“Yucatan Journeys with Don Tomas”

Don Tomas

After my participation in the Ojai Foundation workshop, I continued to stay in touch with Joan Halifax, the director. When she put a trip together with Harley Swiftdeer to visit the Yucatan and Chichen Itza in April of 1985, I gladly signed up. This was the beginning of my love affair with Mexico and the first of many trips there. Here are a couple of good background websites: 

A group of about 12 experienced people journeyed there. It was a long flight down to Merida, the main city in the Yucatan, and after we cleared customs and collected our bags, we took several mini buses out to a beautiful hacienda-hotel near the ruins in Chichen Itza. We were hot and tired when we arrived, so everyone took a quick shower and met out by the pool in the shade for a couple of cold cervazas and a quick orientation as to what we would be doing the next several days. We were kicking back, just enjoying the beautiful surroundings when we happened to spy several men with rifles out past the pool area in the jungle. We watched them for several minutes then called the young waitress over. “Say, Miss, we happened to notice some men wandering around with rifles over there in the underbrush. What’s that all about?” “No problem, Sir,” she answered. “We had some trouble with guerillas last week, but everything is ok now.”  What ??!!??  We started to examine our surroundings a bit more carefully and began to feel very paranoid. That peaceful, happy feeling was long gone. We subconsciously circled closer together and kept on drinking. What else could you do? 

The next morning we met a man who was to be a close friend of mine in the future. 

His name was Antonio Koyoc Pat, and he worked for the Mexican government in their Archaeology Department. He was a native of the Yucatan and grew up in a small village near Chichen Itza. His job was to explore the jungle and decide which of the many thousands of Mayan ruins it would be worthwhile to conduct a dig on. Thus, he spent a lot of time in the jungle wandering around and checking out the ruins. He spoke Mayan and Spanish and had an extensive knowledge of the area, as well as Mayan history and culture. To wit, he was the perfect guide.

Antonio gave us a quick lecture on the ruins of Chichen Itza, then we walked over to explore the site. It is beautifully preserved and with Antonio leading the way and giving us some intriguing insight into the development of the Mayans at that time, we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. The ruins are fairly extensive, and it took us 2 days to completely see all the sites. All along were fabulous scenes, and I took a lot of incredible slides that I put together for a slide show later upon return.

On the third day there, we set off to explore some sacred cenotes and caves in the neighboring countryside. The Yucatan peninsula is literally covered with underground caves and rivers and occasionally these rivers surface and form a pond, which is called a cenote.  After several hours of rough trekking in the jungle, we reached a beautiful emerald green pond. It was amazingly clear, and it wasn’t before long that we all stripped off and swam for a while to cool off as we were really hot and had been eaten up by monstrous mosquitoes along the trail. 

After we cooled off, Antonio told us about how when the Spanish came, the Mayans literally had to take their religion underground to protect it and hide it from the Spanish who had outlawed it. The Mayans thus used the myriad of caves that were connected to various underground rivers to conduct their ceremony.  They were also able to travel quickly and safely all around the Mayan peninsula by boats on this underground highway system. 

Antonio then led us deep into one of the most beautiful caves I have ever seen- replete with gorgeous stalactites and stalagmites. Eventually, after a long slog through numerous rooms, we entered a small passage which led to a circular ceremonial room.

I might add that Antonio was also a shaman trained in the ancient tradition of the Mayan religion. Although no one knew the exact meaning of the words he used in his chants and prayers, no one could miss the energy and feeling which emanated from him. It was strange, because the cadence and rhythm of his ceremony was very similar to a Catholic mass. Whatever it was, it was quite impressive, and we all got quite a natural high and felt quite connected to the land. Antonio later mentioned that his people had been conducting ceremony at that site for several hundred years- even before the arrival of the Spanish. That was not difficult to believe as it had a very ancient and sacred feel to it.

The next day, we travelled in old pick-up trucks for several hours into the jungle where we met Don Tomas in a small, poor village. Don Tomas was a vital 103 years old when we met him. He was an amazing character and one hell of a shaman, who was known all over the region. Don Tomas was barely 5 feet tall- slender and very fit. In fact, early most mornings, Don Tomas would run several miles through the jungle or use his machete to cut his way through the verdant jungle to a distant location to collect herbs and flowers for his healing remedies. You see, Don Tomas was the village doctor, and no matter what ailed you, he could fix it. Whether you had physical, mental, emotional or spiritual problems, Don Tomas had a cure for you and all for free. Villagers would just gift him whatever they could afford, such as something handmade or perhaps some corn or fruit.  No matter how humble the gift, it was fine with Don Tomas.  He was poor in possessions but rich in heart.

