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vol v, issue 4 < ToC
The Canticle of Chak Chel
by
David A. Hewitt
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The DeadAll Our
Mothers
The Canticle of Chak Chel
by
David A. Hewitt
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The Dead




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All Our
Mothers
The Canticle of Chak Chel
by
David A. Hewitt
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The Dead


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All Our
Mothers
previous next

The Dead All Our
Mothers
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The Dead




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All Our
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The Dead


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All Our
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The Canticle of Chak Chel
 by David A. Hewitt
The Canticle of Chak Chel
 by David A. Hewitt
It’s beginning again, in the chamber above.

The others are all gone now, taken away one by one; you are the last. The room is dark. The lamps that once lit up the world at night are gone now. The door is barred from the outside. Its wood is hard; it doesn’t chip.

The Canticle begins with the chorus, with all the voices spilling together into one. You cover your ears, but you’ve heard this too many times; the words echo in the room above but they echo in your mind, too, and clamping your hands, clamping your forearms against your ears doesn’t silence them...


#
Chak Chel, sacred Mother

Chak Chel, who brings life

Her hand rules the rivers and all-drinking Sea

Chak Chel watches over each newborn, each child

Every new life that draws breath on this Earth

#
You sit upright on your sleeping-pallet, wide awake. A woman’s voice begins the chant, flowing, beautiful:

Always there was the Sea beneath the Sky. The Sea eternal. The Sea that breathes with wind and moon. And in the Sea was life—voiceless life, it did not praise its Makers. It sang no word of praise to the Gods.

And the Gods spoke the name Earth and from the Sea it arose: land rose from the Sea as a great turtle breaks the surface of a lake, rivulets streaming from its many-peaked shell. In the land was life, and the Gods heard the voice of life, but this voice was chaos—chattering, grunting, screeching chaos that did not honor its Makers.

To the land came Chak Chel—her hips broad, her will as relentless as waves beating against the shore, and she bore in her arms a great clay vessel graven with many forms. Chak Chel wandered the land. She saw the rivers and the lakes, and the beasts that drank of their waters.

Then Chak Chel went to the gathering-place of the Gods, a sward of rich green amidst cloud-haunted heights, and She said to the Gods:

“The beasts are abundant, they thrive on the land. But as I walked the land they did not know me. Let us make one final creature, most helpless of all and naked as clay, one who will worship and sacrifice to the Gods.”

Other Gods had walked or soared over the land, and they agreed: the beasts, the trees, the waters, the stones—these did not know their Makers. So Chak Chel’s counsel ruled the day. This final creation was man, and Chak Chel watched over his birth. She bathed him in waters from the broad rim of her graven vessel and man was thankful; he swore he would repay the Gods for this gift of life.

*     *     *
All sing:

Chak Chel, sacred Mother

Chak Chel, who gives life

Her wisdom guides waters ever called to the Sea

Chak Chel watches over each newborn, each child

Every new life that draws breath on this Earth

#
A man’s voice, deep, confident:

So humans dwelt in the land, our grandfathers and grandmothers worshipped the Gods, they feared the Gods, and it went well. The land was rich, and in the land were beasts. But the beasts fled like the unseen wind between leaves and through grass; they would not become man’s food. The trees sheltered them. The ground hid them. And other beasts hunted man, for he was slow of foot, and his flesh tender.

Then to the Gods of the beasts, to their hidden home in the jungle’s sunless heart, came Chak Chel, strong in her youth, face fierce and eyes wide. To the Gods of the beasts She said:

“Look upon man. See his need. Feed him in his hunger; protect him in his weakness.”

But Rabbit-God, hiding in the arms of his mother the Moon, said:

“My children will flee from man. My sons and daughters will eat the Earth’s fruits, hidden from the eye and safe from the hand of man.”

Jaguar-God had long watched man, yellow eyes smoldering, jagged mouth slavering, and He said:

“My sons and daughters will feed on man. They will bedeck their jungle with the bones and blood of man’s children.”

But Chak Chel spoke again:

“The rabbit is indeed clever and none can match the jaguar’s stealth, her grace. But clever as he is, the rabbit does not know his Maker; and though the jaguar’s cry is like a thunderclap, she raises no song of praise to the Gods. Humans have wisdom. Protect them; teach them the ways of the beasts. They will praise you and sacrifice to you the rich blood of the hunt, for humans alone fear the Gods.”

*     *     *
You rise in the dark, you ram the door with your shoulder, but it’s solid, solid as the walls. An old man’s voice from above, trembling with piety:

So the Gods taught humans the ways of the beasts, and our grandfathers and grandmothers worshipped the Gods; they feared the Gods of the jungle and the Gods of the beasts, and it went well. Chak Chel guarded over every birth as man’s numbers grew: his children were many, they flourished under Sun and Sky like a river drinking the summer rains. But still they wandered as beasts do in search of food; they lived as beasts live.

