Befriending the Apus

As paqos, when we hear the word apu, many of us immediately think of the tutelary mountain spirits. But apu means much more than that.

The word itself is an appellation, meaning something like “Lord or Lady.” It also New cross at qolloritimeans “superior.” During the Inca Empire, it was an honorific title for those who governed the tawantinsuyu and for high-ranking members of the military. In the mystical vocabulary, it refers to any highly valorized spirit being. Therefore, an apu is not just a mountain, but any high-level sacred being, such as the teqse apukuna—the universal spirit beings. There is a hierarchy to these apukuna. For the universal spirit beings it is, from “lowest” to “highest,” Mama Unu, Mother Water; Mama Allpa, Mother Earth; Tayta Inti, Father Sun; Tayta Wayra, Father Wind; Mama Killa, Mother Moon; Mamacha, Holy Mother Mary; and Taytacha, Father Jesus Christ.

For the mountains as apus—which, like the teqse apukuna, can be either male or female—the order of hierarchy starts with the tutelary apus of towns or communities, the ayllu apus; these also relate, in the three worlds of Andean cosmovision, to the ukhupacha, or lower or interior world. Stepping up the hierarchy, next comes the apus of large towns, the llaqta apus, which connect with the kaypacha, this material world here on Earth. Finally, there are the apus of large regions, the suyu apus, which relate with the hanaqpacha, the upper or spiritual world. We can understand, also, that these three levels represent the first three Willkanust'alevels of consciousness.

Don Benito said that our lives are supported by both the kawsay pacha—the cosmos of living energy—and the apus. Everything we need for a good life, we receive from them. We honor them through the despacho ceremony, providing them sustenance through our energy and intentions as well as through the items we place in the despacho. The center of the despacho, where traditionally we place a shell and cross, is the integration point of all three worlds and levels of apus and represents what Juan Nuñez del Prado calls the “Holy Ones,” the teqse, or universal, apus and beings of the fourth level of consciousness.

Using Christian terminology and overlaying this belief structure on the traditional Andean structure, paqos call the Holy One the “Apu YaYa,” meaning the Apu Jesus Christ, who is the father of all the apus.

Camping at Q'ero village Chua Chua on our way to Q'ollorit'iNot all mountains are apus—inhabited by a spirit being. We know a little something about how apus go from being just a mountain to becoming an apu through the story of the great late paqo Manuel Pinta, who was the master of the master of don Benito Qoriwaman and don Melchor Desa. Their primary teacher was the renowned paqo don Julian Chhallayku, and his teacher was don Manuel Pinta. Don Maneul Pinta is now an apu!

The story as Juan Nuñez del Prado tells it is that upon the death of don Manuel Pinta, the people he served were so motivated to honor his service to them that they urged him (his spirit) to enter a nearby mountain, from which they could continue to receive his blessings and counsel. How do they know if he did? They worked with this potential apu, petitioning the apu when they had a need and waited to see if that need was met, if their questions were answered, if the counsel they sought was given. Apparently it was, and so they knew the great paqo had accepted their invitation and was now inhabiting the mountain (and still ministering to them). That’s how and why this mountain is the now the Apu Manuel Pinta. So, we know that an apu is created when a great paqo takes up residence in it after his or her physical death. No doubt there are other ways an apu comes into being, but we don’tAdmiring the view on the way to Q'ollorit'i have any other information about how that might occur.

Most groups in the Andes identify a specific mountain as their guiding apu. For the Q’ero, it is Apu Wamanripa. In the local Quechua dialect, the name for this mountain actually is Senecio, which refers to a genus of the daisy family but, more accurately in this case, comes from the Latin senecio, which means “old man.” Apu Wanamripa is the “wise old man” guiding the peoples of the region around Q’ero.

We are not Andeans, so does it make sense for us to connect with and even commune with apus of our area? Or even with mountains elsewhere, such as in Peru?

Absolutely. In terms of local mountains, you won’t know if the mountain you choose to connect with is an actual apu until you work with it and see if it responds. Remember, in the Andean tradition, when we work, we expect results! Getting results may mean that this is not just a mountain but an apu. Even if the mountain is not an apu, you can still work with it as a magnificent energy being that confers sami, as all things in nature are composed only of sami.

If you want to work with an apu, how do you open communication?

The traditional way is to offer a despacho and introduce yourself. Then you ask Fran another despachopermission to work with the apu and listen for an answer. It might not come right away, and could arrive in myriad ways, from a visual sign to in inner feeling. It is said that often an apu will answer you in your dreams.

