Some of you who are interested in shamanism may find that generic “core” shamanism lacks the richness of ethnic shamanic traditions. At the same time you may not feel an affinity or connection to the Andean shamanism that I wrote about in the last set of posts. However, if English is your native language than you might feel a closeness to Northern European shamanism. After all, some of it is already in your daily language.
For example, take the days of the week. Did you know that the days of the week in English, except for Saturday, honor Northern European gods? Let’s take a quick look:
If you don’t have Celtic blood flowing through your veins then it might be Anglo-Saxon. The Anglo-Saxons were a people who invaded and inhabited Great Britain from the 5th century forward. They were Germanic tribes who migrated to the island from continental Europe, their descendants, and indigenous British groups who adopted some aspects of Anglo-Saxon culture and language. The Anglo-Saxon period denotes the period of British history between about 450 and 1066. To see how pervasive Anglo-Saxon DNA still is in Great Britain today take a look at this article.
If, like many in the United States, you think that you don’t have a Celtic bloodline because your last name isn’t Irish, Welsh or Scottish then think again. The map below shows the distribution of the Celtic peoples.
In the next series of posts I will explore Northern Europeans shamanism followed by the shamanism of the Celtic peoples in the U.K. Hope that you enjoy.
In answer to a few questions about whether or not shamanic practitioners pray I wrote down more or less how I begin every day. My days start with a greeting to Mother Earth and Father Sky, followed by a little tune on one of my flutes or a short drumming session. If I'm feeling particularly Andean I'll play an Andean Flute, if I feel the call of my Northern Cheyenne blood brother then I'll play a Native American Flute, and if I am feeling more Celtic/Norse I'll play a penny whistle or German recorder. This is followed by an invocation and blessing which is usually something like this:
I call in the spirits to be with me today. I call first to my ancestors, those who have gone before me; those who lived well and died well. I call upon those who brought me all that is good and beautiful and true from my ancestral lines. I call out to these ancestral helping spirits to be with me and to whisper in my ears to guide me, to tell me what to hold on what to let go. I ask those ancestors to whisper to me in a way that will teach me how to live in this world in a way that will engage me with the true energies that are underneath all that is apparent. I call out to these ancestors strongly, to gather around me, to help me do what must be done today and everyday.
From that space within myself I reach down into my heart, down through my feet and into Pachamama, Mother Earth, all the way to the heart of the earth at its very core and I give gratitude to the earth for this day. I give thanks for all that this day holds, no matter what it is, and I give thanks for life. Mother Earth, thank you for the miracle that brought life to the face of this planet. I thank you for your capacity for change and for transformation and for the same capacity that I find within myself, for healing and for moving forward in a way that draws upon the wisdom of the past and opens up to the possibilities of the future. Mother Earth, thank you for home, for place, for belonging, and for groundedness.
I draw up the energy of Mother Earth so that I may be connected to the wisdom and power of manifestation and know how to be here in form in a good way. I ask the energy of Mother Earth to help me feel the energy and the interconnectedness of all things and to know my place in that great web of life, to feel myself as part of that oneness, and to know that I am absolutely essential and irrelevant at the same time. Mother Earth, give me energy to stand in my place today, wherever it is, and to be the best expression of my soul’s true purpose. I ask you to help me in my efforts today.
With the energy of the earth drawn up into my body I direct the energy to flow upwards to my heart, my mind, out the top of my head, and all the way up through all the layers of the sky, all the way up to the highest power of the universe, to Intitayta, Father Sky. I call down the energy of Father Sky into my life, into my body, into this day and into all that I do. Father Sky bring down all of the wisdom of the cosmos, to bring down protection, to bring in blessing, and generosity and all of the benevolence of the universe to me and to all beings. I call these energies into my body and feel the moment when the energy of the sky meets the energy of the earth and these two energies begin to dance within being that brings me into balance.
With the energy of the Mother Earth and the Father Sky I call out to the energy of my heart to awaken, to be the force in my life for change and transformation. I call the energy of the belly, the energy of passion to rise to my heart and I call the crystal clear energy of knowledge and discernment of the mind to descend to my heart so that a new, a third energy can be born. That third energy is my knowledge of why I am here, my connection to my soul’s purpose. I ask for the courage to reach within myself to bring the purpose out and to use it to guide and direct my life so that I can bring my gifts to the world.
With these energies called in, the energy of the heart, the energy of Mother Earth and Father sky and that of my ancestors who are standing around me I ask that this day go forward with blessings for all living things, that what needs to be done is done, that what needs to be said is said, that what needs to be heard in heard, and that I am better able to make my soul’s purpose manifest this day because of it.
