Manataka® American Indian Council





by John Perkins


Black jaguar at the temple — photo by Tom Clark



The great stone pyramid that rose out of the jungle had been mistaken for a volcano by nineteenth century explorers who saw it from afar long before the vines and trees were excavated from its surface. But it was designed and built by people, not nature, every stone chiseled and laid by the hands of crafted artisans. Now, partially restored by archeology teams, it stood proud, a monument to human ingenuity. It had defied hurricanes that swept across the Gulf of Mexico and survived the ravages of grave robbers who hacked away at it for more than a century. Perched atop its summit, a magnificent stone jaguar had vanquished the assaults of both nature and man, proof – some said – that it was a magical talisman guarded by an ancient god.

This pyramid was one of many birthed by a civilization of shapeshifters who drained the swamps and constructed massive island-like platforms out of the marshes. They had transformed the Yucatan from an inhospitable jungle into a land of agricultural bounty, magnificent cities, and splendid architectural masterpieces. Their temples rivaled those on the Acropolis and along the Nile. Their calendars were more precise than the one we use today. They formulated a language that plumbed the depths of science and they developed a complex system of mathematics.

Then these magicians performed one of the most mystifying acts in human history, an event that has baffled anthropologists, archaeologists, philosophers, and poets ever since.

These people who had converted a tangled jungle into a sophisticated, urbanized civilization suddenly transported themselves back to the time of their ancestors. The Maya abandoned their cities and returned to the forests.

I had visited this pyramid before, pondered the mystery of the people who had built it, and wondered about the message they passed down to us; however, seeing it rise from the jungle early on this March morning, mere days after learning that I would not be sent to the Seychelles, that France Albert Rene would face the jackals instead of me, I knew this time would be different. I had left the Boston winter and the swirling storms of geopolitics behind. Accompanied by Viejo Itza, a Mayan I had met several years earlier, I was taking the first steps along a path that I hoped would change my life.

Viejo in Spanish means “old”; Itza is a Mayan name. He was a respected philosopher and a teacher who was known among his people as a shapeshifter. Although just approaching forty, he walked with a limp and relied on a gnarled cane to assist him. In his youth he had been hired to work with excavators at an archaeological dig. Accepting a challenge to race a co-worker to the top of a pyramid, he slipped and fell. He was pronounced dead, and then resurrected by a shaman. The experience lamed him and altered his life. He apprenticed to the man who had healed him and he committed himself to helping others transform themselves. He was “old” from the Mayan standpoint that one who passes knowledge on to others is wise beyond his years.

“Why do you think your ancestors abandoned their civilization?” I asked him. We were standing in the ribbon of sunlight that separated the dark wall of trees behind us from the shadow of the pyramid in front.

“She might tell you,” he replied, shading his eyes and pointing to the lone figure of the stone jaguar at the top of the pyramid. He was dressed in the traditional sandals, loose-fitting pants, and tunic of his people, all made from the off-white fibers of local plants. He wore his black hair tied back in a ponytail. “We’ve survived many catastrophes.” He turned to look at me, his chocolate eyes sparkling in the sunshine. “According to the legends, we people are in our fifth creation – nearly destroyed four times before. Each time it has been the shapeshifter – what you might call ‘sorcerer’ or ‘prophet’– who led is out of the abyss.”


He walked to the bottom step and started to climb.

I struggled to follow him, clambering over the hard rocks that were warmed by the sun. Some of them had edges as sharp as knives; others crumbled and fell away as soon as they were touched. For a moment, I considered turning back, fearful that I might stumble to my death. Then I recalled the story of his fall and how it had transformed his life. I realized that sometimes we must risk our lives so we can reach new heights.

Despite his injured leg, he seemed to slither like a serpent, his body one with the rock, totally at home on this ancient pyramid. The danger, the lack of railings and ropes, did not deter him. From time to time he paused to allow me to catch up and, in the manner of a hawk, surveyed the territory around us. I attempted to imitate him but discovered that looking down on the nearly perpendicular walls falling away below set the world to spinning. Glancing overhead was even more terrifying. The clouds swept across the heavens like frenetic spirits.

About three-quarters of the way up, he stopped. “Sit here,” he said, patting the ledge. When I complimented him on his technique for climbing, he chuckled and informed me that it had nothing to do with technique. “Spirit’s the secret. Remember I mentioned a while ago about how the shapeshifter was the one to save our people whenever we were threatened? This pyramid is a perfect symbol. My ancestors created a civilization that was destroying itself. Magnificent buildings. Splendid works of art. Medicines that prolonged life. This poor land was overburdened and the population was about to consume itself into extinction. Not to mention what all that wealth had done to the spirit of the people. Despite their material wealth, they lost touch with the earth herself. The wise ones saw this happening. They taught the people to change, to let go of their possessions and seek something more satisfying – a way of life that could endure and be passed along to future generations.” He rose to his feet and using his cane drew a circle around me. “As we continue up, feel your spirit mingle with the pyramid’s.”

I attempted to follow his advice. I tried to emulate the serpent. Then to feel myself soaring like a hawk, or climbing like a monkey. I did my best to open myself to all that was around me, to experience the spirit of this place. When at last I reached the top, I pulled myself over the lip and lay sprawling, drenched in sweat, on a narrow ledge. I forced myself to look down to the ground far below. Overcome by vertigo, I took my eyes off the earth and looked to where Viejo Itza sat perched upon the stone jaguar.

He spread his arms as though embracing the horizon. “It appears as it did in the time of the ancestors. But the world is not the same as then. The city. Thousands of people. Cars and factories. Poisoned air.” He pointed at a dark line that looked like a bloody scare on of the earth. “And there, the toxic river. We have entered a time of cataclysm. Like those other four times, our species is again threatened with extinction. If we wish to survive, we must listen to those who can lead us from the abyss.”

“The shapeshifters.”


Join John Perkins and Llyn Roberts
2-12 December 2010

Shapeshifting A New World in the lands of Maya

JOHN PERKINS is former chief economist at a major international consulting firm. He is the New York Times bestselling author of Confessions of an Economic Hit Man and Hoodwinked and has written many books about the Maya and other indigenous cultures, including Shapeshifting, The World Is As You Dream It, Psychonavigation, and Spirit of the Shuar, which was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. John is one of the world’s foremost authorities on shamanism. Trained since 1968 to bring ancient wisdom to the contemporary world, he leads tours to the Amazon, Andes, and Himalayas. He is also founder of Dream Change, a worldwide grassroots movement of people from diverse cultures and backgrounds dedicated to shifting consciousness and promoting sustainable lifestyles.


Photo by Tom Clark




Further exploration...

Additional writings...

The Dalai Lama and The Economic Hit Man by John Perkins
Reflections on the 2009 Shapeshifting Journey by Llyn Roberts
2012 and Other Indigenous Prophecies for Transformation by Llyn Roberts
The True Meaning of 2012 by John Perkins
The Good Remembering by Llyn Roberts
Change the Dream by John Perkins