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Secrets of the Talking Jaguar

4.26  ·  Rating Details  ·  494 Ratings  ·  76 Reviews
Twenty-five years ago, a young musician and painter named Martin Prechtel wandered through the brilliant landscapes of Mexico and Guatemala. Arriving at Santiago Atitlan, a Tzutujil Mayan village on the breathtaking shores of Lake Atitlan, Prechtel met Nicolas Chiviliu Tacaxoy--perhaps the most famous shaman in Tzutujil history--who believed Prechtel was the new student he ...more
Paperback, 304 pages
Published August 30th 1999 by TarcherPerigee (first published August 24th 1998)
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Feb 05, 2010 Gina rated it liked it
There's a rule of thumb test I heard once to determine if a comment is patronizing to a person or group. If you switched the parties in the comment, would you find the statement offensive or obviously wrong? If so, it's probably patronizing. This works well when applied to comments about men and women or races, but I think it also applies very well to this book. If I read a book that spoke in almost uniformly glowing terms about a modern society, and dismissed an indigenous culture in gross gene ...more
Mar 12, 2008 Kat rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: you.
Recommended to Kat by: Leslie Conton
Shelves: 5-stars
I read this for a Fairhaven class on the anthropology of shamanism. The professor, Leslie Conton, has been dogged by controversy surrounding her experiential methods as an anthropologist, as her ethnographic work has consisted of studying various cultures' shamanic practices by training as a shaman in those cultures. No longer allowed to conduct shamanic journeying workshops as part of the class, she assigned Secrets of the Talking Jaguar because it was "the closest thing she could give us to an ...more
Jeni Hogenson
Apr 18, 2008 Jeni Hogenson rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
One of my absolute favorite books because it takes you directly to the heart of an indigenous culture that lived in a way that is so true to the heart and themselves. At least the way it's told. Beautiful and evocative, if you like reading stories about different cultural perspectives, this is excellent and takes you deep into something we don't seem to treasure much any more...and I can't even put that into words.
Nov 05, 2015 Kayleigh rated it it was amazing
This, as a natural cynic, is a truly transformative account of both Maya culture and a deeply inspirational peek into the civil war's effect on a people. Martin begins with flowery language in defense of the reverence of nature that is both repelling to a modernized person and compelling in mystery. His own fascinating history, as a young integree to Pueblo culture in New Mexico, his exile, then discovery and integration to shaman culture in Highland Guatemala lends context to forgotten concepts ...more
Jul 04, 2016 Margaret rated it really liked it
A tale of Mayan Shamanism told by a Mayan Shaman, it should be understood that English was not the main language used and spoken for the majority of this author's life. As the reader, if you can meet the author where his circumstances lie and accept his more poetic (sometimes exaggerated) manner of speech, you may just grow fond of his personal story about the indigenous soul and keeping it alive in a dark world. I know I did.
Andrea Paterson
Feb 22, 2015 Andrea Paterson rated it liked it
Especially fascinating in terms of how language is a reflection of cultural reality and how language shapes that reality. Ex. the Mayan language spoken in this book does not have a word for "to be" and so there is no concept of "future." People live in a sense of belonging to the present moment. For example a traveller is said to "belong to the road." In the day time people "belong to the sun." Linguistically enlightening! Other aspects of the book were not as engrossing, but there was lots to k ...more
Jun 16, 2008 jacqs rated it it was amazing
The official book summary and most of the reviews here talk about the external Guatemalan world that Martin Prechtel inhabited; however, I was struck by the dream-like passages describing his close encounters with death and with deities, and by his philosophical descriptions of how the world works, according to the ancient Maya world view. Even though I've read a lot of books about the nature of spirit (or perhaps because of that), many of the passages struck me as profound. It had a real meaty ...more
Joshua Buhs
Oct 08, 2015 Joshua Buhs rated it did not like it
Shelves: b12
Don't judge a book by the cover.

The cove of this one is beautiful, a painting by the author. He's a really good painter. He's not a really good author.

