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The Myth of Ik' Kakawa: A Collection of Stories and Sacred Objects

Updated: May 28, 2020

This is not a scientific or historic account about prehispanic civilizations, or about how their ceramics were created. This is a mythic story about transformation and a soul’s journey through time and space. 

In the beginning there was a beautiful illuminated source from which all light-beings came. One, in particular, shimmered like firelight and blazed extra bright as he soared through the cosmos. It was his time, his journey, to join the others on the belly of Mother Earth. [1] During his descent he paid a visit to the greatest celestial being known to sustain all life, the Sun God, Tōnatiuh. [2] Enveloped in the warm, golden light, the spark of the little light-being was magnified a thousand times over compared to the emanating brilliance of Tōnatiuh. Offering gratitude for his life-to-be under the time of the fifth Sun, the realm of Tōnatiuh,[3]it was at this moment Tōnatiuh granted him his most important task: to become a guardian of sacred objects. The little light-being sparkled even brighter and his flaming tail wiggled with excitement as he accepted this life mission. He had a deep respect for Tōnatiuh and understood that these sacred objects would help others remember the ancient wisdom, which was gifted by the upper world and would be passed down throughout the ages.

The little light-being thanked the Sun god and continued his travels down to Earth. As he flew through the atmosphere his light began to soften like a mist, and a beautiful song coming from the mountaintops lured him. Circling around a dome of mountain peaks (what we know as the Adirondacks today), he hovered and began to listen. The song came from the great mother herself as she welcomed him.

“Hello, dear one” she sang.

“I have a mission,” yelled the being.

“Of course you do,” she sang.

“I am to inherit a body and collect sacred objects for the people, but I do not know where to look or how I will find them!” he hollered.

“Hmmm,” she hummed as a great gust of wind moved him with great force.

“I will guide you,” she sang. “All sacred objects that hold wisdom are formed from the clay of my body, and are blessed through the sacred fire to be made immortal.”

“How will I know which ones are sacred?” he implored.

“Everything that grows from me is sacred,” she sang. “I will give you the gift of vision so that you may distinguish which are sacred from those that are not.”

At this moment Mother Earth opened her heart and pulled from it a dark seed and offered it to him. The light-being took the seed and popped it in his mouth and upon chewing it, he beamed with great joy. His vision and mind were heightened with such discerning knowledge that his eyes turned a deep cerulean blue. So overjoyed with his new awareness, he danced and spun in the air! Mother Earth laughed and named him after the very medicine that made him distinct. “Ik’ Kakawa” [4] she sang, “may your journey be blessed so you may bless others who cross your path.” He thanked Mother Earth for his gifts and as he turned to begin his mortal journey, he called out again, 

“I need some sort of disguise! And, I’ll need protection!”

“Of course” she sang.

Just then Ik’ Kakawalooked to his left and found an intricate mask decorated with vibrant gold, blue, and red hues. And to his right, stood a most peculiar little creature that he’d never encountered before, a small, four-legged little beast with black eyes and white wiry hair. (Figure 1)

“This is your animal guide,” she sang. “Take care of her and she will take care of you.” Ik’ Kakawawas blessed with a dog, a funny little guide to accompany him throughout his mortal life and beyond, to lead him across the waters of the underworld. [5]

To this day Ik’ Kakawa exists and he continues his mission to gather sacred objects made of earth, stone, wood, and metal that carry messages from the Gods. For each person who gazes upon these objects, he has one request—respect for reciprocity: For each blessing you receive, you must pass it on to another. It is the way of all things, how they have been, how they are now, and how they will come to be.

Death and Transformation 

As Ik’ Kakawatraveled and gathered throughout his lifetime, he found that the objects he collected made themselves known to him and spoke to him directly. His role as collector, in turn, became reciprocal for others, as each time he consented to acquire more sacred objects, he presented or gifted them to the communities that needed them the most. Ik’ Kakawabecame a great storyteller and teacher. He is also a trickster and at times he wears a mask. With the gift of invisibility, he likes to play and orchestrate opportunistic events without being seen. He embraces duality, is both masculine and feminine, and celebrates both light and dark energies. Transcending fear and the plights of Xibalba, [6] he is a wanderer and seeker of knowledge. He knows that death, rebirth, and transformation are sacred rites of passage and he consciously dances between worlds, indulging accordingly. 

“The end of one journey is the beginning of another,” he says. “The road there is through a dark tunnel and there is a very bright light. What that means to me is, damn, there’s a lot of energy! I do not believe energy is destroyed; it takes on many forms. My body is nothing; I don’t even think you should bury it, just mulch it and spread it across the Earth. I think it’s barbaric to be buried in a cemetery. I’d rather have it in a forest with the animals. I’d like to leave this planet as though I was never here, but a better place than how I found it.” [7]

Ik’ Kakawa belongs to a cosmic continuum outside our third dimension, and his light body nests neatly inside his bones. One may see it in the flash or sparkle of his eyes and behind his knowing, mischievous smile. Some recognize him, his soul and mission, while others may walk past him unknowingly. He has the ability to blend or stand out. Often, he may be seen standing alone in the ruins, commemorating old times and memories that came centuries before.

