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Posts on the Andean Cosmovision

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I would like to turn now to what may be the most fundamental aspect of the Andean Cosmovision, ‘ayni‘.  Ayni is the principle of reciprocity. The essence of ayni is that when you receive something you give something back in return. This keeps balance in the relationship, but it also does more than that, it nourishes the relationship as well.

Ayni informs the Andean people’s relationships with each other, and in that context it can be easily understood. It is when the Andean people apply ayni to their relationship with Nature and the Cosmos that we move into mysterious territory and begin to glimpse the profound beauty of their Cosmovision. To understand how ayni works in this context we first need to understand their very different view of Nature and the Cosmos. It is not possible to have a true relationship with inert, mindless, matter, and in the Western view of reality that is how rivers, and stones, and trees, and the Cosmos itself are basically seen. We can love a forest, or the Earth, but within our world view it is hard to conceive of them loving us back. The Andean people have a very different experience of reality, one that allows true relationships with Nature and the Cosmos. This was covered in the earlier post  Andean Cosmovision: The Basics and I recommend that if you haven’t already that you read it and the post Barefoot in the Mountains before proceeding so that you will be better able to understand what I am going to say about ayni.

Village men threshing wheat

Village men threshing wheat.

Let us begin by looking at ayni in the context of the Andean people and their relationships with each other. Ayni shows up clearly in the work that the people in a village perform together. When it is time to work a family’s field the men and women in the community unite to work it as a community. The sowing of a field, for example, involves a line of men working foot plows to overturn the soil, followed by a line of women who plant the seeds. When such communal work is done the recipients rarely express thanks, for it is just part of life that they will then establish balance by working their neighbor’s fields in turn. When you give you receive, and when you receive you give, balance is maintained, both sides are nourished, and the community is healthy.

Reciprocity is like a pump at the heart of Andean life. The constant give-and-take of ayni…maintains a flow of energy throughout the ayllu [community]. Allen, 2002, pg 73.

I would like to share some of my own experiences with ayni, from the perspective of a Westerner entering into a relationship with the Andean people. My trips to Peru involve working with various paqos and healers, and this ‘working with’ often involves my participation in the ceremonies and healing rituals that they provide. What I can give them in return to balance our relationship, what they really need that I have, is money.

At the beginning of my exploration of the Andean Cosmovision I felt uncomfortable about giving money in reciprocity. From my Western perspective it just didn’t seem quite right to give money for a sacred experience. There is a lot of cultural background to those feelings, tied to our views about the relationship between the sacred and the secular and how– when the two are mixed in the wrong way–the sacred becomes profane. Ayni, however, is not the same thing as payment. Ayni brings people closer together, the goal is balance rather than gain, mutual support rather than advantage. When I was able to shift from my culture’s Cosmovision to the Andean Cosmovision I was able to enter into the true ayni of the relationship. On their side they were willing to do the same, to interact with me in ayni within the context of the ceremony, rather than slipping into the Western capitalistic relationship that is encroaching into their culture. It is interesting that when the ceremony is over, and ayni has been completed by my giving them money, then the context usually does shift, the sense of the sacred evaporates, they pull out their goods-for-sale, and some hard haggling begins. The two ways of being in relationship, one of ayni within the context of the sacred, and one within the context of selling, could not be more different.

I would now like to share another context where I experienced how ayni works in Peru. This specific instance occurred in one of my more recent trips. I had brought along some extra money to give to the people of the Andes, not much, but it doesn’t take much to really help out someone who lives in the high Andes. The challenge was to find a context where the money could be given in ayni, for it is so easy for it to shift into a context of “the (comparatively) rich Westerner giving money to the poor and needy indigenous person” which is not ayni at all.

I was able to proceed with the help of an Andean friend (who is a genius at getting around my misled but well-intentioned efforts and helping me to do something even more beautiful than I anticipated). In this case we were in a very small village high in the Andes, which was probably important as there the people still lived a life governed by ayni. The following story is perhaps the best way I can share how ayni works.

