The chaskas—stars. The apus—mountain spirits. The ñust’as—female spirits of rivers, lakes, and caves. Andean practice is rooted in developing ayni relationships with others, including the beings of the spirit world and nature. Three of the most elemental relationships you want to establish are with your guiding star, itu, and paqarina. Over the years, I have not been able to amass a lot of information about this aspect of the path, but what I have been able to learn is sufficient for our practice as paqos. So if you have not yet met and opened a dialogue with these three most personal and intimate tutelary spirits, I invite you to do so now.
The Guiding Star
Back in the 1990’s, when I was working in Peru just about every year, I remember hearing about the guiding star for the first time. I cannot remember the paqo’s name, but he was an alto mesayoq who explained that we each have a guiding star and if we can discover which one it is, then we can read our destiny through it. Over the years, I have inquired about the guiding star, but I have not received much in the way of details. Mostly what I learned is that we don’t have to “discover” our star, we choose it.
Most of us at one time or another have gazed upon the starry skies and found ourselves drawn to a particular star. That attraction is enough to claim that star as your guiding star. Today, having done the lloq’e training—the left-side work of don Melchor Desa, as taught by Juan Nuñez del Prado and his son Ivan—I know that the Andean tradition works very much from choice. In the lloq’e training, you work with eight helper spirits. They don’t choose you, you choose them. With one exception, the process is the same with your guiding star. There is no magic to it, except the magical pull of connection you feel with one particular star. Don’t discount that attraction. Introduce yourself and invite the being of that star to be your guiding spirit. Then open a dialogue over time.
Long ago I heard another a paqo, perhaps it was don Manuel Q’espi, describe his guiding star as his “luck.” That makes sense considering some of the more literal translations of the word “sami,” which in the tradition refers to refined living energy. Among its meanings is “nectar,” with the light living energy being the nectar of the universe. But sami has other meanings, including “fortune” and “luck.” So it makes sense that a guiding star, which is made of pure sami, would also be your luck or good fortune.
The renowned master don Benito Qoriwaman had a guiding star. In fact, he worked with it regularly, using a dark dish filled with water. He would stare into the water, which reflected the starry heavens, to work with his guiding star, in a type of scrying. I have no idea why he didn’t work directly with his star—he may well have—but scrying is an ancient practice and I find it interesting that it was used in the Andes, at least by this one paqo.
Elizabeth Jenkins, who was one of Juan Nuñez del Prado’s first students, describes an Andean belief that says our spirits enter the earth plane through a cosmic doorway—a star. That star remains as our guiding star, connected to us always. It is the doorway through which we will one day return to our celestial home. I haven’t heard that from any paqos directly, but it sounds compatible with other aspects of the guiding star that I have heard firsthand.
Interestingly, the term “guiding star” is also metaphoric. It can refer to an apu. In this case, however, the apu usually chooses you, instead of you choosing it. Juan tells of a time he spent the night at the summit of Apu Manuel Pinta, and during the night he unexpectedly heard the apu speak to him. When he told don Benito about this, the master declared, “Apu Manuel Pinta is your guiding star.”
The Itu and Paqarina
The itu and paqarina are spirit beings connected to your place of birth, most commonly by being associated with prominent natural formations, such as a mountain or river.
The itu is the male energetic spirit of the natural formation closest to the place where you were born. The paqarina is the female equivalent. In the Andes, the understanding is that at the moment of your birth, you not only have two human parents but also two energetic parents: your itu and paqarina. As reference points for your entry into the material world as a human being, they become your guardian and tutelary spirits. They remain with you for life. In this sense, they also serve as forms of guiding stars.
In the Andes, the itu usually is a mountain or large hill (although not all apus are considered male; examples are Apu Veronica and Apu Mama Simone). The paqarina is usually a body of water, river or a cave. However, here again there are exceptions. Rivers may not always be female. The Urubamba/Vilconta river is, according to its ancient name, called the Willkamayu (sacred river or river of black light) in Quechua and the Willkanuta in Aymara, which means “house of the sun.” The sun, or Inti, is a male spirit being. As you can see, things can get a bit complex.