Then Chak Chel, her head wrapped in twisted cloth colored like the rainbow, came to Maize-God’s sun-dappled palace. Chak Chel spoke to Maize-God:

“Honored Maize-God, look upon man. See his need. He lives in the land, he sings the praises of the Gods, yet still he lives as the beasts live. Grant man mastery over his hunger. Teach him the secrets of planting. Man’s mind knows the Gods. Man’s heart loves the Gods. Must men live as the groaning beasts live?”

And Maize-God, tall Maize-God, leaned gently toward Chak Chel, his crest of silken hair like a fountain above her, and He whispered:

“The maize is my beloved child; it obeys only me. I call it forth from the ground, I clothe it in many colors; and when its day is ended, I lay it to sleep in a soft bed of the richest soil.”

Then Chak Chel said:

“Maize-God, teach humans the secrets of maize. Teach them and they will guard the maize, they will till the soil and maize will prosper. It will grow in many fields in great abundance and humans will dampen those fields with the blood of sacrifice, to feed and honor the God whose maize nourishes their own children.”

*     *     *
All sing:

Chak Chel, sacred Mother

Chak Chel, who gives life

Great Keeper of lakes and streams born of the Sea

Chak Chel watches over each newborn, each child

Every new life that draws breath on this Earth

#
An old woman’s voice, gruff, experienced:

So man mastered the maize and humankind lived like beasts no longer. Indeed, they mastered the beasts and the beasts served them. With Chak Chel watching over every woman’s birth throes, man’s numbers grew. Our grandfathers and grandmothers sacrificed to the Gods of the plants and to the Gods of the beasts, and it went well.

Then Chak Chel, her breasts weary from nourishing the needs of man’s children, came to Itzamna, Greatest of All, who sat on the band of the Sky and watched over its turning. To Itzamna She spoke:

“Honored Itzamna, Greatest of All, look upon man. Man worships the Gods, he praises the Gods. Teach him your secrets. Teach him the stars in their seasons, that he might venture across Earth and Sea and return again to his own place.”

Itzamna, First Giver of Names, turned to her. His wispy white hair streamed through the air above his flowered head-band, and his eyes were the Sun burning down on Chak Chel.

“The stars are mine. They keep the very truth of Creation and humankind shall never know their secrets. The stars will be ever out of reach, a reminder to man that he is small, a clod upon the Earth and nothing more.”

But Chak Chel, pillared on stout legs, set her feet and met the eyes of Itzamna, and She said:

“Have pity on humans. They are small and Earth and Sea are wide. The stars of the Sky are as the glittering waves of the Sea, beyond counting. But teach man the secrets of the night Sky. Teach him and he will make even the stars tell tales of the might and the splendor of the Gods. For even the stars, their numbers beyond count, their radiance undying, give no thanks to the Gods who made them so. Humans alone offer praise, offer rich, flowing blood as sacrifice to the Gods who made Earth, Sea, and Sky.”

#
So humans mapped the distant stars, and the stars silently guided man as he walked the wide Earth, and as he sailed the encircling Sea. Chak Chel stood ever beside the children of men as they scattered across the Earth and took root where they came to rest, like seeds borne by high autumn winds. And humankind fed the Gods with rich, flowing blood, and traced their images in starlight on the black dome of night.

*     *     *
You press your head against the door. The chant will not stop; the voices will not stop until the full tale is told. A young man’s voice, passionate and angry, takes up the chant:

Then men looked to the deep places, and found metals there, and the metals served them. Gold they loved above all. They shaped it in honor of the Gods who made them, the Gods who taught them, the Gods who watched over them.

Chak Chel, face carven by cares, bearing always her great vessel, passed the fanged mouth of a river-laced cave into darkness. She came to Xibalba, the Underworld. She spoke to the Princes of the Under-Dark:

“Honored Gods of Under-Dark, man is wise. Humans know the Gods, they worship the Gods. Teach them your secrets. Lakes of quiescent liquid fire lie silent, deep in the Earth, where no spark may reach them. Grant humans this power that they might do great works upon the lands above. Let the oil, the black blood of the Earth, give men freedom and power worthy of their wisdom.”

Among the hideous, whispering shapes gathered in the great Under-Dark, on his stone platform cushioned with many jaguar hides, their Lord leaned forward and regarded Chak Chel from beneath his feather-trimmed hat. His splendid brocade cape was of every color and splendid, and He blew smoke from a smoldering, hissing roll of dried tobacco. Toothless, He spoke:

“And what price will man pay? The black oil is precious, and more precious and potent still are other secrets beneath the Earth. I ask you, Chak Chel, what price will man pay?”

Then through smoke and shrouding gloom, Chak Chel met the Dark One’s eyes and said:

“I swear to you Great One, if you give humans this power, they will use it wisely. They will honor you for this gift. As man has honored the land, the beasts and the sweet-tasting Maize, as he has honored the stars and the Sky, man will honor you: in his gratitude, he will quench your thirst with great goblets of warm blood.”

And He of the deep places said:

“This and more shall man pay.”