After drinking some local tea with his visitors and chatting a while, Don Tomas led us back to a tiny, open air hut on the backside of his property. The first thing we noticed was an amazing collection of herbs and flowers and various powders and liquid concoctions made to take care of numerous ailments. On the shelves around his humble hut and hanging from his rafters were a chaotic jumble of dried plants, herbs and some colorful flowers. The smell was amazingly sweet and rich. 

He sat down beside a small rickety wooden table covered with a cloth that had been embroidered. He then began to speak Mayan to us which Antonio translated into Spanish and was then translated again into English. Don Tomas hardly spoke Spanish at all- even less than I did!  Anyway, Don Tomas proceeded to explain to us how he diagnosed his patients, which turned out to be his very own unique style of seeing into the other world.

Don Tomas first lit a candle then started to pray and chant and call in the various spirits and spirit guides of his world. While continuing to chant, he picked up a long, tall, gin glass and using 2 fingers deftly placed 5 or 6 large, circular, clear quartz crystals into the glass one at a time. Each crystal was about the size of a walnut and amazingly clear. Next, he poured some special water he had prepared and blessed earlier into the glass until all the crystals were covered. After more chanting, he slowly reached in the glass with his two fingers again and pulled out one of the crystals orbs. Our group watched with rapt attention while he held the crystal in front of the candle light, then began “to read” what images he saw upon the crystal. He then proceeded to give an excellent and very accurate reading on several of our group who had various health ailments. It became apparent that his spirits talked to him through the use of crystals. Not only was he seeing images, but he was also hearing the voices of his spirit guides. 

Antonio later told us that Don Tomas had found these crystals at Chichen Itza, and that the ancient Mayans had seeded all their pyramids and important structures with quartz crystals as a way to magnify and protect the energy of the sacred buildings. When the western archaeologists came along and started to excavate the pyramid sites in the Yucatan, they carelessly tossed the crystals over their shoulder thinking they were of no value and without purpose. 

Antonio also told us that Don Tomas learned to be a shaman in quite an unusual way. Traditionally, “would-be shamans” served as apprentices for many years before being able to heal on their own. Everything was learned from the master slowly over time. But in Don Tomas’s case, the shaman in his village refused to take him on as an apprentice because he sensed that he would become a great shaman and outshine him. Antonio said he just wanted to deny Don Tomas his power. 

This did not deter Don Tomas, however, and one day when he was a young adolescent, he took a trip to Chichen Itza where he discovered his quartz crystals while exploring the ruins. He says they just called to him, and he walked over and found them. From that point in time, Don Tomas just “listened” to the crystals, and the spirit guides taught him through the crystals everything he needed to learn. I have never heard or seen anyone use this exact technique when working with crystals. It was all quite unusual and fascinating.

We spent the rest of that day with Don Tomas talking about healing and his incredible life. While we were chatting, his wife was in her simple kitchen cooking us a late lunch. She was 83 years old and Don Tomas’s third wife, Don Tomas having outlived the first two. Everyone in our group fell in love with her, as she had the most beautiful smile and was your archetypal grandmother. She just had one big, big heart. She also cooked up one of the best meals I have ever eaten. Although it was just a basic meal of black beans and tortillas, it was all so fresh and tasted just like manna from heaven. It was unbelievably delicious. Everyone kept eating and eating, and she just kept smiling and slapping more tortillas on the griddle to cook. Eventually, we had to call out “no mas!” 

We were stuffed and completely satisfied. Finally, near sunset, we had to leave. It had been an amazing day, and a real honor to spend some time with a Mayan curendero. I had made a real heart connection with Don Tomas and his wife Maria, and I knew I would be coming back to see him soon. We all stood in a circle, then said a simple prayer of thanks and got back into the vans to start our long journey home.

After ten days, we returned home to California, tired but fulfilled. It had been an amazing trip, and I had learned so much.  I had not only found a soul brother in Antonio, but also a mentor in Don Tomas. Although I had studied the Gemological Institute of America long distance course for colored stones and always had a natural affinity for gemstones, this trip had been my first experience with natural quartz crystals, and I was fascinated. Upon return to Santa Barbara, I read everything I could find on the subject and attended several workshops in the area. This was the beginning of my life-long connection to quartz crystals and their magical powers.

After I returned home to Santa Barbara, I began to create medicine wheels made of crystals so at to affect some magic in my life.  I always included Don Tomas in my ceremonies and prayers, and still felt I had a strong connection to him. Little did I know how deep that connection with him really was. 

Over the next several years, I returned to visit Antonio and Don Tomas on three different occasions. I went by myself on the next visit and spent 2 weeks there, mostly living in the village with Don Tomas and his wife. There was so much to learn, but language was a serious impediment. When Antonio could get away from his job and come to the village, he would translate what Don Tomas was telling me in Mayan. Without Antonio, it was charades time- just watch and try to learn. Nevertheless, it was truly a pleasure and an honor to just hang around with Don Tomas as he was a beautiful man. 

