Secrets of The Talking Jaguar: Memoirs from the Living Heart of a Mayan Village

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9780007142668: Secrets of The Talking Jaguar: Memoirs from the Living Heart of a Mayan Village

Martín Prechtel's astonishing and highly acclaimed first book is a powerful and vivid account of his life with the Mayan community in Guatemala.

"It's a precious thing, this book. I've never known another like it. It's a great encyclopedia of beauty…it is a treasure house of language, in service to life."
ROBERT BLY, author of Iron John

Martín Prechtel, who grew up on a pueblo Indian reservation in New Mexico, wandered as a young man through the brilliant landscapes of Mexico and Guatemala. Drawn in his dreams to the traditional Mayan community of Santiago Atitlán, he carved out a life for himself among the villagers. Though an outsider himself, Prechtel was adopted as an apprentice by a powerful, ancient shaman named Nicolas Chiviliu Tacaxoy. He married a Mayan woman and became a village chief and famous shaman in his own right, entrusted with the rich legacy of Atitlán's ancient Mayan heritage and its deepest cultural traditions.

In Secrets of the Talking Jaguar, Prechtel brings to vivid life the sights, sounds, scents, and colour of the village: its magical personalities; its beauty, its material poverty and spiritual wealth; its eight-hundred-year old rituals juxtaposed with quintessential small-town gossip and passions. In a tale filled with enchantment, danger, rich cultural descriptions, shamanic rivalry and hope, Prechtel takes us into the heart of both untamed nature and intimate community life. His spellbinding narrative compellingly explores the complexity and joy of contemporary Mayan village life – a culture that is fast disappearing in the wake of modernization. Full of compassion, humour and wisdom, his unforgettable account reads like the most gripping adventure novel. Yet every word is true.

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Review:

Secrets of the Talking Jaguar will be equally fascinating for anthropologists and New Age seekers. This intensely readable book is the autobiographical account of a young sharman in the Tzutujil Mayan village of Santiago Atitlán in Guatemala. Born in New Mexico, Martín Prechtel arrived in his twenties in Atitlán, where he was immediately apprenticed to the aged shaman Nicolas Chiviliu Tacoxoy.

"I don't know why people in modern life want to be shamans," Prechtel writes. "There's nothing romantic about it. We just go around capturing monsters, resweetening the earth and making people's memories taste good again."

The Tzutujil language reveals how this was a world astonishingly different from Western culture. "The Tzutujil don't have a real word for "door", but they do have a good word for "doorway" ... Doorways were for letting things in or letting them out, not for keeping things in or keeping things out like doors did."

Prechtel's teacher Chiv is the real heart of this book, "the last great bastion of traditional Tzutujil culture holding back the tyranny of 20th-century civilisation". After he died, aged 97, Guatemala fell apart. For his own safety, Martín Prechtel learned in Atitlán is not all lost; he now practices and lectures on shamanism in the USA. --David V. Barrett

Review:

"The picture Prechtel creates of idyllic Indian life … is so beautifully drawn that his delight in their culture becomes contagious, as does his grief when civil war creates havoc in their village." PUBLISHERS WEEKLY

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