This is a story about his life; born to a Westerner and a First Nations Woman, Prechtel was raised in the American Southwest, a rebellious youth who was ultimately betrayed by his mother (she died), his father (in grief, he fled), and his wife (she cheated on him with a white man). Penniless, he left for Mexico, where he spent some time, before co
Will Szal
Mar 20, 2014 Will Szal rated it it was amazing
“Secrets of the Talking Jaguar: A Mayan Shaman’s Journey to the Heart of the Indigenous Soul,” is Martin Prechtel's first book, released in 1998. It's a book about his journey from childhood in New Mexico as an outcast part-Native American to his true life and home in the then-Mayan city of Santiago Atitlan in Guatemala. A shaman named Chiv summoned him there, and became his teacher. It's a book about the contrast between the culture of the alien US and the indigenous culture of the Maya.

Lourdes Cambridge
Feb 10, 2016 Lourdes Cambridge rated it liked it
Mar 11, 2013 Nicole rated it liked it
I don't think I'll ever be able to sit down and read this book all the way through. While there are aspects that I enjoy and read with gusto, there is a self-mythologizing tendency to his writing that I find somewhat intolerable. In the first few chapters of "Secrets.." while filling us in on some of the relevant facts of his life, he goes on a bit ad nauseum about how hurt and sensitive and precocious and in touch with nature he was from the time he was very young child. This may have been true ...more
Feb 17, 2012 Patrick rated it really liked it
This poetic and impassioned memoir is the only sustained encounter with shamanism I have had, except for occasional references to it in the Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee Navajo mystery novels of Tony Hillerman, and I'm glad for having read it.

Martin Prechtel is an honest mystic, and the story of how he almost accidentally became a shaman among the Maya people in the Guatemalen village of Santiago Atitlan as it was about three decades ago is inherently interesting. As a dear friend pointed out, the
First I have to give it up for Martin Prechtel's command of the English language. There are sentences in this book that you can bite into and taste as you read them. It's that kind of good writing.

Second, it is an amazing adventure story. Dreams and visions, magic and coincidence, love, death, passion, compassion, and a little dash of anything else. What a life this man has had. Wow.

Third, wow did I learn a lot about Mayan culture. Amazing. They have no "To Be' verb. Just try and talk in Englis
Nov 18, 2015 Andrew rated it it was amazing
Shelves: spirituality
This book goes up there in the handful of books that actually weave into fibers of my soul. I read it based on the recommendation of several friends who are students of Martin, and the timing couldn't have been better. Like Martin starts our in the book, my wife, daughter and I are traveling now with grief-stricken hearts, and confronting the pervasive spiritual illness sweeping the world. True hope is hard to come by, but the stories the author shares of his life in Santiago Atitlan actually se ...more
Aug 08, 2013 Bea rated it it was ok
This book wasn't very long, except that it felt so long because it was so rambly and rather boring. Some parts were interesting, but it kept circling around and randomly looping off in another direction and never really going anywhere. Except that Mayan village life and religion is good and modern life is bad. I'm neither religious or spiritual so the accounts of Mayan religion, though interesting, rang rather unbelievably to me. Especially since the author finds himself such a special guy.

Jul 25, 2012 Laura rated it really liked it
If you want to understand the Mayan people, this should be on your reading list!

Martin grew up in Arizona and began dreaming of an ancient town over 10 years time. He became well-acquainte with it, knowing his way around it and the names of people. On a trip to Mexico, his party decided last minute to hit Guatemala.

When he arrivied in Santiago Atitlan, a local Shamaan walked up and hit him on the back of the head and was like, "I've been calling you for 10 years! What took you so long?"

Martin b
Jul 21, 2010 Shelbstar rated it it was amazing
Although I'm still reading this one, I find it to be both fascinating and educational. The mode of writing is graceful and poetic, almost enticing the reader to step into the scenes. Martin asks readers, though not in so many words, to forget being investigators or observers but to feel the spirit he avidly describes. The book is humble (imagine his experiences! wow)and provocative. I find the language sensual in an earthy, deep way. It takes time to digest all the beautiful rituals and culture ...more
Jul 24, 2007 Jesus added it
Recommends it for: traditionalists
Like The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures, but immersed in a different culture. Most interesting perspective on page 227: Some Indians were actually against curing certain epidemics for fear of insulting the illness... Prechtel mentions earlier that the village in Guatamala that he was living in had "typhoid, dengue, cholera, measles, mumps, and influenza." Introduced by Robert Bly.
Dec 25, 2014 Amy rated it did not like it
this is one of the worst, dumbest books I have ever read. white man shaman? not uh.
Nov 26, 2011 Eden added it
"Dreams are half of life." "Nature is the imagination of the Gods." Does that stay lit in your head? = Do you understand? "To know everything, and be everything, and be able to do everything was death, because you were unneeded and needed nothing. Living was being a vital part of something bigger than oneself, alongside a garden of a billion other diverse beings doing the same." "When there is no village to hunt for, nothing to come home to, then the self-governing laws of our souls and lives ar ...more
miha ha
"biti čudovit in hvaležen (glavna in starodavna naloga Majev)"

