Outsider poems, a mini-anthology in progress (54): 'Incantation for Jaguar Macaw Madness'

Translation from Mayan by Dennis Tedlock



“One Lord, one and only Four Lord, Sky Lord would have been in chaos, Sky Lord would have been dark when you were born. Who are you, owner of chaos? Who are you, owner of night? You are in chaos, Great Lord of Days, the eye of the sun was plucked out when you were born. Who is your mother, what father begets you when you do penance? She is Red Rainbow, White Rainbow, she is the point of the lancet, the tip of the penis, this is your mother, your father, begetter, together behind there, together behind the sweat bath when you were born, the desire in that chaos, desire in that darkness, the spitting snake was on the rock when you were born, desire in the darkness. Master of Drunken Madness, you are the desire in the chaos, you are Master of Stupid Madness, you are Lascivious Madness, you are Jaguar Madness, you are Master of Macaw Madness, you are Deer Madness. Who is your tree? Who is your bush? What served as your bed, your bower when you were born? The red tree of madness, white tree of madness, black tree of madness, yellow tree of madness, the red macaw acacia, white macaw acacia, black macaw acacia, yellow macaw acacia are your trees. These are your trees, you Macaw Madness. The red mamey, who is the white mamey? Who is the black mamey? Who is the yellow mamey? Who is the red viper tree? Who is white, black, yellow? The red frangipani, who is white, black, yellow? These are your trees, Lascivious Madness. Who is the madness?  You are Stupid Madness  … you will be where she is, a needle for drawing blood, a needle for gore, respite comes for the chaos, respite comes for the darkness, the bond is shaken loose where she is, a needle for drawing blood, a needle for drawing gore, the seizure is shaken out, there where he vomited water, only it wasn’t water flowing, it was gore flowing, Master of Traveler’s Madness, Master of Drunken Macaw Madness flowed out. What about the desire of chaos, the illness of madness? Drain them away then, you Four Gods, you Four Who Pour the Years. They will fall where she is, Yellow Sun Face, Yellow Dripper of Gore, where she is, the sole owner of the accursed gore. Drain it away then, to the place where she is, the sole owner of accursed gore drain it away then, you Four Gods, you Four Who Pour the Years, it will fall where she is, the star of Stupid Madness, it will lie four days in the place where she is, the star of Stupid Madness. He bit his arm, relieving the chaos, relieving the darkness, and he also tasted the blood of the sweat bath, and he tasted the blood on the foundation stone. Well then, throw the desire of chaos there, desire of darkness, you Four Gods, you of the Four Directions, it will fall into the heart of Hell where its father sits, Ultimate Enemy of Fire, where she is, the Foreigner, Doorkeeper of the Earth. This is its mother, this is its lustful father when it arrives in the heart of Hell. Raucous, thunderous are the cries of the birds. What about this chaos, you Four Gods, you of the Four Directions?” This will be the dialogue concerning the Ultimate Enemy of Fire when speaking to the Four Gods, the Four Directions. “Raucous are the cries of the birds, the bringers of omens on her behalf, the Foreigner, Doorkeeper of the Earth, red-breasted birds, white-breasted falcons, red-breasted falcons, thrushes in the sky, thrushes in the clouds: these will portend your fall into the heart of Hell. What about stupid madness? What about macaw madness? What about jaguar madness? Well then, the desire of chaos is yours to level out, you Four Gods, you of the Four Directions. Aha! The water spreads thin, but what flows is not water but blood flowing, gore flowing from the tree of Master of Macaw Jaguar Madness.” This will be the dialogue when speaking to the Four Gods, those of the Four Directions, concerning her, the Foreigner, Doorkeeper of the Earth.


[TRANSLATOR'S NOTES. Among the animals invoked by the incantation is the kan ch’ah, or “spitting snake,” an unidentified species that is said to be large, yellow, and nonpoisonous. The omen-bringing birds called sak tan sipipi, chak tan sipip, or “white-breasted falcons, red-breasted falcons,” are probably collared forest-falcons (Micrastur semitorquatus naso), whose hollow cries carry far and whose breast colors include white and buff. Also named as bringers of omens are ixk’o, or “thrushes,” described as being in the sky. These birds would be clay-colored thrushes (Turdus grayi), which sing in rich and varied phrases while flying.


All of the trees mentioned have medicinal values, as described in treatises written by Mayan healers during the colonial period. The boiled bark and leaves of the prickly ash (Zanthoxylum fagara), named here as tankas che, or “tree of madness,” are ingredients in a bath for sufferers of fevers, fainting spells, or eruptions of pustules. An unidentified disease that makes the gums and the palms of the hands turn greenish can be treated by a bath whose ingredients include the boiled leaves of a species of acacia (Acacia filicioides), named here as the k’ante mo, literally “yellow tree macaw” but rendered as “macaw acacia” in the translation. The fruit of the mamey (Calocarpum mammosum), named here as jas, is a remedy for diarrhea. The k’ok’ob’ or “viper” tree (Pilocarpus racemosus) is named after an unidentified snake that is said to be the most poisonous of all the vipers of Yucatán. The bark is irritating to the skin, but it can be boiled to make medicines for dysentery. The flowers and leaves of frangipani trees (Plumeria spp.), named here as nikte, also found use in such medicines. The sap of these trees provides a salve for burns.]

Writes Tedlock further: “The attached two paragraphs of notes need to be restored to ‘Jaguar Macaw Madness.’ Removing them detaches the incantation from the local and practical knowledge of real, specific plants and animals that belong to a real, specific place, pushing it too far into what could seem to the reader to be the imaginary world of a madman. The reality of these plants and animals is all the more important now, in a world that must be made greener.”


with John Bloomberg-Rissman

SOURCE: Dennis Tedlock, 2000 Years of Mayan Literature, University of California Press, 2011.

A principal thrust of the European Conquest was to drive the old languages & religions into a new darkness, an outsiderness by force of arms.  And yet, as Tedlock & others have told us, “The ancient gods of Yucatán continued to hear their names during the colonial period.”  The languages kept being spoken & the books – those few that remained & those now secretly transcribed & hidden– entered a furtive underground existence, some in the new alphabetic writing, some in traditional conveyance by word of mouth.  What survives & continues to be written & invented even now amounts, as Tedlock has assembled & brought it forward, to 2000 years of Mayan written literature.


Writes Tedlock further: “Among those who invoked [the ancient gods] were healers who treated a wide variety of illnesses, using combinations of herbs and words. At some point during the early seventeenth century, some of these practitioners used alphabetic writing to create collections of curative incantations.  Today their works are known only from a single compendium ['Ritual of the Bacabs'] that dates from the late eighteenth century, based on two or more earlier sources and written in two different hands. … It seems clear that the purpose of the writers was to create scripts that could be memorized in advance of a performance, or perhaps read aloud.  … First among the illnesses addressed by the incantations are various forms of madness whose symptoms include a lack of judgment, spasms, frenzy, fury, and shameless lust. The common term for all of these illnesses is tankas (or tamakas), which is also a term for the Milky Way."