Archives: Day of the Dead

Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico

October 24 - November 8, 2008

Altar set up by participants to honour the deadGuides: Nancy Sherwood, and Maria MacKenzie-Cann.

Our journey to the Yucatan was one of people and events that supported our intentions to honor life to fullest and to surrender to the moment. We came to remember the dead and to release ourselves from the illusion of separation from them. We came to do ceremony and ritual that would bring healing and awareness to ourselves and to serve others.

We chose to explore this in a land where the ancestors are honored in a month long festival that peaks at the beginning of November, called Day of the Dead.

Figurine in a museumIn the Mayan tradition the spirits of the dead are invited to feast with us and so we get to experience a timeless connection with the ancestors. Since we are embodied for such a short time in this life it is a good practice to remember that life is precious and to remind ourselves of where we all are going, in a cycle of birth, death, and rebirth.

The Mayans of the Yucatan engage in their celebration by building altars in homes and in public, in towns and in cemeteries. These altars carry images of loved ones, candles, food, flowers, and drink. It is said that the departed come back to enjoy their favorite treats so cigars and special dishes are included.

Altar in MeridaIn Merida, we saw over eighty public altars in the main plaza. Copal was being burned to purify and cleanse the energies. We were invited into the enclosures of the altars that were placed all around the square and were asked to share the feast. Mr and Mrs DeathPerformances and dance featured contemporary archetypal figures such as Death and Lady Death, representations of various nature spirits, and the children costumed as ancient kings that built the Mayan pyramids. History was taking place in front of us, spanning thousands of years. Gum chewing teens watched the interactive players and took part in family gatherings. Mothers in traditional dress pressed their children forward in the friendly masses of festival goers, where all got caught in the mood of a great festival. We lost ourselves in the sound of flutes, drums and conchs, to scented smoke, and to brilliant colors. We succumbed to the sultry heat and let the visible and invisible worlds blur and merge. We walked at times weeping, at times laughing in the crowd of seen and unseen spirits. Moving between worlds became a familiar and intimate procession into the unknown as hands grasped out to pull us in, food appeared, and we became “all our relations.”

Hacienda Chalante Grounds of Hacienda Chalante Visiting the horses at the hacienda

We brought our own ancestors with us to a hacienda near Izamal. Hacienda San Antonio Chalante dates from the late 18th century and the area of its has been sought out for much longer by those seeking healing water and shelter. Izamal pyramidThe Yucatan is an archaeologists dream and Izamal area is an old pilgrimage site.

Flower bouquet The porch of the Hacienda Chalante Breakfast at the Hacienda Chalante

Our altar at the haciendaOur group of pilgrims found an abandoned house chapel, cleaned it and refurbished the altars. We were there to honor people in our own families and communities at home and abroad. We had been asked to include and remember people’s loved ones on the Other Side. Our “grandmothers” shamanic work paralleled the care that the local people were taking to visit their relatives’ graves and to clear them for renewal. At the hacienda chapel we brought out our own food, drink, memorial photos and ribbons.

Honouring our lost childrenOn Oct. 31 we created a ritual for the children (lost through miscarriage, abortion, death and missing from our lives). We put toys, candy skulls and coffins, flowers, a fairy wand and a wreath on a pure, white cloth, together with our ribbons and candles to attract the spirits of the children. We wanted them to feel remembered and we prayed that the parents would be supported and find release in their grief.  We had a special ribbon for unnamed children and we asked that all souls go to the Light.

The next night we remade the altar for the adults and animals that had impacted our lives and the lives of others who had entrusted us with stories and mementoes. Tobacco, alcohol, and other grownup pleasures joined the honey, tortilla flour and buns that we placed on small, colorful plates. The abundance and wealth of expression reflected the richness of the Hanging our ribbons in a treelives of those gone before us. Dancing, singing and playing our instruments woke up the sleeping spirits, and we invited them to partake in our festive circle, We were fortunate to experience their presence and wisdom, which was marked by the visit of a large spider, the Weaver, at the end of our ceremony.

With the kind permission of Diane, one of the hacienda’s owners, we tied the ribbons to a tree when we left, releasing our prayers to the sun and the winds.