How do you connect energetically with an apu (beyond the ayni of a despacho)? Use your poq’po (energy body) and intention. All Andean work is based on intention, as energy must follow intention. But you also use that intention to direct energy. So you can throw a seqe—a cord of energy from your poq’po, usually your qosqo or belly area—to the apu. I remember when I first met don Mariano Apasa Marchaqa, back in 1994, and he predicted that if I did my energy work I would, in his translated words, “one day bring the word of Q’ero to the world.” Talking with him the next day, through a translator, he told me to “throw [my] seqes up to the apus and I will meet you there and give you much information.” I can’t say that I ever felt that actually happened, but the many difficulties of arranging the Q’ero interviews back in 1996 were swiftly and easily overcome, and our interviews were incredibly productive. During those interviews don Mariano provided extensive information. So, perhaps the seqe we had established together in 1994 pulled us through the years to 1996 and the actual exchange in person that resulted in such a rich trove of information. In a similar way, you can throw your seqes to the apus and form a bond that might result over time in a relationship.

Another way I use my seqes with the apus is to establish a welcoming “hello” when I arrive in Cuzco. I usually take a moment to throw my seqes to the many surrounding apus to ask that they receive me, to request their permission to work well in the area, and to appeal for their blessings during my stay.joan-phukuy-with-qero-whistling-vessel-trip-cropped

You can start befriending an apu by doing something similar to a local mountain in your area, which may turn out to be an apu. Simply say “Hello,” as you would upon any introduction. Then open a conversation. Over time, if you hear from a specific mountain—an apu—then you can offer a despacho to acknowledge the new relationship. You can do the same over long distances, to mountains far from your home, across the state, nation, or the world.

Don’t forget you can do the same with any or all of the teqse apukuna—the universal spirit beings. Follow the same protocol. These are spirit beings—fourth level beings, and in the case of Apu Jesu Cristo, a sixth level being—so they will have wisdom to bestow.

Before you work with an apu, however, be aware that doing so is an act of ayni—reciprocity—so you have to be prepared for the possibility that the apu may make a request of you or may advise you to undertake a particular task. Always use your good judgment in determining anything an apu says to be sure it is not your unconscious or ego talking, but if it is the apu, be prepared to follow its counsel or fulfill its request.

So, are you ready to develop your own relationship with the apus and teqse apukuna? Here’s wishing you many new friends (and wise “masters”)!


Chunpis and Chakras

A common question people who are new to the Andean tradition have is whether the chunpis—the energetic belts of the poq’po (energy body)—are similar to the chakras. They are not. The misunderstanding arises for several reasons that I won’t go into here. But let’s take a look at the differences, acknowledging that both are complex subjects and I will provide only a cursory overview.

Tradition of Origin

 The concept of chakras is Eastern­—usually Hindu or Buddhist in origin.

The chunpis are Andean.

To call the chunpis “charkas” is to confuse two entirely different traditions, for as you will see below, there is little to no similarity between chunpis and chakras.

Energetic  Structure

Chakras are usually described as spinning or swirling vortices of light energy. The Silhouette of a monk meditating in a lotus positionword itself is Sanskrit for “wheel” or “disk.” Traditionally, there are seven of them, aligned along the spine from the root of the body  to the top of the head. They are centers where energy and matter meet, facilitating the flow of the life-force energy. The chakras are aligned with major nerve plexuses and organs of the body, and each is associated with a color and with various human emotional traits and states of consciousness, which we will discuss briefly later.

The chunpis are belts or bands of kawsay, the animating energy of the universe. This Quechua word literally means “belt,” and there are four belts, with a quasi fifth belt. The lower belt is at the trunk of the body, wrapping around the hips and between the legs. The three other chunpis are around the belly area, the chest area, and the throat area. The quasi fifth belt encompasses the two physical eyes and the seventh eye (called the third eye in other traditions) at the center of the forehead.

The chunpis are not wheels or disks. I remember once giving the karpay to weave the belts to a large group. A man who had been taught the karpay by another teacher and then coached by me was helping me. I overheard him say to the person he was working with something along the lines of: “Now see a brilliant red energy around your belly. See a brilliant spinning disk of red.” I had to stop him. The chunpis are not disks! They are bands that wrap around the body and interpenetrate it. They are not connected to or aligned with the spine, as chakras are, nor do they spin.

