"These incantations were dreamed by Mayan women in the Highlands of Chiapas in southern Mexico," writes Ambar Past in her introduction. "The Tzotzil authors of this anthology claim their spells and songs were given to them by their ancestors, the First Fathermothers, who keep the Great Book in which all words are written down." Everything about this book is saturated; the ink is dark, the words look rich and thick on the pages. On the cover, the face of Kaxail, Mayan goddess of the wilderness, appears simple and complex, childlike and wise. An incantation for a newborn girl by Rosa Xulemho is characteristically simple and evocative: "When you grow up, / when you can speak, / you will work in the cornfield, / you will weave, / you will earn money / 'to buy your salt."
The baby is given the tools of women's work: a spindle, carding combs, weaving sticks, a grinding stone and a tumpline for carrying firewood. Weaving, cooking, making love and dancing are the most common subjects. "The force of the word can cure or kill," Past explains. The soul can be made to wander off from the body. There are portals to the Underworld. Each person has an animal companion, or "wayhel," "a word grown from the root (way) of the verbs to sleep and to dream." It's a witchy book. Be careful.