Conversations with a Shaman

Shamanism refers to a variety of spiritual practices involving rituals, prayers and healing.  A shaman (priest or practitioner) is considered an intermediary or messenger between the human world and the spirits. A Shaman’s role in ancient history has been that of a priest, doctor, spiritual healer and community advisor. In some places he/she is also termed as “witch doctor.”

In Belize, I had the opportunity to have a one-on-one conversation and personal ceremony with a Shaman. Mr. Jovencio Canto and I met at the entrance of the Cahal Pech Mayan Ruins. Dressed in western style black pants and half sleeves shirt, I wouldn’t have been able to pick him out as a Mayan priest from his looks. However, he had a strong gaze and a obscure calmness about him. His English was rather limited, but he spoke Spanish and Mayan. My translator, Lizbeth helped us though the conversation.

Mr. Canto told me that the practice of Shamanism is strongly enforced by a belief in the spiritual world. To receive positive results from a ceremony, you must have strong belief in the practice. He said during the two hour ceremony, he would invoke the spirits, make them an offering and tell them my asks.

We created a makeshift alter behind one of the temples which had been abandoned since the 9th century. Mr. Canto emptied contents of his bag – a few bowls that looked like coconut shells, a stainless steel mixing bowl, oil, rum, candle, and lots of bags full of herbs and barks. He laid out these bags of herbal medicine on a table, each one labeled with the disease its meant to cure. Before the introduction of modern medicine, these natural cures were used to treat most common ailments.

shaman medicine

Mr. Canto asked me to think about what I want from the spirits. I could dedicate the ceremony to a deceased family member, pray for my own health, prosperity, relationships or anything else I felt at the moment. Once I conveyed my desire to the Shaman, he would inform the spirits who came to our site.

We started a fore pit in the stainless bowl, and offered the flames straws, seeds and herbs. The bowls were filled with rum (traditionally a corn soup is preferred by the spirits), a candle was lit and prayer were made in Mayan. Then we had to leave the spot and wait for at least an hour for the spirits to arrive.

shamanWe waited on the steps of main courtyard, where I was able to have a deep conversation with Mr. Canto. Here are some of the things we discussed…

How does one learn Shamanism?

Mr. Canto was taught by his master, a famous Shaman of current day time. The vigorous training took place over a number of years. Mr. Canto said his master could do the good and evil practices, but taught him only the good ones. That means he can heal people and help them with their desires, achieving peace, praying for a deceased, etc. He cannot do a ritual that involves bringing someone harm. He tells me that his master did in fact insert needles in dolls representing someone that would suffer in real life. But in the end, his master had a painful death due to these kind of practices.

Is Shamanism a full time occupation?

The Shamans provide services for the community and get a due payment, but these goods are only welcome addenda. Mr. Canto does not charge for his services, and blesses any donation one gives to him. He makes a living doing regular jobs, such as house painting.

Where is heaven and hell?

Mr. Canto said that we are already in hell. If we look around the pain and suffering mankind is facing, especially when it comes to their state of mind, it is a hell-like atmosphere. He seemed to believe that hell and heaven are here on Earth, and dependent on our actions. He could see spirits floating around, unable to enter the next realm, as they couldn’t attain salvation.

What advice would you give to people?

There are three things you must to do have a better life and a chance at entering heaven. (1) Do not hurt others in any shape or form; (2) Have an open mind about things; (3) Use your powers for the right reasons.

After a Mayan-Spanish-English translated discourse, we returned back to the site of our alter. Mr. Canto said he could feel a breeze come through which meant that the spirits had come. He thanked them, blessed me and told me to have faith and my wishes would come true.

Mr. Jovencio Canto lives in a Mayan Village in the Mountain Pine Ridge area of Belize and can be reached at +501-664-8406.  


Where is the longest zip line course in Central America?

The longest zip line course in Central America is 2,300 feet long and located at Mayflower Bocawina National Forest near Silk Grass Village on the Southern Highway in Belize. Nestled amidst 7,000 acres of pristine lowland broadleaf forest in the saw-toothed Maya Mountains, the adventure center offers day and night time zip lining, waterfall rappelling and hiking.

1.5 miles of zip lines stretches across 12 platforms, starting with short easy zips that get longer, faster and steeper. The last one is the longest, lasting over 30 seconds. There is also a surprise rappel built into the course. Make sure to keep an eye out for waterfalls!

After a thrilling adventure, enjoy a lunch of fresh juice, fried fish, and rice and beans at The Wild Fig Restaurant with a great view of the park. Nestled in the heart of this beautiful National Park is Mama Noots Eco Resort; a spacious jungle lodge operated entirely on solar and hydro energy.

Stay overnight at a Canopy Hut and experience the stillness of the jungle at night. This is also a great place to wake up early morning and do some bird watching. Over 193 species of birds and a few tribes of howler monkeys are residents of Bocawina.

Flying Over The Great Blue Hole in Belize

The Blue Hole located off the coast of Belize in Central America is the largest ocean sinkhole in the world, created by a collapsed underground cavern, hence giving the appearance of a dark blue circle amidst the turquoise sea. The Blue Hole measures 1,000 ft in diameter and 412 feet in depth. It is located approximately 60 miles east from Belize City and in March of 1996 it was declared a World Heritage Site and later declared a National Monument in February of 1999.

aerial view of great blue hole Belize

Although cruises and snorkeling boats circle the Blue Hole daily, the best way to see it is from the air. Only an aerial view does justice to the vast magnitude and deep colors that make this one of the wonders of the world.

aerial view of Belize City

Astrum Helicopters offers tours and adventures over the Blue Hole and other destinations in Belize. My adventure began once we boarded a private helicopter near Hopkins, a small fishing village. Most of their tours meet at the Cisco Base Heliport in Belize City, but hotel pick ups are also available. Starting at the 3 atolls in Belize which are part of the largest Barrier Reef system in the Western Hemisphere, stretching for more than 185 miles along the coast of Belize, we headed southeast of Belize City and enjoyed magnificent views of the blue-green coral reefs. Even from the height of the chopper, water underneath looked crystal clear as if we were snorkeling just above the surface.  The view was simply breathtaking and photos don’t do enough justice!

chopper ride over the blue hole in Belize

We flew over Turneffe Islands, Island at Snake Pt. and the Northern Bogue, covering a few atolls, 200 mangrove covered cayas, and a diverse exotic aquatic life. We gently moved into the open tranquil Caribbean Sea under sunny skies, heading towards the Lighthouse Reef Atoll, beyond the barrier en route to the Great Blue Hole.

view from chopper over the blue hole in Belize

The Blue Hole soared under us surrounded by hard corals that borders it with only two small channels. The dazzling colors of the ocean ranged in every shade of blue. Our experienced pilot circled over the impressive phenomenon a few times, but this was one spectacle I couldn’t take my eyes off.

view from chopper over the blue hole in Belize

A smooth ride back took us over a few more islands surrounded by white sandy beach, over Belize City and to the airport. The hour and a half long tour is perhaps one of the most memorable experiences of my lifetime. If you visit Belize and have to pick only one thing to do, my recommendation is to get abroad Astrum Helicopters and tour the Great Blue Hole.