest and its rhythm, and the sensation of sitting on grass.
He told me that I was to watch myself carefully to observe what I felt, sensed, heard, saw and imagined. I complained that such activities would consume my days and force me into inactivity or useless introspection.
“If you think you can come into the camp and ride the wall without any other work on your part, you are fantasizing. I have no regrets throwing a hopeless student out, especially one who will never work as a Jaguar Knight. Your being here is a gift to you, not me. I will tell you that any undertaking in your schooling is a battle and no battle has ever resulted in triumph without the proper groundwork and knowledge. You are the base in all this and you will get nowhere without knowing everything about yourself because the task is to become a jaguar. How can you transform into something if you do not even know how the original being works and feels? You. When you have to know and keep in mind everything about the secondary being, the jaguar? It cannot be done.”
Feeling lazy after our dinner and not finding work attractive then, I was trying to find a way out of further work. “I know myself, Balam Ch’ab. I know that I will become so immersed in observing myself that I will be unable to step out of my house.”
“You barely know yourself, Zaki. You have not even scratched the surface of your personality and faults. No one can do this work for you; you must do it. I have only called your attention to your physical feelings and they are so foreign to you that they seem to be arcane facets of life. What will you do when you must move your awareness or sense of self to other locations to change into the jaguar? Do you realize that you must view your place on this earth from another perspective than your own? When your sensibilities must be those of the jaguar and not those of a human prince? The only way I know of to buttress you for that shock is for you to know yourself.”
“I warn you that I am going to go into a monologue, about becoming the jaguar, which you must hear. I will be as precise as possible, but you must not interrupt me, unless I ask you a question. I know I have been speaking for a long time. I have an ability to do so even though I do not have the knack to be a storyteller. I am the leader of the Balami as well as the leader for those who are in Mahohcuatah’s left lineage.”
“Because you are also a dreaming student, you have already heard about the dreamer, the body, and the spirit. Man goes in a circle, one could say. His dreamer is to his left and his spirit is to his right, a few feet before him in normal circumstances. I belong to Mahohcuatah’s lineage, so my training involved honing my will and learning to see. This seeing is specialized because it involves seeing energy that is invisible because this energy it is not composed of matter. One approaches the dreamer while one is in the body. Having the dreamer’s sight be secondary to those of the physical body is a good trait for the Jaguar Knights. To have the dreamer be the primary eyesight is dangerous because those will have bad eyesight and attack any living things before them.We have some of those and they have their uses.”
I raised my eyes at this to show how bad an idea I thought that was.
He caught my expression, shrugged and looked somewhat sheepish as he said, “I know. It sounds crazy, but those men must work as Jaguar Knights because they have learned how to become jaguars. We must waste nothing, especially genius. First, we tried only using them on one night, but they decimated the animal life and we never allowed it again. Now we are able to control them better. Do not ask me how, but it involves bringing in the spirit-jaguars. I will discuss that later with you.”
“To belong to my lineage, you must have great will and be able to see energy. I would prefer that you quickly grasp the ability to see energy so we will tackle that the next time you come. It is something that must be done during the day.” He had an afterthought and corrected himself. “Is it true that the Etamanel Evan placed a woman on your belly to help you see the lights in the sky?”
I nodded. The technique was to keep the sun behind my head, bring in my awareness to just behind my eyes and watch as swooping tangles of light illuminated the sky. The sight was wonderful.
“Do not think for a moment that the technique belongs to the seven-pronged. It belongs to mankind itself. Here is what I want from you Zaki, perform that exercise every afternoon or morning. Try to do it when the sun is halfway to its zenith or the horizon. Given your propensity in gazing to excess, have a guard or Chahel with you as the others have commanded.”
“The second part of turning into a jaguar for those of my line is to know their selves so completely that they begin by feeling their body and one by one replacing each quality with the corresponding quality that the jaguar has. You feel your breathing and you replace it with the type of breath that the jaguar breathes. You run down your inventory of how the jaguar differs and put it into practice, leaving behind your humanity, yet retaining your intellect. In addition, the more one does it, the easier it gets. It becomes second nature and men transform immediately by will, they know that state so completely. Otherwise you would have sat in the tent for a great while at the festival”
At the Festival of Adults, before my eyes, the Balam Ch’ab disrobed one moment and became a jaguar the next. My eyes could not believe what they witnessed.
“If you are taking the path of Mahohcuatah, you must keep this in mind. If you take the part of the dreamer, these techniques will show your dreamer the way into that particular sensitivity of being. If intoxicated, you will perform these actions in your mind and you will relive them and find a way to make them a reality. I cannot speak to you of the mushroom because those men are few and I am not one of them. There is something wild and fluid about those men. Personally, I find them rather terrifying because I cannot fathom what they know for they have summoned order from chaos itself, I believe. Likewise do I feel about dreamers because I have never much liked dreaming.” He opened his arms to indicate the realm around us. “This is my world and where I have influence. Do you have any questions?”
“If you belong to the left part of Mahohcuatah’s line, who composes the right line and why?”
A wry look passed over his face and vanished. “You have pre-empted my later explanation of the spirit-jaguars being paired with dreamer-jaguars, but I will answer you anyway as the night is early. He took a deep breath before he said, “You understand the spirit is the companion of man and stands at his right? The dreamer is also man’s companion and stands to his left.”
I told him that Ahtoobalvar and the Cabicacmotz had already described them.
“Well, the right and left are predilections like all others and they are not carved in stone. One day, I might choose the right, but for now, I am more comfortable going left to my dreamer. When that day comes, I must relinquish my leadership of the Mahohcuatah line of body-jaguars and become a novice among the spirit-jaguars.”
“What is the difference?” I asked.
“Purity of spirit, basically. A man’s spirit may reject him if it finds him unworthy. The man must be a paragon of virtue. The spirit enables man to climb to the heavens, therefore miracles manifest for the spirit. Since this is a physical change, the spirit-jaguar must bring the miraculous down to earth, but he cannot enter heaven in that state because he is bound with a body of his own choosing and not the Creator’s.”
“When the body-jaguar is made with the dreamer, the man has chosen a body whose realm is that of earth and the underworld. The realm of the underworld is one of magic and wonders. I long to combine my body with that of the spirit, but I realize that my post might require me to kill a man and my spirit will not allow itself to be tainted in such a manner.”
“Why then must the spirit-jaguars accompany the jaguar-dreamers who cannot see well and are dangerous?”
“Because they can reverse the mistakes of their charges and bring the dead back to life. Indeed, that belongs to the miraculous. To countermand death is a divine gift. Magic is useful, but miracles are manifestations of heaven upon earth.”
“Be careful, Zaki, that you do not get lost in our taxonomy of terms, many overlap. There are four lineages, but we often refer to those in them by the terms body-jaguar, spirit-jaguar and dream-jaguar. These terms do not refer to any one lineage; they are just convenient ways of looking at things. Body-jaguar refers to when the body combines with the dreamer, yet the eyes of the body are dominant. A spirit-jaguar means that the spirit is used, in any combination. Even if the eyes of the body are the primary ones, the spirit has so much power that the combination is called a spirit-jaguar. A dream jaguar results when the governing sight is that of the dreamer and the secondary sight is that of the body. All of these permutations can be found within the lineages.”
He looked up at the stars and said, “It grows late. Go to your hammock and sleep. Tomorrow, the Cabicacmotz will arrive early to retrieve you and bring you back to your home. Apply more aloe to your fingers before you sleep.”
The Balam Ch’ab stood up and went to the large hut. When I went into the small hut, I saw that Chahel was already there, asleep under my hammock. Sleep came easily.