In an adobe room with a dirt floor, heavy blankets are
tacked over the window and door to ensure total darkness. The sole light bulb,
formerly swinging from a bare cord, has been unscrewed, but not for the same
reason. The energy that the approaching ceremony produces can sometimes pop and
scatter the fragile glass.
the head of the room, an altar holds stones, crystals, candles, and the mesa of every spiritual aspirant who is
present. Each hand-woven bundle contains the khuyas, or sacred stones, that represent connections with the
divine, be it Pachamamas (Earth
Spirits), Apus (Mountain Spirits),
Angels, Elements, Amarus (Underworld
Paq'o, or shaman, leading the
ceremony has a few things to say. He wants us to know that, once he calls in
the spirits, his ability to control the situation will evaporate. The spirits
may stay for five minutes; they may stay for four hours; they may not show up
at all. Sometimes they appear in a plasmic form, sometimes in physical bodies.
There's no telling how many will come or what their agenda will be.
job is merely to pray that they come and to encourage their participation by
holding the space for their appearance with open hearts. We've been working all
week to prepare for this ceremony by clearing hucha, heavy energies, through prayer, meditation, and by making
and burning or burying despachos, or
offerings. There are no drugs or plant medicines involved. All that is required
of us now is that we put aside mental chatter, fear and, most of all, doubt.
This is more-or-less easily done — until they arrive.
special request the Paq'o has made has worked. The sound of flapping wings
fills the pitch-black room. It's an unmistakable sound, foomp, foomp, foomp, each feather stiff and real enough to play the
air. One being seems to have arrived by penetrating the left wall, another from
the right. A third comes from behind the altar. One seems to fly up out of the
ground. The ceiling has been tightly covered with a tarp and, when a spirit
penetrates from above, the twang of stretched plastic is discernable. Sometimes
a wing will pass by closely enough that you can feel its wind on your cheek or
in your hair.
one lands in turn with a THUMP on the
altar. The stones there start clacking, presumably being inspected and blessed.
Sometimes the spirits announce their names, familiar from any Andean map, sometimes not. Their
voices are high- or low-pitched and strained. It sounds for all the world like
someone's pinching their nose and trying to play a joke on you. Sawasiray! Sacsayhuaman! Ausangate!
Pachamamas sound even more suspect, like a 45 revved up to 78rpm. Pacha Nusta! Pacha Virgen!
The questions pile on: Is that
my shaman's voice? Is that a recording? The shamans could tap stones together
and make that flapping sound, but how are the noises coming from all sides? The
walls are solid, bare, and visible from the outside; there are no attics or
hiding nooks. How could they fake this?
Paq'os welcome the arriving spirits with hushed thanks, each time saying,
"Gracias, Padre Lindo." And their voices come from where they were sitting when
my eyes, my most trusted ally in discernment, last confirmed their location.
How could this be happening?
After the first time I sat in on an Apu ceremony, in
2007, I struggled for days with black thoughts. There is nothing about the
shamans with whom I have worked that suggests duplicity. Standing in their
presence feels like stepping into a fresh field after a rain: Clean, still,
open. Any power they seem to hold is equally matched by humility. Still, the doubts
the same time, contradictorily, I felt deeply blessed. I had not been ‘sold' on
this trip or this ceremony. I'd met a shaman at a backyard fire ceremony and
known within minutes of meeting him that I'd be traveling with him to Peru. I had
no idea what he did on his travels; I just knew I was going. When I learned
that he was part of the Atomisayok tradition, working with the celestial angels
that inhabit the high mountains, I was stunned, as I already felt a connection
to angels after a meditation experience about which I've previously blogged.
Then I found out that we might get to participate in this type of ceremony,
though no promises were made. While being let in on such an ancient and secret
ceremony was confusing (what is this? why us?), it also felt like a big fat
Subsequently, I've heard of trips with
other groups who were not able to realize this ceremony. My understanding of
why some people are welcomed into the ceremony and others are asked to wait has
to do with the amount of hucha they carry. If you think of hucha as the egoic
facility, and the ego as something that likes to preserve its worldview, then
you can see why heavy amounts of hucha would be dangerous in a ceremony that
undermines much of what we presume to know about the world around us. I've
heard of people storming out of Apu Ceremonies raving with anger, threatening
lawsuits. As to why the ceremonies are held in the dark, it has been explained
to me that the Apus and Pachamamas are simply being cautious, unwilling to
fully reveal themselves until higher levels of initiation have been achieved.
Perhaps the early-stage ceremonies are actually designed to bring up conflict
with our ego-mind; you can't clear what you can't identify.
I got home to Los Angeles, where I lived at the time, I went for a hike in
Griffith Park. Despite my own burdensome hucha, I burst into tears at the sight
of the San Gabriel Mountains. I knew they were alive. And not just
theorhetically alive, a projection of the unified field, but living alive-beings. I felt so held and so watched over and so much love all
around that I had no choice but to put the doubts aside.
