It’s rainy season in Guatemala where Joe Coca and I have been traveling about the last several days. It’s rained as we’ve wound our way up steep mountain roads; it’s drizzled as we’ve slipped down into lush forests where bromeliads sprout like magical creatures from dangling vines and giant pine trees stand like lookouts; we’ve been sprinkled on (and sometimes more!) wandering the streets of Panajachel and communities nearby. But mornings are bright, the sky is blue, the sun a gift, splashing us with colors almost too bright, but not. Every afternoon when the clouds roll in and the rain falls to the earth in its various ways, I think of that mischievous Chak, the Maya rain god. This is his country. This is his season.
Wandering in Guatemala this past week has fully brought to life Carol Karasik’s Maya Gods and Monsters–Supernatural Stories from the Underworld and Beyond. I have not experienced the Underworld, but maybe I’ve glimpsed a bit of the beyond. It feels like Chak has been hovering over us all week, and I keep thinking of this fabulous scene from Gods & Monsters when Chak reacts to the Maya praying for rain for their crops.
“Dragnats!” he fumed. “Platitudinous paupers!”
Then he threw his axe, and thunder shook the whole earth.
“Let’s see now,” he roared. “Should I be good or should I be wilder? Should I sprinkle or should I pour? Should I dampen their souls or destroy them? Just which Chak shall I be?” He thought and thought until his head ached and he began to twitch.
“Oh, enough of this insufferable pitter patter! I’m powerful enough to be all four!”
All at once he rushed from the four directions, east, west, north, and south. All four Chaks were carrying axes, spears, and darts as they whirled across the sky.
The Yellow Chak charged in from the south with blinding lightning storms.
The White Chak whipped out of the north on icy squalls that stung like frozen needles.
The Black Chak came dancing with the wicked west wind, holding his blazing torches aloft and brimming over with disease and death.
The Red Chak raced from the east, dumping buckets of bean rain and corn rain, though the crops weren’t even in the ground yet.
Oh, the sky was torn every which way, churning and hissing like a barrelful of snakes.
Meandering through a piece of the Maya world is about the best thing you could do in the month of June, followed closely by reading Carol Karasik’s perfect re-telling of the Maya stories. Chak, I know he’s how out there, and tonight I’m going to have a chat with Grandmother Moon.