The Jaguar At The Altar

The Healer’s Password

One day a Mayan Medicine Man came from his village in Yucatan, Mexico, to share the wisdom of their traditional shamans, the Mayan Day-keepers, with us hungry to hear it. It was around 2012 so having an elder around to affirm indigenous understanding of this date was helpful.

We spoke of their practice, how they work with patients, and deal with the government and the church. The conversation came around to some of the special considerations needed when working on another healer, witch or even a light bringer of some sort. 

He said the key to working with practitioners was Ek Balam, Black Jaguar. He explained that everybody in the healing industry, the midwife in a back alley and the surgeon at MD Anderson alike, had to pass through the Jaguar.

In our culture the Jaguar is ancient and powerful. In the stories of the Five Suns that came before, the Ocelotl, Jaguars, were the dominant “people” of the third Sun. The cats are associated with fire, the night, predatory instincts. In this Sun they help us with seeing in the dark, things we can’t normally perceive, finding courage, for one. Jaguars certainly have a presence on all our ancient sites, temples, pyramids and the like. Recognized in tribal ritual and ceremony from Mexico all the way to Chile, Ocelotl is what they’d call a universal totem/power animal. 

A past incident popped in my mind the moment the daykeeper said, “pass through the Jaguar.”  I figured, if he is right about that, which I now believe fervently, the level of fear we experience forms part of our passage, whatever gesture we may be having with the big feline. 

I found my password many years ago. In the still of the night, left in camp as the one too young to go out hunting with the rest, I was expecting something; I didn’t know if it would be terrible or wonderful, but something. The silence was, as they say, deafening, and, to top it off, I couldn’t see anything either. Things got quieter and darker when suddenly I hear the growl of a mountain lion. I swear I caught a drift of her scent and I thought she was certainly at my ear. The sound filled my being, and the whole world, for all I knew. I heard it in every inch of my body, but still, there’s more than fear in that growl. 

That kind of fear gets your attention, but when one endures the moment, there’s more than just fear in the encounter with Ocelotl. There’s power in it, too. One experiences a power that can devour you or propel you, depending, again, on you. One of those powers is seeing in the dark, or she can teach you how to hunt, or how to get your promotion, name it, it’s about doing anything and everything in the dark. That’s cat medicine. 

Isn’t that something like life? Did you ever feel like you were walking in the dark? Did you ever marvel at how cool the big cats are?

We then consulted the Jaguar every time we had a healer or a spiritual practitioner at the altar. In other words, no matter what the patient was feeling, no matter how different the patient and we may be, we had something in common. We both know the Jaguar on some level, and that is the  entry point to where the healing can be found.

Jaguar is medicine, from the medical profession, from the lady on the corner. We apply that medicine to heal, to have, to access. The big cat is Earth medicine. 


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