Women of a village Club of Mothers

Club of Mothers

I was introduced to several people whom my friend knew could use some help. First I was introduced to a middle-aged man who was suffering from severe diarrhea, he asked if I had anything to help. Being the well-prepared gringo that I am of course I had some medication that is good for diarrhea, and I gave him some with instructions on how to take it. He thanked me most sincerely, and a few minutes later he returned to give me three eggs from his hens, which of course I thought was pretty nice of him. Then I was introduced to two young girls who were orphans and needed some money to get school supplies (in the small villages there are few resources for people who are outside of any family). They smiled and looked shy. I gave them some money and with big smiles they each gave me a hug, then one ran out and returned with a belt she had made to give to me as a present. The village Club of Mothers (who meet weekly to pursue activities for the benefit of the children in the village) gave me a live chicken in ayni for my support. I contemplated texting my sons that I was bringing them home a sister but we ate the chicken that night instead. And at the end of the day I was introduced to a very old woman whose family were all gone and I gave her the rest of what I had. She gently grasped my hand with both of hers and looked into my eyes with a gentle smile and said something to me in Quechua, which my friend translated for me. She said that she had nothing she could give me, so she would pray for me instead. It was a beautiful day.

While ayni in the relationships among humans may be easy for us to understand from our own cultural perspective, when we look at the Andean people’s ayni with the animals upon which they depend then we start to move into territory that is both different and beautiful. I would like to talk about the relationship between the Andean people and their traditional domesticated animals, specifically alpacas and llamas. The following description pertains to people who live in isolated villages in the high Andes, at or above the tree line, and who still live the Andean Cosmovision. These people, and their animals, and their plants, eek out a living at altitudes as high as 15,000 feet, in villages that may be a good two-day walk from the nearest road.

The alpacas and llamas make it possible for the Andeans to live at such altitudes. Unlike other ruminants, alpacas and llamas can graze upon the sparse, high-altitude, grass without damaging it . Llamas carry loads to and from the fields, and from one village to another. They can carry 70 – 90 pound packs, up to 16 miles a day. The hides and wool from both llamas and alpacas are used for clothing. Wool from the alpacas is sold in market towns to obtain sugar, and flour and other materials that cannot be produced in the village. When an animal is slaughtered or offered in a sacrifice every part of the animal is either consumed or used to make things. Dung from the animals fertilize the high-altitude fields or when dried can be used as fuel (it is not a very hot fuel, one time we decided to make hot chocolate at 17,000 feet and it took over an hour for the water to get kind of warm).

The Andean people recognize that their alpacas and llamas cannot survive without human protection, and they equally recognize that humans cannot survive without the alpacas and llamas. The people and their animals share the same resources, and the same weather, and the same hardships of life at high altitudes. The llamas and alpacas are not seen as resources to be managed, they are seen as partners in a mutually supportive dance of reciprocity among beings.

The llamas and alpacas are treated with love and respect, an Andean herder knows every llama and alpaca by sight and all are given names. The llamas and alpacas participate–adorned–in sacred ceremonies, so that the ceremonies may make them happy too. They join the people in appealing to Nature and the Cosmos in times of need.  Special ceremonies are held in honor of the llamas and alpacas. In the llama ch’allay ceremony, for example, the llamas are given chicha (locally brewed corn beer) to thank them for all of their work in carrying the harvests up the mountain. During the ceremony a small bell is rung near the llama’s ear to clean its energy.

When an alpaca or llama is sacrificed or slaughtered the event calls for a special ritual. The animal’s feet are tied together and it is laid upon the ground with it’s head in a person’s lap. The person sings to the animal and strokes its head and gently feeds it coca leaves. At the appropriate moment the animal is killed swiftly, and as it dies its feet are untied so that its spirit may begin its run to the sacred mountain Apu Asungate, accompanied by prayers by the people that Asungate may receive the spirit and send it back to be born again in the same corral. Through its death the animal’s spirit is a gift to the Apu who returns the spirit back to the herd in ayni.

As the life force [of the animal] flows towards the mountains and back in perfect reciprocity, the cosmic balance is maintained. (Bolin, 1998, pg 56).