Chitzen Itza Uxmal Ek Balam

Our visits to other places of ancient habitation, the famous ruins of Chitzen Itza, Uxmal, Tulum and Ek Balam, revealed other opportunities for us to gather in ceremony. We could easily join with the ancestral spirits on these sacred sites. By honoring and releasing any past events that blocked our personal and collective growth, we could participate in a universal dance.


The spirits of the Mayans that had created a unique calendar, and who lived with much attention to the movements of the planets and stars, were allowing us a chance to step between the worlds again, into timelessness. In these other realms we could create contemporary rituals that support our lives and those of others in the present. We had the “permission” of the ancients as well as the modern guides and stewards of the historic sites.

Dancing at Tulum

UxmalThe underlying sacred geometry of our group was the 5-pointed star (see Irish pilgrimage, 2008) and it was a reflection of heaven on earth, matching essence to form. We were co-creating the conditions for bringing soul healing, growth and protection to ourselves and our communities. As in the Celtic weaving work [see footnote*] we had an opportunity to reweave Fate and impact on the future of the planet. Jaguar at Chitzen ItzaThis is not an overstatement of the way change works. If you think of the principle of the impact of a butterfly’s wings inJapan possibly affecting energy on the other side of the world, that is close to the idea.The jaguar spirit and the butterfly were our constant companions, reminding us of soul work and potentials for personal and global transformation.

pool Log on a beach Cenote

bird and flowersWe luxuriated in the natural world of trees, flowers, birds and lizard allies, who provided movement, sound, and color to our surroundings. The food was extraordinarily fresh and yet ordinary fare for those who live among coconut and fruit trees and eat handmade tortillas every day. Yucatan shopThe present residents of the Yucatan were mostly gentle and friendly, enthusiastic and open. The expatriates we met were often women who steward places where visitors can come to appreciate life in this Mayan area of Mexico. Some of them had married into Mayan families and do not want to go back to North America’s more frantic pace. The personal stories of these marvelous women could make a whole other chapter.

Palm trees on beach Sharing on the beach in the waves

We saw warning signs of the kind of disconnected change that we had seen in Ireland; highways and resorts are being built that will take people away from the land to an existence more divorced from the earth. “Our” model of “progress” is impacting people who see television every day that tells them they are missing the lifestyle that North Americans experience. This clash of realities is inevitable and we are all part of it.

Pilgrimage brings up these difficult questions and we must bring them home to ponder whether the human spirit can successfully absorb and integrate what is viewed as progressive from another point of view.

Pilgrems resting in Tulum Typical street scene, Mexico Village restaurant

Maya relief carvingOn pilgrimage, we are not only looking for a past that forms a connection to our soul essence, but also a future that can support that connection. We travel in modern times and we realize how spiritually impoverished our secular society is and how much danger there is that the spiritually rich places of the earth will lose touch with the soul of the planet as well, instead of exchanging with us – more physical prosperity for them, more soul life for us. Rebalancing brings up the question of how to live in appropriate relationship with all beings.Yucatan coast aerialFrom shoreline to mountain, cenote to cave, pyramid to sandy beach, dirt roads to toll roads, we traveled the diversity of the Yucatan, passing between centuries and placing ourselves in solidarity with those in the cultures of the South, still holding the legacy of the Web of Light in these challenging times.

We pilgrims and friends gathered again Dec. 21, 2008. The alignment of the solstice with the wisdom of play of the South brought us remembrance – that we are all working toward Unity and Peace.

Nancy SherwoodHo!  

Nancy Sherwood

Of Note: There was always a medallion of Peace with us during the trip made by Pam Birdsall of Birdsall-Worthington Pottery, Mahone Bay, Nova Scotia

* Our ancestors were familiar with weaving fabric, the energetic level of Light weaving was also known as medicine in the many ancient shamanic cultures. A spider appeared again at the end of our last group circle and reminded me of why we are doing this work for the ones to follow us. The appearance of the spider, grandmother medicine and the ceremony we did with the children’s spirits in Mexico, took me back to the ceremony we did in Scotland on Holy Island. We are able to recover personal and global soul loss and to “make repairs” in the Web of Light, so that future generations may enjoy the earth. [back]