Our first gathering
Coming Together in Guatemala for Chapter 1 of Soul Seed Gathering
Words Hannah Dyson
Photography Hana Wolf
Video Oksana St John + Lazarina Dimova
I began the Chapter 1 journey of Soul Seed Gathering to Lake Atitlán in Guatemala, our first stop on our world journey, back in November 2016. Atitlán means “at the water” in Nahuatl, and is home to the three Mayan communities: the Tz’utujil, Kaqchikel and K’iche’. We had come to research and document women’s indigenous wisdom and to make important connections and preparations for our first gathering, taking place two months later.
We spent most of our time on the streets of San Juan La Laguna, a town famous for its women weavers. Cooperatives have flourished there, out of necessity since the civil war, as many women were left widowed and in need of a steady income. We spent our week sitting with the women, asking questions about their lives and work, learning of the weaving symbolism, and in awe of their shared optimism and courage.
On our second day, we had the privilege of meeting Micaela, a Tz’utujil master weaver and local community leader. She informed us that it was the ‘International Day of Violence Against Women’, and that she was sharing a talk at a local event and we were welcome to join later that day. She also shared that her sister María was a traditional Mayan Medicine Woman, and that she would love to make an introduction. We were amazed at our luck! Part of the hypotheses for our documentary feature-film is that there are female healers and medicine women still practicing in every country and perhaps even in every town around the world, if you just know where to look.
Maria, the Medicine Woman, was gracious enough to invite us into her home, where we interviewed and spoke to her. We were mesmerized by her wisdom, the messages of hope for humanity she carried and the call for women to find their voice and share their gifts at this time. At the end of the interview, she offered us the opportunity to experience her Mayan fire ceremony — a practice passed down to her by her grandmother and told to her by a dream.
What transpired was truly magical. She offered a blessing for our gathering, and for all the women attending, and inadvertently revealed that I was pregnant! We left her space truly stunned, feeling honored to have shared this time with her as we made our way to watch Micaela give her talk.
We were taken by surprise at the size of the event as we arrived at a large gymnasium filled with hundreds of Guatemalan women. As we spoke with several of them, we were impressed by their strong sense of feminism.
This community, largely led by Micaela, whose talk to rise up and come together was echoed and amplified through the room that had developed a formidable sense of support for one another as women. We left the lake in November so inspired and uplifted by all that we had experienced.
Two months later we arrived back for our first intimate festival experience. We had 50 women taking part, for five nights and four days at the lush permaculture eco-retreat, The Yoga Forest. Our Chapter 1, aptly named ‘Female Soul Weaving’, immersed us in the rich tradition of weaving. We partnered with non-profits Maya Traditions and Cojolya, two Guatemalan women’s collectives that guided us in the practices of basket and backstrap loom weaving.
Each of our gatherings is structured and guided by the Wheel of Life, otherwise known as the Medicine Wheel, a template of our seasonal and life cycles. This sense of life as cyclical and circular was echoed by the invitation for each woman attending to share an offering — a workshop, skill, class or talk. This offers equality instantaneously and allowed all women who came to directly support and celebrate one another.
There was a kaleidoscope of offerings with daily yoga, dance, movement, meditation and ceremony. We shared the famous local cacao, a pure chocolate Mayan drink, and had daily nourishing meals prepared by the women of the Yoga Forest and supported by Cristina and Sarah of Culver City Salads.
Each evening we were taken on a journey with Max Dashu, a feminist historian, author and artist. Max shared her expertise in female iconography, mother-right cultures and the origins of patriarchy. The first evening she spoke to the ‘Cosmic Weaver’, and shared the importance of weaving symbolism and mythology all over the world. Subsequently, each night we explored the Power of the Priestess, Women Shaman and Ways of the Witch as Max traversed our world (her)story. Each talk spoke to women in spheres of power, with rights and privileges and as a focus of worship, rarely acknowledged in our mainstream, historical narrative.
Guests shared additional talks. We also invited two Guatemalan-based fashion designers, Molly of Luna Zorro and Jess of Stela 9, to speak of their work with local weavers, and how they are able to operate ethically, while keeping up with modern consumer demands.
Our daily skill and craft workshops included African belly beading, stone wrapping, flower crown making and natural fabric dyeing with the sun. We were guided into the Temezcal, the Mayan form of sweat lodge by Mexican native Munay who shared Spanish medicine songs.
Performance artist Kelly Shaw Willman shared a powerful performance piece that invited us to break down our judgments around nudity and opened up conversation around future feminism that is inclusive of all our experiences.
African Sangoma ceremonialists Gogo Thule and Gogo Ekhaya shared their powerful Lion-Heart & Healing with the ancestors ceremony, and shared their experience of being initiated into this ancient ancestral tradition.
We were fortunate to also be joined by our two Tz’utujil friends Micaela and María. They spoke of the Lake as the Mother, strong, yet suffering from the increased pollutants in the area, and in need of our care and attention, much like all waters of the Earth.
They offered encouragement and respect for our ability to come together, to gain greater understanding of world culture and for being a voice for our communities.
On our final day we held a marketplace for many of our new Guatemalan friends to come sell their creations while Tamwah from Australia shared her tropical sounds and women of the gathering came to exchange, buy and sell goods.
We closed our gathering with an evening performance by Low Leaf, a Filipino LA-based artist. What felt truly special about this gathering was the sense of equality as guests, artists, speakers and performers all shared space and conversation throughout.
We awoke on our final morning at sunrise to share a collective wedding ceremony to ourselves, an invitation to leave the gathering with all our shared soul experiences, woven into our journey forwards.
Next, we look forward to traveling to Colombia, for our Chapter 2 ‘Heart of the Great Mother’ in May 2018, learning this time from the Matriarchal Wayuu tribe and the Kogi people based in the Sierra Nevada Santa Marta.