The mystery of the Speaking Cross drew me. I wanted to touch it, to feel its power, perhaps even to have it speak to me. Time passed. I finally found some directions to where the original speaking cross tree grew. It was near a small cenote at the edge of Felipe Carrillo Puerto. I wanted to go find it, but it would be a long time before I did.
However, another chapter of the story of the speaking cross was unfolding.
Max (my partner) and I were planning a trip to see our good friend and shaman, Francisco. We had been to see him many times and often tried to explore something in the area on our overnight trips. This time I wanted to go to a tiny village called Xocen (sho-ken) where a very interesting church stood at the edge of town. I had been told by a Maya local that the church was the center of the Maya world and I wanted to see it for myself and feel its energy.
Two friends, Tim and Christian, asked if they could accompany us because they wanted to meet Francisco and ask him for a limpia (cleansing session). We agreed and planned a trip.
The night before we left, Max and I were hanging out at a favorite restaurant in Puerto Morelos called Cantina Habanero. We just happened to meet Christian there. He was very excited about our trip to see the shaman and announced that one of the waitresses who worked at the Cantina had a grandfather who was also a shaman. He had been out to the village where he lived and met him in person, been treated to a family dinner, and had a wonderful time. Intrigued because there are very few shamans left, I asked where this took place.
When I told Christian we were planning to stop there on our way to see Francisco, he was thrilled. He called over his waitress friend and they chatted animatedly. She said she would be there since she was going to visit her grandfather the next day and she agreed to meet us and show us around the village. She also said her grandfather would be happy to do a blessing for us if we wanted to receive one.
Fast forward . . .
I stood at the altar at the center of the world. It was a simple church, and the altar was a table all dressed in Maya flowered cloth and decorated with images of Christ, saints, and of course, Mary. This was not a Catholic church, however. It was the Iglesia Santisima Cruz Tun (Church of the Super, Super Holy Stone Cross), also called the Church of the Three Crosses. Before me, in the center of the altar, were the three crosses--one heavy stone, one wood, and one painted green. All three were dressed almost like dolls with Maya flowered dresses and necklaces. Everywhere there were offerings of charms on thin green strings, some draped on the necks of the Christ and saint dolls and some hanging from their hands. On the table were lighted candles and in front of the altar was another table for more lighted candles. (NOTE: I have no photos of the inside of the church because you are not allowed to take them)
The stone cross in the center drew my attention. It felt heavy, its energy much bigger and more imposing than the cross itself.
The three crosses that topped the building and the three crosses on the alter certainly did hold a strong resemblance to the Church of the Speaking Cross with its three crosses cut from the branches of the speaking cross tree. I came with some understanding of the stories, the mystery, the magic surrounding that. But those stories did not mention a stone cross. The crosses that spoke were wood. Tracking down spiritual things in the Yucatan can be a bit puzzling. Details do not always match. The three crosses are central to the cult of the Speaking Cross, but I was told that they are older than that. The Speaking Cross cult revolves around the Caste War in the Yucatan. Over the years, people gave offerings to the crosses and eventually an entire religion grew up around it, complete with power centers and priests. (For more about this day, go here )
Now, some say the Church of the Three crosses, also called Iglesia Santisima Cruz Tun (Church of the Super, Super Holy Stone Cross), is the same as the Cult of the Speaking Cross, but the story of the three crosses predates the cult movement. I have not been able to get all the way back to its origin, but I did find this shocking story.
After setting up the stone cross and the two lesser crosses in the church, people began to come and bring offerings in exchange for miracles requested. However, when individuals left only one offering, instead of three (one for each cross) they didn’t get 7 steps away from the altar before they dropped dead! The priests called a meeting to discover which of the three crosses was causing the deaths and came to the conclusion that it was the two lesser crosses who must have been jealous because people were not leaving offerings for them, only for the main stone cross. So, they assigned 13 priests the duty of carrying the two lesser crosses to a cave and leaving them there. They did just that, but the next morning, the two crosses were mysteriously back in their original places on the altar!
Taken aback, the priests came together again to make a new plan to remove the two smaller crosses from the church. They prayed for nine days and nights and gave offerings of seeds and money. Then they assigned 13 priests and 9 children (13 and 9 are very important numbers to the Maya) to carry the crosses back to the cave and leave them there. They did so, but the next day the crosses disappeared and all of the people who accompanied them mysteriously died!
As I stood before the altar, I saw that the two smaller crosses were indeed still on the altar and I wondered how they got back there after disappearing. I must admit, the story was a bit troubling. So was the energy I felt from the intimidating stone cross. My stomach began to turn.
I lit the requisite 3 candles (I didn't want to make any of the crosses jealous!) and went and sat on one of the simple wooden pews and closed my eyes. The air inside the church was cool, the tile floor cold, and the cement walls preventing the sun from warming the barren open space inside the structure. As I sat with my eyes closed, tuning in to the energy, my nausea increased.