“Life,” he says, “is to be enjoyed. We are here to work hard and play hard and for transformation. If you’re not growing and changing, you’re doing it wrong.” [8]

Transformation is the main theme of this collection and what Ik’ Kakawa seeks throughout his life. Represented in this art in numerous ways is powerful visual imagery, our primal language, and it serves as a limitless reservoir of knowledge that we may access. Ik’ Kakawa presents works of art that demonstrate duality and transformation, that are metaphors and medicine for the soul. He believes that when gazing at an object that is transforming from one thing to another, the teacher and creator of that object is reaching through time and space, offering great lessons. Time, as a linear construct, is a mortal invention. When encountering sacred art, time becomes circular and collapses into one moment without differentiation between past, present, or future. We experience a sense of timelessness, which can lead to profound experiences. 

Often, as he tells his stories and teaches his lessons, I sit with him amongst the milkweed, rosemary, plumeria, and what he calls a “real poinsettia,” in his garden, where a stone mano and metate [9] sits nestled in his plants.

“Transformation is where it’s at,” he says. “It is growing and developing and part of life—

physical, emotional, sexual, and mental—like the many arms of Shiva.”[10]

Shiva, both a destroyer and restorer, is a significant Hindu deity that crossed his path when he was young. Having the ability to embrace extremes, Shiva is an initiator of destruction in order to rejuvenate energy, a concept that informed and opened Ik’ Kakawa’s perception about the cycles of life. Seeing Shiva for the first time, a moment he never forgot, he was mesmerized and impressed at how powerful transformation can be in order to manifest our future.

“Because I have lived and I am on the road to death, the ultimate transformation, I get to go towards the white light again. I never told you that part…” he said, “that night on the table when I had the out-of-body experience. I was losing blood and I literally left my body, rose up above the table, and turned to look down upon myself. That gave me a new perspective. I remember thinking I knew I was in a dark tunnel and I was heading towards a white light. I saw the light as freedom [and] it was very intense, but something told me to go back. I experienced a taste of death, and I woke up in my body and was conscious again. Death. Most people are afraid of it, but all it has to do with is the afterlife! It's a new, wondrous beginning. I believe in energy, and even though the physical dies, the energy never does. It transforms. I’ll know when I’m ready to die, I’ll kiss it.”

Although Ik’ Kakawahas had life threatening experiences, his mystical ones have led him to travel around the world and visit sacred sites. One winter while on his way to Egypt, he stopped to visit an archeologist friend who took him to St. Catherine’s Monastery at the foot of Mount Sinai. A place of great spiritual history for Christians, Jews, and Muslims, the monastery is encased within the rugged and seemingly inaccessible mountains that create a mysterious yet palpable vortex.  Unbeknownst to others, he’d personally fasted for two days and slipped away in the night to hike to the summit, a place that called to him.

“After walking and sweating for hours, when I reached the top the moon had fully risen. It was huge! I had a 180-degree view and experienced something like never before. I tore my clothes off and lay naked under the moon behind a boulder and the little chapel nearby. I listened…and was in another world that night. It was if I were floating and could touch the moon.” [11]

Traveling and seeking alternative beliefs and experiences renews him. He’s trekked across the world on foot, bicycle, and canoe. After twelve years of bicycling through Europe, and five in Australia and New Zealand, he stated he “wanted to be truly isolated and in the mud alone with the leeches.” [12] He arranged to be flown into the remote upper region of the Watut River in Papua New Guinea to survive on his own. He eventually hiked along Mt. Hagen and canoed down the Sepik River.

“At the time, the people there had never seen a tourist before,” he said. “I was experiencing the rawness of untouched places. I was in heaven.”

He spent nine years exploring remote villages along the rivers and collected body-adornment pieces. Following that, he spent the next decade studying prehispanic archeology in Mexico and Guatemala. Along the way he discovered Oaxaca, celebrated for its seductive mole, colorful crafts, mysterious archeology, and its magical-realist painters. He noticed much of the same symbolism and line work that he’d seen on the decorative surfaces of the region’s ancient ceramics are still carried through in the contemporary imagery today. He was curious about the visionary paintings there and began collecting from artists Fulgencio Lazo, Leovigildo Martinez, Felipe Morales, Humberto Batista, Bonifacio Garcia, and Juan Alcazar, whose works depicted layers of seen and unseen spirits and creatures. He is sensitive to and aware of the multiple dimensions that surround our world. (Figure 2)

“I’m not a social being,” he said, “I am sensitive with energy and I can read the imagery. I see myself not as a possessor, but a caretaker. My role is to secure them, organize them, and send them to places where they will be safe and appreciated. My dream is to always share these sacred works. These pieces, some talismanic, give us freedom to move between different realities, just as I have gone beyond death, and that night in the mountains with the moon. Multiple dimensions exist and are parallel all at the same time. I have been given so much in my life and I want to give back and that’s what I’m doing. Call it karma or cyclic timing, what you get is what you give…perhaps it is energetic reciprocity. I have been blessed; it’s time to bless others. I just do it in the mythic, visual realm.”

Collecting: Earth, Metal, Stone, Wood

Ik’ Kakawa chooses pieces that were often buried and used in ceremony. Selecting objects ranging from shamanic [13] to utilitarian, he desires to share the knowledge that the world we live in is not the only one that exists, and that sacred objects made from the Earth carry important messages that stretch beyond linear time. His collection covers Mesoamerica, South America, the American South West, and New Guinea and largely consists of materials such as ceramic figures and vessels, stone animals and tools, metal adornments, and wood masks. He prefers the work of pre-conquest societies, as the imagery and surface treatments celebrate the freedoms and rituals of pre-Christian beliefs.

Every natural material carries a medicine that whispers a deep meaning. His ceramic works, in particular, hold special importance. Clay is a holy material and is transformed by fire. Initiation by fire or water can be an act of ceremony and purification that one can perform or submit to, to shed the old self and become new—a death from one form and a birth of another. Sacred objects are talismanic tools and undergo the same transformation processes; each is blessed by a medicine man or woman and imbued with significant properties to ready its purpose for spiritual use. Clay, an abundant material, is a thick, creamy, mineral-rich Earth. It offers the wisdom of transmutation, a holy trinity of Earth, Fire, and Spirit, catalyzed by its creator. It has been said that fire is a gift from Father Sun and is activated by the wood of the trees to help us thrive with warmth, light, and love. Water, Fire’s duality, is the cool, dark blood of Mother Earth, activated by the magnetic pull of Grandmother Moon that offers balance and soothing rejuvenation. Opposing forces are often also complementary, combining in a balance as the very medicines needed to temper one another.

The stone carvings and fetishes in the collection are carved animals that act as little helpers and guardians. Stone carvings have been handed down for generations and show up when they are needed. Their original substance and form possess attributes given to them during Earth’s creation, and the artist often saw the animal in the stone and carved it to set it free for healing purposes. Animism, the belief that living energy resides in all matter, has been practiced by many cultures for thousands of years. [14] Believing that a separation exists between what is animate and inanimate is a Western way of thinking that has been a contentious source of degradation in nature for some time. The stone frog carving that stands two feet high and rests at Ik’ Kakawa’s doorway carries a profound presence.

(Figure 3)

Smooth and cool as water, as if the artist spoke this elemental language, the piece has been coaxed out with very simple lines and forms. The toad or frog symbol is an abundant image all over Mesoamerica and South America. Certain species of toads and frogs had skin-toxins with poisonous and hallucinogenic properties, and were used to enhance visions in rituals and for medicinal purposes. As animal totems, they are revered beings that were believed to have helped create the oceans and are used in offerings to the gods of rain and water. [15] This frog protector has a very calming demeanor.

His collection of metal is mostly of body adornments. Both ornate and simplistic, they included jewelry-like earplugs, nose wear, and amulets worn by the elite and holy figures to set them apart from the others.

“One way to make yourself distinct is to decorate yourself. It set you apart and validated that the person had special knowledge. Made from Earth, clay is sacred; and the person who works the clay is sacred because they have the knowledge to create, which is a divine gift.” [16]

The adornments are made out of precious metals, jade, or obsidian. One adornment, which takes people by surprise, is the gold-embossed buccal plates that hang down from the nose and cover the mouth. As the person spoke, flashes of gold would reflect in the sunlight. The attention to the mouth and body created a lasting impression on the people the wearer encountered. Gold itself was viewed as divine, a gift from the Sun god. It is a material that to this day has the ability to hypnotize and control others. The more gold a person donned, the higher their level of spirituality. Adornments could be “read” and were a form of identity used to communicate to others who they were—whether a chief, a warrior, a spiritual leader—or to designate their familial relations. [17] The ceramic male nude figure from Colombia wears dramatic gold embellishments and stands with his eyes entranced and his hands on his chest. Attributed to the Quimbaya culture, the figure most likely represented a profound personage amongst his people. (Figure 4)

Four Medicine Women

One of the first significant clay forms Ik’ Kakawa collected was a Moche [18] piece called Mother of the Gods. With this piece he knew it was a representation of a deity or of Mother Earth herself. These clay figures of women, with their fine details and intricate adornments, spoke to the matrilineal leadership and the feminine lines of ancient warriors and shamans who were prominent in their societies. Ik’ Kakawa knew he was being guided, as all the clues were there. The more elaborate the clay figures that he discovered, the more he realized the goddesses themselves were directly communicating to him. From four different directions these mysterious figures spoke to him: Peru, Mexico, Ecuador, and Guatemala.

Raised from the shaft-tombs of Colima in West Mexico and dating back to 300 B.C., the second major large piece that he found in this category was a Pihuamo-style polychrome female. [19] (Figure 5)

“When I walked out the door she caught my eye and she said ‘Hi, Handsome.’ She seemed a little stern looking but that didn’t put me off. I think she was showing me her power. Her hands are on her abdomen and I think she stands for mankind and fertility for the world.” [20]

This elite figure has palpable energy and detailed symbolism. She likely memorializes a figure who had a unique position, because she is depicted as a large piece of sculpture with intricate textiles, stylized hair, body adornments, body paint, and scarification marks all over her shoulders and back.

“In Papua New Guinea it was called the mark of the crocodile. This woman has over twenty-six nodules that cover her shoulders like the spots on a jaguar. She must have had quite an initiation.” [21]

The third major medicine woman figure is amplified by her unusual physical features, a large necklace, and an enormous headdress. Her face was modeled with very special care. Dating from 500-800 AD, she is from the North Coastal area of Ecuador. Highly adorned, she has a regal stature with her palms facing forward. She perhaps was a healer or high priestess who garnered much respect. (Figure 6)

“She was set apart from the others as I saw her standing on a mantle. I said ‘Hi’ and she struck me immediately.” [22]

The fourth medicine woman is a seated Maya figure that commands attention. She dates from the late classic 500-800 AD period and is from the Escuintla Municipality of the Mayan Tiquisate Culture. Shaped like cacao beans, her hair is neatly decorated and she wears large square ear ornaments, a necklace, and upper and lower armbands. Her enlarged hands, a symbol for healing abilities, morph before our eyes. They are elongated and stretch past her knees to touch the ground. Her eyes are closed, as is the case with many of these shamanic women, a signature detail by the artist that indicates the person has visionary and spiritual abilities. [23] (Figure 7)

​​“What I love about these shamanic depictions are the concepts behind them; how [their makers] expressed their universe is very different from how it is done today. Shamans can be both mystical and terrifying, and they see and hear things that are very helpful to us. My favorite is Coatlicue. [24] She would scare the shit out of me in a dark alley. Her face is shown as two serpents coming together, and she wears a necklace of hands and hearts with skull pendants, and a butterfly emblem of a warrior on her chest. Her arms and legs terminate in claws that are raised to strike, and she wears a lovely skirt made out of rattlesnakes. She is powerful, alluring, and terrifying…she is real and was probably seen in a vision.” (Figure 8)

The Trickster (or Sacred Rebel)

Ik’ Kakawais drawn to masks, as they provide a disguise and allow a person to take on attributes of another. The masks represent individuals who are subversive in character, and sometimes tricksters; they are portrayed in many societies, both ancient and contemporary. These individuals play roles that are often contrary to popular beliefs, especially if they deem these beliefs unbalanced. The tricksters’ mission in life is to awaken others, and they do so by unexpectedly challenging or interrupting ordinary occurrences. Seemingly odd, they blur boundaries of sanity, govern transition, and introduce paradox, mixing the sacred with the profane. They reestablish right-relationship and create opportunities for others to bridge the physical and spiritual worlds. Like electricity, they are either dangerous or can be beneficial and harnessed for greatness. [25] Often they can be shape-shifters, [26] who wear masks or costumes either to embody another or to be like a chameleon and be invisible. (Figure 9)

“I have what people refer to as an alter ego; it allows me to be free. There’s nothing more important than being free. I don’t have to conform to societal rules. The trickster creates and manipulates his or her own path. They are also entertainers. There’s a bit of show business in me, I’m definitely a performer, and I descend from performers—one of my many jobs. I am anti-establishment and certainly have my own vision. I challenge perception and am not a team player unless I agree with what you are doing.”  (Figure 10)

Ik’ Kakawa’s wood masks are collected from all over the world and represent the many-faced beings that he says surround us all the time. They teach us to look beyond the obvious and see past what we recognize on the surface. A mask can be the trickster’s adornment for deception and to hide, but masks may also be worn for a greater good, to see through another’s eyes, to embody their spirit, and harness their energies for others. Masks often act as mirrors that reveal particular healed or unhealed aspects of us, as what we attract or abhor can be lurking in our own shadows. These sacred rebels expose these areas in our systems, which can be a jolting yet powerful catalyst in our lives. It is ironic that when we wish to bury certain aspects deep within ourselves, hiding under a mask may do the opposite and instead amplify the very things we seek to hide. Fascinated with seeing multiple perspectives and challenging mundane activities, Ik’ Kakawa has gathered masks from his travels that dance between freedom and disguise. His large jaguar mask has a most dominant countenance. Its mouth is open, revealing large teeth, and its eyes are inset with circular mirrors. When one gazes into them, one sees one’s own reflection. Jaguars are apex predators and have long been revered as sacred archetypes in ancient indigenous mythology.

Shamans, Jaguars, and Chocolate-Oh My!

Because shamans are known to be intermediaries between the Earth and spirit realms, they must focus on healing heavy energies and occasionally enter into psychic battles. They are immersed in an ongoing outpour of opposing forces and use sacred empowerment tools and personal teams for the betterment of humanity and the cosmos. The battles that occur between these energies are often present in shamanic imagery such as the Shaman in Combat, a polychrome pedestal bowl from Panama. It tells the story of a shaman engaging in combat with malevolent spirits. Shape shifting in order to access non-human strengths, the figure embodies animalistic qualities from his or her spirit familiars. The bowl shows an anthropomorphic profile with an elongated snout, menacing teeth, and claws. The line work around the head, claws, and legs project electromagnetic striations referred to as emanations, which are signature markings to represent the luminous energy field that shines brightly around the body. Often drawn as if the personage is in flight, it is a spirit flight referred to as astral projection, where the soul leaves the body to work in the spirit realm. The emanations are bold and give a highly charged and frenetic effect. It has been described by shamanic scholar Armand Labbé to be like “a brilliant flame that shines...with penetrating effects similar to the charge received from an electric eel.” [27] (Figure 11)

Jaguars in the Central and South American shamanic traditions are dynamic spirits that accompany shamans in their work. In Peruvian shamanism, jaguars represent the archetype for the West direction in their medicine wheel, an entity and tool used for healing and empowerment. As apex predators, they aid and protect a healer’s medicine space and are believed to take us face-to-face with our greatest fear and then devour it so that we fear nothing. Jaguars are great seers and intrepid guides for unseen forces—one of the many reasons Ik’ Kakawa is drawn toward these animals. His Jaguar effigy vessel from Costa Rica is a bell-shaped tripodal jar that bears a half human/half jaguar entity. Standing erect with his paws on his hips, the creature sports a feathered bib around the neck—an adornment a shaman might wear in ceremony. The threatening ears, fangs, and claws are pronounced yet the face displays large human-like eyes, a clue that this effigy may depict something that is neither human nor animal alone. Around the neck of the vessel in black and white polychrome are scrolls and bands of pictographs that likely tell a story.

“My feeling is that we’re looking at a shaman that has changed into a jaguar. There are other vases that have ear spools and the eyes are human. It’s an animal with human-like qualities. This is clearly a ceremonial piece used to invoke protection.” [28]

(Figure 12)

Cacao ceremonies are a daily ritual for our collector, and his very nickname means “black chocolate.” It is his daily elixir, which keeps his vision sharp and his sacred purpose dancing. He holds respect for this gift and finds these drinking vessels extremely important. His large Maya chocolate vase from the El Salvador-Honduras border has two diagonal bands that contain spider monkeys descending in search for the fruity cacao pods, which contain the chocolate beans. The monkeys are abundant, as they are known to eat the pulp of the pod. [29] The beans were very valuable in Mesoamerica; people would even split the bean and fill the husk with clay to make counterfeit beans. This cylinder held a frothy chocolate drink, said to be seasoned with ingredients such as chili, vanilla, agave, or honey. The vessel is large and was likely used for a group in ceremony. (Figure 13)

The Teacher (or Path-changer) 

There is a saying amongst energy workers that when the student is ready, the teacher appears. This was the case with Ik’ Kakawa and scholar and teacher Armand Labbé. [30] Armand was a renowned expert in ancient and native cultures of Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Pacific Islands, and he became a profound mentor to Ik’ Kakawa. Armand’s scholarship focused on themes ofindigenous iconography, myth, cultural consciousness, and shamanism. He “wanted to illuminate how people from other places and times lived, and not just detail how they created artwork…to get right under the skin of these cultures and see artwork as they would see it." [31] Armand specialized in esoteric Eastern and Western belief systems and illuminated parallel perspectives about awareness and spiritual transcendence. For the Society for the Anthropology of Consciousness, he presented at and collaborated on a 1991 conference that explored cross-cultural healing, ritual, trance and altered states of consciousness, psychic surgery, and experiential metaphysics in indigenous culture. [32] He was also celebrated for revolutionizing the Bower’s Museum in Santa Ana, to which he brought many objects of interest to our collector Ik’ Kakawa.

“Armand Labbé blew my socks off. He couldn't feed my mind enough. What he spoke about made sense to me. He made sense of the mystical experiences that I had. With other art history classes that used standard texts, they seldom got to the back chapters (the ethnographic ones) about Africa, Polynesia, Mesoamerica, or South America. I felt cheated. Those seemed to be so much more interesting. Arman opened me up to a whole new and sophisticated world—not the white version.” [33]

Learning the art and iconography of ancient culture and shamanism inspired Ik’ Kakawa to review his own soul journey. He began to experience and write about his past lives through regression.

“I got a professional regresser to help me. I used tapes and usually once or twice a week I would go into an altered state of consciousness. I’d view myself on a metal spiral staircase that eventually descended to the bottom of a landing where I opened a door. Upon opening the door I would be in a different reality and in a different time. I was male, I was female, I was never Cleopatra or anyone famous, but in one of the incidents I was a thief in medieval England and I stole jewelry. I was caught and hung. Up until that point I always had a problem with my throat. Other times I opened the door and I was in a cave, had on a loincloth, and looked down into a desert valley reminiscent of Arizona or Mexico. The other ones were interesting…when I look back at it I know I’ve just been there too many times.” [34]

Ik’ Kakawa believes it was his teacher Armand Labbé who opened his consciousness; he was a catalyst and guide who stepped on to the collector’s path to help support his endeavor to find shamanic works of art. Ik’ Kakawa too wanted to see through the eyes of the maker, the creator, and the medicine men and women who shaped their realities, and as ancestors continue to help us transform to create a vibrant and peaceful future.

“Shamans and their tools aren’t gone. They are still around and are as active as ever.”

The Heart of the Serpent 

The serpent is a profoundly misrepresented creature, famous in Western belief systems for its hypnotic and deceitful ways, with the capability to go into the underworld. For others, the serpent is a powerful healing being, and a teacher for what is called “the beauty-way” a philosophy from the Amazon that describes how serpents move softly and peacefully, sharing its belly and heartbeat with the Earth. A magical being, she sheds her old wrinkled skin and emerges new with a bright and shiny rainbow-like body. She embodies the ultimate metaphor for death, rebirth, and transformation and some consider the serpent to be a symbol (not for evil) but for Mother Earth herself. [35]

Ik’ Kakawa has had lifetimes of experiences and enjoys watching the drama of our human theater. He is known by some as a gifter of stories, art, and ancient wisdom, and even leaves chocolate for others. His presence is felt even when he’s not around, but perhaps he is there just unseen, like a jaguar hidden in the shadows of a forest, or a bat hanging in the peripheries of our vision. When asked “what type of animal are you?” he smiles and silently recoils, realigning himself. He prefers to speak through his objects. A healer by nature, he has the heart of a serpent and he continues to wrap his coils of light around those in need. As Ik’ Kakawaholds the stone snake heart, his most treasured piece, in the palms of his hands he comments, 

“Not a whole lot of people collect shamanic art. I don’t think they know about it. The green stone serpent is a perfect example. (Figure 14)

No one wanted it and I watched it for a while. They had no idea what it was. But it has it all; it’s a goody! All the concepts are behind it. Some see the heart, some see the serpent, and some do not see it at all. This serpent is more than any snake, it's a fetish, and it’s more than just a visual, it’s spiritual, there’s a message there. The heart is the center and giver of life and it was one of the most important things to the Aztec and Toltec civilizations. Like the Gods that came before them who made sacrifices for the survival of Earth and all its humanity, they, in turn, reciprocated and sacrificed themselves and gave their hearts for the Sun God to thrive. The heart is a symbol of immense power, of light and sacrifice, and the serpent that goes into the ground represents death and rebirth. On one side of this stone we have the symbol of life and sacrifice. On the other we have a symbol that translates to death and transformation. The stone is green, which also represents fertility; therefore, this piece encompasses duality and the continuous forms of energy. This is what the serpent represents: she is the ultimate healer, the mother of our waters and our Milky Way. It is up to us to learn her lessons. We are absolutely built on the past, but we are forgetting. My goal is to help us remember.

"To all my great teachers who opened my mind to other ways of thinking and appreciating other cultures, I thank you. It’s been a hell of a ride.”

This essay was written by Karen Crews Hendon for the exhibition catalog to document the Living With Clay: California Ceramics Collections exhibition curated by Rody López in 2019 at the Begovich Gallery, California State University, Fullerton. The name Ik' Kakawa is a pseudonym for the collector in order to remain anonymous. This essay was written in the style of indigenous storytelling practice to express the works of art in the original Pre-colonial traditions in which they were intended. Keeping Pre-colonial traditions, ceremonies, and practices alive raises awareness that North, Central, and South America's First Nations are still here and supports the growing "Decolonize Now!" social-cultural movement to rectify the colonizer's white patriarchal viewpoint in an effort to rebalance or, in some cases, rewrite/uncover the truths of history and art history alike.


[1] Mother Earth refers to the feminine spirit of our planet. Joan Parisi Wilcox, Masters of the Living Energy, The Mystical World of the Q’ero of Peru (Vermont: Inner Traditions, 2004), 322.

[2] The name of a Sun god in Aztec Mythology. Margaret R. Bunson, and Stephen M. Bunson, Encyclopedia of Ancient Mesoamerica. (New York: Facts On File, 1996) 263.

[3] Refers to the time-frame of Tōnatiuh as a Sun God. April Holloway, “Aztec Creation Myths,” Ancient Origins, 28 January 2013. <>

[4] A nickname of the collector taken from ancient Mayan glyphs meaning “Black Chocolate.” Michael D. Coe and Mark Van Stone, Reading The Maya Glyphs, 2nd ed. (London: Thames and Hudson, 2001, 2005) 163.

[5] Refers to the Mesoamerican mythology that dogs are spirit guides that help people transition after death. Maria Alberta Badini Confalonieri, “The Use and Significance of Animals in Aztec Rituals” (M.A. diss., Bournemouth University, 2009), 45. <>

[6] Xibalba translates as “Place of Fright” in reference to the underworld in Mayan mythology. Bunson and Bunson, Encyclopedia of Ancient Mesoamerica, 277.

[7] The Collector, Interview by Karen Crews Hendon, 4 August 2018.

[8] The Collector, Interview by Karen Crews Hendon, 4 August 2018.

[9] Mano and metate is a stone tool used to grind grains. Bunson and Bunson, Encyclopedia of Ancient Mesoamerica, 109.

[10] Shiva is an important Hindu god and considered part of a holy trinity with the gods Brahma and Vishnu. Mark Cartwright, “Shiva,” Ancient History Encyclopedia, 10 May 2018. <>

[11] The Collector, Interview by Karen Crews Hendon, 4 August 2018.

[12] The Collector, Interview by Karen Crews Hendon, 4 August 2018.

[13] Shamanic refers to having healing and transformative abilities that are transferred from an unseen spirit realm through a person or object. Labbé, Guardians of the Life Stream, 105.

[14] Anima refers to an indigenous philosophy that there is energy in all things. Sara Burns, “Five Element Theory,” Center for Sacred Transformations, 2017. <>

[15] Refers to the frog or toad animal totem in indigenous folklore. Renee McGarry, “Frogs and Toads,” Aztecs at Mexilore,” 31 March 2012. <>

[16] The Collector, Interview by Karen Crews Hendon, 4 August 2018.

[17] Kalamazoo Institute of the Arts, “Pre-Columbian Gold.” <>

[18] Moche refers to a style of pottery attributed to a pre-Inca civilization that flourished along the northern coast and valleys of ancient Peru, between 1 CE and 800 CE. Mark Cartwright, “Moche Civilization,” Ancient History Encyclopedia, 20 August 2014. <>

[19] Polychrome Pihuamo-style pottery is attributed to the pre-Colima, West Mexico cultures present from 300 BCE to 300 CE. Lois Smith and Mitch Tuchman, ed., Sculpture of Ancient West Mexico, Nayarit, Jalisco, Colima (University of New Mexico Press, 1970).

[20] The Collector, Interview by Karen Crews Hendon, 4 August 2018.

[21] The Collector, Interview by Karen Crews Hendon, 4 August 2018.

[22] The Collector, Interview by Karen Crews Hendon, 4 August 2018.

[23] The Collector, Interview by Karen Crews Hendon, 4 August 2018.

[24] Coatlicue is a significant Earth goddess in Aztec mythology. Mary Miller and Karl Taube, The Gods and Symbols of Ancient Mexico and the Maya, An Illustrated Dictionary of Mesoamerican Religion (London: Thames and Hudson, 1993), 65.

[25] Gary McGee, “The Path of the Sacred Clown: Where Trickster and Shaman Converge,” Fractal Enlightenment, <>

[26] A shape shifter has the shamanic ability to change forms, often from human to animal. Labbé, Guardians of the Life Stream, 108.

[27] Labbé, Guardians of the Life Stream, 55-56.

[28] The Collector, Interview by Karen Crews Hendon, 4 August 2018.

[29] Meredith L. Dreiss and Sharon Edgar Greenhill, Chocolate Pathway to the Gods, The Sacred Realm of Chocolate in Mesoamerica (University of Arizona Press, 2008), 20-21.

[30] Armand Labbé was a known scholar on ancient cultures and shamanism. Mike Boehm, “Armand J. Labbe, 60; Curator Helped Put Santa Ana's Bowers Museum on the Map,” Los Angeles Times, 6 April 2005. <>

[31] Mike Boehm, “Armand J. Labbe, 60; Curator Helped Put Santa Ana's Bowers Museum on the Map,” Los Angeles Times, 6 April 2005. <>

[32] Armand Labbé, The Society for Anthropology and Consciousness, 20-24 March 1991. <>

[33] The Collector, Interview by Karen Crews Hendon, 4 August 2018.

[34] The Collector, Interview by Karen Crews Hendon, 4 August 2018.

[35] The serpent is considered a powerful shamanic archetype and great healer. Alberto Villoldo, Shaman, Healer, Sage, How to Heal Yourself and Others with the Energy Medicine of the Americas (New York: Harmony Books, 2000), 135-140.


Beginning Image: Nahual Altar. Photo Credit Eric Stoner 

Figure 1: Portrait of Ik’ Kakawa with mask and his animal dog guide ‘Kitty’. Photo credit Eric Stoner

Figure 2: Felipe Morales,Autorretrato (Self-portrait), 1993,oil on canvas. Collection of the Museum of Latin American Art, Gift of MAW and Friends

Figure 3: Guerrero, Mexico, unknown culture, n.d., Stone Frog, Photo credit Eric Stoner

Figure 4: South America; West Central Columbia; Middle Cuaca Region; Quimbaya Culture; Caldes Complex Culture Standing Male Nude with a Gold Buccal Plate, A.D. 1200 - A.D. 1400 Reddish-orange to brown clay, red-brown slips and on the body, cream slip on the face. Gold nose ring: Buccal plate, embossed. Photo credit Eric Stoner

Figure 5: West Mexico; Colima Standing Female Figure with Hands on Her Abdomen, 300 B.C. - A.D. 300 Earthenware, tan clay with tan and red-brown slip with black pigment appliqued and burnished. Photo credit Eric Stoner

Figure 6: South America; Ecuador (North Coastal Area-Equator); Juma/Coaque Culture Standing Elite Female,300 B.C. - A.D. 500 Earthenware: Buff clay with blue-green pigment, mold-made, appliqued, slipped, colored and burnished. Photo credit Eric Stoner

Figure 7: Central America; Guatemala; Escuintla Municipal; South Pacific Coast; Tequisate Area; Maya Culture Maya Seated Female Figure: Elite,A.D. 500 - A.D. 800 Earthenware, orangeware; molded; appliquéd with pigment, (white with traces of other colors). Photo credit Eric Stoner

Figure 8: Mexico City, Mexica (Aztec), South East edge of the Plaza Mayor/Zocalo in Mexico City, Coatlicue (She of Serpent Skirt), c. 1500 A.D. Stone: Basalt. Collection of the National Museum of Anthropology, Mexico City

Figure 9: Humberto Batista, Los Pingos (The Trickster),1996, oil on canvas. Collection of the Museum of Latin American Art, Gift of MAW and Friends

Figure 10: Unknown artist, El Tigre, c. 1960 Wood, paint, boar tusks, porcupine quills. Photo credit Eric Stoner

Figure 11: Panama; Central Region; Macaracao Style Polychrome Pedestal Bowl: Shaman in Combat, n.d. Red-brown clay, polychrome cream, red-orange, red-brown, black. Photo credit Eric Stoner

Figure 12: Central America; Costa Rica; Central Region;Guanacaste/Nicoya Culture Jaguar Effigy Vessel,A.D. 1200 - A.D. 1550 Earthenware, red-orange clay, burnished black andorange-red polychrome. Photo credit Eric Stoner

Figure 13: Central America; El Salvador/Hondurasborder; Ulua Valley Region Large Maya Chocolate Ware Monkey Vase, A.D. 250 - A.D. 900 Ceramic chocolate ware. Photo credit Eric Stoner

Figure 14: Central Mexico; Valley of Mexico Aztec Culture Greenstone Coiled Snake, A.D. 1470 - A.D. 1521 Stone: Greenstone. Photo credit Eric Stoner

End Image: Altar, Feathers and Cedar. Photo credit Eric Stoner


Bunson, Margaret R., and Stephen M. Bunson. Encyclopedia of Ancient Mesoamerica. New York: Facts On File, Inc., 109.

Coe, Michael D., and Mark Van Stone. Reading The Maya Glyphs, 2nded. London: Thames and Hudson, 2001, 2005. 163.

Dreiss, Meredith L., and Sharon Edgar Greenhill. Chocolate Pathway to the Gods, The Sacred Realm of Chocolate in Mesoamerica. University of Arizona Press, 2008. 

Evans, Susan Toby. Ancient Mexico and Central America Archaeology and Culture History, 2nd ed. London: Thames and Hudson, 2004, 2008.

Furst, Jill L. McKeever. The Natural History of the Soul in Ancient Mexico. Yale University, 1995.

Labbé, Armand J. Guardians of the Life Stream: Shamans, Art and Power in Prehispanic Central Panamá. Cultural Arts Press, 1995. 

McClusky, Pamela and Erika Dalya Massaquoi, et al. Disguise: Masks and Global African Art. Seattle: Seattle Art Museum, in association with Yale University Press, 2015.

Miller, Mary and Karl Taube. The Gods and Symbols of Ancient Mexico and The Maya: An Illustrated Dictionary of Mesoamerican Religion. London: Thames and Hudson, 1993. 

Moctezuma, Eduardo M. The Mask of Death in Prehispanic Mexico. Mexico: García Valádes Editores, 1988.

Smith, Lois and Mitch Tuchman, ed. Sculpture of Ancient West Mexico, Nayarit, Jalisco, Colima. University of New Mexico Press, 1970.

Villoldo, Alberto. Shaman, Healer, Sage: How to Heal Yourself and Others with the Energy Medicine of the Americas. New York: Harmony Books, 2000. 

Wilcox, Joan Parisi. Masters of the Living Energy, The Mystical World of the Q’ero of Peru. Vermont: Inner Traditions, 2004.

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