Market at Pisac

Bounty from the Pachamama and her daughters

Now we will take a step yet further away from the Western view of reality to consider ayni in the relationship of humans with the Cosmos when it comes to raising crops. As the Pachamama (the great mother who is the planet Earth) is but a part of the conscious Cosmos yet has her own consciousness, and the Apus (majestic mountain peaks) are but part of the Pachamama yet have their own consciousness, the chakras (fields in which crops are grown) are daughters of the Pachamama and have their own consciousness as well. Each chakra is responsible for the crop that is grown upon her, and each chakra has a name given by the people who work that field. Before entering a chakra to work a brief ritual of gratitude and respect is given to the Pachamama and her daughter. A little chicha (corn beer) may be poured upon the ground to slake their thirsts. Upon leaving the field another brief ritual may given to thank them for their generosity, in this way ayni is nourished. At that time a little thanks may also be given to Illapa, the god of thunder, thanking him for sending the rain (and for not sending lightning).

Patchwork quilt of chakras on the lap of the Pachamama

Patchwork quilt on the lap of the Pachamama

On one of my trips to Peru we stopped to watch the people gather a harvest of potatoes. It was in the high Andes, on the land between Cusco and the Sacred Valley. The numerous plots were all small, and at different stages of ripeness and containing various crops. The ground stretching up to the mountains looked like a patchwork quilt upon the lap of the Pachamama. Thin trails of smoke rose from a dozen small camp fires scattered across the land. The fires were tended by young mothers and older women. The first potatoes taken out of the ground in the morning had been placed back into holes dug in the Pachamama, covered with earth, and then a fire was lit above them, cooking the potatoes for a meal later in the day. The custom is both practical and sacred, honoring the Pachamama, nourishing her children, and maintaining the relationship between the earth and those that live off of her bounty.

After appreciating this sight, we piled back into our van to continue on our way. As we pulled out my gaze fell upon a young woman tending a fire near the road, perhaps 20 yards away. She looked to be in her early twenties. She was wearing the traditional full skirt and sweater of the Andes made of a woven fabric dyed in colorful shades of green and brown, and a tan hat with a rounded top and a wide flat brim. She was sitting on the ground, in contact with the Pachamama, and nursing her child. As the van pulled away she looked up and for a moment our eyes met, and she smiled. It was the most beautiful smile I have ever seen, a smile that conveyed an absolute contentment with life-at-that-moment, a smile from the heart of the Pachamama.

In the Andean Cosmovision humans are not distinct from Nature, nor is Nature distinct from the Cosmos. The role of humans is not to use Nature for our own good, nor to serve as stewards over it, but instead to interact with Nature in a dance of respect and mutual support. We are but part of the fabric of life, not its apex; children of the Pachamama, but not her special children. Is it any wonder that the fields that the Andeans have cultivated for thousands of years feel as wild and natural as our National Parks?

In the Andes ayni goes beyond the people’s relationships with each other, and with animals, and with fields, to inform their relationships with the Cosmos. When the Andeans gather together socially, or in ceremony, or to do communal work, they perform brief ceremonies to invite into their circle the Pachamama and the Apus and other great Beings of the Cosmos, to honor them and to express respect and gratitude. In their sacred ceremonies, the Andean people offer gifts to the Pachamama, to the Apus, and to the various other Beings of Nature and the Cosmos. This is all done as ayni, to nourish a relationship of mutual support, of mutual service. They serve the Cosmos and the Cosmos serves them, and from this their sense of relationship becomes stronger.

Inge Bolin (1998) summarizes a night of ceremony among the Andeans as follows:

These ancient rites reconfirm a close interdependence among humans, animals, and nature. This night, through a dialog with gods and spirits, we entered the realms of the sacred. We wove threads which symbolically bound us to our physical, social, and spiritual worlds. We reinforced ties with the past, with the Apus, with those ancestral spirits living in mountain peaks, and we looked toward the future, hoping for the aid and compassion of the deities from whom we requested health, prosperity, and peaceful coexistence. We engaged in reciprocity, the hallmark of Andean life; we were offering and asking, giving and taking.

