Paqos on a Pedestal

In my last post, I wrote about how paqos are beings of joy and service. That is true—in the ideal. But I might have left the impression that paqos are more loving, joyful, don-francisco-offering-despacho-compressed-lisa-sims-img_4160and self-aware than the rest of us. While many of them have mastered incredible energetic practices, they are human beings with failings, foibles, and personality conflicts. They are working the practices to become more self-aware and to further their own conscious evolution, just as we are. They are models for us, but, for the most part, we put them on a pedestal reluctantly. We respect and even honor them, but we would do well not to fall into a hero-worship mode.

I remember one of the first things my primary teacher, Juan Nuñez del Prado, told me when I was about to start the interviews for my book Masters of the Living Energy: The Mystical World of the Q’ero of Peru.”* He counseled, “Don’t sentimentalize the Indians.” At that time I couldn’t follow his advice. I was more or less in awe of the paqos I was interviewing. But over the years, as I got to spend time with them and know some of them a little better, I learned that they are just like the rest of us when it comes to their humanness. They can be outgoing, playful, talkative, even egoistic; they also can be shy, unsure of themselves, embarrassed, jealous, acquisitive, angry, even a bit vindictive.

Most of the paqos I worked with have passed on, and some of their teachers I only knew through reputation and stories told to me by Juan Nuñez del Prado or others. To highlight my point that the paqos are very much like all of us, I share some anecdotes about paqos from both my own experience and from reliable sources.

One of the most surprising tidbits of information I learned from Juan is that the late New don manuel at Q'olloritidon Manuel Q’espi, who was once the kuraq akulleq of Q’ero, was actually booted out of paqo school when he was  a young man! High in the mountains where the Chua Chua and Totorani rivers meet, there was a paqo school that ran every year for the month of August. The year Juan attended was the same year don Manuel attended. The headmaster was the famous Q’ero master don Andres Espinosa. Apparently don Manuel and don Andres had a falling out and don Andres kicked don Manuel out of the school!

I did not meet don Manuel until years later, and whenever I was with him he was always pleasant, smiling, and happy. That is, until he began his despacho ceremonies—then he became all business. I sometimes found it trying to do a despacho with him, as more often than not the ceremony lasted for hours and, frankly, it was hard to stay focused. In fact, once, so I have been told, don Manuel, having had a bit too much pisco, actually fell asleep while leading a group despacho ceremony! No problem. The others carried on, and when don Manuel woke up, he picked up as if nothing had happened.

Most of the paqos we knew (and others I know today) are friendly and quick to offer their knowledge if asked. But don Andres Espinosa was not known as overly approachable. In fact, he had a reputation for being ornery. When Juan first met him, he was terse and dismissive. The word “taskmaster” comes to mind when I remember the stories I have heard of don Andres. Tough, exacting, even demanding are other words that come to mind. Even though the stories about him are intimidating, I wish I had had the chance to meet him. He was a master chunpi paqo, the only one I ever heard about. Thankfully, we have his teachings.

In contrast, don Benito Qoriwaman, another great master of the last generation, was as magnanimous as they come. But even he was decidedly human. Juan tells how when don Benito had had enough of dealing with the townspeople, the clients at his healing center, his wife and kids, and his apprentices, he would just leave. He literally would take off for days or longer, telling no one where he was going or when he would return.

Mariano close up 1 compressedOf all the paqos I knew personally, I spent the most time with don Mariano Apasa Marchaqa, which doesn’t mean I got to know him well, as most of the time he was simply inscrutable. It was impossible to read his face, and thus I was usually left in the dark about what he might be feeling. Overall, his demeanor was dignified but a bit stand-offish. He wasn’t someone you approached spontaneously, giving a big hug. Even though his face Don Mariano Apasa Marchaqausually was a blank slate, every so often he would break into a smile and, to use a cliché, the room would light up. He also had an oblique sense of humor. I remember during the interviews for my book he looked up at one point and said, with seriousness and great humility, something to the effect of: “If I had known that one day I would be here talking to you, I would have listened better to my father and grandfather when I was a child. I wasn’t interested then. Their stories and teachings went in one ear and out the other.”

