Maya Temples of Transformation: Watch our favourite moments from our recent journey

Earlier this year, our founder, Helen Tomei, accompanied our group on the journey: “Maya Temples of Transformation with Freddy Silva & Miguel Angel Vergara: A Sacred Journey from Palenque to Tikal”. She took several videos during the journey on her iPhone that nicely reflect the spirit of this tour.

Maya temples Mexico Guatemala
Helen Tomei (front, 2nd from left) with tour leaders Freddy Silva & Miguel Angel Vergara and our group on our journey to Mexico and Guatemala

It was a journey where participants experienced the timeless Maya knowledge of sacred geometry, number, cosmic correspondence, and ritual encoded in the temples and pyramids of Palenque, Yaxchilan, and Tikal. A sacred sites tour that elevated the seeker to discover their inner temple: the place of the soul.

We are excited to share some of our favourite moments of this transformative journey with you. If you have travelled with us, we hope these videos will bring back wonderful memories of your time in Mexico and Guatemala. If you’re coming here because you’re curious about what a spiritual pilgrimage is really like, or want to know more about Mayan spirituality, these videos will give you an insight into the experience of group travel with such knowledgeable and connected tour leaders as Freddy Silva and Miguel Angel Vergara – and hopefully inspire you to join us on future spiritual journeys.

1. Maya Temples & Temple Building, Palenque, Mexico

“We will go on building temples until people realize they are the temple.” In this video taken at Palenque, Mexico, our tour leader and best-selling author Freddy Silva discusses temple building, the geometry of perfection, and the location of temples as markers of the original energy hot spots.

2. Meditation at Tikal, Guatemala

This video was taken at the Mundo Perdido, “Lost World” ceremonial centre in Tikal – notice the blue light orb, or guardian, visiting us during our meditation here. If you were with us and noticed the orb, or if you’re watching for the first time, we’d love to hear your thoughts on it!

Tikal is a university that reflects the architecture of the cosmos, a ceremonial centre where the ancient Maya teachers captured the sounds from other realities. The shapes of the pyramids and temples reflect the thorough understanding of mathematics, geometry, and cosmic calendars. They are also designed to act as needles, capturing the telluric energy of the Earth and of the sky, acupuncturing the ground and the human body.

3. Yaxchilan Sounds

We were also interested in capturing sounds while in this sacred land – can you guess (or do you know!) what the sound is in this video taken at the sacred site of Yaxchilan, Mexico? What are your thoughts on it – is it a sound you would be happy waking up to every day or one you’d rather keep a distance from? We’d love to hear from you!

4. Freddy Silva: Power of Stone

In this video you’ll see Freddy Silva discussing the conductive power of the sacred stones near Yaxchilan, and then dowsing for the energy fields that surround them. Learn about energy hot spots, the wisdom of the ancients, and the conscious process of working with intent. Whether you “believe” in dowsing or not, you’ll see that this is a very powerful experience.

5. Miguel Angel Vergara leads a tranquil meditation

Maya Master Teacher Miguel Angel Vergara leads our group in tranquil meditation overlooking the sacred site of Tikal in Guatemala. Imagine a blue stone, the colour of turquoise, listen to the sounds of a jungle meditation and let yourself be transported to this sacred land of Mayan temples…

We hope you enjoyed these 5 videos from our sacred journey to the Maya temples of Mexico and Guatemala. We have published more on our Sacred Earth Journeys YouTube channel, and will continue to upload more over the next little while! If you travelled with us on this journey we’d love to know your own favourite moments!

~ Sacred Earth Journeys

From Animism to Buddhism – 10 Things You Need To Know About Religion in Cambodia

What is animism?

What is Animism? How does it relate to Buddhism? Read 10 facts about religions in Cambodia today and see why this country is so spiritually rich.

what is animism
A Buddhist nun in Cambodia

1. Theravada Buddhism was re-instated as Cambodia’s official religion in 1993 and is practiced by apx. 95% of the population.

2. The remaining 5% includes mainly Muslim and Christian communities with Daoism and Confuism also practiced.

3. Animism is considered a belief system rather than a religion by many contemporary religious scholars.

4. In his 1871 book, Primitive Culture, the anthropologist Edward Tylor, who, many argue, coined the term Animism, divides the theory into two dogmas – the first “concerning the souls of individual creatures, capable of continued existence after the death or destruction of the body” and the second “concerning other spirits, upward to the rank of powerful deities”.

