The house has a garden all around with paved pathways, where you can walk through and smell the flowers and watch the hasty hummingbirds suck their delicate nectar. In a corner, close to the dinning area, an altar with an image of a saint and some offerings, like apples and flowers. “So, what do you want to know? Why did you come here?”, “This is my first time, I don’t know how this works!”, I replied. I was at Aurora Saqui’s Natural Clinic, the niece of Don Elijio Panti, the most renowned shaman in Belize and, for some, Central America. I was asking for a consultation.
Aurora received the healing gift right after her uncle died, in 96, and from then on she never stopped receiving people asking for her help in physical and spiritual concerns. When she was just 16, she volunteered to walk with Elijio in the jungle and to learn the magic of plants. “Every time I would walk with him, he would tell me: – When I leave, you will take my turn.” And I wouldn’t believe him!”, she remembers with a laugh. The night Elijio died, she had a reviling dream, where the uncle urged her to wake up and start healing people and not to forget a specific plant. That same morning, she received her first patient, a young boy with arthritis, for which the magic plant she was showed in dreams was the perfect treatment.
Today, I was going to be the one in need of Aurora’s skills. As a pharmacist and an adept of alternative medicines and healing, this was an invaluable opportunity to watch how modern Maya apply their ancestors’ knowledge in present day problems. At first, the healer has a little chat to assess the problem. In my case, I complained of some digestive problems and traveller’s sickness (aka diarrhoea). She decided to “see me” through the crystal ball or sastun, an object owned by the late Panti. She threw the ball into a jar and turned it several times, while mumbling a prayer. Then, I had to hold the ball in my hand, against the sunlight while she would “read” it. I’m not a believer of fortune telling, but the truth is what she told me would bring tears to my eyes, although she predicted a cheerful future.
Aurora explained to me that I suffered from two conditions: I had trouble in relaxing, always worrying about life (which was accurately true) and I had contracted a chronic spiritual suffering that I couldn’t resolve by myself. The course of treatment would include prayers, smudging, washing with an herbal soap and using a lucky charm, all for a 50 Belize dollars fee. The prayer was made in two sessions, she picked two leaves of the Piper tree, very important to the Maya and traditionally used as a first aid for snake bite, fatigue, sleeplessness and a plethora of other conditions. After rubbing alcohol on the leaves, she applied them to my skin, in my wrists, temporal lobes and chest. Next, I would have to walk a few meters on the road outside the house, turn my back to the sun and throw away the leaves without looking back. I must confess, it made me feel lighter and a smile flourished in my lips when I was walking back to the house.
The same day, at night, Aurora brought an incense burner to my room, where she would place a lock of my hair, and I would have to inhale the aromatic smoke while meditating. The meditation consisted of expelling all the negative thoughts and emotions, by repeating that to myself nine times, and do the opposite to attract the positive things in my life. Why nine times? Nine is a very important number for the Maya culture, it was one of the thirteen numbered gods the Maya worshipped and there are nine gods of the underworld. The herbal baths are usually made with a combination of nine plants and the treatments are made in a course of three days (another number full of symbolism in many cultures). Also, some days of the week are better to perform healing, such as Thursdays and Fridays, as they believe the treatment will have more success.
The next day, Aurora was going to bless an object to become my lucky charm, something that I would have to carry with me at all times, to avoid any concerns and suffering from finding a permanent home in my heart. I chose a bracelet with a green stone in Aurora’s craft and gift shop that I now carry religiously.
The experience made me feel a more profound connection to this mysterious and unique people. Their belief system endured the fall of a civilization and assimilation by the European “conquistadores”. The respect for nature and it’s secrets is admiring and their sense of unity to all beings and the interconnection of all worlds, the living and the dead, is a challenge to our westernised mind. If you want to immerse yourself into the real Belize, let your prejudice at home and embark on a spiritual and cultural journey like I did.
You can visit Aurora Saqui and her husband Ernesto at the village of Maya Center, in Toledo district, on the road between Dangriga and Punta Gorda. The family owns the Nu’ uk Che’ il Cottages and Hmen Herbal Center (firstname.lastname@example.org), where you can also arrange transportation or a guide for the Cockscomb Natural Reserve (also known as Jaguar Reserve). Also, check this article, wrote by a YMCA volunteer, that wraps up the theme of Mayan medicine and it’s future.