A Paqo by Any Other Name . . .

I teach a class in Quechua terminology and concepts during which we take a deep dive into the “meanings behind the meanings” of the Quechua terms and concepts from the Andean mystical tradition. While I am not an anthropologist and do not speak Quechua, I am a careful researcher, and so I have relative confidence (“relative” because I am always allowing that there may be, and probably will, be mistakes or that I might take too great a leap of conjecture) in what I share. This discussion is not part of that course, but perhaps it will be in the future. I just find it all interesting, and maybe you will, too. In this post, I want to dig deeper into the “titles” of the primary practitioners of the tradition, the paqos, and terms that are closely associated with their mystical practice.

Generally, depending on your sense of how to “define” them in English, Andean paqos are mystics, shamans, or practitioners of the sacred arts. There are various spellings: paq’o or paqu being twoPeru 2018 paqos 1 flipped common alternatives. In one Quechua dictionary, paqu is translated as “shaman,” with entries offering more specificity. One variation is paqu hampiq, which is defined as “shamanism” and refers not to the specific practitioner but to the metaphysical realm within which that practitioner operates or the type of practice itself. “Hampi” in this and its various grammatical forms means medicine, curing, or healing. So paqu hampiq refers to the paqo tradition as a type of healing practice and a paqo as one who is trained to be a healer. Another variation is paqu yachaq, which also is defined as “shamanism.” Yachay means knowledge, perception, first-hand experience. So, this term refers to a paqo as one who is a person of “knowledge” of both healing and of what I call the liminal realms (the “in-between” spaces), which is more in line with the mystical practices.

We most commonly know the two primary types of paqos as alto mesayoqs and pampa mesayoqs, with a third type called a kureq akulleq. I will discuss the meanings of these terms in the next few paragraphs, but here I want to point out that these designations of practice and knowledge are hierarchical, with an alto mesayoq having types of skills that a pampa mesayoq doesn’t, specifically the ability to communicate directly with spirit beings, such as the apus. Pampa mesaqyos can communicate only indirectly, such as through their misha or a dream. As such, an alternative title for these two levels of practitioners are Hatun Qhawaq (qawaq) and Pampa Qhawaq (qawaq), which roughly mean, respectively, One of High Vision/Perception (or, again roughly speaking, a Great Seer) and One of Earth Vision. A kureq akulleq is recognized as either the top-ranked alto mesayoq (as recognized by the community and/or other paqos) or any highly developed alto mesayoq.

Mesayoq comes from the Spanish word mesa, meaning table (or by association to the sacred, meaning something like an altar). It refers to the cloth bundle a paqo carries that represents his or her personalmishas compressed IMG_4625 power. It is filled with khuyas, or objects of various kinds that are sacred or especially meaningful or dear to each particular paqo (called formally khuyay rumi, or stones of passion). So, we can think of the word mesayoq as meaning “one who carries a mesa,” and paqos are generally the ones who do. As we learn from don Juan Nuñez el Prado, the paqos of the last generation called this sacred bundle a misha, which means sign or symbol. This word provides the nuance that the bundle itself and the khuyas inside it are external symbols of the paqos inward personal power. The full term for this bundle is misha qhepi (there are various spellings of qhepi). Qhepi means “bundle” or “package,” so this is the bundle of the signs or symbols of the paqo’s personal power. There can be a paña misha qhepi (a “right-side of the path bundle) and a lloq’e misha qhepi (a left-side of the path bundle). I won’t get into the differences, because that will take us off course from this discussion. Let’s say focused on the word mesayoq, because from this discussion you can see how a variation of the term is mishayoq, which means, according to don Juan, “one who has signs.” The term used for the two primary types of paqos would be alto mishayoq and pampa mishayoq. “Alto” means “high,” and “pampa” refers to the plains, the flat expanses of land. So, these terms mean “the one who has the high signs,” and “the one who has the earth signs” (“the one who has the signs of the plain”). Pampa mesayoqs generally work through their cooperation with Mama Allpa, Mother Earth, so their association with the plains connects them to the earth and to their specialty as the practitioners of the earth rituals. Don Juan describes the distinction as the alto mesayoq being the mystical specialist and the pampa mesayoq being the ritual specialist.

There are three levels of alto mesayoq—the ayllu alto mesayoq, llaqta alto mesayoq and suyu alto mesayoq, a triumvirate of words that refer to another hierarchy in which alto mesayoqs achieve heightened levels of personal power, or, to put it another way, wider reaches to their power: respectively, the power to reach people in and to work with the spirit beings of a town or small area (ayllu), a larger region (llaqta), or a vast area (suyu). Suyu alto mesayoqs are rare, just as suyu apus are (there are only two Coca leaves AdobeStock_13625056 CONDENSEDsuyu apus in the south-central Andean region: Apu Ausangate and Apu Salcantay).

Kuraq akulleqs are even rarer. This title comes from the words for elder (kuraq) and the ritual or ceremonial practice of chewing coca leaves (akulliy), so it is often translated as the Elder Chewer of Coca. Generally, according to don Juan, this title is only bestowed on a paqo who has achieved a pinnacle of personal power such that he or she has incorporated the power of a universal spirit being, such as Taytacha or Mamacha, names given to universal energies, often syncretized with Christ or Mother Mary. But they can also be specifically Andean, such the universal spirit beings recognized in the Cusco region, including Taytacha Temblores and Mamacha Carmen. The kuraq akkuleq, then, also can be seen as a teqse paqo, a universal paqo, or a paqo whose reach of power is universal.