One of the more beautiful acts of Andean shamans is the preparation and offering of a despacho or ahaywarisqa. These offerings demonstrate the reciprocity (ayni) and maintain harmony between the spirits and those of us who dwell in Kay Pacha, "this earth". They help align personal energies with the cosmic ones.
The word despacho literally means "dispatch or shipment" in Spanish and is a word that has been borrowed by Quechua speakers. In the Andean traditions of Peru, a despacho is a ceremonial offering to Pachamama, or Mother Earth, and the Apu, the Spirits of the Mountains. A despacho is a focused and formal way to "dispatch" or "ship" your intentions or prayers off to Spirit.
Despacho ceremonies can be performed for something as grand and noble as world peace, to something as down to earth as offering thanks for a bountiful harvest, to something as personal as relief from arthritis pain. A despacho can be narrowly focused on one intention, or could be performed simultaneously for world peace, thankfulness for a good harvest, and pain relief. Despachos can also be performed for one person, a group of people, a village or city, or the world as a whole.
A shaman, to prepare a despacho, gathers a variety of symbolic offerings such as wine, sugar, incense, gold and silver threads, red and white flower petals, grains, seeds, shells, and candies. The items are selected both to be pleasing to the Spirits and also to represent the intention of the participants in the despacho. The items are carefully arranged on a large sheet of paper with great care and intention. In essence, the items form a three-dimensional mandala. Prayers are blown into small bundles of leaves called kintu (branch of flowers) and added to the offering as well.
Once completed the bundle is folded closed and tied up. Then the shaman will run the whole bundle over the bodies of the participants to draw out any heavy energy (hucha) that they may have. Once this has been done the whole bundle is ceremonially burned, much like incense is burned in some traditions to take prayers to heaven. At this stage the participants turn their backs on the fire to allow the spirits to "eat" the offering in peace.
The smoke of the offering takes prayers and intentions to Pachamama and to the apus. Heavy energy is turned to ash in this process and is consumed by Pachamama, who turns the hucha in to compost thus making the ground more fertile for new endeavors.
My first trip to Bolivia was in 1971. I spent two years in Bolivia on that trip and lived primarily in the Departments of Potosí and Chuquisaca running a Spanish-language literacy project. Today Quechua is spoken by over 80 percent of the people in these Departments with a majority of the native Spanish speakers residing in the cities of Potosí and Sucre. While I lived in the cities of Potosí and Sucre I spent most of my time in the outlying pueblos, in places like Tarabuco and Betanzos. It was there that I met my first Maestro, Don Juan Carlos. He told me a story about the origins of the Shaman's Mesa that I have heard repeated, with minor variations, throughout the Quechua-speaking regions of Bolivia and Peru. This is the story of the origin of the Mesa as told to me by don Juan Carlos in Betanzos.
Wiracocha, the creator of the world, looked down and saw that his creation was not following the path that he had intended. He told Condor (remember that Condor is one of the totem animals of Hanaq Pacha) to go down and have a look and see what was happening. Condor flew for days and days observing the actions of the people on earth and then he returned to Wiracocha and told him that the people had become self-centered, egotistical and materialistic; all they did was look out for their own best interests and they had forgotten their responsibility to look out for each other. Wiracocha was very saddened by the news. However, he had a solution. He asked Condor to return to Kay Pacha in the form of a man. He told Condor that whomever he touched would be healed, not just healed physically, but healed spiritually and emotionally as well. Wiracocha also told Condor never to tell anyone who he really was, because when he did so he would return to hanaq pacha.
Condor flew down to Kay Pacha and traveled from pueblo to pueblo healing souls and spirits and also bodies. Slowly the world began to change and people began to remember the path. Condor worked for many years and began to grow old. He looked like an old man because no one knew that he was Condor. Finally one day he knew that it was time for him to leave Kay Pacha and return to Hanaq Pacha. A young man had been following him for some time, learning his teachings and his ways. He took the young man aside and told him that he was Condor and that it was time for him to return to Hanaq Pacha. He told the young man to travel high into the mountains. There he would be guided to a bush and under the bush he would find a cloth bundle. He was to unwrap the cloth bundle and hold the stone that he would find therein. Condor told the young man that the stone was his (Condor's) heart and that the young man could continue to heal bodies and souls by using the bundle with the rock inside.
The young man did as he was told and made a long and solitary trek into the sierra, the mountains. He followed the tail of Puma (totem animal of Kay Pacha) to a bush and under the bush he found the cloth bundle that Condor had spoken of. The young man unwrapped the bundle and found inside an ordinary looking rock. However when he touched the rock blood started to flow from it (1). At that very instant down in a pueblo the old man transformed into Condor and flew up into the sky to Hanaq Pacha. The young man carefully wrapped the rock back up in the cloth and took his bundle down the mountain. He loving cared for the bundle the rest of his days and used it to heal all who came to him.