Every gesture and movement was performed with great dignity and elegance. Every ritual carried an expression of respect for others—for gods, humans, animals, plants, and the spirit world. On this night and in the days to follow, the message of the rituals is clear. Only where there is respect can we find a way to live and act together. We must adjust and readjust to accommodate the various benevolent and malevolent forces within the cosmos. Pachamama, the giver of life, is also responsible for earthquakes and other disasters. The Apus are protectors of the herds, but they also send malevolent winds which can bring disease and death. There is no trace of aggression or hostility, domination, or subjugation in any of the rituals. Our offerings, our thoughts, our efforts in dedicating this night to a spiritual dialog among humans, animals, and the powers of nature are meant to reinforce the positive,, to give hope to a life so harmonic and serene, yet so vulnerable in this marginal environment. (pg 43)

This I believe is the heart of the Andean Cosmovision.  Ayni is the pump that sends the energy flowing through the people and their Cosmos. There is a mistake, I think, in our culture to remove the Andean meditations from their context, to see them only as a technology for personal transformation. The meditations, however, are fundamentally about our relationship with Nature and the Cosmos. The benefits of the meditations come from this relationship, and being a relationship we need to attend to our side of the relationship as well, with love and mutual support and respect.

There is one level of ayni I have not talked about yet that I would like to mention. The Andean people are willing to share their Cosmovision with the West and many of us feel that we have benefited greatly by their willingness to do so. For the circle of ayni to be completed, so that not only balance is achieved but that both sides may be nourished by the exchange, we need to give back to the Andean people, particularly those who have given this gift to us. I recommend that if you pursue more knowledge about the Andean approach from various authors and workshop presenters that you look to see if any of the money you give them goes back to the Andean people.

If you find this Salka Wind web site to be of value to you and would like to donate some money as ayni you can do so at the Donate page. This nourishes my efforts in this work and leaves me feeling like we are on this path together and that this project is the best thing since puffed rice. I always give a goodly chunk of any money I receive from my Salka Wind work to the Andean people to insure there is ayni at that level as well. If you would like to give some money to nonprofit organizations that work to benefit the Andean people–in a way that is guided with wisdom so that their lives and their culture are nourished rather than damaged–you will find links in the Resources page of this web site, there are undoubtably other good nonprofit organizations working to help the Andean people out there as well.

Note there is a subsequent post on ayni called ‘Ayni Revisited‘.

This post on ayni draws heavily from the work (cited and uncited) of Inge Bolin. I strongly recommend her beautiful book Rituals of Respect: The Secret of Survival in the High Peruvian Andes. I would also like to thank Monique Duphily whose dissertation-in-process on the topic of ayni also contributed to the writing of this post.

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Fate of the Machukuna

There are many stories woven into the fabric of the Andean culture. It is difficult to know which stories are a pure reflection of the pre-conquest era and which were influenced by the conquerors and their religion. It is also difficult to know to what degree the stories have been shaped by the expectations and desires of those of us from the West who seek to find in the Andes what our own culture lost so many centuries ago. In addition, being an oral tradition, the stories may vary from village to village or from story teller to story teller. Here is a thread of a story pulled from a much richer and more elaborate fabric.

The indigenous people of the Andes refer to themselves as the ‘Runakuna’. In Quechua (the language of the Andes) the word ‘runa’ means ‘person’, and the addition of ‘kuna’ to a word makes the word plural. In it narrowest use ‘Runakuna’ refers to those Andeans who are the inheritors of, and who still live, the ancient Andean Cosmovision. In its widest use ‘Runakuna’ refers to the entire human race.

We are living in the age of the Runakuna, which is the age of the sun, and we are the children of the sun. Before there was the sun (Taytay Inti) there was the moon (Mamma Killa), and before the Runakuna there were the Machukuna, the children of the moon, the ‘Ancient Ones’ (‘Machu’ is Quechua for ‘ancient’). The Machukuna lived on this earth and the moon was their sun.

The age of the Machukuna ended with a ‘pachakuti’. A pachakuti is a time when space, time, and consciousness go through a great change, an overturning of the way things are. In this pachakuti the creative impulse of the living Cosmos created the sun, under whose searing light the Machukuna could not survive.