I do believe in entities, beings of power. I have had many experiences in remote places all over the globe through the years with supernatural events. And I have learned to recognize what power feels like and to know my own body’s cues and alarm system. I take these things seriously and at the same time I feel a strong urge to learn as much as I can about these beings. It’s a bit like learning about sharks, their behavior, what to watch out for, what they eat, where they live, all while not getting eaten by a shark!
My personal body cue is nausea. Some people get headaches. Some feel dizzy. Some have the hair on the back of their neck stand on end. I get sick to my stomach. The stronger the energy, the sicker I feel. I have done some personal experiments with this. For example, in this case it was the stone cross that was the center of the power. The closer I got to it, the sicker I became. When I walked out of the building, I felt better. When I walked back in, I felt worse. It is always this way. I can walk away and the farther I get from something, the better I feel. It can be hard to get close enough to something that is very powerful and study it when you feel like you are going to throw up! In this case, the power was intensely strong.
I sat there in the pew, quietly watching everything and making notes of what I saw, refusing to give in to the roiling in my stomach, until I could stand it no longer. The cross (or rather the entity attached to the cross) won in the end and I had to leave the building.
I walked back out into the warm sunshine, but the feeling didn’t entirely go away. At the end of the dirt drive there was a well, an opening to the vast water-filled cave system that flows beneath the ground. I walked over to it and felt better for my proximity to this amazing nature energy. But I still didn’t feel great.
Max was with me and our two friends. By this time everyone had exited the church. Everyone felt the power there, and everyone agreed that we were feeling very heavy spiritual power and were ready to leave. We agreed to meet Christian’s friend (I forget her name, so let’s call her Fabiola). She had a cell phone and we messaged her and agreed to meet by the Catholic Church in the center of town.
It was a short dive. We found the central park and there we found the ruins of a church. I had been looking for a Catholic church like you might imagine, not something in ruins. But Fabiola was standing in front of the fallen stones, so we parked and got out of the car. She asked if we wanted her to show us around. Of course a tour of a historic building is always on my to-do list, so we agreed.
Interestingly, the moment we got out of the car, my stomach started to church again. In truth, I had not completely recovered, but stepping onto the land with the greyed limestones increased my uncomfortable feeling.
To enter the church, we had to walk around a crumbling wall. To my surprise, on the other side, there was an easy opening to the building itself and a modern tin roof had been set on four modern supports and, under that, modern wooden pews sat on a modern concrete floor. Colorful flags fluttered slightly in a nearly unnoticeable breeze.
This was an active church, set in the ruins of a Catholic Church!
I asked Fabiola if it was still a Catholic church and she said it was. I asked her about the Church of the Three Crosses and she said it was also that. I felt confused. Wasn’t the Church of the Three Crosses out on the edge of town?
“They are the same,” she explained.
I stepped over the lowest portion of the ruined wall and into the “Catholic” church. I asked if I was permitted to take photos. Fabiola assured me that was fine. I stood still at the back of the aisle for a minute, just observing and feeling. I felt ok, not great, but ok. So, I walked down the aisle to the altar where religious dolls stood in Maya regalia.
Thinking back on it now, I remember how shocked I was to see not one but THREE crosses on the head of Jesus. And three crosses on Mary too. I found it so interesting how the story of the three crosses somehow melded into this make-shift “Catholic” church. I snapped some photos, noticing the same strings with amulets hanging from them , beads and offerings, small notes with promises and other similar things to what I saw on the altar of the Most Holy Stone Cross. Yes, they did appear to be worshipping the same entity, but this time under the guise of a more mainstream church. The more photos I took, the more my nausea returned. One doll of Mary (there were several) even seemed to be staring at me, angry, threatening.
(NOTE: I cannot find ANY of the photos taken of the altar in the church in the ruins but this one of the candles. Strange . . . )
When I could stand it no longer, we left the enclosure and stepped into the unkept grounds outside the structure. There, scattered across the field, were several alux houses with offerings in them. Oh my! So many spiritual entities in one place! No wonder I was having trouble holding my cookies down!
Fabiola was happy to show us around and we stepped over ancient stones covered in grasses and clambered through questionably stable openings in the walls. Soon the conversation came back to us seeing her grandfather. She explained that he would sacrifice chickens for us, anoint us and do a ceremony, and make us a special meal. I DO have boundaries, and this was one I was not willing to cross. I really do believe in the power of such rituals! We thanked her for the offer, but politely refused.
In truth, it was not until we drove over the town line and left the spiritual beings behind us completely that I felt myself again. In retrospect, I think they have authority over the entire area. I think they have power over a much bigger area that includes everything from Felipe Carillo Puerto (and perhaps further south) all the way past Xocen (the center) and up somewhere to the north. A bit more research will likely turn up other congregations of the Most Holy Three Crosses of the Speaking Tree!
In the meantime, I had more questions than answers, two of which were: What was in that little blue church we were warned away from? . . . and . . . Why did Don Domanzo not permit us to enter the church by the park?
MORE TO COME!