Spirits Among Us
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.
At 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 Animals).
The 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.
Our 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.
The 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.
Each 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!
The 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?
The 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 bombarded me.
At 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 gift.
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.
When 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.
About 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.
If 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 disagree.
Another 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.
Perhaps 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.
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:
If 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?
Some 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.
Surely, 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.
Actually, 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.
Ausangate 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.
Whomever 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 mutually beneficial.
Ayni with all spirits, be they Angels, Apus, Pachamamas, ETs, and not least our fellow human beings -- now that is something I believe in.Tweet