campo veronica, peru - the unique planetary alignment and full lunar eclipse this Saturday (November 8) is being called the Harmonic Concordance - and a major sign that a Mayan plot cooked up before 830 AD to achieve world peace by 2012 is progressing on schedule. I'm here, surrounded by the unfathomable presences that are the Andean mountains, getting the lowdown straight from prophecy mastermind José Arguelles. I'm an hour and a half by train from the terraced slopes of Machu Picchu, at a camp-out in the sacred valley of the Incas, an instant eco-village set up on the wind-dried land that is usually just a munching ground for some happy-looking cows and horses.
It's only the first day, but there were many circles, prayers and mountain steps climbed at Machu Picchu before I arrived here. By the time dark falls and I'm at the opening ceremony of this incredible outdoor Call Of The Condor Vision Council For Bioregional Action gathering, the miraculous feels normal. I'm ready to believe that the earth is alive and we are part of her plan. This sounds even more convincing and beautiful in Spanish.
Indeed, nature here takes no backseat to anything. It dominates the senses and the mind. The invisible wind is never silent. It blows while the warm daylight dances with the rushing waters of the graceful river flowing around giant rocks so softly luminous they look like they're covered in skin. It blows harder when the stars and clouds chase one another across the tall, chilly night.
Nothing is conventional about this meet. It's hard to even explain what it is. To the nomadic organizers, a vision council is partly about dreaming up how to change the world and partly a place to live the world they want to create. Necessary ingredients are ceremony, art, science and healing in a container of natural beauty and self-created inclusive politics.
This gathering is born of the energy and ethos of a small eco-action group of about 25 who call themselves the Rainbow Caravan of Peace (La Caravana). They've been tooling around Central and South America for seven years in two big school buses offering entertainment fused with teachings on spirituality, bioregionalism and consensus facilitation. Looking around at the mostly Latin crowd, which over the course of the week grows to 700, I'd say they've made a few friends along the way.
Two traditional grandmothers open the gathering, lighting the Mexican tree-resin copal incense used to cleanse the energy in preparation for ceremony.
"We don't light this to clean ourselves, because we are already clean from within. We do it to honour ourselves," says Abuela Margarita, her long grey hair pulled into braids crossed over her head. Then, before she calls to the powers of the cosmos in all the four directions, she interjects in a sort of spiritual Sue Johanson by-the-way, "Our genitals are also sacred. Our sexual organs, our minds and our spirits are all as important as each other. Take care of all your sacred parts, especially your parts of creation and transformation."
At least 20 traditional practitioners from Mexico, Colombia, Bolivia, Brazil and different parts of Peru are here to share their teachings and ceremonies. Sweat lodges and sacred plants are integral in all this.
In fact, the meeting spaces are not quite adequate to accommodate all the ayahuasca ceremonies that are being offered. Ayahuasca is a strong, dark, sometimes vomit-inducing liquid made since ancient times from two separate Amazon plants.
The mystery is that each individually has no psychoactive effect. Taken together, always at night, this "vine of the soul" is considered a great healer for both body and mind and also a gateway to a different consciousness.
Similarly consciousness-shifting, the cactus-derived San Pedro (think mescaline or peyote) ceremonies have no space problem, since the elders lead them outdoors in daylit nature. And one can't speak about sacred plants in Peru without mentioning the venerated coca plant, whose leaves are brewed into tea for each meal, offering a mild stomach-soothing energy lift. The Peruvian and Bolivian elders ask us to rally against the coca eradication programs that threaten this native healing gift.
There's a lot going on at this ecology frontier. Besides the ceremonies, many participants are offering workshops and classes on alternative construction methods, natural dyes, anti-globalization organizing, yoga, belly dancing - you name it.
There are three main streams that feed this confluence of people from 36 countries.
One is the Mexican bioregional movement, which has a decades-long history of hosting gatherings akin to this. Bioregionalists recognize watersheds as the natural alternative to the way the earth is politically divided. As North American bioregional coordinator David Haenke says, "Nations have existed long before humans, if they are defined as interdependent self-governing communities." This is a movement that contains human culture in its view of ecology, so it considers consensus-based process as important as permaculture for restoring the earth environment.
The eco-village movement is also here in full force. Their entire executive is attending, and after we finish they will spend several more days having their Global Eco-village Network meetings. They're connected to 15,000 communities around the world like Scotland's Findhorn. The network is a central resource, memory-holder of best practices and mediator when necessary. Albert Bates, founder of The Farm, a large 30-year-old community in Tennessee, describes eco-villages as "places where we compost modernism."
La Caravana founders Alberto Ruiz (eerily, his father was the archaeologist who discovered and excavated the Mayan tomb of philosopher king Pakal Votan in Palenque in 1952) and Liora Adler have deep roots in both these movements. They hail from and are founders of a beautiful eco-village a couple of hours from Mexico City that has for years kept the Latin flame of bioregionalism burning.
The Thirteen Moon Calendar Change Peace Movement is the third stream. OK, that last one is a mouthful. But there are a hundred very passionate members here from Italy, England, Chile, Brazil and more. The name needs work, but in their defence, they do have a difficult idea to express. Their eco-politics are about time. They say that time is the dimension where everything in nature connects. The whole universe happens in every moment at the same time. By using an irrational calendar to relate to time, people today are losing out on experiencing these interconnections and are thus doomed to endless conflict. As they see it, the only way to create a world at peace is by changing our artificial Roman calendar so we can experience the harmonizing influence of natural time.