The Machukuna could see their doom approaching with the first dawn. Some fled into the hills to seek shelter in caves, some dove into deep waters, others hid in the trees. They died, the sun killed them all, but their spirits are still around.* Their spirits may be encountered in certain caves, and at night, in a bright moon, their bones are reanimated and walk about the earth. The ‘chullpas’ (small stone dwellings built by the Machukuna) are scattered about the slopes of the Andes. At sunset, when the sun has gone, the Machukuna emerge from their chullpas and warm their bones by the red glow of the evening sky.

Chullpas near Paucartambo

Chullpas in the hills near Paucartambo

With the rising of the sun and the fall of the Machukuna the Runakuna appeared and the age of the sun began. Why did the Cosmos create the sun and destroy the Machukuna? Some Andeans believe it was done for the benefit of us, the Runakuna, but many believe the Cosmos did it because it just felt like it.

This story has not come to an end. There will be more pachakutis, times of great upheaval and change, leading to new ages and new types of people who will thrive in those times. The Qero, and other Andean, paqos say that we have entered another pachakuti. One of the stories woven about the Qero is that they have abandoned their path of isolation from the West, a path they have followed since the Spanish conquest of Peru, because they have a piece of what humanity needs to make the transformation necessary to move into the next age of the world, that piece is the Andean Cosmovision.

What signs are there that a pachakuti has indeed begun? Well, from my Western perspective it seems obvious to anyone with half a yachay that our species is in a car speeding toward the edge of a cliff (of environmental disaster). From the Andean perspective, I ran across a small note in my reading about an interview with an Andean paqo several decades ago. When asked when the next pachakuti would arrive he said not to worry, that it wouldn’t happen until the snows leave the slopes of the sacred mountain Apu Asungate…

Andean Mountain with shrinking ice fields

Andean peak on road from Cusco to Bolivia. It used to be covered with snow at this time of year.


It makes a nice story, at least I like it. As with many good stories (see The Lord of the Rings) it contains some sadness for things lost. A fuller telling of the tale includes a prophecy that by opening up to the West the Qero may have doomed their own culture.

About the pachakuti, we don’t have to be driven by fear of cataclysm, we can also be drawn by love and beauty. In this story if humanity survives it will be by becoming more in touch with all of who we are, all of our facets as beings in this Cosmos. When this happens we will, metaphorically, grow wings and fly.

I’d like to end by sharing something don Americo Yabar told me, but I find that I must use my own words and concepts to relate it. In the Andean Cosmovision, as I understand it, there is no God that stands outside of the Cosmos as the creator, nor is the Cosmos simply a collection of energy and matter operating off of mechanical principles. The Cosmos itself is conscious (and sacred), and the creator and the creation are one and the same.** The Cosmos is ‘thinking’ about the current situation on our planet and soon it will come up with an answer, in the ripening of time. All we need to do is to stay connected with, and in harmony with, the Cosmos as it evolves. The Andean meditations provide a means for doing this.

*That the spirits of the Machukuna still live in our world/age/time may be too Western of a way of putting it. In the Andean view of time/place/consciousness when there is an upheaval in the world then the old word/age/time continues to exist but in a timeline that is parallel to our own, less real to us but still able to affect our world.

**The gods of the Andean Cosmovision, including the ‘creator god’, are personifications of aspects of the conscious Cosmos itself, rather than separate Beings who reside in and direct the Cosmos.


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This posts ends with a small segment of song by the Qero (also spelled Q’ero) of Peru, but I would like to first give the story behind the song.  The Qero are lovely-hearted people who live in very isolated villages in the high Andes and who still live a life immersed in the Andean Cosmovision. I was in Peru as part of a small group participating in a trip organized by Carla Woody and sponsored in part by Kenosis Spirit Keepers (the non-profit organization of which Carla is the president and I am the vice-president). The purpose of the trip was to provide an opportunity for a Hopi spiritual leader to meet in ceremony with Qero paqos.  We arrived at sunset at an ancient site in the Andes of Peru known as ‘Killarumi’.

Killarumi (moonstone)


Mamma Killa is the Cosmic Being who is our moon, and ‘rumi’ is a Quechua word for ‘stone’, so the place is that of the Moonstone. Andeans would visit this ancient site to get in touch with feminine energy, which is deeply powerful and in tune with the Earth. Women would come to give offerings and to meditate if they were having difficulties conceiving or when they were nearing the time of giving birth.

