Category Archives: Beliefs

Spanish style houses come into view

Juan and his father had come to an amicable agreement with their porters and on the next morning the porters had prepared their rations and stood and watched as the two headed south.  Juan picks up the story:-

On the second day we started to climb through the foothills of the Sierra Madre. Father continued taking his readings every hour, and I prepared our evening meal while he wrote up his notes.

It was on the morning of our sixth day alone that we topped another scrub-covered ridge and stopped in amazement. Every other ridge we had breasted had presented us with another in the distance. This one walled a cultivated valley. Through a quirk in the geology the valley had steeper sides than any we had seen. Instead of being a dip between ridges it had a finite shape. The far side was a distinct wall of rock. To the east a small river gushed down a steep incline, almost a waterfall, and then meandered gently across the flat valley floor to a lake that lay glistening in the sun away to the west. The banks of the river flanked neat fields. On each side of the river a white road wound through the fields, joining near a small bridge to become a single road leading into a village of white, flat-roofed, Spanish-styled houses.

“The Valley of Quetzalcóatl,” I heard my father murmur. It was then I noticed something else: although the fields looked well-tended, there was no sign of movement anywhere in the valley.

I mentioned it to my father.

He shrugged his shoulders and looked up towards the sun. “The people will be taking siesta now. It will be warmer in the valley than here on the ridge. Come, let’s go down and see if we can meet the dwellers of Quetzalcóatl’s valley.”  With that he hitched his rucksack onto his shoulders and set off down the slope.

After a few moments’ hesitation I followed him. As we walked through the fields we could see stone-lined irrigation channels leading water from the river to every field. “This is the work of skilled men,” father said as we walked. “No Indians I’ve ever known would do this.”

We turned a bend in the road and saw ahead of us a white cottage with orange trees in the garden and a vine with bright yellow flowers growing all over the veranda. Almost as soon as we saw the cottage a man appeared in the doorway.  As he looked around he saw us. For a long moment he stood still; then he went back into the cottage.

“I have a feeling we shall soon find out what sort of people live in Quetzalcóatl’s Valley, Juan,” my father said. “Just stay calm. I have my rifle and pistol if we need them – just pray we don’t have to use them.”

We kept walking and were within twenty metres of the cottage when the man reappeared, closely followed by a second man. Father and I stopped in our tracks – both were carrying guns. “Easy, Juan,” my father warned.

But it wasn’t just the guns that made us stop – it was the men themselves.

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The Strange Story Continues

Last week we left Juan Jaime Domenech and his father with a trail that had vanished, leiving them in unchartered territory. Juan Jaime continues his story:

Our measurement stops were now every hour. At each stop my father set up his equipment and took readings from the four points of the compass. Temperature was checked and altitude calculated. He made notes of the type of country through which we passed and the plant and animal life we could see. At night when we made camp he would write up all the notes in his big survey journal, while the Indians prepared the meal.

We were into our third week of the survey when one of the Indians came to see my father. He asked him a simple, direct question: “Señor, where are you leading us?”

When my father indicated the way ahead, still due south toward the rising mountains, the Indian became quite agitated. “‘Señor,” he said, “we are employed to follow you and work for you. To do as you wish of us. But we would prefer it if you would turn aside from this route you show us. If you do not, I fear many Indians will leave and return to their homes.”

Father was surprised at this. It was totally against the Indians’ nature to threaten mutiny. “Why is that?” he asked.

“Señor Domenech, this route we follow will take us to the sacred Valley of Quetzalcóatl. To approach the valley is to invoke the wrath of the great white god.”

My father did not laugh. Quetzalcóatl was a god of the Mexican Indians who reigned during the Golden Age before the Aztecs. He had disappeared, leaving a promise to return. When Hernando Cortez and his 600 Spaniards appeared in 1518, they were welcomed as the return of Quetzalcóatl. Father knew that fear and respect for the god was bred deep in the Indians, and that they would do nothing to risk his anger.

“I understand,” he said. “My son and I will continue this part of the survey alone. You will all wait here for our return. I shall return within 14 days and then survey the area to the west of here.”

The Indian was pleased at father’s decision. Next morning they prepared our rations and stood and watched as we headed south.

It is New Year’s Eve – and things happen

Tomorrow is a New Year; new work; new challenges – and long standing beliefs. These beliefs go back to happenings long ago – but were they ‘real happeningsor are they just stories?  No-one knows for certain – but while there is doubt there is risk so when in doubt….. – now that’s up to you!  The decision is up to you – and this is one such situation.

Walk along the High Street at Stonehaven in Scotland at Midnight on this night and you’ll come across the Ancient Fireballs Ceremony. This fishing community, 16 miles south of Aberdeen, is ‘home’ to one of the unique Hogmanay festivals in Scotland – and argued by many as the best.

For over 150 years, at the stroke of midnight, the High Street has been lit up as sixty or so local fireball-swingers make their way through their town, swinging their fireballs above their heads. It looks dangerous but the fireballs are very safely packed in wire cages and attached to strong, five-foot-long wire ropes. The balls are made of combustible and oily waste matter, (rags, twigs, cones, bits of coal), soaked in paraffin and are held together in a case of wire mesh. The ‘balls’ are made as heavy as each ‘swinger’ feels they can handle – anything from 5 to 15 pounds. Some balls can be 3 feet in diameter and, in the past, have been recorded to burn for 2 hours!  Now, however, they only last for 20 minutes maximum: – Health & Safety rules must be followed you know!

For the parade, the swingers, all of whom must reside in the Burgh, march down the High Street to the accompaniment of Pipes and Drums from the Mercat Cross to the Police Station, swinging the flaming balls around their heads. After the ‘fireball swingers’ have proceeded through the town they go down to the harbour where the balls are then thrown into the sea.

As you would expect, fireball-swinging is an energetic activity. One regular participant recorded recently that: “I can personally attest to the effort needed to continue swinging for the 10-15 minutes the ball will burn.”  

The ceremony is said to date from a fishermen’s festival in the 19th century but these torch processions can be dated back to before Christianity arrived in Scotland and there are a number of theories about the significance of the festival.  Some say that it coincides with the winter solstice and the swinging fireballs relate to the recall of the sun but others follow the pre-Christian theory in that the fireballs are to purify the world by consuming evil and warding off witches and evil spirits.

Another, more detailed, theory is that at some time in the Dark Ages a shooting star appeared above what is now Stonehaven and that those living nearby had bumper crops in the following year. The seers of the tribe then attributed this prosperity to the coming of the shooting star.  The Fireball is regarded as a mimic of that shooting star and that recalling it at this time will bring a return of that prosperity.

Now, whatever the background, this celebration has become such a popular event that, in the interests of safety, barriers are erected to separate the swingers and pipe bands, and control the thousands that come to spectate! But the spectacle and atmosphere are still second to none.