THE CHANTING CAVE
In the hills of Coyotl, Mexico, there is the village called Ichtaca.
Ichtaca was once the site of an Aztec temple and a pilgrimage site.
In 1601 the Franciscan monastery was built on top of the original Aztec temple grounds.
The village called Ichtaca remains a pilgrimage site even today.
In Ichtaca there is the chapel which pilgrims refer to as The Chapel of Light. Therein are always scores of votive candles illuminating the altar.
Those votive candles are made and sold by an orphan boy.
That orphan boy lives in the chapel under protection of the Franciscan monks.
The boy as an infant had been abandoned on the altar of the chapel, by a pilgrim so the monks believe. No one claimed to know the boy’s birth name.
The monks called him Francisco.
The boy had years later earned his minted name “Peso” for the candles he was allowed to make and sell to the worshippers.
And so he earns his keep.
Peso is small and dark and his face is misshapen. His wide-set eyes seem to look past you, around you.
Father Lucianus is saying, “Good morning, Peso.”
Father Lucianus is Peso’s benefactor, caring for Peso as if Peso were his son.
Peso is saying, “Good morning, Father Lucianus.”
Father Lucianus is saying, “I saw you rise and go to greet the Morning Star.”
Peso is saying, “Yes, Father Lucianus. The Morning Star brings the dawn, the light.”
Father Lucianus smiles, “As you bring the light to this chapel, Peso.”
Peso is beaming, “Yes, Father Lucianus.”
It is Sunday and so the girl named Dolores will visit the chapel. Dolores will buy a candle from Peso.
Dolores approaches. She is alone. She is always alone when she comes to the chapel.
The eyes of Peso are incandescent. He is saying, “Good day, Dolores.”
Dolores is smiling wistfully. She is responding, “If you say so, Peso.”
Peso is assuring , “It is a good day when you visit.”
Dolores is saying, “You are sweet, Peso.”
Peso is holding up a candle to Dolores. He asks, “How is your Grandmother?”
Dolores is sighing, “My poor Granmama is doing her best for me. I love her but she is too old to be responsible for me.”
Dolores and Peso are holding the candle together. Dolores is trembling, “I miss Mama and Papa…”
Peso is saying, “You pray for your mama and papa with every beat of the heart which they made for you.”
Dolores is covering her mouth, “Your candles are always sweet.” She exchanges a coin for the candle.
Peso is saying, “My candles are made from beeswax.”
Dolores is wiping her eye, “Where do you get beeswax?”
Peso is saying, “From the Chanting Cave.”
Dolores is narrowing her eyes.
Peso is offering, “I can show you. It is not too far. You will be enchanted.”
Dolores is asking, “Why have I not heard of this ‘singing cave’ before?”
Peso is shrugging his shoulders. He is saying, “The Chanting Cave. I have told no one else about this place. Not even Father Lucianus.”
A goat path is the trail up those undulating hills.
Peso is leading Dolores.
Dolores is remarking again, “So many flowers. This path is more lovely the farther we go, Peso.”
Peso is smiling, “The farther we go together.”
Dolores is suddenly waving her hand in front of her face. She is saying, “Oh, a bee.”
Peso is assuring, “The bees will not hurt us.”
Dolores is noticing more bees in the air and on the flowers the farther they journey.
Peso is raising his hand above himself. Several bees alight on his fingers.
Peso is laughing, “Hello, friends. Let us shake fingers.”
Dolores is asking, “Peso, is this really safe? There are so many…”
A breeze is suddenly upon them.
Dolores stops. She is now hearing a low drone ahead.
The drone is wavering and undulating in the breeze. It is seeming to engulf them.
Peso is saying, “We are close.”
Peso is going ahead of Dolores.
Dolores is rounding the path behind Peso. She is looking at Peso. Peso is turning to Dolores and gesturing ahead.
There, ahead, is an ancient gash in the side of the hill. Where the portion of the hillside had fallen away there remains the maw of a triangular cavern.
From the throat of the cavern is emanating the undulating drone.
Dolores is taking Peso’s hand, afraid.
Peso is announcing, “The Chanting Cave.”
Dolores is asking, “Why is there smoke around the cave?”
Peso is delighted to say, “Not smoke. Bees!”
Dolores is watching the wisps of bees all around themselves. She is saying, “I am scared, Peso.”
Peso is assuaging her fear, “They are my friends. They know me. I have come here many times with my burro to carry away beeswax.”
Dolores is asking nervously, “How can you take away their beeswax? Why do they not attack you? I have been stung by a bee only one time. I cried. It was like fire.”
Peso is saying, “Have faith. Come with me.”
In the mouth of the great cavern the reverberating drone is felt by Dolores and Peso. Dolores is still holding the hand of Peso.
Those droning exhalations of the cavern are passing over them like waves.
The swirls of bees are parting around Peso and Dolores as they are stepping forward.
The eyes of Dolores are becoming adapted to the cavern. She looks above and she is gasping, “Oh, look.”
The ceiling of the great cavern is covered with enormous honeycombs. The honeycombs form great pendulous structures.
Peso is pointing to the floor, “The floor of this entire place is deep with ancient fallen honeycomb. This is what the bees allow me to take to make candles.”
The cavern floor is exuding a miasma of fermenting honeycombs
Dolores is saying, “This place scares me, Peso. I want to leave now.”
In the ears of Dolores the undulating drone is beginning to sound like a thousand muffled voices.
Peso is saying, “Father Lucianus told me that the Aztecs who once used to live around here honored a god of bees and honey. His name is Xmulzencab.”
Peso is now whispering dramatically into the ear of Dolores, “This is his home.”
Dolores is now squealing. She is mincing out of the mouth of the cavern.
Peso is following her closely and apologizing, “I was teasing you, Dolores. I was joking.”
The wavering droning is suddenly louder.
Dolores is turning to look behind at Peso.
A cloud of emerging bees is now muting the sun.
Dolores is screaming.
Peso is standing cloaked in a raiment of bees.
Peso is speaking with the droning voice of the bees, “Dolores, you will have neither sorrow nor fear. Your mother’s body is the earth. Your father’s body is the sun.”
“You have penetrated the heart of a god.”
Peso is kneeling to Dolores.
Peso’s voice is droning, “Beloved Dolores, I thirst for the honey of your human heart.”