When Nature Talks…


Having been born and raised in East Los Angeles I had very little opportunity to experience nature. Growing up, my one and very limited interaction with nature was on my daily walk to school. My path from our apartment complex to school was a sidewalk lined with jacaranda trees with their purple flowers. Everyday I would pop the purple flowers under my sneakers in order to awaken my senses. Needless to say, while growing up nature was an entirely abstract concept. Where I lived there was no such thing as camping or girl scouts. The one thing that was available, the annual 4th grade overnight camping trip where they take poor inner city kids to nature, was forbidden by my mom.

After our journey to Huautla de Jimenez I realized that I could no longer live without nature in my life. I had gone through my entire life devoid of nature and now avoiding nature was no longer an option. Like a plant that needs air, water, sun and earth my soul also needs the same air, water, sun and earth in order to thrive. My soul was slowly dying in the fast lane of the 10 Fwy commuting two hours a day to driving our kids to the westside for a better school than the ones the eastside of Los Angeles had to offer. And after that daily commute I would spend the next nine hours of my day at work. I was physically exhausted and my soul was drained of all its strength.
The trip to Huautla de Jimenez really crystallized all the things I was lacking. My life was lacking serenity, peace, balance, which had been replaced by deadlines, appointments and long drives in the Los Angeles wilderness to nothingness.


When we met the Chota Chjine (Wise Woman) that was to do our ceremony, she had such a beauty, light and peace emulating from her. It was as if she held a giant secret to universal happiness and contentment. Her family and her live in what the western world and even modern Mexico of today would consider humble and primitive surroundings. The kitchen I adored instantly, as it had instantly reminded me of my great Aunt’s house (my Tia Josephina lived in a small pueblo in the Sonoran desert). I felt right at home on the earthen floor and the pit fire wood stove where coffee brewed all day long. The old lady who looked to be ninety, with braids that almost reached the earthen floor took care of the fire all day long. You could find her in the kitchen day and night tending the fire or mixing the nixtamal. As humble as the surroundings were, there was such a richness and bounty in the Chota Chjine’s daily life. She walked in the beauty of her surroundings and the nature that surrounded her and I was amazed by their ability to live in nature. She not only was the elder Chota Chjine, or the wise woman of her area. She ran the local indigenous hospital outside her house as well as the indigenous church perched on top of the hill. She combined both the medicinal and spiritual properties of the plants around her and used the confluence of both worlds to complement each other in order to heal. As Santeras we do this as well, as we use sacred plants and the Orichas to aide us in our struggles.
Yet at that moment I realized that I hadn’t truly walked in nature, that in order to truly understand medicine, healing and spirituality that I need to immerse myself in Nature. Nature that abounds and teaches us… if we are listening.

When Nature talks…
In the concrete jungle of Los Angeles, I had daily interactions with animals, mostly the winged variety who would forewarn me of my day ahead. My Egguns and I developed a system of communication that can warn me of danger ahead, when to be cautious or to alert me to good news coming my way. Each bird or insect had their own separate message. I might blog about this later but a quick reference was that for me hummingbirds brought good news, insects foretold of quarrels, ducks brought stability or a need for stability in the home and birds of prey brought more complicated messages and warnings from the spiritual realm. Even in Los Angeles I was able to develop a system of communication with my egguns and the spiritual world that abounds. But I had yet to walk in nature and listen to when the mountain speaks.

Cerro de Adoracion

At Nindo Tocoxo, the sacred mountain of the Mazateco Indians and the spiritual power of their ancestors, we went to give our offerings and prayers prior to our ceremony. Nindo Tecoxo is an monumental mountain of over 2000 meters that is a surprisingly easy walk. The route starts on the trail near Maria Sabina’s house that now houses a tiny museum to her life and legend as the world’s most famous Shaman. At the top of the mountain we saluted the four corners and did our prayers and offerings with our guide, who was a curandera in her own right who would be bringing us to the Chota Chjine for the evenings ceremony. After our prayers we each walked with our guide and stopped for a moment at the spiritual apex of the mountain. In that moment, with an open heart I whispered my prayers to Chikon Tocoxo, the deity who ruled over the Mazatecs who lived there at the top of the mountain. As I finished my guide said, “Did you hear that?” “Yes, I did.” The sound of a strong waterfall gushing down the mountain top was clear, even though there was no water in sight or any waterfalls within miles. My guide pronounced “Chikon Tocoxo is very happy with you. He has accepted your offerings and prayers. You are fortunate and I rarely have this happen”.
Nature speaks to us, validates our experience and encourages us when we are on the right path.