5. Put simply, Animism is the belief that all things have a soul or spirit. As Gregory McCann explains in his essay “Animism in Cambodia: Bioregionalism in Practice”, “Animists in Ratanakari and Mondulkiri are in tune with spirit presences in their area and extreme care must be taken not to offend or disturb them for fear of incurring their revenge.”

buddhism in cambodia
A smiling Buddhist monk in the temples of Cambodia

6. Animism is considered by many Cambodians as something that is “absorbed” or simply done rather than “practiced” like Buddhism.

7. In Animism, some spirits are seen as helpful while many others can bring suffering and therefore need to be appeased with offerings.

8. In Cambodia Buddhist monks are well respected having their own social class and even a separate vocabulary for talking to and about them. The following are appropriate forms of address to a monk according to Lynn Thigpen:

I (non-monk to a monk): k’nyome go-row-nah
Yes (non-monk to a monk): go-nah
you (to monk – carries the connotation of venerable): pray-ah-die-cha-kgoon
you (to an older monk): loke tah
you (to a young monk): loke p’own

9. A wat is a Buddhist temple in Cambodia, and Angkor Wat, in Siem Reap, was originally a Hindu temple dedicated to Vishnu.

10. Angkor Wat was voted the world’s top landmark in 2017 by TripAdvisor!

Angkor Wat
Angkor Wat temple complex in Cambodia

Want to learn more about Animism in Cambodia?

Are you interested in learning more about Animism and other spiritual practices and beliefs in Cambodia? In October 2017 photographer Jamie Kowal and Buddhist monk Chon Chhea Yut will lead a very special tour through Cambodia for Sacred Earth Journeys. Highlights include visiting the temples at Angkor Wat, staying on a rural island homestay, exploring spiritual belief systems and learning how to capture this incredible travel experience through photography!

Capturing Cambodia’s Spiritual Past & Present with Jaime Kowal and Chhon Chhea Yut: A Photography & Spiritual Journey to the Heart of Cambodia, Oct 9-20, 2017

Ayurvedic Medicine – Top 5 Herbs & Supplements for Self-Healing

Today more and more people are looking for alternatives to prescription or OTC drugs when it comes to taking care of their health. Herbal medicines have been used for thousands of years in the treatment and prevention of disease and ailments, and have specific meaning in Ayurvedic medicine. In this blog post, we’ll look at what Ayurvedic medicine is and the meaning of a number of common herbal medicines used in Ayurveda.

Ayurvedic diet
Beautiful & delicious Ayurvedic meals


What is ayurvedic medicine?

Ayurveda was developed in India more than 5000 years ago and is concerned with balancing the three interdependent mechanisms known as doshas: vata, pitta, and kapha. Ayurvedic medicine uses highly individualized treatments to address and heal ailments and imbalance including lifestyle changes, diet, a cleanse and detoxification process known as Panchakarma as well as herbal compounds and medicines.

Read our interview with Ayurvedic practitioner Todd Caldecott.

Turmeric: the best Ayurveda medicine? 

Turmeric, the product of the Curcuma longa plant, is known as a powerful anti-inflammatory with multiple medicinal uses. In Ayurvedic medicine it is believed to balance the three doshas and is taken either internally as a tea or powder or externally as a cream or topical ointment. It is commonly used to treat respiratory conditions as well as liver disorders, rheumatism, allergies and coughs, and is also considered an excellent aid to the digestive system. Applied topically it is known to treat sprains and swelling.(1)

health benefits of turmeric
Turmeric or curcuma longa – a powerful anti-inflammatory

The many health benefits of Ginger

In Ayurveda medicine ginger, another anti-inflammatory, is known to destroy toxins, ease digestion and prevent nausea, reduce feelings of cold, and alleviate coughing and breathing difficulties. Its versatility was noted in ancient Ayurvedic texts and today it is commonly used in home remedies in India and throughout the Western world. (2) In scientific literature, its anticancer potential is also well documented. (3) Given its effectiveness and versatility ginger is often described by Ayurvedic practitioners as vishwabheshaja, “the universal medicine”, and the root can be eaten raw, lightly stir-fried with other vegetables, boiled as a tea, or ground into a powder depending on the required treatment.