Each chunpi has an “eye,” called a ñawi. Except for one, the ñawis are opposite the spine. For the three upper belts, the ñawis are at the front of the body. For the lower belt, it is at the back of the body, near the base of the spine.

The chakras always exist. You come into human form with them. For optimal well-being, the chakras must be “opened” and balanced. If they are not balanced, then some chakras become overactive to compensate. Energy practices include opening the ckakras (there are various methods and practices) and restoring balance to any underactive ckakras.

The chunpis do not exist until you weave them into your poq’po, which is what you do during the karpay, called the Chunpi Away (pronounced “ah-why” and which means “to weave” in Quechua). In contrast, the ñawis exist from your birth. The work is to “awaken” or “open” these mystical eyes. This part of the karpay is called the Ñawi K’ichay.

Both the chakras and the chunpis are associated with colors and elements. The seven chakras from the lower chakra to the higher are associated with the following colors: red, orange, yellow, green, light blue, dark blue/indigo, violet.

For the chunpis, the lower belt is black and is associated with water. The belt around the belly is red and is related to earth (and, by the way, this belt is not magical  loving heartassociated with the sacral and solar plexus areas; it is around the entire trunk of the body at the belly area and the eye is usually located below the navel). The belt around the chest/heart level is gold and associated with the sun. The belt at the throat is silver and linked with moon and wind. The quasi fifth belt for the two physical eyes and the seventh eye is violet. However, it is not really a violet band of energy. The color of the belt is that of your two physical eyes. It is sometimes, for ease of reference only, called the violet belt because at the end of the karpay you pull violet light into your poq’po through the seventh eye. But you move that violet light through your entire poq’po and body, not just through this eye area of your head.

Capacities of Consciousness

Both the ckakras and chunpis mediate flows of energy to and through the energy and physical bodies. The consequence of blocked or stalled energy is the same in both systems, loss of well-being. However, the similarities of the energy dynamics stop there.

For the chakras, the four upper chakras are said to relate to spirituality and our Energy of Sacred Geometryhigher cognitive and emotional capacities, such as insight, creativity, and love. The three lower chakras are associated with our more physical and instinctual selves, including survival, self-image, social bonds, power, family, and the like. The elements and senses of the belts are usually identified as follows: the root chakra with earth and sense of smell, the sacral with water and taste, solar plexus with fire and sight, heart with air and touch, throat with ether and hearing, third eye with light and perception, and crown with spirit and being.

The capacities of conscious for each chakra are too long a list to go into here, but generally the root chakra is the life-force and connection to earth and physicality, survival instinct and capacity to be a stable physical being in the physical world. The sacral chakra is about relations and relationships, sexuality, impulses, creativity, and confidence. The solar plexus is associated with emotions, identity and self-image, power, and strength.  The heart relates to feelings, love, trust, and safety. The throat capacities include communication, expression, and will. The third-eye chakra relates to ideas, mind, insights, inner expression, and intuition. The crown is associated with spirituality, wisdom, and awareness.

The chunpis, in contrast, each confer a specific range of capacities. They are not, as some say, belts of “protection.” The entire range of energy practices in the Andes (as passed down through the two lineages I was taught) is to master your energy so that you can perceive and relate to every nuance of kawsay. Since the entire cosmos and everything in nature is made of sami, there is nothing to protect yourself from.  The capacities of consciousness encoded within the belts can be both realized abilities we already use in the world and potentials that are as yet not developed. The specific capacities are as follows:

  • The three eyes (two physical eyes and seventh eye) confer a capacity for insight and mystical vision, called qaway.
  • At the throat, the capacity is rimay, which is to speak with integrity and power, and also to speak with magical power, such that the sounds or vocalizations you make can affect physical reality.
  • At the heart and Inka Seed level is kanay, the capacity to be who you really are, to express and live your mission here on earth.
  • At the belly, the qosqo, is personal power, especially in relation to the kinetic capacity to take action in the world and to live with khuyay, or engaged passion.
  • At the root, the capacities involve being able to time your actions for maximum effect and to measure your power at the current time.

As you can see, the physical, mental, emotional, psychological and energetic capacities of the chunpis are quite distinct from those associated traditionally with the chakras.

This has been only a brief overview, but I hope you now better understand how different these two systems of “energetic anatomy” are and why using terminology from one tradition when referring to the dynamics of an entirely different system is not only imprecise but can be downright confusing.