Salka Wind Blog

Posts on the Andean Cosmovision

Tag: Apu (page 1 of 2)

Yay, yay, yay! My book (The Andean Cosmovision) is coming out this month (July)

My  book “The Andean Cosmovision”  is finally finished, I can hardly believe it.  Americo has been encouraging me to write this book for years.  It was such a big project I couldn’t get going on it until a friend of mine suggested that I write it in individual pieces as posts on a blog, which led to this Salka Wind Blog. I thought the process of turning those posts into a book would be relatively trivial but it has taken more than a year.  I rewrote the material, added some new information, and put it in an order that allows the later concepts and meditations to build upon the earlier ones.  I love it.

The book will be available both as a paperback and as an ebook.  The exact date of the release has yet to be determined but it should be sometime during the last half of July.  I will announce here when you can obtain a copy.

Front Cover

Back Cover

 

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Alto mesayoq

In the Andean tradition an alto mesayoq is a very high level paqo. They are usually described as paqos with incredible abilities. While we were in Peru last summer my friend Karen asked Gayle Yabar (don Americo’s son and a great paqo himself) to tell us about the alto mesayoqs. He replied by saying that they were paqos who spent their whole lives in service to an Apu. Then we had lunch…and Gayle served us our food. Service is not servitude, it is a gift born of love.

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Remember to Wave Your Warak’as

In this post we continue to pursue an understanding of how the complementarity of opposites informs the Andean people’s understanding of themselves, their relationships with each other, and their relationships with the Cosmos. In earlier posts we looked at the basic concepts underlying the complementarity of opposites (Yin/Yang of the Andes), how it informs the relationships between women and men (Wharmi-Qhari), and how the ritual encounter (‘tinkuy’) of differing energies can give rise to new life force (Tinkuy: Confirming the Rules of Life).

In that latter post tinkuy was introduced within the context of ritual battles that up until recent times were waged between neighboring communities in the Andes, and in the whipping dances that continue through today. In this post I would like to take a look at tinkuy in the form of competition between communities and between individuals, and then use that as a foundation to understand don Americo Yabar’s description of the three levels of relationship between people in the Andes.

The true treasure of the Andean Cosmovision is found in the ways that it differs from the view of reality offered by my modern, western, culture. This difference is deeper than simply having a different set of beliefs, or a different set of meditative practices, and this is exactly what is lost if we skim off a few beliefs and meditations from the Andean culture and toss them into our eclectic bag of ways for working with the energy of Nature. The change I believe we need as a culture if we wish to head toward a future of greater beauty and health, not only for us but for the whole planet (our future cannot be beautiful or healthy without accomplishing that for all of Nature as well) involves deep and fundamental changes in the way we experience reality, and in our relationships with each other, in our relationships with the Cosmos, and with the various aspects of our own Being.

The Festival of Qoyllu Rit’i

We have seen the role of tinkuy in the ritual battles and whipping dances of the festival of Pukllay (earlier post), now I’d like to turn to the expression of tinkuy in the dance and band competitions found in the Andean festival of Qoyllu Rit’i (held in May/June of each year). Qoyllu Rit’i is a time when communities of the region come together on the slopes of the majestic Apu Ausangate range. Communities bring their own bands and dance groups to compete during the festival. The battle of the bands is somewhat like a real battle in that the various bands don’t just take turns playing their best but at times try to drown each other out with their music. The competing dance groups have worked long and hard during the preceding year on their costumes and on their dances in the hope of outperforming both in style and energy the other groups. These band and dance competitions are tinkuy, an encounter of differences leading to a union that is greater than the sum of its parts.

“It may seem paradoxical that competition enters so strongly into an event that serves to integrate ayllus (communities defined by relationships) over a large region, and whose overall effect is to produce an overwhelming sense of ‘comunitas,’ an ecstatic submersion of individual selfhood into a larger whole. Yet it is exactly the competition–the clash of ayllu with ayllu, province with province, puna (high grasslands) people with valley people–that explodes in a huge jingle of sound and blaze of color, in an intensity of activity and noise, which vibrates for a few days in the sun and ice of the Apu’s glacial solitude.” (Allan, pg 176).