The purpose of this journey and extended travel is to experience and learn from Nature. The Orichas are elements of nature, they live in Nature and so, in order to deepen my understanding of the Orichas, I need to deepen my understanding of nature.

Ifa On Wheels

When the world was still very young, Orula was sent to earth in search of a mythic land called Ilé Ifé, the spiritual capital of the world, where he was to teach Ifá and the proper way to live to the people who lived there. When Orula came to the world with his Ifá, he arrived at a place called Onika, which was on the shores of the sea. Leading out from Onika were sixteen roads, and Orula patiently began taking each road to its end one at a time. Each road was more difficult than the last, and on his travels he encountered all the peoples of the world, but none of the roads led to Ilé Ifé. There was finally only one road left, a desolate path leading straight into the shifting sands of the desert. Orula followed this last road until he was stumbling blind through the sand, his clothes in tatters, and with no food or water. As he was about to give up out of despair, through clouded eyes he thought he spied a tiny oasis with a small pool of water and somehow managed to crawl his way over to it.
When he arrived at the oasis, he found three sacred trees. An iroko, an araba, and a palm tree were growing next to the spring. Orula was delirious as he cried out to Olófin that he had failed his quest to find the sacred city of Ilé Ifé and that he was tired of the endless traveling and hardship.
Suddenly Orula heard a thunderous voice saying, “The more you look, the less you see. You do not even see what is right in front of your own nose.”
The voice then ordered Orula to take his Ifá in his hands, submerge the ekin nuts in the spring, and throw the water into his eyes and over his back. As he did so, he heard singing. “Alagba nfo gede … oju, alagba nfo gede … ofo.”
When he looked up his eyes were clear, and just in front of him was the entrance to Ilé Ifé.
And from that day forward that spring with its three sacred trees became the first Igbodú for the initiation of new babalawos.

When I wrote these words in my book, “Babalawo: Santería’s High Priests” little did I know our family was soon destined to make our own peregrination like the one described in this patakín from my own oddun Babá Eyiogbe…
My wife, Lisa Changó, our twins and I recently made the journey to Huautla de Jiménez high in the mountains of Oaxaca in Southern Mexico, the spiritual capital of the Mazatec Indians. While there we were led up the long, winding trail to the top of Nindo Tocoxo, the Mount of Adoration in preparation for a ceremony we were to undertake. This mountain is the center of the Mazatec universe and power, much like the Ilé Ifé of Ifá and Santería.
During our stay, our connection to the natural world was vastly deepened, with the help of Indians who have lived in much the same same way for hundreds, if not thousands of years. For them, and now much more for us, nature is not an abstract concept, but a constant direct interaction.
But we soon found this rediscovery came at a cost…
Our reentry into the ‘civilized world’ was jarring to put it mildly. Even the relatively small city of Oaxaca seemed disorienting, frenzied and somehow senseless, much like a speeding, out of control train careening toward some unknown fate, and probably not a good one at that…
After getting a taste of what the real world really is, it was more than a little difficult going back to Los Angeles, the
place which the Mazatec chota chjine or Woman of Knowledge she had referred to as “where their bodies were aged”, a place she
simply called “North.”
At that moment we not only knew we needed to flee Los Angeles in all possible haste, which of course was confirmed by Ifá, but that our plans to move to the relatively less neurotic Tampa had to be re-examined. And instead of merely changing the background scenery while continuing our old patterns of living and working, we need to find our true home, both spiritually and physically.
So our family is going on our own migration, traveling down many paths in search of our true home and our true way of life while spreading Ifá into new lands, in our own humble imitation of Orula’s migrations in the mythic past. It promises to be a great learning adventure for all of us.
At the same time our travels give us a marvelous and rare opportunity to bring Santería to areas that might not have access to the beauty and power of our religion. A kind of Ifá on Wheels if you will…
As we go about our travels, we will be writing about our experiences on the road.
We will also be posting our future stops here, so anyone who would like to learn more about our beautiful religion, receive a consultation in person or just say “Hi.”

I also have the joy of introducing you all to Lisa Changó, Santera and Apetebí, who will be writing about our travels as well!