Shamans in the Andes today carry a cloth bundle with them that contains tokens of their Apus, usually rocks and crystals from sacred sites along with other sacred images and tools. These objects are all power tools. An object is added to the mesa bundle when a shaman gets a strong "yes" that an object should be included. Some items included in a bundle have generic, cultural meaning, for example I was taught to always include a bell in my bundle because it brings intuition. Other items have specific, personal meaning. For example, my bundle contains a small, perfectly round quartzite stone, about the size of a golf ball. I picked the stone out of a stream in the Blue Ridge Mountains. The stone was weathered and smoothed by centuries or millennium of tumbling in the stream, making its way down from the mountains. It reminds me of how experience smooths off our rough edges.
The cloth, an aguayo, that I use to wrap up the objects for my Mesa is a one-meter square piece of hand-woven fabric that I bought off a loom in the Andes Mountains. It has special meaning to me because I watched the weaver work, talked to her about her weaving, learned what was involved and how long it took to make. Her weaving helped to support her family, but it was also a labor of love. Every time I touch the cloth my heart is transported back to the Bolivian highlands.
The bundle is activated and turns into a Mesa when it is opened up. The cloth becomes the altar covering and the objects are carefully arranged on top of the cloth. The apus arrive when the bundle is opened. It is always good to great the Apus with music (I play a tune on a Native American flute) and then with a prayer . . . Apu of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Apu of Illampu, Apu of Illimani . . . I keep you always in my heart." and then I give an offering to Pachamama.
When a bundle is opened and the Mesa is set it is connected to all of the other Mesas. I was told by my Meastro (Teacher/Master), Don Juan Carlos, years ago, "Never feel alone, you are always connected to me and the other curanderos (healers) through our Mesas, the energy connects us all." Not only does the Mesa connect us with our Apus, with other Mesas and their workers, it also connects us with our history. One of the treasured objects in my mesa is the small figurine of a llama, it reminds me of my years in the Andes Mountains. Another is a small, carved raven by Zuni artist Tim Lementino. It reminds me of one of my totem animals, Raven, and also of the time I spent with my Northern Cheyenne blood brother in Lame Dear, Montana. Another item in my bundle is a quartz crystal point from Tibet that has special meaning for me. I'm well past 60 years old now and so I have more than half a century of memories caught up in my bundle. If you decide to make a Mesa then your bundle will start to carry your memories and consequently your energy as well.
When the temperature gets above freezing I'll set my Mesa up in the forest and take a few pictures to share with you . . . future blog.
(1) Catholic readers might note a similarity between the bleeding rock (heart) of Condor and the bleeding heart of Christ. I don't know if the similarity is coincidental or if it is the result of the intertwining of ancient Andean beliefs with 16th century Catholic teaching. My guess is that it is the latter.)
If you are new to my blog on Andean Shamanism you might want to go back and read the first two posts, they will provide background and you will understand the Quechua terms that I used in this post.
In an earlier blog I wrote about the generic shamanic view of the cosmos, the lower world, the middle world, and the upper world. If you didn't read that blog don't worry, the upper and lower worlds are not heaven and hell. They are places to which we travel on shamanic journeys to meet with totem animals, guides and teachers. Eventually we will get to world views in this blog, but a few preliminaries first.
Remember that we live in the kawsay pacha, the energy world and part of becoming an Andean shaman is learning how to sense and work with that energy. One of the two classes of Andean shamans is the pampa mesayoqs (pampa = land, mesayoqs = priest, shaman, literlly a "mesa carrier"). The pampa mesayoqs are ceremonialists. They have learned the rituals and ceremonies, especially those that honor pachamama (1). The second group are the alto mesayoqs (alto = high). These shamans may be skilled in rituals like the pampa mesayoqs and have also developed a relationship with nature energies and spirits and are able to experience them directly.
[Quick aside in case you are interested in Quechua. Don't confuse the Spanish word mesa which means "table" with the mesa in mesayoqs. In Quechua a generic “table” is a misa and a table made of wood is a qiru misa. Quechua is one of the many official languages of Bolivia, the other two most important ones are Spanish and Aymara. Although Quecha speakers have "borrowed" some words from Spanish, Quechua is not a Spanish dialect. It is the language of the Inca, the language that was spoken in Peru, Bolivia and Southern Ecuador before the arrival of the Spanish. Now back to shamanism.]
