Salka Wind Blog

Posts on the Andean Cosmovision

Category: Introduction (page 2 of 2)

Andean Cosmovision: The Basics

One overriding factor to take into account when contemplating the Andean Cosmovision (view of the basic nature of the Cosmos) is that it is fundamentally different than that of Western* culture. This means that we can’t simply force their ideas into our own conceptual categories. The temptation to do so, however, is strong and rather automatic for we are accustomed to making sense of new things by relating them to what we already know.

We in the West essentially have two ways of viewing the basic nature of reality; through the lens of science or through the lens of (Western) religion. While these two approaches have some important differences they both arose within our culture and were built upon the same philosophical foundation. The indigenous Andean culture, however, does not share that foundation. Neither science nor religion have a counterpart in the Andean Cosmovision, and what they have (for which we have no corresponding terms) has no counterpart in our Cosmovision (or we would have corresponding terms).

Imagine, if you will, a view of reality that was not influenced by the Bible (where God as the creator stands outside of the creation and who made humans, alone of all the species, in His own image). It was not influenced by the classic Greek philosophers who emphasized the intellect as the highest form of knowledge, nor was it shaped by Descartes (the ‘Father of Modern Philosophy’) who proposed that reality consists of two separate realms, a transcendent realm of spirit and mind and a physical realm of mindless energy and matter. If we wish to explore the Andean Cosmovision we need to let go of our normal way of thinking about the world and approach it with room for it to be something brand new, we need to be a more accommodating (letting new information change how we view the world) and less assimilating (making new information fit how we already view the world).

The Andean Cosmovision is mystical in its essence. Mysticism is the belief that words (including beliefs) are, at best, signposts or blueprints for how to connect directly with the sacred underlying nature of reality, and that it is that connection with the Sacred–not the words or beliefs–that is of fundamental importance. The Andean Cosmovision is not primarily about their beliefs, it is about the experience of reality that becomes possible with these beliefs, it is about the relationship with Nature and with the Cosmos that becomes possible with these beliefs. Neighboring villages in Peru differ somewhat in what they believe, as do paqos (mystics/shamans) within the same village, but those differences are irrelevant to being a paqo, for what matters is what they can accomplish through those beliefs. What they can accomplish arises from the loving and mutually supportive relationship with Nature and the Cosmos that is made possible and nourished by their Cosmovision.

Here is my representation of the Andean Cosmovision. Imagine the Cosmos as consisting solely of filaments of energy organized into a tremendous three dimensional web. Where the filaments come together to form a bundle or a node is what we experience as an object. You are such a node, as am I, as is my coffee mug sitting here by my keyboard as I type. There are some important consequences of this world-view:

  1. Everything in the universe is part of this web of filaments and so ultimately everything in the universe is connected to everything else. This means that a flow of information or energy or influence can exist between ourselves and anything else, including other people, the stars, the river, the wind, and the rest of the Cosmos.
  2. While these bundles of filaments, these nodes in the web of filaments, are distinct from each other they are really inseparable parts of the larger, unified whole that is the Cosmos. Perceiving the world as consisting of isolated objects and experiencing our consciousness as limited to just our own being is but one way of approaching the Cosmos, the way most supported by our Western Cosmovision. The ability to actually experience the Cosmos as an undifferentiated whole is a defining goal of every mystical approach of which I am familiar, including that of the Andean Cosmovision.
  3. While the nodes that constitute humans may differ in the way the are organized from the nodes that make up a stone or a tree, we are all just bundles of filaments of energy and the differences between us is less in the Andean perspective than in the perspective of Western culture (where the gap between being a stone and being human is immense indeed). The diminishing of the difference between types of objects in the Andean Cosmovision is tied at least partially to their view that everything is conscious.

In the Andean Cosmovision consciousness is an inherent attribute of the filaments, rather than being a byproduct of an advanced nervous system . The idea that stars, trees, and even stones are conscious is so far from how my discipline of psychology views consciousness as to make the idea seem ludicrous from that perspective. Consciousness, however, from the perspective of the intellect, is and must remain the ultimate mystery of the universe, for consciousness, while it can be experienced, cannot be understood. The intellect trying to understand consciousness is like a knife trying to cut its own edge. Consciousness needs to be separated from all of our concepts about it, including what we think about thinking and about being self-aware and so on. Rather than consciousness being something of dubious reality because it is so unapproachable intellectually, it is instead the most real thing in the universe, for consciousness is that out of which our ability to think emerges. But I digress.