Generally, however, in the Andes it is relatively easily to identify the male and female guardian spirits of your birth. If you are Andean, there is always going to be a mountain nearby! But what about the rest of us? What about someone born on a flat savannah of Africa or plains of the mid-western United States? What about someone born in the middle of a bustling modern city, where everything is asphalt and skyscrapers?
Obviously, we have to expand our ideas of what an itu and paqarina are. But that is not a problem, because everything in the material world has a poq’po (energy bubble) and can be thought of as an energy being—including buildings. This means the hospital building in which you were born could be your itu! I admit that doesn’t sit well with a lot of people, especially those who are inspired by nature. But that’s part of our work. If everything is an energy being, then the hospital in which you were born is more probably your itu than is a mountain this is 100 miles away.
Speaking to this point, I remember watching a video of author and teacher John Perkins relating a story about a paqo he brought to New York City. The paqo went up to a huge skyscraper apartment building, rested his hands on it and put his ear to the bricks, as if he were listening to it. He reported that the spirit being of the building was lonely. He seemed to be indicating that the people who lived in that building did not think about it, care for it, or consider it a being. He seemed appalled at the state of our ignorance that buildings are beings and that we need to have relationships with these beings.
Because we are more comfortable identifying natural formations as housing our spirit guardians, it can be a stretch to admit otherwise and confusing to idntify our own guardian spirits. Some of my students, especially those born in the Midwest, have no point of reference, coming as they do from flat, featureless plains. Even I have had difficulty. I was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts. There are no mountains close by. The closest hills are about 30 miles away, and they barely qualify as hills. So I have no idea what my itu is. My paqarina obviously is the Charles River. But, wait! Is this river male or female? Rivers are usually female spirits, but this river has a male name and local identity. If male, it would be my itu! And if it is my itu, then my paqarina would have to be the Atlantic Ocean—and that felt like a stretch.
To try to clarify this dilemma, I talked with Juan when I saw him recently in Peru. He, as usual, got right to the point. He said that being so hung up on the right or wrong of things, of compartmentalizing things so rigidly, is third-level thinking. We need to be fourth-level about our guiding stars, itu and paqarina.
What does that mean? It means to get past categorization and labels and establish an ayni relationship with your broader place of origin. He used the term “paqarina” as all-encompassing, getting beyond labels of male or female and using it to refer to the spirit of the general place of your birth. He explained that this place is the earthly-energetic womb from which you emerged. “Don’t complicate things,” he counseled. “Just connect with your place of origin. That is your paqarina. That is your guiding spirit.”
That advice settled the issue for me. Instead of two guiding spirits (an itu and paqarina), I accepted that the Charles River is my “womb” place. I no longer concern myself with whether it is literally a male or female spirit; it is simply the spirit guardian of my birth with no labels attached. That’s the fourth-level approach. I no longer worry about finding another spirit being to form a male and female yanantin pair. This one is enough. It is my earthly (kaypacha) guiding star.
For those of you who can’t easily identify your itu and paqarina, resolve to take a fourth-level approach and identify with the general landscape of your birth. And remember, that may be the city in which you were born or even the hospital building! They have energy bubbles and are energy beings in their own right.
You also don’t have to be near your place of birth to open this relationship. You can send a seqe (cord of energy) to it to work with it from wherever you now live.
One final point. Elizabeth Jenkins has written that don Humberto Sonqo has said that to be healer one must know and work with your itu and paqarina. There is no reason to doubt him, although without knowing more from don Humberto himself or from other paqos I would consider this a personal opinion. Forgive what may seem like a judgment, but this is counsel that seems to me to be third-level thinking. If you have personal power (clear and efficient ayni), you can use your power for whatever purposes you want, including healing. You may indeed be a better healer with the help of your itu and/or paqarina, but you can be a healer without knowing them as well. Plenty of people in the helping professions prove that point.
That said, working with your guiding spirits in all their manifestations is part of playing in the field of the living energy. Your celestial guiding star and your earth-based spirit of origin are tutelary spirits, beings from whom you can learn, grow, evolve. If you don’t already work with them, I suggest that your New Year’s resolution be to make their acquaintance and open a dialogue with them. Make 2017 a year of deepening your work as a paqo by allowing your guiding spirits to help advise you during your one-of-a-kind earthwalk.