*     *     *
Footsteps above now, leaving the chamber, a few of them, moving toward the stairs. A small boy’s voice takes over the chant now, hesitant and self-conscious:

So humans mastered the black oil of the Under-Dark. It drove them over the land, across the waters and atop the winds. With its power they shaped the land to their liking. Their numbers grew and Chak Chel watched as they spread like a rising tide over all the Earth.

But the hearts of men turned, for they told themselves they were masters over all. They lived like locusts, consuming with a bottomless hunger. They feared not beasts, nor Sky, nor Sea. In their pride, they forgot to worship the Gods. They forgot to sacrifice to the Gods. They forgot to fear the Gods.

Forgotten, the Gods grew weak. Long unfed by the rich blood of sacrifice, they languished, each alone, starved of their strength. As dark clouds gathered over the Earth, the Gods gathered too in their high place: the Gods of plants, of beasts, of Sky. All gathered, but they were weak and their power was no longer over man.

But one had not faltered; for man’s births were more than ever. She watched over each one and fed upon the blood of these births, and blind hope, too, kept her strong. From their high place the Gods called her to them. They called Chak Chel. She had journeyed long, great Mother of all men; her age was upon her, and her face was gaunt.

Jaguar-God spoke:

“Chak Chel, man has thrived; it is as you wished. He rules over the land, his numbers grow without cease, and my children are now few. Soon their cries will echo only in man’s hollow tales of ages gone.”

Maize-God spoke:

“Chak Chel, man has great power. It is as you wished. He rules over the green drinkers of sunlight, and of my many children in their rapturous array of shapes and colors, he has kept only a favored few alive, twisting their hidden souls to glut his own appetites. The rest will never again stretch their slender arms toward the sun.”

Itzamna, Lord of Sky, Father of All, spoke:

“Chak Chel, man has great knowledge. It is as you wished. The secrets of the stars are his, but he has violated his trust. He has broken the bounds of the Sky, he has dared venture among moon and stars.”

Then the Nameless One came, wrapped in listless smoke, face unseen beneath his hat of many feathers, and He said:

“All is as you wished. Humans have delved into the depths, taken the iron, the gold, the black oil. They have plundered all the treasures of the Under-Dark, leaving a vast emptiness.”

Jaguar-God spoke again, and though his sleek coat was now worn as a well-trodden pelt-rug, his yellow eyes still glittered, even under the dark clouds.

“Mankind made promises to us: oaths of reverence, oaths of blood. But man has forgotten his oaths. And Chak Chel, honored Goddess whose waters nourish all life, mankind has forgotten you.”

*     *     *
They are at the door. Now they silently enter the room, four masked figures with torches, their thirsty eyes fixed on you. You wish with all your strength that the Canticle would go on longer—hours, days, please, please, let them keep chanting for a month, a whole year. But every story has its end. The four masked ones murmur along as in the room above, a small girl’s voice rings out, melodious, excited:

Chak Chel, so forceful in argument, heard all and was silent. In her silence was sorrow, and her head bowed. Her stout figure shook and all believed she wept. But her trembling was the tremor of a coming storm; and when She raised her head, her eyes were aboil. With her rage the heavens darkened and the Earth grew hot.

Then Chak Chel raised her great vessel and said:

“Man is born from water, every one from water, and in water he shall meet his end.”

The waters of her vessel began to shudder, wild for release, and Chak Chel poured those great waters onto the Earth.

The tameless Sea rose, higher and higher, its force surpassing all measure or means. The waters rose over man’s proud works, beating at their foundations and washing clean his folly. The heat of Chak Chel’s anger scorched and withered the Earth’s glorious coat of green, and from her rage sprang plagues, and storms, and war, to purge man’s pride. But humankind had forgotten the names of the Gods; their howls were as the baying of wild dogs, their cries like the screeching of monkeys as the Sea swallowed our mothers and fathers and drank up even their screams.

A few remembered Chak Chel, though, the wisest few—they remembered her name from the ancient tales. They set her carven image in a place of reverence, they remembered what she thirsted for. They fed her with sacrifice, with streams of rich red blood.

Then at last, Chak Chel’s rage relented. Before all the sons and daughters of man were consumed, Chak Chel’s vengeance cooled. She drew her great vessel to her breast and the waters grew still. A blessed silence blanketed the Earth.

And today, as in our earliest beginnings, our lives belong to Chak Chel’s mercy, we few who remain, we whose mothers and fathers the Deluge did not swallow. We few, we praise Chak Chel, we fear Chak Chel, and each time the moon blackens and dies in the Sky, each night like this one, we feed Chak Chel’s hunger with the blood of those who did not believe. And we sing, that we might never again forget:

*     *     *
All sing:

Chak Chel, sacred Mother

Chak Chel, who gives life

Her mercy alone stays the all-drinking Sea

Chak Chel watches still as each newborn, each child

Each man and each woman draws breath on this Earth

#
And so it ends.

(previous)
The Dead