Coriander, the self-healing herb

In India coriander is referred to as dhanya or dhanyaka, meaning “the rich one”, and has many therapeutic and culinary uses. (4) In Ayurvedic medicine, coriander is considered to pacify the three doshas and is commonly used for fevers and indigestion. The seeds and oil are the most frequently used components of coriander, but the leaves – cilantro – can also be used, especially in cooking. For a quick home remedy, you can try a teaspoon of roasted coriander and cumin seeds to help with abdominal cramps or gas after a meal!

Ayurvedic self healing
Ayurvedic consultant Jaisri M. Lambert with our group at the Vaidyagrama Ayurveda Healing Village in India

Guduchi – essential part of the Ayurvedic diet

Less well known in the West, Guduchi is a widely used and very important medicine in Ayurveda. A climbing shrub, it often seen in India growing up mango or neem trees. Like turmeric, it can be taken internally or topically, and the dried stem is often administered in powder form although the roots and leaves are also important. In Ayurveda, it is known as the “one which protects the body” and is used to balance the doshas and treat a variety of conditions including arthritis, skin disorders and fever.

Ashwagandha – plant-based anxiety relief

Ashwagandha (Withania Somnifer) is an extremely well respected herb in Ayurveda with many applications and methods of preparation. An adaptogenic herb, it is gaining attention in the West for its ability to treat anxiety and depression as effectively – if not more so – than prescription drugs. (5) This herbal medicine is also known to help with adrenal fatigue and thyroid problems, and is commonly taken as a powder, often mixed with warm milk and honey as a bedtime drink, although it is also available as a tablet or liquid extract.

Ayurvedic medicine
Herbs and plants used for Ayurvedic medicine

As Dr. Ramkumar, one of the founders of the Vaidyagrama Ayurveda Healing Village in Coimbatore, India, reminds us, Ayurvedic treatments are most successful when they are carried out in a suitably conducive environment and administered by highly skilled Ayurvedic physicians. If you are interested in how Ayurveda medicine can help improve your life or heal disease, visit our website to read about our December 2017 Ayurveda Health & Healing Retreat in India.

Have you been treated with Ayurvedic medicine? We’d love to hear your stories about your experience with Ayurveda in our comments section or through the Sacred Earth Journeys Facebook page!

For further reading on Ayurveda, you can also check out Apothecary 7’s article, 20 Myths About Ayurveda We Should Forget!


~ Sacred Earth Journeys



(1) See: Herbal Medicine: Biomolecular and Clinical Aspects, 2nd edition.

(2) See:

(3) See: “Anti-Oxidative and Anti-Inflammatory Effects of Ginger in Health and Physical Activity: Review of Current Evidence”,

(4) See:

(5) See: “An Alternative Treatment for Anxiety: A Systematic Review of Human Trial Results Reported for the Ayurvedic Herb Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera)”,

Finding the Holy In a Tradition Not My Own

Today’s post is by guest blogger Bob Sessions. Bob was a participant on our “Maya Temples of Transformation with Freddy Silva and Miguel Angel Vergara” journey – this blog piece is the final instalment in a series about the journey. Earlier posts, written by Lori Erickson, explore the sacred sites of Tikal and Palenque, and the mysteries of Mayan ceremonies

In 2000 I found this smooth piece of rock while walking along the beach near the scenic seaside town of Whitby, England. I’ve carried it in my pocket nearly every day since then, using it both as a worry stone and a reminder of a wonderful semester spent teaching and traveling in Great Britain.

sacred rock
Bob has carried this rock in his pocket for 17 years. (Lori Erickson photo)

So when our shaman guide, Miguel Angel Vergara, invited us to place a sacred object in the ceremonial circle at our Yaxchilan ritual (see Lori’s post A Ceremony Amid Sun-Dappled Mayan Ruins), it seemed natural that this well-traveled stone would find its way into the ritual.

My little, jet-black stone now reminds me of our travels in Mexico and Guatemala with Sacred Earth Journeys as well as our time in England. In particular, it helps me remember the powerful spiritual experiences I had in these Mayan holy sites.

