A forest is a natural extension of the Munanso for a Palero. It is the space into which the Palero moves in order to gather ingredients for the various Medicines, Fundamentos, and Trabajos that are required. Inside the forest the dance of life and death is a constant reality as the trees thrive with the help of fungi, and tiny tiny organisms so often overlooked or even despised by so called modern society, and together they all are instrumental in producing the very foundation of our lives that feeds us all, the precious top soil. In the forest the Palero can retreat from the concrete and lawns that make up so much of the once fruitful Indigenous Land that has been stripped, desecrated and "sterilized" in the name of progression and civilization.
As Paleros we are blessed to live in a forest, a forest large enough to provide us with all the wood we need for fire, heat, structures, fences and especially all the wood we need for our Munanso. In appearance all trees look grayish and brownish at first glance. As we approach closer we see different shades within the grey and brown, perhaps some yellows, reds, even orange tints. However it is once we cut or split open the wood that the true beauty of it is visible. First we notice the aroma of the various woods, from the spicy scent of the sassafrass tree to the well known scent of the cedar. Then we notice the colors within the wood, colors we are surprised by when we only know of the tree from its bark.
As the splitting of the wood takes place the Palero splitting the wood becomes aware first hand of the various properties of the wood, some splits easily, others with more difficulty and the life within the wood becomes visible. The Palero sees beetles, spiders, various insects eating the wood, making homes in the wood, laying eggs in the wood. In these photos these insects and spiders are visible, as well as the shapes they make in the wood, trails and homes. To see the wood as simply just the tree itself, unconnected to the life which inhabits it and which it inhabits is a form of modern ignorance, which as Paleros we must overcome to truly understand the Spirits and Energies that we work with in our Munansos every day. Palo, as stated many times by many people, means "stick" and working with the forest, whether by growing trees to renew the forest, or by harvesting and splitting the wood for something so mundane but so miraculous as heating our home is an opportunity to interrelate with the Spirits of the various trees and learn directly from those Spirits!
As Paleros who live outside of the Ancestral homeland, we find ourselves confronted with the reality of winter, a season of cold and ice where warmth is a necessity. For many Paleros warmth is a thermostat that controls the burning of oil, propane, gas or electricity. We all know the evils of these materials from the pollution at all points in their refinement process, to the wars and conflicts over the control of these materials. Additionally in our area electricity is produced primarily from nuclear power and coal mining. Nuclear power is clearly an insanely dangerous source of power and the coal mining comes from "mountain top removal" that has desecrated and continues to desecrate huge areas of Appalachia, especially poisoning the rivers, one of our our most sacred Misterios, fresh water being so essential to our lives and the lives of "all our relatives" upon the Earth. At this point we heat our home exclusively with the wood from our forest. We replenish that wood by planting native trees every year, and selecting only the weak trees to remove or by harvesting trees that have naturally died or the branches broken off in storms. At the same time we use the small branches which are not useful in our wood stove or for cooking to renew the topsoil and to create gardens and orchards. We also use the abundance of wood for structural components in the house and in the Munanso. Paleros appreciate the wood for its spiritual properties within the Fundamento or for its powder that can be used in trabajos or amulets of many varieties, however there is a whole world and depth of understanding that comes when working with the trees themselves in ways that extend beyond the confines of a basement, closet, urban or suburban Munanso.
Within the wood in the photo above the bugs have created a crevice, creating not only a natural sculpture that can be appreciated as a work of natural art, but also imbuing this wood with additional spiritual properties that cannot or should not be overlooked by the Palero. As Paleros we have not been immune to the devastating effects of propaganda, advertisements, commercialization of life, and the watering down of wisdom and education. Although we practice a tradition that sprung from the Spirit of Resistance to the invasive spirit that came to reduce our communities to commodities to be controlled, we have also suffered the mental incarceration that has come to enslave us all in the here and now. It is a journey, a transformation, an evolution to follow the Ancestral Spirit of our Tradition in its process of liberating our Minds, which in turn leads us to making choices to liberate our Lives to the greatest extent that we can, to the full lengths to which our arms can reach in the time that we have been given to walk upon the Earth. Within this trail our Children are also blessed by this evolution to continue the mental liberation and the liberation of their lives as they can build upon the foundations that we strive for today.
The forest is a University wherever it be found in the world, and with the availability of information today (unlike ever before), we can easily find insight and history regarding the properties of the various trees, once we are able to identify them, however it is our immediate senses (sight, taste, smell, touch and most importantly the voice of our Ancestors speaking to us) that make those "facts" that are easy to find, a living breathing reality. The voices of the Ancestors bridge the gap (that has become a gaping hole in the educational system) between facts and Wisdom.In the above photo the white splotch is a spider web right within the tree that has just been split and in the photo below we can see the fungus growing on the outside of the tree. The spider is a very sacred spirit to us, to the point that we do not intentionally kill spiders. Fungus has a bad reputation in today's ignorant modern society where it is viewed as a bringer of disease to be sterilized out of all areas of our lives. However mycellium the true body of the fungus (fungus just being the "fruit" you see) is the foundation of the health and nutrition of our planet! Many beneficial fungi are powerful medicine allies in overcoming diseases and carry a high price tag in health food stores! As Paleros we need to remember that the Earth (the great Fundamento we all live inside of) naturally covers herself in forests (Palos if you will), and most of the open spaces we see today are man-made and man-maintained with endless tree cutting and vegetation cutting that goes on every growing season at great expense and use of limited resources. The forest creates, with fallen leaves and wood rotting into the Earth, a perfect environment for a huge fungal network (mycellium) that powers the soil fertility cycle and gives natural health and healing to the many organisms living within it. We also utilize some of our trees to cultivate edible and medicinal mushrooms such as Oyster and Shitake as we happen to have trees varieties that are perfectly suited to these edible mushrooms. Essentially trees are the "food" for the fungi and fungi are essential in the process of death of the tree, decay of the tree that creates topsoil that allows further growth of trees and plants. At this time where we have a top soil crisis globally due to chemical farming and deforestation, the importance of this process of care taking a healthy forest and restoring topsoil to the gardens and orchards we caretake is essential to us as human beings, but also is essential work to us as Paleros.