Altar of Killarumi

Altar of Killarumi

In the moonlight this stone glows with a beautiful light.

Cave at Killarumi

Cave at Killarumi

This being a place of feminine energy there is a cave nearby. We meditated at the Moonstone and then we entered the cave. In the cave the Pachamama (the great mother who is the planet Earth) draws all of the hucha (heavy, discordant, energy) from your body.

Andes by Killarumi

Andes by Killarumi

After meditating we climbed a bit further up the mountain to where the Qero were waiting.

Qero waiting in a field.

Qero Await

The Qero were waiting for us in a field. As we entered the field the men began to play their quenas (flutes) and the women began to sing.

Carla hugging the Qero

Carla Woody and Qero Greeting

Americo and the Qero

Don Americo Yabar and the Qero

Women of Qero

Women of Qero

Child of Qero

Child of Qero

Moon over trees.

Moon at Killarumi

By the time the ceremony ended night (Mamma Tuta) had arrived.

A link to a segment of the song the women sang as we approached is provided below.  The song went right to my munay (heart) and started vibrating there.  Later the women stood around us and touched our hearts with their hands as they sang.

Qero Song

Killarumi is a place of feminine energy. The Andean Cosmovision is based upon the complementarity of opposites, a place of decidedly masculine energy will be shown in a later post.

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Don Americo Yabar

Don Americo Yabar

Don Americo Yabar

Don Americo Yabar (don Américo Yábar) is a mystic from the Andes of Peru. Since childhood he has been studying under and working with some of the greatest paqos (mystics/shamans) of the Andes. Having also received a college education in Europe he serves as a chakaruna, a human bridge of energy that connects the energy of the Andes with that of the West.

I first met don Americo in 1994 at a workshop in the deserts of Southern Utah. I subsequently went to several more of his workshops and then began to travel to Peru to study with him there. While I have been in Peru he has also arranged for me to work with other paqos and healers of the area, and in general has provided the opportunity for me to connect with the Andean people at a very heart-felt level.

There are some things I would like to share about Americo that reflect not only upon him but also, and perhaps more importantly, upon the basic qualities of the path that he exemplifies, the path that attracted me, that I am attempting to nourish with the Salka Wind site, and that perhaps is attractive to you as well.


Don Americo Yabar and Q'ero Paqos

Don Americo Yabar & Q'ero Paqos

What has drawn me to associate with Americo is (among other things) his integrity, his love, and his joy of life. ‘Walking your talk’ is for me a minimum requirement for a path with a heart. Americo not only walks his talk, his walk is even more expressive and impressive than his talk (and as a mystic who is also a poet he talks very beautifully indeed). Anywhere I go with Americo in the Andes, from Cusco to the smallest village, people come running up with smiles, or lean out of a window and wave in delight to see Americo. Being with him is an instant ticket to having the opportunity to interact with the villagers at a heart-felt level, this is an opportunity I always embrace, and is an important part of the ineffable beauty and power of my experiences in Peru. While Americo is an impressive mystic in the traditional sense (whatever the hell that means) the path he walks shows up most profoundly in the way in which he interacts with the people of Peru, and does what he can to help them get by, and works to nourish their roots in their traditional culture.

For all of that, Americo is “just this guy, you know?” (description of Zaphod Beeblebrox, galatic president, in Douglas Adams’ Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy), not a Saint, not a guru, just a very human guy. I find this attractive about the path as well, as we travel it we don’t turn into Americo Yabar clones, we instead begin to blossom into who we uniquely are, we don’t rise above our humanity, we begin instead to express its true nature.

Don Americo and Oakley Gordon in Peru

Don Americo and me in Peru


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Barefoot in the Mountains

The High Andes

Photo by Oakley Gordon

There is a song sung in Quechua by the women of the high Andes.  It begins like this:

“I walk without shoes in the mountains.  My bare feet touch the mountain.  The mountain takes pleasure in knowing my body.”

This beautiful world-view is reflected in a quote from the book Masters of the Living Energy, by Joan Parisi Wilcox.  ‘Andeans are born into a world that they believe is as conscious of them as they are of it.’

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