Stelea in the Land of Eternal Spring

By Jheri St. James

The Republic of Guatemala is the northernmost republic of Central America, bordered by Mexico on the north and west, Belize and the Caribbean Sea on the east, Honduras and El Salvador on the southeast, and the Pacific Ocean on the southwest.  The capital is Guatemala City.  The Mayas ruled the area for over 1,000 years from about A.D. 300, but they were unable to offer much resistance to the invading Spaniards in1524.  The name “Goathemala” was given by the Spanish conquistadors and derives from indigenous words that mean “Land of Many Trees”.  The town of Alta Verapaz is known for the fact that, after failing to conquer it by the sword, the Spanish entered by the Church—with missionaries who defended the Indians from the cruel treatments of the Spanish army.  Many Pre-Columbian Mayan books were lost due to the policy of the Spanish military occupiers during the colonial period of burning them.  However, several survive, including: The Popol Vuh, Anales de los Kakchiqueles, and Chilam Balam, books that were discovered and preserved by Spanish missionary friars.      


Those trees in whose dim shadow

The ghastly priest doth reign,

The priest who slew the slayer,

And shall himself be slain.                                                                       

Lord Macaulay (1800-1859)


Guatemala became independent in 1821 and subsequently was a member of the Central American Federation (1824-1839).  Post-World War II governments had socialist leanings.  Guatemalan history is marked by the Cold War tensions between the USA and the USSR.  It was the Central Intelligence Agency, supported by a small group of Guatemalan citizens, which orchestrated the overthrow of the democratic socialist Guatemalan government in 1954, which then led to over 30 years of unrest in the nation, plagued by political violence and coups.  In 1985 Marco Vinicio Cerezo Arévalo became the first civilian to be elected president of Guatemala in 15 years.  In 1996, the government signed a peace agreement formally ending the conflict, which had left more than 100,000 people (mostly native Mayans) dead and had created some one million refugees.  Guatemala was the site of “one of the worst ethnic cleansings in modern times” (Wikipedia).

Guatemala is a mountainous country composed largely of volcanic highland.  The eastern and western highlands are not very fertile.  To the north is the petén, a rain forest plateau with areas of savanna, covering a third of the country.  The climate varies from the tropical petén and coastal areas to the subtropical and temperate highlands. 

Known as the “Land of Eternal Springtime”, the Passion Week rites of spring and the Catholic observance of Semana Santa, the celebration of life—the cycle of death to rebirth in this country of Spanish-Mayan culture—combine in a colorful dance to life in this green, fertile land.  Starting in Guatamala City on the eve of Palm Sunday, vendors prepare for parishioners who will purchase coconut palm fronds to be used as royal fans or brooms.  This ritual dates back 2,000 years as symbolic of the use of palm fronds waved in the air and used to sweep the route taken by Jesus as he entered the gates of Jerusalem.  The fronds are made using techniques similar to both Mexican paper cutting and Japanese origami, and are then embellished with flowers, the final bouquet a work of native art.  Taken from inside giant dried brown pea pods, cracked open to reveal feathery ruffles, they are called corozo by locals.  It is said the Mayas used to bury their dead inside their homes, beneath the dining table, where they could continue to dine with their relatives.

Mestizos (mixed Amerindian-Spanish; locally called Ladino) and Europeans (primarily Spanish, German, English, Italian and Scandinavian) comprise 60% of the population and Amerindians comprise approximately 40%.  The official language is Spanish, but many Native American languages are also spoken.  The main religion was Roman Catholicism during colonial times, but Protestant denominations have swept the nation.  Indigenous beliefs are on a decline.  The Jewish population hovers around the 1,000 mark.


Influences of the Maya and Spanish colonists are strong throughout Guatemala.  In the cities, European influence (especially German) is well evidenced.  Much of the clothing and food is still made in the traditional Mayan way in small villages in the highlands, and many Mayan ruins can be found.  Along the small Caribbean coast there are influences of African culture in the religious ceremonial songs, dances and food. Although crime is epidemic in Guatemala City, smaller towns in Guatemala blessed with steady tourism, such as the towns around Lago Atitlan.  There is a measure of increasing prosperity and decreasing interference from the army.

*     *     *

“Tree:  a woody perennial plant with a well-defined main stem, or trunk, that either dominates the form throughout the life cycle (giving a pyramidal shape) or is dominant only in the early stages, later forking to form a number of equally important branches (giving a rounded or flattened form to the tree).  The trunk of a tree consists almost wholly of thick-walled water-conducting cells (xylem) that are renewed every year, giving rise to annual rings.  The older wood in the center of the tree (the heartwood) is much denser and harder than the younger, outer sapwood.  The outer skin, or bark, insulates and protects the trunk and often shows characteristic cracks or falls off, leaving a smooth skin.  Trees belong to the two most advanced group of plants” (Webster’s International Encyclopedia).

*     *     *

Trees symbolize Guatemala’s name and Guatemala’s history, the inner heartwood of the Mayan culture surrounded by the rings of Spanish domination and current conflicts and resolutions.   The xylem of the Guatemala “tree” still conducts living water to the branches, through its stelae, “the central core of vascular tissue in a plant stem or root” (American Heritage Dictionary). 