Being initiated as Paleros means many different things to many different Paleros depending on their perspective and story. For some being initiated was a quick fix for certain issues within their lives, for others it is part of a business, an opportunity to profit. Some take on a gangster mentality regarding Palo, and some take on a romanticized view of being Palero. Some Paleros sadly only have the local botanica to rely on for their essential ingredients and some Paleros allow negative experiences with their fellow Paleros to isolate them from actively practicing the Tradition. To us these are all effects of the process of colonialism and mental slavery.
Within our Munanso we recognize Initiation as the beginning of a journey hand in hand with the Spirits of the Ancestors and the Mpungos themselves deep into the worlds of the Misterios as they reflect in the world around us. It is a journey back into the Ancestral Minds and the Ancestral Wisdoms that still vibrate in the natural world, a rediscovery of the many insights the Ancestors had regarding the great Mpungo, the great Fundamento - Ntoto, Mother Earth herself. Every day relating to the natural world, coming back into real relationships with her, brings wisdom and a profound appreciation. We also emphasize bringing the Initiate "off the cross", in other words freeing the individual from the incarceration created by the image of the human sacrifice of the so called "Jesus" that keeps many of our Sisters and Brothers entrapped in a network of lies, deceptions and cultural genocide.
When the difference between your home being 60 degrees or 30 degrees is between the tree, your axe, your mallet and your maul, a great appreciate arises for the empowerment that the trees give to us. Our trees give us the empowerment to reject nuclear and coal as sources of warmth for us, the beauty of that also being that through this process we also ensure the health of our forest and gardens. Here we have an example of the Palo representing power in real and practical terms, now when we put the Palo into the Fundamento (or carve a Cemi from that Palo or spiritual Baton or what have you) we have a greater appreciation of that Palo but we also carry within us in our action of placing that Palo into that Fundamento greater strength and power because of the empowerment manifesting in our lives through the choices and actions of reclaiming our empowerment within heating our home. The strength of the Fundamento is not just in its raw ingredients but also in the Wisdom and Spiritual- Ancestral Strength of the Palero placing those raw ingredients into the Fundamento. By empowering ourselves in our lives in terms of our relationship with Mother Earth and all her Relations, we empower our Ancestors and we empower the movements that we make within our Munansos.
The beauty of the wood tells us its story and not only its story but the story of the environment that it grew in, the weather patterns, the nutrient patterns, animal patterns, insect patterns, the cycles of the seasons and even human activity. In all the wood we have chopped never have we found an "ugly wood" or "bad smelling wood", it is all beautiful, amazing and aromatic, which tells us that we as humans have a profound connection to the trees (and all the plants), it tells us that the name Palo does not just refer to "sticks" but refers to a deep relationship to the forest and an understanding that it is the forest that is our natural home. It is not a coincidence that colonialism came with so much deforestation because colonialism came with the spirit to kill and destroy our Traditions and Cultures. As Paleros we must never forget that our Tradition arose from the Spirit of Resistance to Colonialism and that today that battle continues although now it is much more insidious, manipulative and deceptive.
Below the wood has begun a process of decay through the insect activity within it. Death is occurring within the tree intertwined with the life of the tree, just as it is occurring within us, as cells within our bodies die off and are renewed simultaneously constantly renewing our physical body. Even within the roots of the tree the tree cycles between the growth and dying off of the roots as essential to maintaining a healthy vibrant tree. It is within the dance of life and death that vibrant health arises, it is not through the fearing of death and decay but the conscious working with those cycles that allow us to thrive.
Below is just one example of one of our native trees in this area, the Osage Orange tree (also nicknamed "monkey brains"). The Osage Orange tree was used by Osage Indigenous People to make Bows from its exceptionally strong yet bendable wood. Its color inside is a beautiful yellow. It is extremely resistant to rot, making it perfect for fence posts, but can also be cultivated to make living fences that can keep animals in or out of areas. It can protect a garden or flock of chickens from "predators". Below a section of Osage Orange has been sanded and prepared for use as a structural material and the powder resulting from sanding has been collected in the jar. Paleros utilize many different powders in the course of work within the Munanso. This powder collected here is a great powder for our Munanso, naturally holding properties of Protection, Strength and Endurance. The true beauty of the wood is revealed when sanded at which point we see how extraordinary this ordinary tree really is! It is the journey of the Palero to make these discoveries whenever the opportunity arises so that we do not take our Tradition for granted or contribute to the assault and negative reputation that falls upon Palo that unfortunately occurs on a daily basis as many Paleros are well aware of. It is in the hands of Paleros themselves to reclaim the Tradition from the ravages of colonialism, and the ongoing ravages of industrialization and global greed and destruction.