The new Maya Medicine hut, located next to the Medicine Trail, is progressing well and will soon become a centre for visitors to Chaa Creek. Here, visitors will be able to discover nature’s pharmacy and learn from the wisdom of the ancient Maya about plants which can promote wellness or cure common ailments.
The Belize Medicine Trail is a popular attraction and the guided walk is a must to really enjoy the plants of the forest in a new way. On this nature walk your guide will point out an amazing variety of trees with medicinal uses, such as the Cockspur which can slow the spread of venom around the body if you are bitten by a snake. Or the Gumbo-limbo or ‘tourist tree’ with its red peeling bark, resembling the sun burnt skin of a tourist. In fact, the bark of this tree is an antibiotic and can soothe sun burn.
Alongside the trail, the hut will further educate visitors about the healing power of plants and the ‘bush doctors’ who use plants and prayers to heal. The centre is being created in memory of Don Elijio Panti, one of the last great Maya h’mens or ‘doctor-priests’ who died in 1996, aged 103. Healers such as Don Elijio worked not only with medicinal plants but on a spiritual level using dream visions, prayers, spiritual baths and incense.
For the Ancient Maya there was no distinction between the sacred and profane and spirituality permeated every aspect of their lives. In the modern world, we have lost the connection between mind, body and soul often leading stressed out and disconnected lives. Chronic stress and emotional distress have been linked to problems such as high blood pressure, heart disease, asthma, bronchitis and even cancer. The Maya recognise spiritual as well as physical causes of illness and unlike western medicine, healers treat the whole body, mind and spirit promoting overall wellness.
Today, we recognise chronic illnesses such as depression, anxiety and stress as having both psychological and physical causes. The Maya defined such problems in terms of four major spiritual illnesses: susto or fright, pesar or grief, tristeza or sadness and invidia or envy. These spiritual illnesses are treated through prayer, herbal baths and incense. Those wishing to heal their life or just promote wellness could read “Rainforest Home Remedies: the Maya way to heal your body and replenish your soul’” by Rosita Arvigo and Nadine Epstein. This book is very readable and contains sections on the principles of Maya medicine, remedies using common plants for physical ailments, massage and spiritual healing.
Ix Chel, Goddess of healing
Ix Chel is the Maya goddess of healing. She is depicted as either a young maiden or an old crone. The young Ix Chel presides over childbirth and weaving whilst the old woman reigns over the moon and medicine.
Ix Chel is the consort of the chief God of the Maya Pantheon. Ix Chel and Itzamna had 13 sons, two of whom created heaven and the earth.
She is often depicted with a whirling drop spindle- this is meant to be the centre of the motion of the universe. She is always seen with a snake on her head, which is the universal symbol of healing. Ix Chel is depicted in Ix Chel is usually wearing blue, possibly symbolizing her role as goddess of water.
FEATURED PLANT: RUE
Rue is often grown in backyards and pots in homes throughout Belize. In traditional healing, Rue is well respected as it can treat a variety of physical ailments. The leaves are squeezed into a glass of water, strained and drunk to ease stomach cramps, kill intestinal worms, prevent attacks of epilepsy, stop vomiting or to calm the nerves. To ease childbirth and aid contractions rue water is sipped during delivery. Rue leaves are soaked in alcohol to use as a balm for sore muscles, backache, headaches, muscle spasms and to massage those suffering from fever, exhaustion or fainting spells.
Rue is also seen as a powerful ally in treating spiritual diseases such as warding off envy, the evil eye, witchcraft, fright and grief. Patients eat the leaves, prepare a drink or bath with them. Protective amulets to ward off evil spirits or envy can be made with fresh sprigs of rue.
Belize Adventure Journal:
We are Kate Wright and Jessica Gill, interns from England who have been staying at Chaa Creek and learning about the healing herbs of Belize as we create a new centre. Having renovated the hut, this week Kate was painting a beautiful portrait of the Maya goddess of healing, whilst I experienced a spiritual healing ceremony.
This week Kate has been busy painting a portrait of the young Ix Chel for the centre. Everyone has been keen to see how she is progressing and some brave folks have even offered her tips to improve her work. Kate is a gap year student and when she let slip that she has just taken A-level Art I quickly nominated her to be the artist of the project. Kate chose blue for Ixchel’s clothing, not only as it’s an attractive colour but in researching the goddess we found she is frequently depicted in blue. Blue seemed appropriate as Ix Chel is the goddess of water and it was a sacred colour for the Ancient Maya.
Meanwhile, I was incredibly fortunate this week to experience a spiritual healing first hand with a healer in Belize who is preserving the traditional knowledge. She began by asking if I had experienced a shock or trauma in my life and we talked about a frightening experience that occurred several years ago which meant that I was suffering from ‘Susto’ or fright. The healing ritual included the burning of copal as incense, being bathed in water and prayers to the Maya spirits. The experience is different for every person, but for me it was profound. The ceremony seemed to me to mark the beginning of a new life. I left feeling relaxed, refreshed and renewed.