It might be surprising that I had those experiences, as I’m not Mayan, nor do I have any Native American ancestry. In reflecting on what I experienced, I hope to give some insight on what visitors can gain from participating in rituals in a tradition not their own.

sacred site of Yaxchilan
While Bob spent a lot of time photographing Mayan sites, he found meaning in other aspects of our trip as well. (Lori Erickson photo)

Many pilgrims visit sites that are within the fold of their own faith. But often people journey to holy sites of other traditions – or encounter differing strands of belief at the same site. When visiting Jerusalem, for example, travelers often meet fellow pilgrims from other faiths.

Over the years I’ve visited many holy sites from non-Christian traditions and have learned a great deal about the cultures and histories of the people who created them. But until our Maya trip, I never tried to enter into the spiritual dimensions of those traditions in an experiential way. Christianity is so rich with possibilities that it would take many lifetimes to explore. Besides, I am not a Buddhist, Hindu, Lakota or Maori.

Furthermore, through my studies of Native American philosophies I’ve become sensitive to the problem of want-to-be’s, also known as wannabes. While most people are well-meaning in their interest in other spiritual traditions, it can at times become merely cultural appropriation.

So it was a stretch for me during our first ceremony at Yaxchilan as we prayed to the four directions, drummed, and chanted. I could see other visitors to the site glancing at us with curiosity, and perhaps disapproval.

Most of us in the group didn’t want to be Mayans, but we were eager to experience their spiritual worldview. And after coming home, I find myself wondering this: Did our journey to these Mayan holy sites enhance our spiritual lives once we returned to our familiar routines?

For me, at least, the answer is yes.

boat to Yaxchilan
Bob on the boat journey to Yaxchilan (Lori Erickson photo)

One of the things I came to see is that Mayan traditions are not that different from Christianity in some ways. The goals of their rituals were familiar to me: they were designed to help us worship, to experience gratitude, and to get in touch with the spiritual powers that underlie ordinary reality.

We thanked the forest and its creatures (as did St. Francis and many other Christian mystics over the centuries), we drummed and chanted, and we sought to become open to the powers around us.

In particular, I found the drumming and chanting to be much more effective than most word-centered Christian rituals for helping me enter a deeper state of consciousness. The “book of nature” has long been my entry point into the Christian faith, so one of my main reactions to our Mayan rituals was to wish that we had similar practices in our church back home – and that we could do more of them outside, instead of inside a building.

I came to realize, too, that the Mayans are polytheists in the same way Hindus are: they believe there are many manifestations of the holy and that each can be an aide or guide to connect with the One. Thus it’s really not surprising that many people in Central America are both Catholics and followers of Mayan traditions. We saw this blending in a Day of the Dead festival in Chicago last fall, where the altar tributes to dead loved ones often contained Mayan or other indigenous symbols alongside Catholic ones.

sacred site of Yaxchilan, Mexico
The ruins of Yaxchilan are framed by the intense green of the forest. (Bob Sessions photo)

Before this trip, I thought that participating in an unfamiliar ceremony in another country would make me so self-conscious that deep spiritual experience would be impossible. But I’m delighted that I was able to dive deeply into the meditative worship in the remarkable Mayan holy sites we visited. I learned things that can only be learned on pilgrimage, lessons that I think will continue to enrich my spiritual life at home.

~Bob Sessions

This article was first published at:

The Splendor of Tikal

Read the final instalment by Lori Erickson about her journey to Mexico & Guatemala with Sacred Earth Journeys. Next time – a guest feature by Lori’s husband Bob!

If you’re a Star Wars fan, this image might look familiar. That’s because in Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope, the Guatemalan archaeological site of Tikal stood in for Yavin 4, a jungle-covered moon used by the Rebel Alliance.

Tikal in Guatemala
The Mayan site of Tikal rises out of the Guatemalan jungle. (Bob Sessions photo)

But before it was used by the Rebel Alliance, it was used by the Mayans – and today Tikal is one of the largest and most impressive of all the pre-Columbian sites in Central America.

Tikal marked the end of our Maya Temples of Transformation Tour with Sacred Earth Journeys (see also Exploring Sacred Mayan Sites; Mayan Mysteries of Palenque; A Ceremony Amid Mayan Ruins; and Finding the Holy in a Tradition Not My Own). In many ways, we saved the best for last.