View of Asungate Range

Ausangate Range

Paucartambo

My own experience of a regional dance competition was at a festival in the town of Paucartambo, which don Americo Yabar had taken me to see. It was a festival that is not well-known by outsiders and I was about the only non-Andean there (it was one of those ‘pinch me I must be dreaming’ moments). Some of the dance groups had walked over 15 miles through the mountains to represent their village in the competition. The photos below are of the dancers from the village of Mollamarka.

Dancers of Mollamarka

Dancers of Mollamarka

Dancers of Mollamarka

Earning Smiles and Applause

The Day of the Horse

Dance and band competitions are tinkuy between communities. Competitions in the Andes can also be between individuals. In her book Rituals of Respect the anthropologist Inge Bolin describes a horse race that plays the title role in a sacred festival held in the high Andes, a festival the locals call ‘The Day of the Horse’.

The festival is held to honor (in ayni for) ‘Illapa’, the Andean deity of thunder and lightning. As a reminder (from earlier posts), the Quechua language has no word that translates without distortion into our word ‘god’. The Andean gods are not transcendent spirits, they are, instead, the consciousness inherent in that aspect of Nature or the Cosmos.

The honoring of Illapa plays an increasingly important role in the culture as one moves higher up in the Andes. In the high villages death of both people and their animals by lightning is a recurring threat. The thundering sound of the horse’s hooves during the race and the celebrations surrounding the event honor and appease Illapa.

The race is held in a high mountain valley with the massive range of Ausangate towering over its far end. The track is about two kilometers long, at its end the riders need to negotiate a steep mountain side before returning. Women, children, and men not in the race sit on the surrounding slopes to get a vantage point from which they can cheer and applaud the riders. The race is held in heats of four which take all day to complete. By the time the last, championship, heat is held it is dusk, and the riders disappear into the gloom of night to emerge again from the darkness as they come charging back.

Inge Bolin notes that the riders, who are called the ‘Sons of the Thunder’ are enthusiastic and every contestant hopes to win. And yet, while they are racing, they often sacrifice speed to sit up and swing their warak’a (slings) above their heads and jubilantly shout out the names of important sacred sites and spirits.  ‘Every contestant hopes to win.  Yet, it is more important to participate, to celebrate this day, to remember the gods, to be together in joy and harmony.”  (Bolin, pg 173).

In the evening, when the race was over, Inge realized that she hadn’t heard who had won. She asked the people around her but they just smiled. Finally, someone pointed out the winner.  “I congratulate him for having won this thrilling race. He smiles and shyly averts his eyes. Only later do I full comprehend that winning is not the prime reason for staging the race, and I realize that it was not proper behavior to ask for the winner or to congratulate him openly. In an egalitarian society where respect for others is a primary concern, it is not considered polite to make much fuss about one person, stressing his individual achievement to the detriment of others. The race was a success…The gods were pleased…It was a great competition in which the riders competed with and not against each other. Everyone who witnessed or participated in this energetic ritual was equally important.” (Bolin, pp 173-174).

As I read the phrase ‘competed with and not against each other’ something arose in my mind, something I remember don Americo Yabar talking about years ago that had not made sense to me at the time. Now I think I have a better understanding of it.

The Three Stages of Relationship

Americo was describing three stages that can occur in a relationship. The first stage of a relationship he called ‘tinkuy’, and he uses the term a bit more narrowly than Bolin and Allen.  Tinkuy is the encounter of two different energies (e.g. two different people).  This happens when the sphere of energy around one person first comes into contact with the sphere of energy around another. At this point one can begin to sense in which ways you are similar and in which ways you differ from the other person.

The second stage in the relationship Americo calls ‘tupay’, which he described as involving a competition between the two people. At this point in the explanation, in my notes, Americo hesitates and tries to explain the nature of this competition, that it is not the western, aggressive form of competition where a victor stands in triumph over the loser. I could never quite grasp what he was getting at until I read Bolin’s account of ‘The Day of the Horse’, a jubilant race where you compete with the others rather than against them. The point of the competition in ‘tupay’ is not to triumph over your competitor, but to discover in which areas each of you excels over the other.

For the relationship to then reach its deepest level, the third and final stage is to move from ‘tupay’ into ‘taqe’. In ‘taqe’–now that you have found what each one of you is better at–you bring the other person up to your level of expertise in that area. You become equal by both of you becoming more than you were before.