Many of the paqos of the last generation were very unsure of themselves when they were among mestizos in Cuzco because the norms of the culture differed so much from their everyday lives in their mountain villages. That’s entirely understandable, and it in no way detracts from them. But it was hard to witness their discomfort sometimes. I remember being at Juan Nuñez del Prado’s house one day for lunch when three Q’ero showed up. Juan’s wife, Lida, invited them to join us. They put their bundles down, came in, and sat at the table with us. If you could have seenaugustin-pauqar-flores-brothers-book-interview-1996 their faces and body language! They were so unsure of themselves, exuding nervousness as Lida laid out plates and cutlery. They watched carefully as we used knives and forks, and then they, clumsily, tried to use them. My heart went out to them. I wished they had had the confidence to just eat with their fingers, so they could really enjoy the meal. None of us would have cared. (I was able to commiserate with their unease because I had felt it many times myself when with the paqos, especially the few times I was in the Q’ero villages. I didn’t know the proper way to do things or what was expected of me.) I have to laugh at something that happened when the lunch was over. One of the Q’ero, I think it was don Julian Pauqar Flores, got up, opened the screen door to the back covered patio/garage area, and stepped out to relieve himself in full view of the rest of us. He didn’t appear tentative at all when it came to that aspect of his comfort!

Don Juanj Pauqar Espinosa takes a coca chewing tree climbing break during interviews compressedThe most playful paqos I ever met were the youngest ones—don Juan Pauqar Espinosa and don Augustine Pauqar Qapac. Don Juan has passed on, but he was as mischievous as a six-year-old, always ready to play and quick with a joke (which, because of translation, I mostly missed at the moment and had to play catch up later). Don Augustine appeared to be shy, but what a prankster he was. I understand from people who know him today that he is much less playful. Maybe that’s what age does to you! But when he was a young man and I was interviewing him, he would slip words like “breast” and “vagina” into our mutual Quechua-English Don Augustin making kintus for depacho San Francisco Peaks Hopi Trip Arizona compressedlanguage lessons. It cracked him up as we repeated the words before the translation was given and we knew what they meant. Both don Juan and don Augustine were also game for adventure and to learn anything new. There was a foosball table in the courtyard of the place we stayed in Urubamba during the book interviews, and after a little instruction, they played game after game. And they were wildly competitive with each other!

One thing I was surprised about back then (the 1990s) was that despite their very real and well-deserved reputation as the masters of the sacred tradition, the Q’ero I interviewed had lost a lot of the practices. They did not know hucha mikhuy and there was no chunpi paqo in Q’ero (at least not one openly practicing). When they heard about hucha mikhuy, they wanted us to teach them. Despite having lost knowledge of some of the practices common to the older paqos, these young paqos followed in their teachers’ and ancestors’ footsteps in terms of their ayni. Participating in ayni ceremonies, whether a despacho or connecting with an apu, was a solemn, sacred, and deeply moving experience. Their munay infused all of their ayni practices.

While today I know only a few of the younger paqos who now travel the world teaching and sharing the tradition, I am aware that there are more than a few who New group of young Q'ero inside compressedhave been heavily influenced by outsiders and by practices from other traditions. Some of them are less than particular about explaining what is authentically Andean and what is not. That’s all well and good depending on your preferences. I, for one, prefer to be educated about what is part of the tradition and what comes from beyond it, because as Juan has stressed (based on the teachings from his masters, especially don Benito Qoriwaman, who was not Q’ero), in order to be a fourth-level paqo, you must know your lineage, and that includes the lineage of the practices.

The point of this post is that while we respect and honor the paqos, we also are not starry-eyed. While we are open to receiving counsel and teachings, we also keep our clarity of discernment. We reserve judgment, but we trust our instincts if things don’t feel right. We aren’t afraid to ask questions—and to expect honest and clear answers. Bottom line is that most paqos are human beings walking a sacred path, not masters with infallible knowledge. Juan Pauqar Espinosa said during the interviews, ‘We are all human beings, only our clothes are different.” That is the crux of the issue, because to wear blinders when it comes to the paqos—putting them on a pedestal as if they are infallible—is to miss the teaching of the tradition, which is to “see reality as it really is.” That includes the reality of the humanness of your teachers.

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Joy and Service as a Paqo

I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve
the world and a desire to enjoy the world.
This makes it hard to plan the day.
—E. B. White

Paqos have two predispositions that direct them on their personal path: they are beings of joy and beings of service. These two approaches to life are evident in all the major teachings (as I have been taught them through the lineage of which I am a part).