Their founding father is Arguelles. Best known for his work interpreting the significance of the teachings encoded in Pakal's tomb, he is a legend-maker extraordinaire. Author of, among others, The Mayan Factor, he's famous for the widely celebrated Harmonic Convergence gatherings back in 1987.
Standing in front of me wearing jeans and a T-shirt that says "Revolution," emblazoned with an image of John Lennon dressed like a soldier, Arguelles is a one-man myth machine. Mexican-born but raised in the U.S. and looking slim and Southwestern, he's been the main spokesperson of a movement to bring the world back to the time-keeping practices of the classic Maya.
The planetary Harmonic Concordance on Saturday is the start of a countdown to July 25 of next year, when the new time Arguelles has been preaching is due to announce itself. He says that will be the beginning of the end of this last crazy 5,000 or so years.
The dates come from Arguelles's interpretation of a prophecy encoded by the Mayan "masters of time" in a calendar that records a 5,125-year cycle that ends just eight years from now on December 21, 2012.
But he's not preaching an apocalypse. Arguelles says the Mayan forecast speaks to the possibility of an empowered, peaceful, ecological human future just eight years away.
But there's a catch, of course. It isn't going to happen, he says, unless we usher in a new time with, well, a new time. In his view, Gregorian time-keeping, inherited from Roman imperialism, has created a sick industrialized world disconnected from nature.
"When time becomes mechanized, our biological senses become mechanized and we create an artificial civilization.
"In the Julian calendar, the source of the Gregorian, the first day of every month is called the calends, because that's when you pay your debts, you pay your bills. So the whole system of 'time is money' is built into the calendar we use. It's impossible to live in harmony when we live in an irrational time. In the Mayan system, time is art," he says. Just look at nature. "Have you ever seen an ugly sunset?"
Arguelles says we need to revert to an orderly new year divided into 13 equal four-week months, one for each moon of the year. Then we do like the Mayans and add a day out of time every July 25 to harmonize our lunar lives with the sun's yearly cycle. According to Arguelles, this was the natural calendar used everywhere in the Americas before the European conquest.
But that's just the first step. The specifically Mayan contribution to the mastery of time is their additional 13-month calendar of 20 days per month, or 260-day "sacred calendar." No one knows where this second calendar came from - some say it follows the orbit of Venus or the gestation period of the corn. Arguelles's view is that this count isn't merely a stone age artifact but the fundamental rhythm of the cosmos and a formula to advance human evolution.
Arguelles says that somehow the Mayans specifically and uniquely discovered that all cycles of the universe are synchronized around a common pattern. Which is like saying that the Mayans have sent us the code to the universal software of creation.
"The Mayan calendar," he says, "is a mathematical ratio, 13:20. Everything that exists in nature is a manifestation of the 13:20 frequency. Because each one of us is an incarnation of the universe, we have 20 fingers and toes and 13 major articulations.
"We are time," he says. "We are a living clock. The artificial time is a lie."
He has started his discursion into the meaning of time by playing the flute. And as the wind flaps at the tent where we are sitting, I'm drawn into his mindscape. Like Arguelles, I started visiting the pyramids of ancient Mexico as a teenager and have never lost my sense of awe. And it's true that while our calendar completely ignores the moon, my body doesn't - it swells and flows with it, and it's taken me years to decipher the connection.
The July celebration is the day-out-of-time on the Mayan calendar every year. But this one is a cosmic inter-dimensional window of opportunity, he says. And - you got it - the time for the Mayan time takeover to begin. But there's a lot to living in the new time.
At the first of the daily camp-wide democratically facilitated meetings, some of the Thirteen Moon people are not very happy. They fear their project is slipping through the cracks as the organizers' infrastructure sags under the weight of all of us consistently hungry, dirty and garbage-creating beings arriving and arriving. By day four, though, we have work groups created by our Mayan birth signs. (You can find yours at www.tortuga.com)
My group is in charge of lime, toilet paper and water buckets for the latrines. I say the experiment goes fairly well. No thanks to me, however. I'm chasing down more on the Mayan prophecy and fasting in preparation for my coming ayahuasca ceremony.
That night my Spanish gets a workout as about 30 new buddies and I sip the black brew and slip into the meandering Amazonian songs of our jungle-based ceremonialist in her black bangs and beads. It's very laid-back, and soon I'm lying down wrapped in my sleeping bag, having a conversation with someone of the plant world. Understand, this is not a stretch. I am living on the earth and I am already continuously in intimate contact with the giant mineral world embodied outside. Part of what she shows me is how sensuous it feels to be a root nourished and cherished in the damp, dark soil.
And then later, after not much sleep, I'm in love with the planet and the beautiful stars. I've remembered a few important things and learned a few others when the morning comes. Which means more meetings trying to make a community that offers every person present the right to block a decision.
It's one thing, though, to go through the laborious process of inclusive decision-making. Another is laborious prose-making. More meetings, more consensus, and I can't help but see they need a scribe - badly. I've already confessed my volunteer deficit, so I help write the wrap-up statement. It says the Call Of The Condor Vision Council supports the adoption of a calendar based on natural time and asks supporters to create local events to mark July 25 and the lead-up to it on June 8, when Venus cozies up to Earth like Mars did earlier this year. They are also pledging to ask of themselves and everyone else the traditional tithe - 10 per cent of all organizational and personal resources - to be used for the physical restoration of the earth.
And they're going to have another vision council next year, similar to this one, somewhere astonishingly beautiful in Lula's Brazil.
You have to do whatever you can to keep hope alive.