Our soil collector, Betty Marchorro chose the base of a tree at Tikal, Petén for her site and wrote, “Tikal in Peten is a great city of the Mayan civilization; it’s considered a Power Spot.  Symbols are important, powerful!  What a nice Symbol [Common Ground 191].  Thank you.  Blessings and best wishes for you and your project.”  Betty read of the Common Ground 191 project through Doreen Virtue’s online angel newsletter (one of approximately 20 collections that seem to have come from the direct angelic intervention of this planetary service worker; thank you, Doreen).  She is a healer in Asuncion Mita, working with Reiki, massage, nutrition and rebirthing techniques to help people resolve illness.  For her soil collection, she was joined by two gentlemen, Mario Salguero and Jorge Juarez who were busy healing the rainforest through Probopeten, a reforestation and sustainable management project sponsored by the Guatemalan Ministry of Agriculture.  An additional important tree projects is going on in Ixtahuacan, Trees for Life. One hears so much about the loss of rainforests, it is deeply meaningful to hear about the active healing of the “lungs of the world” through the commonground efforts of these good men. 

Tikal, the site of her collection, is located in El Petén, just a few hours through the jungle from Belize.  Tikal is the most impressive and magnificent Mayan ruin in Central America.  Believed to have been one of the most powerful cities in the ancient Mayan world, Tikal was inhabited between roughly 800 B.C. and 900 A.D., and was home to 100,000 people at its height.  Today a wildlife preserve covering 220 square miles of lush rainforest and ruins, visitors commonly see monkeys and several species of tropical birds that inhabit the trees around the ancient city.  The city and surrounding areas are believed to have once spanned an area of 23 square miles.  The temples are mainly constructed out of limestone, which was very important because it also provided lime for stucco and plaster.  Pyramids represent the sacred mountains from where it was believed maize came.  The temples used to be covered in rich color patterns and some temples were even painted completely red. 

The east plaza was the main plaza in the Classic era, although today the Great Plaza is the center of the site.  Seventy stelae (upright stones or slabs with inscribed or sculptured surfaces), originally painted red, have been located around this run.  These stelae, each of which once had an altar beside it, commemorate the rulers of Tikal and their faces can still be seen today carved on one side of the large stone monuments.  The nearby Temple of the Giant Jaguar is a 100-foot high pyramid concealing the tomb of Ahau Cacau, the divine ruler of Tikal.  Other noteworthy temples and plazas:  the Temple of the Maska, Temple of the Jaguar Priest, the North Acropolis, and to the south of the great plaza complex, the Central Acropolis.  Here there are 42 palaces, all excellent examples of Mayan architecture.

An Overview of a Portion of Tikal

Surrounded by the national park and protected areas, the wildlife is vibrant in Tikal.  One hears the sounds of the jungle at all times.

Another part of the Guatemala story is that we got to meet Betty when she was coming to Los Angeles to attend a Doreen Virtue seminar.  She came to Laguna Beach on a Saturday afternoon to meet with us, bringing many pictures, video clips and information about her country and her soil.  We so rarely get to meet the collectors in person that this was such a special event with a remarkable lady. 

Betty Marchorro, our “CG191 Angel” above Tikal-- peeking up above the forest in the background.

Another important site in Guatemala is the colonial city of Antigua, noted for its magnificent churches.  Many shamans make their home around the area of Atitlan, which is the home of the volcanic mountain which has been likened to Mt. Fuji.

* * *

El Señor de Esquipulas

In the small town of Esquipulas, an important religious icon is said to have miraculous healing powers.  The “Cristo Negro” is a 400-year-old sculpture that draws millions of pilgrims each year.  Also known as El Señor de Esquipulas, the feastday for this saint falls on January 15th, the birthday of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.  A copy of this revered statue was recently installed in St. Patrick’s church in Baltimore, Maryland, U.S.A. through the actions of parishioner Delfina Pereda, a Guatemalan native, who spearheaded the effort to bring the Cristo Negro to Baltimore.  “The hope is that people get closer, that there is more community, that there would be more effort due to our love for El Señor,” she says.  It appears that healing angel ladies are working in many places in the world:  Doreen Virtue internationally, Betty Marchorro in Guatemala, and Delfina Pereda in Baltimore, Maryland.  “Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares” (King James Bible)

The Sacred Ceiba Tree in Guatemala

The stelae in trees and the stelae in Tikal are conduits for waters of life, in one instance H2O, in the other spiritual waters, nourishing our sense of connectedness with the long fascinating history of the human race.  Gary Simpson and the Common Ground 191 art project also remind us of the connectedness of the human race, through the fusion of all the soils on earth, which are the platform upon which all this history has evolved, always silently embracing the unity of mankind on this planet.  The soil and spiritual stelae of the Land of Eternal Spring bless our project.

I think that I shall never see a poem lovely as a tree.

A tree whose hungry mouth is prest against the sweet earth’s flowing breast.

A tree that looks at God all day, and lifts her leafy arms to pray;

A tree that may in summer wear a nest of robins in her hair.

Upon whose bosom snow has lain, who intimately lives with rain.

Poems are made by fools like me, but only God can make a tree.

Joyce Kilmer (1886-1918)


 *     *     *

Top | Back




All images and text © Copyright 2018 Common Ground 191 - All rights reserved