E.B. White says he is “torn” between these two desires, perhaps believing that service toward the improvement of self or others or the world is difficult, and thus not inherently enjoyable. He may see enjoyment as disengaging, taking a rest, indulging the self, even being a bit slothful. At the very least, he sees it in opposition to the desire to be of service.

But, for several reasons, paqos know these impulses are not at odds. First, and most fundamentally, there need be no conflict because one is a way of being (interior self, cultivating joyfulness) and the other is a way of action (exteriorization of self, taking action). While both are desires, each expresses itself through a different prism of the self. Enjoyment, as I said, is feeling whereas improving something is doing.

Secondly, in the Andes, paqos understand that these desires can be seen as yanantin—different energies that are complementary. From this perspective, paqos use personal power (intention and will) to integrate the two complementary energies into a japu, the perfectly harmonized relationship of two different things. Thus, joy and effort/action flow in tandem to inform our being until they reach integration within as a new impulse—that of khuyay, the passionate engagement of life.

The underpinning of authentic service is joy. One of the pitfalls in our emotional life is to mistake happiness for joy. Happiness is an emotion, whereas joy is a feeling. I make a distinction between the two. An emotion is transitory and dependent on external circumstances. You’re happy one moment and not so happy the next. Happiness (or unhappiness) is grounded in the flux of your thoughts, perceptions, judgments, and the like. It is also rooted in the environment and other external conditions. You’re happy when there is wind to fly your kite and unhappy when that same wind blows away the blanket and plates of your picnic.

In contrast, joy is a state of awareness and being that is immune to what is happening in your life. It emerges unbidden from the heart, from the soul, from the life source of your being. The English word “joy” arises from the root “to rejoice.” Whereas the root meaning of “happy” relates to luck, fortune, and chance. The difference in these root meanings speaks volumes.

When happiness turns to pain, disappointment, or some other emotion, your workac30f30e-d2a5-456a-a467-f4e1a78dfbf7 as a paqo is to become conscious of your state of mind and being, and then to take action to go beyond circumstance and recover your awareness of joy. You may still not like what is happening to you, but by recovering joy you will be able to put circumstance into perspective. We all experience pain and heavy emotions, but we can, as mythologist Joseph Campbell said, “Find a place inside where’s there joy, and the joy will burn out the pain.” And as musician Carlos Santana wisely said, “If you carry joy in your heart you can heal any moment.”

You don’t deny your emotions, but you shift perspective to realize that emotions are transitory and subject to your will. If you recover some kernel of joy that lives inside you, acknowledge it, expand it, and let it wash over you like a healing balm, you help shift from emotions (which live in your qosqo/belly area) and move that energy up to your sonqo (heart), where feelings (the Platonic virtues) energetically reside.

You can’t fake joy, but you can fake service. You can no doubt remember many instances when you undertook a task with a smiling face and a grumbling mind. Your inner and outer states were in conflict. Your action and state of being were at odds. That’s normal. But as part of your conscious evolution, you would benefit from cultivating awareness of these miscues in your being. As a paqo, you want to “see reality as it really is,” and that starts with the self and your personal state of being. If you are conscious that you are doing something in service but don’t really want to be doing it, that’s better than being unconscious to the rift within. Better still is to become aware of the rift and then go within to find a kernel of joy and expand it to inform your action.

Service is not all about doing for others. In fact, it starts with doing for the self. The more you love yourself, honor yourself, know yourself, the more authentic your drive to be a beneficial force in your family, at work, in your community, as part of a hand with keynational or global action. It’s become cliché to say that we can only give to others what we first give to ourselves. But that is a core truth.

Start by knowing yourself and what makes your joy blossom, and then translate that joy into action. On a worldly level, as the poet Rumi wrote, “Let the beauty of what you love be what you do.” One the level of the spirit, as poet William Wordsworth wrote, “With an eye made quiet by the power of harmony, and the deep power of joy, we see into the life of things.”

When you see into the life of things, you will discover how and where you can best serve both yourself and others in the most genuine and meaningful ways—and with joy. We can turn to an Indian poet and philosopher for illumination on how to overcome the perceptual dichotomy we started with in the E.B. White quotation. His is the wisdom of japu—the harmonization of complementary differences: “I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted and behold, service was joy.”