These three stages are described by Joan Wilcox (from her studies with Americo and others) in the book Masters of the Living Energy: The Mystical World of the Q’ero of Peru (pp 58-62). She goes on to explain how this process informs the living tradition of the Andean Cosmovision. The people in the Andes who are the maestros of the Andean Cosmovision are called paqos (also spelled paq’o).  They differ in their ability levels, in what they can accomplish in dancing with the living energy of the Cosmos. Their abilities are not, however, measured by their adherence to a set of specific, traditional, teachings or techniques. The abilities are, instead, the product of their relationships with other paqos, who all have their own set of knowledge and skills. And through the process of tinkuy, tupay, and then taqe these skills are shared with others. As you grow in skill from these relationships you are more able to learn higher skills from others, and you will be more in a position of being able to share something they would benefit knowing how to to do as well.

I would like to expand our view a bit and look at all of the parties involved in these relationships. The abilities of the paqos concern their relationships with the vast, beautiful, sometimes frightening, mysterious, unfathomable multitude of beings (consciousnesses) of Nature and the Cosmos. The ability of interacting, for example, with an Apu (a being who is a majestic mountain peak) is not just a skill, it is a relationship between two beings, the Apu and the paqo. Learning from another paqo how to open the door to that relationship is one step, what happens after that is up to the paqo and the Apu. The skills of the paqos, thus, are not just based upon what the paqos have learned to do, they are also the result of their subsequent relationship with Nature and the Cosmos.

Summary

In looking over the past few posts this is what I see. There are at least three patterns of healthy relationships in the Andes.

1) When two differing energies/beings (complementary opposites) come together they can retain and honor their differences, yet form a union, and this is called ‘yanantin’, the harmonious bringing together of complementary opposites, which leads to a whole that is greater than the sum of the parts. From this union of complementary opposites new life force emerges from the synergy of the complementary energies dancing together. A harmonious interaction of female and male energies is an example of yanantin.

2) When two similar energies/beings come together this is called ‘masintin’. I do not know if the alliance of two similar energies also produces a whole that is greater than the sum of the parts, or if it creates a whole that is equal to the sum of the parts. I suspect it is the latter but none the less beautiful for that. In our lives we have the opportunity to form many yanantin and many masintin relationships.

3) A third option is one that might be called co-evolution, where we start off by noting our differences, specifically differences in our abilities, and then we endeavor to pull each other up to our best levels. What starts off as difference ends up as equality, not by finding a mean but by mutual elevation. This, as I see it, is the path of the paqos.

 

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Giving Flowers to the Cosmos

An important part of my journey on this path is to regularly give despachos (offerings) to the Pachamama (the great Being who is the planet Earth), to the Apus (the Beings who are the majestic mountain peaks), and to the creek who flows so beautifully past where I like to meditate. Despachos are offerings made to nourish our relationship with Nature and the Cosmos. In the Andean Cosmovision it is possible to form a relationship of respect and  love with Nature and the Cosmos, for the Andean people live in a physical world that is as conscious of them as they are of it (see the post Barefoot in the Mountains).

Despachos can be very simple or very elaborate. The despachos I have seen the Q’ero (also spelled ‘Qero’) make are both elaborate and beautiful, with each element carrying important significance. The intent of a despacho can be to express gratitude and nourish the relationship with the facet of the Cosmos to whom the despacho is offered, or it can be to express some specific desired outcome. In this post I would like to share how to make simple despachos of gratitude.

Joan Wilcox in her informative book Masters of the Living Energy: The Mystical World of the Q’ero of Peru draws a distinction between ‘despachos’ (made for specific outcomes) and ‘pagos’ (simple expressions of gratitude). I have not heard don Americo Yabar draw that distinction. Both terms are Spanish in origin, and when I turn to my English-Spanish dictionary to see if it can clarify the meaning of the terms I am led to wonder how either  every came to be associated with the offerings made in the Andes. Perhaps the dictionary doesn’t tap a subtle use of the terms that would indeed fit the despachos of the Andean people.