Living with Don Tomas and his lovely wife was very calming. They led such a simple life. They hung a hammock for me next to theirs in their one room hut and taught me how to keep moving the hammock with my foot on the floor, even while asleep to keep the huge mosquitoes from biting me. It is a skill that all Mayans learn early on the keep from getting eaten alive. I enjoyed the simple fare his sweet wife cooked every day- mostly tortillas and black beans. I never got tired of eating her food. 

If I had not been a family man, I surely would have stayed on and tried to learn Mayan to better understand the healing techniques and ceremonies that Don Tomas performed. As it was, I learned a lot and got very close to Don Tomas, who, of course, did not need language to see the real me or understand me.

One afternoon, Antonio showed up and said,” Come on! There’s something I want you to see.” Antonio being a man of few words offered no other explanations. After a lengthy drive, we got out and hiked through the jungle for an hour or so. I was dying as it was brutally hot and humid. The jungle is so dense it just suffocates you. It’s like the heat just completely overwhelms you. As you know, I grew up in Houston so I was quite familiar with high heat and humidity, but this was like nothing I had ever experienced before. I felt like the heat was just attacking me. I felt really faint and asked when we would reach our destination. Antonio just looked at me, smiled and jerked his head in the direction down the trail. 

Finally, we reached a clearing which led to a large, open area. As we stepped out of the jungle, I could see that there was a round, beautiful, tranquil pond about 100 meters across, no more than 30 yards from where we stood. A gust of refreshing, cool breeze gently caressed us then from all around this special sacred cenote. We sat down and conducted a ceremony of prayer. We asked for a healing of myself, the earth and all people. After we finished the short prayer, the sky immediately filled with millions and millions of tiny, bright yellow butterflies that arose from the west end of the cenote. Their fluttering wings, beating amongst themselves, shimmered and shimmied. They filled the sky from horizon to horizon and formed a massive 3-D hallucination as they danced into the sky in their choreographed migration. We stood in complete awe as they continued to fill the sky. The holy procession of butterflies went on and on. It was the most amazing natural sight I had ever seen. I felt touched by God- nay, surrounded by God. There is no way to describe this explosion of living color. It was simply unforgettable. 

Antonio told me after a while that this was a particularly sacred spot for the Mayans. Antonio knew that this mass of butterflies would be migrating at this time in the area and wished for me to see it. Needless to say I felt blessed and fortunate. I later learned that this butterfly is named “Cloudless Sulphur” and are known as “Wings of Light.”  They are quite famous in their own right. Though it is a delicate creature, it has the strength to make the migration north across the Caribbean to North America. Some cloudless sulphurs on the east coast fly as far north as New England while those on the west coast may migrate all the way to Yellowstone National Park. I had been there to see them off on their long migration north and what a blessing it was.

Several months after I had returned home, I woke up early one morning to a powerful dream. Don Tomas was speaking to me in Mayan and motioning me with his hand to come to him. It was one of the most real dreams I had ever experienced. I could not return to sleep and spent several hours wondering what it all meant. After a few days I stopped thinking about it. I got the same dream again one week later, but this time it was even more powerful. It was clear: Michael come to the Yucatan. I need you. What he might need me for I had no clue. I was completely perplexed, but realized I needed to make another trip to the Yucatan. I got my affairs in order and convinced a good friend of mine who was fluent in Spanish to accompany me for this trip.

We flew down the next week and Antonio drove us out to the village to see Don Tomas. On the road to the village we asked Antonio, “What does he want?” Antonio just looked at us and said, ”Wait.”  We walked into Don Tomas’s little hut and saw him as usual sitting at his round wooden table. He looked up at us and said, “What took you so long?” That really cracked me up, and I burst into a huge smile. I was so happy to see him and know I wasn’t completely crazy for following the message in his dream- come see me .… now!

It turns out that an official from the Health Department for the Mexican government had come to the village and found out that Don Tomas was “practicing medicine.” The official then told him as he wasn’t licensed and had no formal education or diploma, he would have to stop treating people. Don Tomas asked us if we could help him somehow. Kathy, my friend and I talked about it for a few minutes then I realized we could just have a fake diploma made for him in Santa Barbara awarding him the title of Doctor of Medicine from the Santa Barbara College of Alternative Health. And that’s just what we did. After a short visit of a few days, we headed back to Santa Barbara and had a print shop design the prettiest diploma you ever saw- replete with gold seal and red ribbons and fancy script. We then sent it down to Antonio in Chichen Itza to hand deliver to Don Tomas. In the end, it all worked out and the diploma seemed to satisfy the government official. I’m sure he didn’t like it, but other than attempting to call the college and verify it, there was not much he could do. 

Don Tomas passed away many years ago, but his spirit still lives with me, and I feel his energy strongly during ceremony and prayer. What a blessing it was to know him and learn what a shaman with heart is.