Working as a Paqo in Nature

Pachamama is the entire material cosmos, including the stars and planets. It is also Backpacking journey compressed AdobeStock_79141434the name given to the earth, although planet Earth has her own name, Mama Allpa. As part of our practice as paqos, we learn to pull sami from the cosmos to empower ourselves, but usually we don’t learn a lot of specifics about working out in nature. In this post, I will share some of the ways you can work with the beings of nature.

For the paqos of the Andes, and for many of the indigenous people of the Andes, nature is as conscious of them as they are of it. There are few things in daily life that occur without some connection to nature. Nature is both a challenge and a blessing.  The vagaries of the weather can threaten crops—and lives, especially those of the very young. Yet, because these people are still for the most part agrarian, life depends upon the bounty of nature. Nature provides not only material sustenance, but also spiritual sustenance through the practice of ayni (reciprocity).

Beyond the daily ayni cycle with nature, the people of the Andes, especially the paqos, interact with nature as a living entity. According to the mystical tradition, there are seven universal spirit beings, called the teqse apukuna. The word “apu” doesn’t only refer to a sacred mountain. In its meaning of “Lord” or “Superior One,” it refers to many kinds of spirit beings. The teqse apukuna are the Taytacha, Father God (usually as Jesus Christ); Mamacha, the Holy Mother (usually associated with Mother Mary); Mama Killa, Mother Moon; Tayta Inti, Father Sun; Tayta Wayra, Father Wind; Mama Allpa, Mother Earth; Mama Unu, Mother Water. You can see my post of December 2015, “Working with the Teqse Apukuna,” for more information about them and how to work with them. Here I want to move Llama standing at Machu Picchu overlook in Perubeyond the formal spirit beings and talk about interacting with nature in general.

Walking in nature can be an opportunity to practice as a paqo. Since everything in nature—except for humans—has no hucha and is comprised only of sami, the most obvious way to work in nature is to practice saminchakuy. But instead of taking sami from the cosmos in general, take it from something in the material world, such as a tree, a rock, a bush, or a cloud. Each will have a slightly different “flavor” of energy and bestow a slightly different quality of sami.

In addition to saminchakuy, you can practice generally “tasting” energy forms by throwing a seqe (energy cord) from your qosqo to touch the poq’po of a nature formation—again, a tree, bush, flower, bird, stone, cloud, and the like. “Tasting” is a metaphor for discerning the energy of that natural item. Each form of kawsay will have its own “flavor.” As you connect energetically, you may even find that the nature being has a story to tell, teaching to share, or insight to provide. However, working in this way is not about getting anything from that being. It’s more about developing your capacity to discern energies, connect energetically, share in the great web of being, and to practice ayni. Remember, a paqo seeks to master his or her interaction with the living universe, so the more skilled you are in discerning different kinds of energies, the more you can participate in the great ayni of Beingness.

Don’t forget to “taste” inorganic things as well. What does a fence taste like? A garden hose? A plastic bottle left by the side of the road? (Don’t forget to police up the litter as you walk in nature!) Since as a paqo you are learning to master your energy exchanges, it serves you to sample all the kinds of sami that are around you, especially those that are right in your own backyard or neighborhood.

You can also work with the mallkis, the sacred trees, which really is any tree. The mallkis connect us with our ancestors, so you can “commune” with a tree spirit andTrees compressed AdobeStock_23402790 “journey” back into your lineage. I had an amazing experience doing this is Peru during the Hatun Karpay Phaña. It doesn’t matter if you can verify what you see, feel, and come to know. The experience itself, if it is real enough, will convince you that the trees are doorways to your personal ancestry. And don’t forget that they might link you to the lineage of paqos as well.

The mallki, as the sacred tree, also is a teacher that connects you to four teqse apus, who are crucial to its own growth and survival: Mama Unu (Mother Water), Mama Allpa (Mother Earth), Tayta Wayra (Father Wind) and Tayta Inti (Father Sun). Although the mallkis have deep connections with these beings, trees essentially are “self-made” beings, because using these four powers they birth themselves, grow, and even regenerate themselves. If you meld your bubble with a mallki, that tree may lead you to deep connections with the four teqse apus through which you can empower yourself, helping you to also be a self-made being and furthering your conscious evolution.

Water as streams and lakes is always wonderful to experience, and as a paqo you know that water is a major eater of hucha. So whenever you are by water, you can do a deep release of heaviness from your energy body. But water also is sami, so you can be empowered by it as well. If you find a place where two streams meet and merge into one you are lucky! This is a chaupi, a meeting or integration point. (You can even consider one stream that splits into two and then reforms into a single stream as having a chaupi.) You can do many kinds of energy work here, including a Waterfall split compressed AdobeStock_88880199yanantin exchange, where you touch dissimilar energies within yourself and help move them toward a japu—a perfect integration. Maybe you will work with the male and female aspects of yourself or maybe with aspects of your life that are keeping you from well-being: perhaps seeking to turn fear into love, or to transform work that feels like drudgery into work that is joyful, or even to turn financial lack into prosperity. A chaupi is a good place to work any two energies that seem to be in conflict within you. Offer one aspect to one stream and the other to the other stream, then connect with the energy of transformation at the chaupi point where the two streams become one and use your intention to transform the energy of the yanantin into a japu. Then, as all paqos do, expect results in your life!

At cave entrances you can work with the ukhupacha, the lower world. (Caves are also usually considerd n’ustas, female energies, so you can do n’usta work at one as well, but I won’t go into that here.) Part of the work of a paqo is to do ayni to connect the three worlds. The upper world of the hanaqpacha is the realm of the spirit beings who know only ayni. This world, our human world, called the kaypacha, is a place of inconsistent ayni, as we sometimes act from ayni and sometimes do not. The lowerworld, the ukhupacha, is filled with beings who do not know ayni, and part of our work is to help empower them in their conscious evolution. The lower world is not a place of retribution. Quite the contrary. It is a place of regeneration. It is there that people go who need to learn ayni, and we can help them. So you can connect through the doorway of the cave into the ukhupacha and connect to Waskar Inka, a master who oversees the lower world. Send him sami to help him in his own regeneration and his work on behalf of the ukhupacharuna (lower-world beings). You can also send sami directly to the ukhupacharuna.

Entrance to dark cave in the rock, verticalThrough a cave, you can energetically connect to the spirit “totem” of the underworld, the anaconda/snake. And you can travel go back even further in time to touch the energy of the original Andean lower-world spirit totem, the frog. Ask them to work with you to regenerate yourself and help you consciously evolve.

There are dozens of additional ways to work in nature. Spend some time refining your three human powers with the help of teqse apus. Through Tayta Wayra, the wind, refine the energy of your yachay (intellect). Through Mama Allpa, the earth, work on your capacity for llank’ay (action in the world through the body).  With Tayta Inti, the sun, stoke the heat of your munay (love grounded in will). Work with the wind to get stuck things flowing in your life; work with the earth to ground you where you are unstable; work with the sun to help illuminate what you keep hidden from yourself. Really, the only limit to how you work with nature as a paqo is the scope of your own imagination and the sincerity of your intention.

The Importance of Your Ayllu

As you know, ayni—reciprocity—is at the foundation of Andean social and spiritual life. In both realms, it is, in essence, the practice of the golden rule: do unto others are you would have them do onto you. In the agrarian culture of the Andes, it entailed helping where help was needed, whether in the fields, in the market, or in the home. In the spiritual realm, it is making energetic interchanges with nature and the cosmos of living energy with as pure an intent as possible. In these respects and Women at Qerosothers, ayni is a driving force of social relationships in Andean culture and a force of evolutionary growth in the spiritual realms. Because of ayni, no one is ever alone. Nothing is unconnected.

Ayni is the foundation from which we can best understand and appreciate the concept of the ayllu. At its simplest, the ayllu is community. It is the interconnected web of social bonds and spiritual kinship that provides the foundation of life.  There is nothing more anomalous in the Andes than the loner, the solitary one, the hermit. Connection, reciprocity, community are necessary for living life both in the social and spiritual realms.

This focus on community is not only Andean. While we in westernized, first-world countries valorize the individual, more traditional and indigenous communities value groups, as do most spiritual traditions. Once the Buddha was awakened, he instructed followers to form sanghas, which were and are to this day communities of Buddhist practitioners. Christ formed the church (upon the rock of Peter), which provides community to religious adherents. While we tend to valorize and even sentimentalize the lone spiritual seeker, the guru meditating in the cave, the spiritual adept who no longer heeds the pull of the world, actually nothing is further from the “norms” of a spiritual life than being alone. Community and social relations are necessary to the well-being of human beings.

So an important question for those of you who are practicing the Andean spiritual arts and are on the path of the paqo is, “Do I have an ayllu?”

If you don’t have a community, then it is wise to begin to form one. If you already have one, what state is it in? How vibrant is it? Is it active or passive? Are you in only occasional contact? Do you get together only to do spiritual practices or are you able to rely on your ayllu members for everyday concerns?

Your ayllu can be a circle of friends, and perhaps even your family, but ideally it is not simply a collection of like-minded individuals. While there is immense power, and indeed comfort, to be found in a community of people who are alike (masintin), Group of Diverse Multiethnic People Teamworkas businessman and author Stephen Covey says, “Strength lies in differences, not in similarities” (yanantin). Diversity is the spice of life and breeds health in a true ayllu.

Your ayllu is not so much meant to “do,” but to “be there.” While you will indeed want to gather for specific activities, the strength of the ayllu lies in its very existence and the way its member trust in the connected web of your humanness. The ayllu measures its significance in ways both large and small, significant and seemingly insignificant. As paqos we aim to see reality as it really is. So, a community can have a grandiose spiritual vision (through our Inka Seeds recognizing our divinity and realizing our individual missions in this life) while at the same time acknowledging that we live in a profoundly disordered and often distressing human world.

Humanitarian Jean Varnier eloquently provides us with a distinction between a group (like your ceremonial group or your book club) and a true community (ayllu): “A community is only being created when its members accept that they are not going to achieve great things, that they are not going to be heroes, but simply live each day with new hope, like children, in wonderment as the sun rises and in thanksgiving as it sets. Community is only being created when they have recognized that the greatness of man is to accept his insignificance, his human condition and his earth, and to thank God for having put in a finite body the seeds of eternity which are visible in small and daily gestures of love and forgiveness. The beauty of man is in this fidelity to the wonder of each day.”

Once an ayllu has formed, it remains—it persists—because it becomes the very fabric of life. Although we have to adapt the traditional form of Andean ayllu to our own cultures, we would do well to consider the web of connections in our lives. Our fierce individualism has its merits, but ultimately “living the good life” is less about “me” and more about “we.” So take a moment to examine the breadth, depth, and strength—and the resilience—of your social relations. Are you a member of a lot of impermanent groups? Or do you have the support of an abiding ayllu?

Andean Mysticism or Andean Shamanism?

When I teach the Andean tradition through the lineage in which I was taught, I make don-martin-apaza-1-cropped-compressedit clear that what I am sharing is a mystical tradition rather than a shamanic one. I have a lot of experience with both mystical and shamanic practices, and as a former academic am rather a stickler for the historical context of such concepts, so this is not a trivial distinction to me. To my mind, if you are going to engage a tradition and its practices, you would want to know what it is you are doing, right?

So let me make the case that Andean practices are mystical, and not shamanic, by starting with generally accepted definitions of the concepts mystic/shaman and mysticism/shamanism.

The Cambridge English Dictionary definition of shaman is: “In particular religions, a person who is thought to have special powers to control and influence good and evil spirits, making it possible for them to discover the cause of illness, bad luck, etc.”  Merriam-Webster’s definition is: “A religion practiced by indigenous peoples of far northern Europe and Siberia that is characterized by belief in an unseen world of gods, demons, and ancestral spirits responsive only to the shamans.”

What do some academics and authorities have to say about the meaning of shamanism or what a shaman is? Let’s look at a couple. Carlos Castaneda, an academic who was perhaps the most instrumental practitioner and purveyor of Golden sun god and blue water goddes, fantasy imagination colorful paintingYaqui shamanism in American popular culture, taught that shamanism is the ability to enter, at will, “non-ordinary” states of reality.  Another academic, Roger Walsh, in his book The Spirit of Shamanism, writes, “Shamanism can be defined as a family of traditions whose practitioners focus on voluntarily entering altered states of consciousness in which they experience themselves or their spirit[s], traveling to other realms at will, and interacting with other entities in order to serve their community.”

Walsh makes an important point at the end of his statement: “to serve their community.” If you read the historical and academic literature, especially world authority Mircea Eliade, you will learn that no one calls themselves a shaman. It is a title conferred upon someone by the community in recognition of that person’s skills and talents. Shamans traditionally played multiple roles in their communities, acting as peacemaker and arbiter, psychologist and priest, intuitive and visionary, helper and healer. Their primary way of accessing information by which to carry out these roles were shamanic—that is, using altered states of consciousness or non-ordinary ways of accessing information and insight.

Depending on the culture, a shaman usually undertakes an arduous training to learn various ways to shift to a non-ordinary or altered state of consciousness: Totem altar compressed AdobeStock_26762344psychoactive substances, fasting, trance dancing, drumming, chanting or singing, and so on. Once in an non-ordinary state of consciousness, the shaman can shape-shift into non-human forms, travel inter-dimensional realms, meet beneficent spirit beings for counsel  or do battle with evil spirits, among other endeavors. Because he or she is always working on behalf of the community, the shaman undertakes this journeying to non-ordinary realms for a specific purpose: to divine where the best hunting is, to discern the cause of an illness, to predict when the rains will stop or start, and so on.

Of course there is so much more that could be said, but the points I have made provide a broad overview of what it means to be a shaman and what a shaman does.

Let’s now turn to the mystic and mysticism. The Cambridge English Dictionary definition of a mystic is: “A person who tries to communicate directly with God or other forces controlling the universe.” Merriam Webster’s says that the mystical means “having a spiritual meaning or reality that is neither apparent to the senses nor obvious to the intelligence. Involving or having the nature of an individual’s direct subjective communion with God or ultimate reality.” A mystic is, generally, speaking “a person who seeks by contemplation and self-surrender to obtain unity with or absorption into the Deity or the absolute, or who believes in the spiritual apprehension of truths that are beyond the intellect.”

Whereas shamans are able to enter non-ordinary reality at will and through specific practices, mystics generally do not use ceremonial or proscribed practices, instead seeking an immersion in and direct apprehension of nature. Generally speaking, a shaman is seeking to leap beyond the human world, whereas a mystic is immersing him- or herself in the natural world and by doing so sometimes is able to transcend Energy work at Tipon compressedto the world-within-the world. Generally, mystics are seeking a solitary and deeply personal experience and pursuit, although they may work with healing and on behalf of others. However, their practice, unlike the shaman’s, is largely invisible. They are “non-doing,” using practices such as focused attention, contemplation, and meditation, by which they may experience perceptions of oneness and of timelessness and infinity, loss of the boundaries of the self and integration with the “other” (be that a tree or God), ecstatic joy, and more. Well-known mystics include Rumi, Meister Echkart, and St. Teresa of Ávila.

I think you can see, from this discussion so far, that Andean practices are much more mystical in nature and form than they are shamanic. The core of the definition of a shaman is someone who can alter his or her state of consciousness at will or through a practice such as drumming or singing. Paqos are not altering their consciousness. Fran another despachoThey are working in “normal” states of awareness, albeit energetic ones. They don’t preform much ceremony (usually only the despacho), instead practicing ayni, which is energetic reciprocity with the living cosmos through the power of their intention. They are seeking conscious evolution for themselves and others. Can Andeans receive counsel from the “spirit realms”? Yes, but they receive that counsel through contemplation, through listening—through ayni, which is purely intentional and energetic. They don’t have to perform preparatory or elaborate ceremony or travel to non-ordinary realms to do that. And since the natural world is made only of sami, they never have to do battle with evil spirits.

One of the points of confusion, I think, is that the word “shaman” has entered the popular vocabulary and been co-opted by so many different groups with differing belief systems and practices that it has lost the distinction of definition it once had. I remember having a conversation with one scholar of shamanism, Timothy White, who was the founder and editor of Shaman’s Drum magazine. He was a stickler for terminology, and he insisted that modern practices in Western countries must be called “shamanistic” only. That is, they resemble certain aspects of the indigenous practices historically associated with shamanism. I think that is a wise distinction. When a word can mean anything you want it to, it is bled dry of any meaning at all. There is a world of difference between saying you are a shaman and saying that you practice shamanistic techniques. I don’t think I am splitting hairs here. . . .

Juan Nuñez del Prado, my primary teacher in the Andean tradition, says that his masters told him one the several things a fourth-level paqo must know is his or her Benito from Kathay Pelkey found online cropped 1lineage. There are shamanic and shamanistic practices in the traditions of the North Coast of Peru and the Amazonian regions, but there is little evidence there is in the Andean tradition (which means the tradition of the Andes mountains). Our lineage of paqos were, and still are, much more mystical than shamanic. And using these non-shamanic practices, they are able to perform all of the things a shaman can. Of course, you are free to call yourself and what you practice anything you want, but I hope that this discussion has at the very least provided some information by which you can better understand those of us who do make a distinction.