The Caney ceremony of Equinox is a celebration of beginings and endings. There is Spring Equinox and Fall Equinox. Spring Equinox is the Birth time of the yearly cycle when The Cosmic Matriarch Ata Bey gives birth to the solar cycle. At this time, when the length of the day is equal to the length of the night Ata Bey demonstrates her generosity in offering us the gift of her son Yoka Hu in the form of the Spring Sun and the gentle rains of that time of the year. Fall Equinox is the season of conclusion, when Lord Yoka-Hu ends his yearly life cycle and dies in the maelstrom of wind and torrential rain that is the time of Hu-Rakan.
It is the time of sacrifice when the plant spirits give up their lives at harvest time that we may live. It is the time when we look foward to the celebration of the ancestors in November’s Day of the Dead.
The Equinox Ceremony is primarily a woman’s ritual. Whenever possible it should be led by a female beike, and a woman chosen from the participants to represent the presence of Ata Bey among the people should play a very prominent role.
A woman is chosen from the participants of a Caney ceremony to represent Ata-Bey and crowned with the headress of the Cosmic Matriarch.
The ceremony begins with all the participants male and female in a large circle to perform the tobacco ritual. After the smoking ceremony is performed the men and the women separate. The men remain at the main ceremonial site and the women withdraw to another place to perform the women’s ritual.
The women’s ritual begins with all the women sitting together in a circle including the woman who is playing the role of Ata Bey. A container is passed around the circle clock-wise along with a pair of scissors. Each woman clips off a tiny bit of her hair or fingernail and places it in the container. Then the container is passed to the beike and she adds tabonuko incence (copal) and sacred herbs. The whole mixture is burned ceremonially. This represents the sacrifice that Ata-Bey offers every year at harvest time when her son dies in the form of the harvested plants to feed the people.
After the sacrifice is burned thoroughly the ashes are mixed with a bit of oil to create a kind of black paste and used as paint face paint. This container of black face paint is passed around the circle along with another container holding red or orange face paint made of annatte seeds (achiote) or (bija). The combination of red and black face paint are used by each individual woman to create her own personal spirit design on her face.
When all the women have painted their faces the woman who plays the role of Ata-Bey stands and is led to the middle of the circle where she sits.
A rig is prepared beforehand and attatched to the ceiling or the branch of a tree. This rig should be a wide loop or ring of some kind that can allow a fairly wide rope to be run through it. The most important aspect of this part of the ceremony is the creation of a long snake-like structure made out of ropes. This is achieved by hanging one end of the rope through the loop rigging and allowing the other end to trail down in a big handfull of strands that will then be taken individually by the women participants.
Each woman takes the end of one of the ropes. The end of each rope is coiled around a stick to create a large rope bundle which the woman holds in her hand. Then all the participants form a large circle around the woman that has been chosen to represent Ata-Bey. The beike takes the other end of the rope assemblage and pulls gently against the pull of the participants to keep all the ropes taut. At this point the Boa costrictor dance chant begins and the participants begin to dance around the Ata-Bey woman.
As the body of the rope serpent is created by the weaving motion of the women’s dance the beike gradually pulls in her end of the rope through the loop that hangs above he celebrants. At the same time the large ball of wound-up rope in the hands of each celebrant grows gradually smaller as the dance progresses
The participants dance in two different directions. The direction that each woman is going to dance is decided at the beginning. Just before the beginning of the dance they are given the opportunity to state their position in the circle by calling out the words “I can make” and “I can un-make” alternatively. One woman is chosen to be the first and she says “I can make”, expressing Ata-Bey’s power to create. The next woman calls out “I can un-make”, expressing Mother Nature’s formidable transformative power to change the face of the Earth. The next woman then calls out “I can make” and the next calls out “I can unmake” and so on until every woman knows whether she is a maker or an un-maker. When the dance begins the “makers” dance in a clock-wise direction and the “un-makers” dance in a counter-clockwise direction weaving in and out of each other.