Since my recent return from a ten-week Ancestor Pilgrimage to Italy and Greece, life feels dreamy, its impermanence consistently obvious in a way it wasn’t before. Something is done. I am unwinding into something else. I’ve been losing my grounding on the earth plane. As contrasted with a tethered sense of specificity in the here and now, I’ve experienced a kind of drift away into Everything.

Today I got some insight from the Voladores, who I happened to witness in Ajijic performing their flying ceremony on the Malecon. This is a ritual that stretches back into pre-Hispanic times, associated today with the Totonac people around Papantla in Veracruz. Four “birdmen” representing the four directions spin around a 30 meter pole to represent the recreation of the world and the regeneration of life. They climb the pole, wind the ropes around the top and tie themselves to the ends. The four ropes are each wound thirteen times for a total of fifty-two, the number of years in an Aztec calendar cycle They then launch themselves backwards to descend upside down suspended by the wound ropes, creating a moving pyramidal shape.

I first experienced their ritual in 1996 in El Tejin, and wrote the poem that follows this post. Twenty-five years later, their ceremony suggests a different meaning to me. When I watched the dancers today (despite the fact that girls are not permitted in the School of Volador Children sponsored by the Veracruz state government, and despite the fact that the Council of Totonac Elders has formally prohibited the inclusion of women), I saw myself spinning on the thick rope. I am unwinding toward the ground. As my rope unwinds, I spin like a Volador – and oh, how different the world appears.

I wonder if this isn’t the dizzying perspective many of us share, at this make-or-break point in the human story. Most of us are aware on some level that we are alive in the whirl of possible human extinction. Our ancestors never had to face species impermanence. We are being called upon to transform ourselves in ways as radical as that of a caterpillar surrendering its whole existence into juice before its metamorphosis into a new being. The ride to new selves on a new ground may certainly discompose us, yet we are being called upon, for the sake of our descendants, to launch.

Voladores of El Tejín

Like their Totonaca ancestors,
they turn, before our eyes,
into birds.
As their ropes unwind,
we gasp to watch the flyers
circle, and descend, and circle,
thirteen times around the pole.
Upside down they fly,
headfirst into the world
the way a baby comes,
trust and surrender essential.
Their headpiece plumage,
mirrored to catch the sun,
whirls light around the sacred pole.
Only when their feathers
brush the Mother Earth,
do the voladores
flip lightly to their feet.
Afterwards the youngest tells me:
Without the calma of our heart,
our prayer would crack,
our bodies break.
Only with a heart of quietud,
will our prayer stay whole,
and safe flight be given.

©Susa Silvermarie 1996


One Response to “Launching

  • I love the calma and the quietud. I try to respond that way whenever life turns me upside down. I vividly remember seeing them do this at the World’s Fair in 1964 in Queens- really opened up my world. Gracias!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *