Tikal: Ancient City, Ancient Power
In February 2000,
Body & Soul producer Eric Neudel
traveled to Guatemala
with a two-person crew to film the segment on Tikal. Following is his
account of their time there:
Two taxi drivers
muscled our gear into the trunks and back seats of the cabs as we waited
on the streets of Guatemala City. It was the start of our adventure
in filming one of the most powerful spiritual sites on the planet, the
ancient Mayan capital of Tikal.
After winding our
way through the suburbs of Guatemala City and over the mountain passes,
we arrived in the city of Antigua. We were scheduled to meet up there
with Mercedes Barrios Longfellow, a Mayan Shaman and Priestess from
the highlands of Guatemala, who now lives in the United States. She
was to lead our Body & Soul crew
into the magical city of Tikal.
For the Mayan people
this was an especially significant time. It was the first instance in
hundreds of years that two Mayan New Years would be celebrated in one
calendar year. The year 2000 also marked the culmination of a 500-year-old
Mayan prophecy predicting a unification of indigenous peoples into one
spiritual movement to save the Earth. That's why 150 indigenous elders
from the three Americas were gathering in Guatemala to celebrate with
ceremonies and prayers.
Mercedes was coordinating
this special Mayan gathering, as well as shepherding a group of North
American tourists who had paid to witness the exotic happenings. When
their group was late arriving, we settled into our own lodgings. That
evening, when our team met over dinner, we decided that the only thing
we knew for certain was that this project's outcome was unpredictable.
It would have lots of visual color and a strong spiritual component
-- but other than that, it was all up for grabs.
The next day we
finally hooked up with Mercedes' group. The crowd filled the hotel's
inner courtyard and spilled out into the narrow street. Several medicine
men from the continental US, Hawaii, and Colombia were also there. We
eagerly waited to see what Mercedes had planned. Finally, this small,
unassuming woman arrived and stood silently as a circle of people naturally
formed around her. She laid out the day's agenda and then introduced
her assistants. Among them was her adopted daughter Melissa, who she
said had great intuitive powers and would someday be the recipient of
her medicine bundle. The group was very quiet as Mercedes went on to
describe the importance of respecting the events we were all about to
witness. "Leave your ego behind as it will interfere with your experience,"
she said. "Open your heart without judgment and you will receive great
In planning our
segment on Tikal, we were especially interested in featuring Mercedes'
observations from her perspective as a Mayan Priestess. We knew that
she was going there, along with the tour group and several of the elders.
We flew to this ancient capital in the remote jungle of northeast Guatemala
a day ahead to prepare.
we approached the entrance to Tikal, we were stopped by the guard who
told us we needed permission from the Institute of Culture and Anthropology
in Guatemala City to film the monuments and temples. We began negotiations
with the Institute's directors, but they were slow and painful. We spent
the next two days on the phone waiting for faxes, trying to push the
process along. We were extremely discouraged, as we knew that Mercedes
was only going to be in Tikal for a brief time, and now it seemed we
would miss our opportunity to include her as our guide. Finally, on
the second day, an hour before the site closed we received permission
to shoot the following day. We drove the 25 miles to Tikal's entrance,
reaching the chief ranger just in time to arrange for the shoot. But
sadly, we thought that we had lost our chance to film Mercedes and her
By 6 AM the next
morning, we began filming the huge ancient city in the dawn light. Several
hours later, we were surprised and delighted to see Mercedes, three
medicine men and a small part of the tour group arrive. After agreeing
to lead us through the city, Mercedes had some words of advice for first-time
"Many people recognize
the magic of Tikal. And yes, there is great magic.
We are not creating experiences. We are given experiences as a gift.
And when we walk in gratitude for every moment, then we feel the power
that all living things have. No higher and no lower than the power that
"So when I enter
Tikal, I bring a gift of gratitude. It's the only gift that I can really
bring to Tikal. And in return, I am showered with all the great gifts.
So that I can perceive the magic that is there… The magic of the animals,
the magic of the trees, the magic of the stones. The magic of the whole
As we explored the
city, Mercedes told us that there are some 4500 temples and pyramids
in Tikal. Because the Mayan people who lived in Tikal believed they
came from the constellation Pleiades, Tikal's builders placed the seven
most important pyramids of the Grand Plaza in the same geometric pattern
as the 'seven sisters,' or seven stars comprising the Pleiades constellation.
Climbing up the
steep steps of the monuments we wandered in and out of doors and passageways
that led to small triangular rooms. All the while, Mercedes talked about
their intricate structure and sophisticated design. When we entered
certain rooms, the medicine men spoke of the "great library of knowledge"
an attuned person could find in the sacred walls that reflected "the
wisdom of the grandfathers. Man has lost his spiritual way and we need
to get back in touch with Nature in order to be connected again," they
"One needs to become
childlike with wonder in order to receive what these hallowed walls
have to give," Mercedes told us. "If you listen to this place, it will
speak to you and guide you."
Tikal spoke to us.
We had come there as strangers, hoping to gain some understanding of
this powerful place. By the end of the day, as we filmed Mercedes and
the medicine men walking across the plaza and down the path, we had
experienced its magic and were left with a strong feeling of gratitude.
We learned from
Mercedes that gratitude allows Tikal's power to transcend the sacred
city's boundaries. "Any place can have magic if you enter it with that
vision. Any place can have magic, and any person. Anything alive can
give us that same magic…"
Thomas Rau, MD
Tikal: Ancient City, Ancient Power
Tell Me More
Body & Soul is currently airing Monday-Friday at 7:00pm and 8:30pm on PBS YOU.
home | program
list | tell me more | links | reading list
| who we are | how
it began | talk to us | companion book | program videos