Of all the nodes of filaments in our neighborhood of the Cosmos perhaps the most important one is the Pachamama, the great bundle of filaments, the incredible spiritual Being, who is our Cosmic mother the planet earth. While I call the Pachamama a ‘spiritual’ being she is not a transcendent spirit residing in the large rock we call earth. Western culture essentially only gives us two options for viewing ‘spirit’, that spirit is transcendent (e.g. a soul that descends from heaven to inhabit the physical realm) or that ‘spirit’ does not exist. The Andes provide a third option, that the planet itself is a great spiritual being, that the sacred is not separate from the filaments but is immanent in them. The Pachamama is not the great spiritual being who resides in the earth, she is the great spiritual being who is the earth.

Other important Beings (nodes in the web of filaments) include the Apus. The Apus are the great beings who are the majestic mountain peaks. While the Apus are physically part of the Pachamama they are also Beings themselves. This is a common feature of the Andean Cosmovision. The Cosmos is one tremendous web of filaments but it does have places where the filaments come together to form a node. The Pachamama is but a node in the whole web, yet she is herself; the Apus are but part of the node that is the Pachamama but they are themselves as well; a cultivated field (called a ‘chakra’) is but part of the Pachamama, but before planting the field the villagers communicate with and make offerings of gratitude to the chakra (the daughter of the Pachamama) as well as to the Pachamama herself.

The further we go into details about the Andean Cosmovision the more variations we will find across individuals, villages, and regions of the Andes. The version I have given is my personal, inevitably Western-flavored, account but I have found that it provides good support for my exploration of this Cosmovision and I offer it to you in the hope that it may serve you as well. Before drawing to a close I want to emphasize again that the beliefs themselves are of little importance, what is important is the loving and mutually supportive relationship with Nature and the Cosmos that becomes possible within this Cosmovision, within this relationship some beautiful and magical things can occur that cannot be understood by the intellect.

The Andean Cosmovision opens us up to a whole new way of understanding reality, a whole new realm for us to explore. This blog is essentially a guidebook based upon my experiences. Treat it as you would any guidebook, understanding that while it is meant to contain useful information that my tastes, evaluations, and interests may differ in some cases from your own, and that a guidebook is no substitute for actually going there.

*The distinction of Western (Occidental) vs. Eastern (Oriental) philosophy doesn’t really make sense in this context. I need, however, a term to refer to the view of reality that arose in Europe and that served as the foundation of modern, industrial, technological society. For simplicity of expression I simply call it ‘Western’ society.


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Paqos: Shamans or Mystics?

Paqo:  Shaman or Mystic?

My work in the Peru has been with the paqos who live in the high Andes. The term “paqo” (sometimes spelled “paq’o”) does not have an exact equivalent in our culture, some people translate it as “shaman” and others as “mystic”.  It is not a particularly great choice, it is like trying to describe a bear to someone who has never seen one and having to choose between saying that it is somewhat like a large cat, or that it is somewhat like a large dog.

Photo of a Siberian Shaman

A Siberian Shaman : Smithsonian

The word  “shaman” comes from an indigenous culture of Siberia where it refers to people who have special powers and a correspondingly special role in their society.  The term has since been adopted by our culture and applied to people with similar roles and powers in cultures across the globe.  While this has diluted the meaning of the term somewhat still there are basic elements to being a shaman.  Shamans typically enter into altered states of consciousness through the use of  psychoactive plants, drumming, or chanting.  While in these states they may journey into spirit realms not normally accessible in everyday life, and there they gather needed information or take actions to heal people whose afflictions have their root in these spirit realms.   The role of the shaman in society centers around their ability to perform these special actions.

Mystics, on the other hand, are those who seek to know, through direct experience, the essential nature of the Cosmos.  Thoughts, concepts, and to some degree perception, are interpretations of reality, not reality itself.  The experience, for example, that we are separate entities moving through time is a product of our mind, it is our experience of reality after the mind has translated it into something that makes sense, it is not the essential ‘suchness’ of reality itself.  When we experience reality before our mind has had chance to interpret it we find an eternal, seamless whole, we find the Sacred.  This place of deep knowing is the goal of the mystic.  The various outcomes we may ask a shaman to accomplish may no longer be of importance once we take a stance beyond our mind-based ego and its needs, thus a possible distinction between a shaman and a mystic is that of power versus wisdom.

Andean Paqos

Andean Paqos : Photo by Elaine Nichols

Paqos have some of the attributes of both shamans and mystics. The paqos are mystics in that they nourish an interactive and mutually supportive relationship with the rest of the Cosmos, it is a relationship that is only possible through the direct, mystical, experience of the interconnectedness of all things.  While it is this relationship that is paramount, the relationship does make it possible to ask favors from the Apus (the great spiritual beings who are the majestic mountain peaks) and from the Pachamama (the great spiritual being who is our mother earth) as well as others, and it allows for the manipulation of the energy that underlies all existence.