The way the paq'o with whom I work tells it, his people,
the Q'ero retreated from the Spanish conquistadors by climbing high into the
Andean Cordillera surrounding Cusco. When the Spanish tried to follow, the Apus
and Elements went to work, dropping an impenetrable cloud cover down in front
of them, cutting off their incursion. Thus, at heights of fourteen- to eighteen-thousand
feet, the Q'ero continued to live in villages of one-room stone houses, carried
on farming potatoes and tending llamas, and, perhaps most importantly,
safeguarded their spiritual beliefs and practices.
fifty years ago, certain prophetic signs appeared and it was understood that
the time to share their ancient wisdom had come. The Q'ero were ‘discovered' by
the Western world in 1949 by an anthropologist visiting Paucartambo. Since
then, they have come to have a taste for white sugar and learned to stand on
strategic street corners in Cusco wearing traditional garb, holding baby
alpacas, and charging for photo-ops. They also started making their miraculous
teachings available for the first time in five hundred years-and neo-shamans
from the Western world are lapping it up.
these teachings hold a certain appeal for those of a Next-Age bent, it's no
wonder, for they seem to support what is emerging within our own culture. Think
of Lynn McTaggert and Gregg Braden, authors of The Field and The Divine
Matrix, respectively, pointing to science for proof that there is a living
web around us. There's no shaman in the world, let alone Peru, who would
favorite Next Age meme, Michael Talbot's The
Holographic Universe, got play on my last trip to Cusco when the shaman
encouraged me to make a stronger connection with the Uhupacha, the Underworld, by putting a pinch of earth into my mesa.
It would not only represent the
Underworld, he explained, but would, in fact, contain it, all of it. If that's not a succinct explanation of how
microcosms relate to macrocosms, then I don't know what is.
the most beautiful example I encountered of how profoundly the Q'ero understand
the energetic world came when my paq'o explained the Quechua word, nakwi, in relation to one of my khuyas.
He said that, in Spanish, ‘nakwi' is usually translated to ‘eye,' but it's
really more like a ceque, a ley line,
and comes from the Q'ero idea that when your eye sees something a direct
connection is opened up to that thing. In the case of my khuya, he was saying,
it is essentially a portal to the divine. But another, equally fascinating
implication is that one's eyeball can ‘touch' things from far away. We may
instinctively know this-think of how many times you've ‘felt' someone staring
at you-but our language doesn't contain such notions. A culture that does
surely grapples less with the doctrines of separation.
is what Charles Eisenstein argues is at the root of all of modern society's
ills in his marvelous, exhaustive look at the topic, The Ascent of Humanity. In one context, it can be understood to be
the decimating belief that when we look at a mountain, we are looking at a pile
of dead dirt and stones and not, as any of the above ideas suggest, touching a
living aspect or projection of ourselves. If the antidote to separation is
connection, the Paq'os are asking us to take it one step further. Not only are
we interconnected, but we are not alone:
you want to know that a mountain is alive, just ask it.
According to a CNN poll, 54 percent of Americans believe
that intelligent life exists outside Earth and 64 percent are sure that ETs
have contacted humans. But unless you're strolling around the gardens of
Findhorn or regrouping at a Rainbow Gathering, fairies, devas, elementals and
other earth spirits are New Agey to the point of laughability. Why?
Peruvian shamans might talk about this as a cultural preference for the Hanaq Pacha, the Upper World. In the
Andean cosmology, eloquently depicted by the Chakana, or Inka Cross, there are considered to be three worlds.
The Upper World is thought of as the sky and beyond; the Middle World, or Kay Pacha, is the world of human
interaction; and the Lower World is beneath the surface of the Earth. In the
microcosm that is our body, these are represented by the third eye chakra, the
seat of the mind; the heart chakra, the seat of love; and the lower Dan Tien,
the area below the belly button, where our life force is generated.
it's not difficult to see how we, with our TVs, our mainlines to Facebook and
our neglect of Mother Earth, prefer what goes on above our necks in the Upper
World. By extension, we may also have an affinity for the beings associated
with that region, the Extra Terrestrials. Of course, it's also possible that
it's easier to conceive of ETs precisely because they are Upper World/Third Eye
beings, ie/ that it's easier to perceive upper world beings with the upper
world aspect, the mind. Or, conversely, that the beings who inhabit the lower
and middle worlds are not as easily perceived with the mind and therefore not
given as much credence.
I don't know with which world the Apus and Pachamamas are associated, but I do
have a strong feeling that it's time we started paying more attention to them.
In each of the three ceremonies in which I have
partaken, most of the spirits who come remain in the background, clacking
stones, blessing mesas, but not saying anything beyond their name. Then there
are the Apus whose personalities bloom in the dark, taking shape through the
timbre of their voices and the content of their messages.
is always grave and powerful, saying little but penetrating deeply. On my last
trip in February, Sacsayhuaman, professorial and dear, reminded us about the
importance of faith. Sawasiwray apologized that his twin, Pitusiwray, could not
be there and rightly complained that it had been too long since our last visit.
I still had questions, but not about ‘reality' of the experience I was having.
is talking, the Apus' main message is always that they are available to us.
They ask that we call on them when we need help and always approach them in the
spirit of ayni, usually translated as
‘right relationship,' a Q'ero concept that interactions should always be
with all spirits, be they Angels, Apus, Pachamamas, ETs, and not least our
fellow human beings — now that is
something I believe in.