Oct 25, 2014 Laurie rated it did not like it
Pretentious and patronizing.
Nov 21, 2009 Coreypine rated it really liked it
Not someone who casually visited indigenous people and came away with a few lessons, I really respect Prechtel's full immersion and acceptance into a traditional Mayan village in Guatemala, even speaking the language fluently.

There is something in here that makes me ache for village life, and also makes me ache with sadness, especially since our own American tax dollars and Ronald Reagan had a huge part to play in the sad history of the Guatemalan civil war that put an end to this journey.
Leah Adams
Mar 26, 2013 Leah Adams rated it really liked it
I read this book shortly after having returned from Lake Atitlan in Guatemala. The author, an American who grew up on a reservation in New Mexico, travels to Guatemala,spends many years in the Tzutujil Mayan village of Santiago on the lake, immerses himself in village life, and lives and studies with a village shaman. I wish I'd read the book before spending time with several Tzutujil villagers in the neighboring town of San Pedro, and visiting the magical area of Lake Atitlan.
Mary Anne
Aug 22, 2014 Mary Anne rated it really liked it
Shelves: finished
I recently took a trip to Guatemala, and visited Santiago Atitlan. The authors description of the people & the country were exactly as I had experienced it. This is a great story.
Tasha Lebow
Dec 18, 2013 Tasha Lebow rated it it was amazing
Terrific read, great story of real person and a really magical place on Lake Atitlan in Guatemala. This book very lovingly and respectfully demystifies the Mayan culture and modern history as the authors tells his amazing experiences there. A must-read for everyone with love for GTA and Mayan people....and for anyone who wants a view into a living ancient world view that has survived the genocide invasion and conquest. Very eye opening.
L Challis Jensen
I thought this was a great book. His ability to describe his experience was masterful and made me feel that his experiences as a shaman were authentic. This is a much different take on shamanism than most popular books which make it seem somehow glamorous, easy and desirable. Here, Martin clearly states that it involves a big responsibility to others and that it can put your family and close ones at mortal risk.
Nov 20, 2007 Bob rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: those interested in shamanism and nature philsophy
I had to read this book for my Collaborative Ethnographic Research Methods class. I'm glad it was assigned because it was great. I loved Prechtel's story of his journey into shamanic practice in the heart of the Tzutujil Mayan culture. He beautifully describes the sacred within all things and the indigenous ways of knowing. It inspires me to stop writing this review on this computer and to walk outside right now.
Nancy Eister
Dec 19, 2013 Nancy Eister rated it it was amazing
A fascinating account of Martin Prechtel's journey to becoming a Mayan shaman near Lake Atitlan in Guatemala. Beyond that, a unique thinker and writer using the most beautiful language, his acquired Mayan sensibility showing through. Several times I had to put the book aside and just marvel , at the thoughts expressed and his unique manner of expression. A cultural treasure.
Anna Bromley
Mar 16, 2013 Anna Bromley rated it it was amazing
A fascinating real-life tale about a young man's spiritual calling across a continent to be apprenticed to a Shaman in the Mayan village of Santiago Atitlan in Guatemala. The unique culture of this village and the quirky nature of Martin's teacher are wonderfully described. Martin is in a league of his own when it comes to beautiful language. This is a gem of a book.
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A master of eloquence and innovative language, Martín Prechtel is a leading thinker, writer and teacher whose work, both written and oral, hopes to promote the subtlety, irony and pre-modern vitality hidden in any living language. As a half blood Native American with a Pueblo Indian upbringing, his life took him from New Mexico to the village of Santiago Atitlan, Guatemala. There becoming a full v ...more
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“I had drunk so deeply of grief and innocently gambled so hard with fate and irony that a special kind of vision was gathering in my eyes, not entirely clear just yet. This was the same look people saw in your eyes when you have died for beauty and come to live accepting nature as life with no promise of paradise, and mad at people who couldn't see that.” 8 likes
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