I use the term ‘despacho’ for any offering made to Nature or the Cosmos in the spirit of ayni, no matter how simple or complex, including those made just to express gratitude. As I write this my mind wanders back to a workshop by don Americo that I attended in Hawaii. We made a group despacho, consisting simply of flowers that we all brought to lay upon the Pachamama (in this case the verdant slope of a volcano).  After the despacho was complete a hole opened in the cloud cover and a shaft of sunlight slanted down to illuminate just the flowers. It was a beautiful experience.

Simple despachos of gratitude have become an essential part of my Andean meditative practice. This began one time when I was teaching some of the Andean meditations to friends. We were sitting out in the woods. We started with the Touching the Pachamama meditation and then moved on to the Releasing Hucha meditation. When it was over I was overcome by a deep sense of appreciation of living in a conscious Cosmos where the Pachamama will accept our hucha from us, where the Cosmos will send down refined energy to replace the hucha, and where all the facets of Nature and the Cosmos are available to help support our personal and interpersonal transformations in a relationship of mutual respect and love.

Up to that point my despachos had been mainly rather formal rituals I went through out of a sense of obligation. But all  changed in that moment. Since then I always bring some tequila with me when I go into the canyons to meditate. After clearing my hucha I pour a little tequila onto the Pachamama with the intent (sincere pretending) that it carry my gratitude to her, if I am sitting next to the creek I give a little to the creek with the same intent, and I throw a little tequila into the sky for the Apus. This–the simplest of despachos–is my heart-felt way of connecting to these facets of Nature. Despachos are not the material components of some spell to control nature, they are not bribes nor payment for services rendered, they are like giving flowers to a loved one, they nourish the relationship. And as I write this it occurs to me that gratitude is indeed an interesting thing, it is something that cannot be faked.

Sometimes I want to offer a more elaborate despacho, and this takes a little bit of preparation. I base these despachos on a few of the elements I have seen go into the elaborate Q’ero despachos. For a despacho to the Pachamama I bring three red flowers and three white flowers. Red and white flowers are an important part of Andean despachos. Red flowers represent blood, the Pachamama, the feminine. White flowers represent the masculine energy and the Apus (most but not all of whom are male), white  also represents the stars. I also bring three sugar cubes. Once when I was in Peru, and a Q’ero woman was explaining the significance of the various elements she was adding to her despacho for the Pachamama, she placed some candy into the despacho and explained that the Pachamama has a sweet tooth. Americo, who was translating for us, winked and joked that this might be a projection. Still, candy or sweets are a nice touch for a despacho to the Pachamama.

To complete a despacho for the Pachamama I dig a small hole into the earth. In the Andes the despacho would be wrapped in a large sheet of paper and tied with a string before burying, but I skip the paper for Western, ecological, reasons. I hold the flowers up to my mouth and gently blow on them three times, with the intent of imbuing them with the very finest of my energy. I then gently place the sugar cubes and the flowers into the hole, and pour a little tequila on them while holding the intent of expressing my gratitude to the Pachamama for all that she gives us. Finally, I fill in the dirt on top of the despacho and gently press it down with my hands.

For the creek that flows past my meditation spot I bring three red and three white flowers, gently blow on them three times to imbue them with the very finest of my energy, and then I cast the flowers into the flowing water, and follow that with a little tequila, again with the intent of expressing my gratitude to my brother the creek, for his beauty and for what he brings to me as he flows through my life.

For the Apus, I use the same elements as I do for a despacho for the Pachamama, but I bundle them into a piece of paper, tied with a string, that I then place in a fire. As I rarely make a fire I don’t make this despacho very often.

OK, that’s it, that is what I do. Ayni. Very simple. If you would like further information on making despachos I would like to refer you to Joan Wilcox’s book. I may write further about despachos in this blog.

I have made the point repeatedly in these posts, particularly when discussing some meditation or another, that I believe the essence of the Andean approach is our relationship with Nature and the Cosmos. The various beneficial results of the meditations, including personal and interpersonal transformations, are but byproducts of the beauty and actualization of this relationship. It is a relationship that is not even seen as possible in the assumptions of Western culture. But we don’t have the only set of assumptions on this planet.

For the past summer I have meditated a lot outdoors, and I have gotten a lot from the meditations, and I’ve given many despachos, and it is all ayni, all reciprocity, given with respect and love. I’ve changed, my experience of reality has changed, the reality around me has changed, all in subtle ways, but enough for my heart to sing a soft melody.

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Ayni

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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