We had arranged to participate in a sacred Earth Ceremony while in Peru’s Sacred Valley. Known as “Pago a la Tierra,” the ceremony is also called a “Despacho.” It was performed at our hotel in Urubamba by a shaman who comes from a village high in the Andes (above 14,000 feet).
Despacho is a Spanish word meaning “offering.” In Peru the word pago is often used meaning “payment” – in this context payment in the form of prayers and material gifts of food, alcohol and other items considered necessary. The offerings are usually made to the spirits residing in the highest mountain peaks (known as Apus) or to Pachamama (Mother Earth) or to a combination of the two. The ceremony is usually performed by a Misayoq, a specialist in Andean rituals (commonly equated to priests). Misayoqs are believed to possess the ability to communicate directly with the mountain spirits and natural forces. (Editor’s note: “Misayoq” is the local name for the broader class of “Shaman” or “Medicine Man.”)
More on Despacho, from Earth Caretakers:
Despacho describes the Andean practice of making offerings to the mountains (apus), Mother Earth (Pachamama), and other spirits of nature in reciprocity, reverence, and thanksgiving. A despacho is an act of love and a reminder of the connections we share with all beings, elements, spirits, and sacred places. At the deepest level, it is an opportunity to enter into the essential unity of all things, the living energy of the universe.
A despacho is created during a celebratory ceremony. In the cosmology of the Andes, all life is perceived as one grand, infinite ceremony. Because physical survival is so hard in the high mountains, life is experienced as a true gift to be lived, not a problem to be solved.
There are at least 300 variations of despachos in the Quechua-speaking Andes (primarily Peru and Ecuador). While there are certain elements common to all despachos, the particular healing intention–such as bringing harmony and balance to the earth, honoring new beginnings, or getting rid of an illness–determines the design of the offering, some of the contents, and even the way that offerings are added.
A traditional despacho is created by medicine people who work in alignment through their spiritual power.
In India we have been to many poojas, common ceremonies where offerings are made to the gods. We were pleased to have the chance to participate in this spiritual ceremony in Peru. This is one reason we came here. The ceremony was arranged for us by our tour company, Aracari.
We are in a room in the fantastic place we are staying, Willka T’ika Garden Guest House in Urubamba.
The shaman comes in and first lays out a woven cloth.
He also sets out the various items he will use today in the ceremony.
A white paper is unfolded. Today’s offerings will be placed on this paper.
He starts placing items. First are two small pots containing the chicha.
He uses them for his invocation, calling the Andean gods to join us today. He will call the Apus, the mountain gods, and Pachamama, the Earth Goddess. Since this is an Earth Ceremony, it is primarily addressed to Pachamama.
He first lays out a square, with four internal squares. These represent male and female (right and left), and the three levels of life, top, middle and lower – hanan pacha: the world above, kay pacha: this world, and ukhu pacha: the underworld – are represented.
He then starts adding items into the squares. Some go into male, or female, some go in upper or lower squares. He offers small amounts of native Andean cereals, grains and fruits together with coca leaf.
Below, the shaman offers sugar. The gods, we are told, like sweets (as do the Hindu gods. Sweets are certainly offered in Hindu poojas).
Big white corn pieces are added. This is seen as a special treat here. Dried beans are also added.
Then he adds animal crackers, representing animal spirits.
Now we, as participants, reach into the coca leaf bag, to pick out the three coca leaves that will be used in the ceremony to represent each of us.
Brightly colored candies are added. These are sweet, and, with the colors, are said to represent the rainbow, another important natural element for the Quechuan people.
The shaman takes our coco leaves now. He will do a special ceremony with them, including blowing on them, to put the spirit of the mountain gods, the Apus, into them.
He adds some money. These are actually photocopies of American bills.
Cotton is added to represent the snow on the mountains.
A flower is set on the top of the snow.
Colored threads are added, placed around the square. These also represent the rainbow. The rainbow has special significance to the Quechuan people. The sign of the Incas was the rainbow and two parallel snakes. This was used as a banner by all the Inca rulers. Even today, the banner of the city of Cusco is a rainbow flag.
He blesses the materials with his coco leaf bag.
He also added more brightly colored confetti, I think standing again for the power of the rainbow.
Here is the final layout of the Earth Ceremony offering.
The shaman then wraps up the paper, enclosing the offering.
Then he wraps it in the woven cloth.
He adds the two condor feathers into the bundle, and breathes the spirits of the mountains into the offering.
He then uses the offering bundle to cleanse and bless Carol and me.
Below, Carol is being cleansed with condor feathers.
He tells our translator that he will now take this offering back up the mountain to his village and bury it in another ceremony.
One last moment with the offering.
Here is the shaman. We liked his ceremony for us very much, and it made us both happy.
The next day we participated in another ceremony, this time a Fire Ceremony, with some other guests that stayed at Willka T’ika. We didn’t take any photos of this second event, but it was equally powerful as the Pago a la Tierra Ceremony from the day before.
The second ceremony held special significance for us because it involved invoking the power of the mountains, and, of course, we’re well acquainted with powerful mountains, living next to Arunachala. As the shaman was starting the ceremony he invoked various local mountain gods, Apus. He then asked the participants to name a mountain that held special significance for them. The other six people didn’t really have any special relationship with any mountains, so they named some generic mountains that they’d heard of. When it was our turn, we gave the name of our special mountain in India, Arunachala. The shaman gave a little shiver and said, “Oh this is a powerful mountain,” and went on to do a special part of the ceremony for Arunachala. He did not do this for any of the mountains mentioned by others. He had never heard of Arunachala, but on hearing its name, he somehow knew of its power. We sure liked to see this.
In this fire ceremony, after the offerings had been made and the ceremonial bundle wrapped up, we gathered around a fire, drummed and chanted for a while, then the offering was given to the fire. I felt this was very fitting as an end to the ceremony.
If you ever have the chance, I would recommend that you attend one of these Peruvian ceremonies.