When I was learning Quecha one of the first phrases that I learned was Ima kay? or "What is this?" I would walk around while visiting a Quechua speaker, pick something up or point, and say, "Ima kay?" It was was a great way to build vocabulary. It also helped me understand the concept of kay pacha. Kay pacha (this earth) is one of the three worlds in Andean cosmology. Kay pacha is middle earth, the physical world were we normally reside. The upper and lower worlds are hanaq pacha (hanaq = sky, high, heaven, elevated) and ukhu pacha (ukhu = interior, lower, under, inside, room).
The totem animals of the three worlds are:
Andean shamans, unlike individuals who practice core shamanism as popularized by Michael Harner, and some traditional shamans, don't take shamanic journeys to the three worlds. They stay firmly rooted in Kay pacha. Nevertheless Andean shamanas work with the energy from the three worlds, have visions and dreams, and use nature-based rituals. In addition Andean shamans, the Paqos, work to facilitate the flow of ayni (the idea of mutual effort and reciprocity) between the three worlds. The column of energy that they create is called a saiwa. I have always thought of the saiwa as tool to balance the energy between the three worlds, a way to get Kay pacha back into balance.
In my next blog I think that I'll write about the Andean shaman's mesa (good guess, but it is not a table) and despachos.
(1) If you wondered if mother earth or Pachamama has a male counterpart the answer is yes. He isIntitayta or father (tayta) sun (inti).
I have spent over six years in Peru and Alto Peru (aka Bolivia) and Andean shamanism is probably the closest to what I practice as a shamanic practitioner. I am an American of Irish descent so Celtic blood flows through my veins. However astro-astrology locates all of my planets over South America with Venus (my heart) over the Andean regions of Bolivia and Peru and I feel most alive and most at home on the Altiplano.
In a previous post I wrote a little about Animism, the belief that Spirit indwells in everything. Thus it shouldn't come as a surprise that those born in the Andes Mountains are born into a world that is as aware of them as they are of it. The Andean world is one that is filled with Spirit and Spirits and when we learn to listen these Spirits become our teachers.
Qi Gong practitioners recognize that Qi (Ki in Japan) is the life-force energy that surrounds and enlivens us. In the Andes that energy is known as kawsay = energy, and we live in thekawsay pacha (your first Quechua words), or the world of living energy. It is expressed as sami andhucha. Sami is the energy of the natural world. Energy that is ordered and refined. If you have studied the Vedic traditions then you might think of sami as being similar in quality to sattva. Huchaon the other hand is human energy, energy that is heavy and disordered. Again, in the Vedic tradition this is a quality similar to tamas.
Cuzco is known as the "Navel of the World" to the Andean, and it is well worth a visit. However, if you can't visit it then pay attention to your own qosqo the point, much like a chakra, through which you mediate energy with the world. Qosqo, not surprisingly is located about two inches below the navel in the same place where Qi Gong practitioners would locate the lower Dan Tien.
The last time that I wrote about practical shamanism I wrote about journeys into the lower world. Let's go the other direction this time. Recall that in a journey to the lower world shamans travel down through an opening in the earth. Not into the dirt, but into another dimension or world.
In the shamanic cosmology the universe is divided into three regions, the lower, middle and upper worlds. In an upper world journey shamans use smoke, a tree, a bird, a vine, a sunbeam or rainbow, the wind or anything else that will take them up into the sky. Some shamanic practitioners view the Pole Star as an entry point into the sky. Other view the stars as holes in the "great tent" of the sky. Twilight and sunrise are viewed by some as a crack between worlds. I encourage you to develop your own cosmology and shamanic view of the universe.
In any event, if you are going to journey to the upper world you will have to ascend. I often let Spirit take me up or down by sitting in my canoe on a river, during trance state, and rather than paddle the canoe I let the current take me. Sometimes it takes me to the shore and I do a middle world journey, sometimes a whirlpool appears in the middle of the river and it takes me into a lower world journey and sometimes (to be honest, my favorite times) my canoe with me sitting inside of it falls over a waterfall. However, rather than screaming down the waterfall my canoe lifts me up and we fly to the upper world. Aren't trance states wonderful?
You are not traveling into the sky. You are traveling to the upper world locate on the other side of the sky. You might ask you power animal to travel with you or you may meet your power animal at the entry to the upper world. Your power animal will conduct you through your experiences in the upper world. You may meet your spirit guide or other higher-vibrational beings in the upper world.
Use drumming like you did in your journey to the lower world to help induce the trance state, and to bring you back to ordinary reality at the end of your journey.
I'm Dr. Dave, an eclectic shaman. I lived and worked in Bolivia and Peru for over six years, where I and was trained by Andean Shamans, and today practice eclectic shamanism.