Paqos differ from traditional mystics, however, for mystics tend to be solitary figures who may have found it necessary to withdraw from society to pursue their path.  To be a paqo is to be of service, both to the great beings of Nature and the Cosmos and to the community.  This service is always performed within the context of ayni, the Andean principle of reciprocity, where giving is  balanced by receiving , and receiving is balance by giving.

Like shamans, the paqos have abilities that fall outside the ken of our culture’s conceptions of reality.  These abilities, however, are not ‘powers’, they involve neither controlling nature nor being controlled by nature (neither mastery nor servitude).  They stem instead from having an experiential understanding of the essential nature of reality and from nourishing a mutually supportive and loving relationship with the rest of the Cosmos.

Paqos are not exactly shamans or mystics, or they are both.  If forced to choose (to avoid long explanations) I usually go with ‘mystic’, and thus I label what I am studying as ‘Andean Mysticism’ rather than ‘Andean Shamanism’.  Few people would know what I meant if I called it ‘Andean Paqoism’ and I am reluctant to be held responsible for introducing a term like ‘paqoism’ into our vocabulary.

There is one thing I would like to add before bringing this to a close.  One of the more engaging and fulfilling aspects of studying a new culture comes from entering a world unlike the one with which I am familiar.  If I insist (consciously or unconsciously) on fitting what I experience into the categories I have learned from my culture (e.g. categorizing paqos as either mystics or shamans) then I miss seeing what is really fresh and new about the culture, and instead of looking into a fascinating new world I end up simply seeing  a reflection of my own.  This is something that has arisen over and over again for me, finding that I have interpreted something about the Andean culture in terms of my own culture’s view of the world and have subsequently missed something of great interest and  beauty.  In what I write in this site I will try to help you learn from my mistakes.

The photo of the Andean paqos by Elaine Nichols is included with her permission.  I scanned it in from the back of my copy of a 17 year old issue of the journal Shaman’s Drum.  Unfortunately it looks like it is from the cover of a 17 year old journal.  This is a metaphor of what it is like for me when I paraphrase in my writings one of the Andean paqos with whom I have worked (primarily Americo Yabar).  I want to share something beautiful they have said and I’m afraid that in doing so I’ll add some cracks and discolorations that may be mistakenly attributed to them rather than to me where it belongs.  Still, I think facing that risk is better than not sharing something beautiful at all.

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The Crazy Ape

We humans have all the technology and information we need to turn this planet into a garden of Eden, a planet abundant with a diversity of life, healthy, unpolluted, with little disease, no starvation, and no poverty. Sometimes in my despair over the state of the world I forget the very good news that we actually have the tools we need to create such a future. We also, however, have the choice to move toward a mass extinction of species, the destruction of all the beautiful places on the planet, a steady increase in pollution, famine, war, poverty, and misery. Why does our culture as a whole select the second choice? It seems such an incredibly stupid and crazy decision. The answer to the question, and the solution for changing our direction, I believe, lie in the assumptions that underlie our culture.

A culture, or an individual, can’t operate without having some assumptions about the basic nature of the way things are. Assumptions are interesting things, they are rarely brought up to the light of day to be examined because, well, they are assumed to be true. Every culture has a set of assumptions about the nature of reality, and that set of assumptions makes it possible for a culture to be really good at some things while at the same time making it hard for the culture to be good at other things.

My Western, industrial, culture has a set of assumptions about the nature of the Cosmos that makes us really good at inventing technology. Technology contributes so much to my life; the computer I’m typing on, my telephone, electric lights, hot water at the turn of a tap, a furnace to keep me comfortably warm, a refrigerator to keep my perishable food safely cool. The assumptions, however, that make us so good at technology also make it difficult for us to do certain other things well. We find if terribly difficult, for example, as a society to head toward a future of greater beauty and health and harmony with the rest of life on this planet.

The default setting in our society–what we need to pay attention to and what we need to do to get by in our daily lives–separates us from our connection to the rest of nature, and leads us to engage in behaviors that are, largely out of our sight, killing our planet. And, time is running out for us to change our ways. It is as if we are sitting in the backseat of a car playing with (and fighting over) our toys while the car speeds towards a cliff. When we shoot off the edge of that cliff it will be too late to do anything about it, and we will take much of what is beautiful in this world with us.

The traditional Andean culture has a different set of assumptions about the nature of reality. These assumptions provide the foundation for a mutually supportive relationship with nature, a relationship that is difficult to conceive, let alone attain, with the assumptions of my culture. While certainly not conflict free, they are as highly developed at living in harmony with the Cosmos as we are at making computers and space probes. I have stood in cultivated land in the Andes that has been farmed for hundreds, perhaps thousands, of years and they feel as natural and undiminished by human activity as the National Parks in my country (the United States). The default setting for that way of being in the world–what they pay attention to and what they need to do to get by in their daily lives–reinforces their experience of being connected with Nature and the rest of the Cosmos. On the other hand, I doubt that their culture–had its development not been destroyed by the Spanish conquistadors–would have ever gotten around to inventing the internal combustion engine.

My culture has the knowledge and technology we need to head for a future of great beauty. We apparently, however, lack the heart to do it. The Andean culture, and I suspect many other intact indigenous cultures on this planet, have the heart. For a future of beauty to be possible I believe we need to bring the two together. This Salka Wind website is my effort to help make this possible.

‘The Crazy Ape’ is the title of a book written by Albert Szent-Gyorgyi. I read it when I was a teenager. The book begins by asking a question similar to the one I begin with above (although he goes a different direction with it). That question…Why as a culture do we select a future of pollution, war, poverty, and pollution when we have the means to create a future of great beauty?….has stayed with me over the years as being one of the great questions of our time.

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Welcome (start here)

Oakley Gordon, Ph.D.

Oakley Gordon, Ph.D.

Hi, welcome to the Salka Wind Blog.

Salka is a Quechua (the language of the Andes) term for “undomesticated energy”.  Salka is like a wind that blows through consensus reality from beyond, bringing us into contact with the great mystery and beauty of existence.  It is a fundamental aspect of the Andean Cosmovision.

The Andean Cosmovision is a way of perceiving and interacting with reality that is found in the indigenous culture of the high Andes. It is fundamentally different than the Western worldview. This Cosmovision is not a set of concepts or beliefs. It cannot be described or encompassed by words. It can, however, be experienced and it can be explored. This exploration is carried out through meditations which serve as portals for exploring new facets of ourselves and the Cosmos. These meditations also nourish a more loving and mutually-supportive relationship between ourselves and nature. Within this relationship we begin to blossom into the essence of who we each uniquely are.

For the past 22 years I have been exploring the Andean Cosmovision under the tutelage of my friend and mentor don Américo Yábar of Peru and Gayle  Yábar .  In my trips to Peru don  Américo has also arranged for me to work with numerous other indigenous paq’os (Andean mystics/shamans) and healers in Peru. I have shared with my culture what I have learned through papers and workshops at regional and international academic conferences (I am a professor of psychology). I have also written a some articles and have taught several hundred Andean (salka) meditation classes and workshops.  After many years of studying, writing, and teaching I finally felt prepared to write a book about the Andean Cosmovision.  I created this blog as a place where I could share rough drafts of the material that would eventually become my book.

My book has been published and I love it.  For more information on the book please see The Andean Cosmovision: A Path for Exploring Profound Aspects of Ourselves, Nature and the Cosmos.  I have decided to keep the rough drafts of the chapters available on this blog.  The book is better; I selected the best chapters for inclusion, rewrote them, added some more chapters, and put them in an order that makes (poetic) sense to me, but it is  important to me that this information remains available for free on the blog.  I also use this blog for other reasons, mainly to nourish the spread of salka on this planet.  I have started to post material that may be included in a second book.

So where to begin?  I have several suggestions.  As I write the posts I select what to write essentially based upon what I feel I can write at that time.  They are not in any logical order, although they may be in an intuitive order.  Some of the later posts assume you have read some of the earlier posts.  Here are some options:

  1. Start at the next post and just keep going forward through time.  If there is a post you are not interested in then skip it and read the next one.  Each post, including this one, has a “next post” link at the bottom so you can start here and work your way through them all.
  2. Start with the posts that are in the “Introduction” category.  The categories are listed in the menu on the right side of each post.  When you click on the category if shows you all of the posts that fall within the category.
  3. I have recently written a Table of Contents where I have organized the posts into topics.  You can use that to play around with what to read.  Within each topic the posts are listed in chronological order, so when visit a topic read the first post you haven’t read yet.  The Table of Contents is also availablein the menu that is  on the right side of each page.
  4. Sorry to plug my book again, but the book presents the information in an order that makes (artistic) sense to me.

For more information about Salka Wind, the origin of my work, recommended readings, links to interesting sites, longer articles I have written, and so on, please visit my Salka Wind Web Site.

I hope that this blog serves you well as a guide for exploring the Andean Cosmovision.


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