In Mayan, Tikal means “in the lagoon,” but its alternative name is far more evocative: “the place of the spirit voices.” This city, which was built between 700 BC and 900 AD, was once home to more than 60,000 people, making it one of the largest cities in the Americas. Today more than 3,000 structures built by this civilization remain, though many are still covered by jungle.

The archaeological site is part of Tikal National Park, which protects 220 square miles of rainforest. More than 300 species of birds live here, along with jaguar, puma, several species of monkeys, tapirs, and more than 60 kinds of bats.

As I wandered through Tikal’s ceremonial plazas, temples, residences, and ruins, the sounds and smells of the jungle were ever present, from the deep grunting of howler monkeys in the trees high above to coatis (a raccoon-like animal) darting across the trails. The rich diversity of plant and animal life provided a counterpoint to the serenity of the ruins.

The heart of Tikal is its Grand Plaza, a ceremonial space bordered on the east and west by two extraordinary pyramid-temples. The Temple of the Great Jaguar (named after a carving above its main doorway) towers more than 150 feet above the plaza, its sides rising steeply to the sky. Across from it is the Temple of the Mask, a slightly smaller, but still impressive, structure. Its name is derived from a pair of masks carved into a wall on its top platform.

Jaguar Temple at Tikal
The Temple of the Great Jaguar is the most stunning of Tikal’s many temple-pyramids. (Bob Sessions photo)

Standing between these two landmarks, I was reminded of the Great Pyramids in Egypt. Both the ancient Mayans and the ancient Egyptians loved to build big, and their creations still have the capacity to evoke awe in us.

I loved, too, walking the winding paths between the ruins and temples. Because of Tikal’s sprawling expanse, it’s easy to get away from other visitors. I spent an entire hour in a set of ruins without seeing another person, a gift that allowed me to soak up its sights, sounds, and atmosphere without interruption.

That time gave me the chance to reflect on what I’d learned on our Mayan tour. I thought back to a conversation I’d had with Helen Tomei, the owner of Sacred Earth Journeys. We were visiting about the power of pilgrimage to change people’s lives, and she told me that when she was a young woman ready to start traveling on her own, she spent a lot of time looking at maps. She would spread them across a table and look at one country after another, trying to decide where her heart was being pulled.

“It’s sort of a mysterious thing, this going on pilgrimage,” she said. “The whole world is open to you, and yet you need to find the individual place that calls to you. For me, the first place was India. I kept coming back to that country on the map, especially to its Himalayan region. And that’s where I ended up traveling, which in turn set in motion a lifetime of journeys.”

If you’re a believer in the power of pilgrimage, you probably have a similar story, a time when the door to the world, and to the spirit, opened wide. In my own life, the Native American holy site of Bear Butte in South Dakota was the entrance.

Kapok tree
A huge kapok tree, a species sacred to the Mayans, stands near the entrance to Tikal. (Bob Sessions photo)

And I find it curious that the world’s sacred sites have so many similarities – not in their particulars, but in their essence. I know I experienced a similar feeling standing in the Grand Plaza of Tikal as I’ve felt in many holy places: it felt like coming home.

That said, the Mayan world still holds many mysteries for me. I was introduced to just a few Mayan sites on my trip to Mexico and Guatemala. But I learned enough to know that I want to go back to these remote landmarks filled with beauty and power. I want to hear the howler monkeys again, and to sit on the steps of a temple and imagine what it was like when it was a living place of worship.

Let me end with a story from our friend Brian, who traveled with us on our Mayan journey. When he came back to the bus at the end of our second day in Tikal, he told us about an experience he’d had earlier that afternoon.

“I was on top of one of the temples, not saying anything, just looking out over the scene,” he told us. “And there was a guy sitting a few yards away, saying nothing, just looking out at the landscape like I was. And when he got up to leave, he turned to me and said, ‘This is the best day of my entire life.’”

That interchange crystalizes for me one of the reasons why we go on pilgrimage, whether it’s to Tikal or Egypt or Bear Butte: we go because of those shining moments, the ones that we store in our treasure house of memories, the ones that give depth and meaning to our entire lives.

Here’s a little video I took on top of the Temple of the Masks at Tikal (the sounds in the background are howler monkeys):

~ Lori Erickson

This post was first published at