There are still other names for these practitioners of the Andean spiritual arts and the sacred bundle they carry (the misha), and even of the sacred items within the bundle (khuyays), but I hope this discussion, digging as it does at least a little into the fuller meanings behind the terms and titles, will enlighten you, and even delight you, as much as it does me.

Several of the photos in this post are copyrighted by Lisa McClendon Sims and should not be copied or otherwise used without her express permission.

The Energy Dynamics of Saminchakuy

Recently, as part of a discussion in a monthly Paqo Practice group that I and Christina Allen host, a question came up about how literally we should take the imagery we use to describe the energy flows of our main practice, saminchakuy. It’s an important question, and one that is not as simple to answer as it might appear on first look. I am going to attempt an answer in this post. The Paqo Practice group is comprised of experienced paqos, so here I will do my best to define terms and explain things in a way that I hope won’t lose those of you who are new to or less experienced on the path.

As you may know, saminchakuy means to make sami or to work with sami. Sami is the light living energy, the life-force energy that empowers us. We are always absorbing sami and moving it through us, although because of our emotions, life experiences, beliefs, and such we can be out of sync with the flowoutdoors shower of sami, slowing down or blocking some of this empowering energy. This slowed or blocked sami is called hucha, or heavy energy. Hucha is sami that has lost some of its transformative power.

The intention of the saminchakuy practice is to release or transform our hucha, and don Benito Qoriwaman used the metaphor of standing under a shower. The water (sami, nectar of the universe) flows down and over us and washes our heaviness downward. Like water going down a drain, our heaviness flows down off of our energy body and into Mother Earth, and She transforms this slow sami—this hucha—back to its natural state.

Although there are many ways to describe the practice of saminchauy, the following is a basic way that is used to explain it to people learning the technique for the first time. The instruction may start with a suggestion to open the top of your poq’po (energy bubble) and send a seqe (cord of energy) up out of your poq’po to connect with the hanaq pacha (upper world) or cosmos. You then allow a stream of sami to flow down over your bubble and through you, and you perceive that downward flow of the light living energy. As it flows down, you open the bottom of your poq’po and send a seqe out and down into Mama Allpa, or Mother Earth, and establish a deep connection with Her. You intend that your hucha (which is mostly on the surface of your poq’po) be touched by the sami flowing over your bubble, and the hucha that can be speeded back up to sami will be. The hucha that is not ready to be transformed goes down to Mother Earth, who composts it, or transforms it back into its natural state of sami. Then, when you are done, you intend to disconnect the seqe to the hanaq pacha, pull it back to yourself, and close the top of your poq’po. The cessation of the flow of sami signals your intention to stop the hucha release, and at this point, you can do one of two things. You can retract the cord from Mother Earth and close the bottom of your bubble, finishing the saminchakuy practice. Or, you can transition to a saiwachakuy to continue to empower yourself. In that case, you keep the bottom of your poq’po open and the seqe in place, and you begin pulling up the sami of Mother Earth to further support and strengthen yourself. When you are done with that practice, then you retract the seqe and close the bottom of your bubble.

The question asked in our group was how literally we should take the words and concepts of the “cord” and the “opening” or “closing” of the poq’po. There are two ways of answering this question, one way based on a third-level approach of practicing and understanding the tradition and another way based on a fourth-level approach. I can’t go into great detail about the differences between the third and fourth levels. Suffice it to say that at the third-level we are more literal, imagistic, and even almost schematic in the way we see and do things. At the fourth level, we look beyond the explanations to the intrinsic energy dynamics, where word labels and images like “cord” and descriptions like “open” or “close” your poq’po hands puzzle compressed connect-2777620_1920become transformed through a more abstract but perceptual understanding of the dynamics those words are trying to describe.

Let me be clear that understanding and working the tradition through a fourth-level lens is a translation of the tradition based in part on Western knowledge and intellectual traditions, such as psychology and science. The paqos wouldn’t explain things as I am about to. But, nothing in the alternative way I am going to describe the practice of saminchakuy changes the actual practice or its goals. I trust that it will enhance our understanding of the deep-down energy dynamics.

We make this kind of translation because, as don Juan Nuñez del Prado says, we are not Andean paqos. We are “Western” practitioners who live in a completely different social, cultural, intellectual, and technological world than do most contemporary rural Andeans and the paqos of old. While what the paqos impart through their practices and teachings is applicable to all human beings, we use these practices in the context of a far different life than do the paqos. Many of the paqos of old were “fourth-level” paqos, and yet they still would not have described concepts such a seqe or the poq’po as I am about to.

I owe my own understanding of the tradition from the fourth level to my primary teacher, don Juan Nuñez del Prado. For that, I am thankful. Although, I also need to stress that what I write here is my own interpretation of his basic teachings, a personal interpretation that grows out of his immense wisdom in translating the tradition in ways that are incredibly enlightening and useful for those of us who practice this tradition in our “Western” cultures. As a final point, although describing saminchakuy using third-level descriptors can help us learn how to do the practice, it is my belief that true mastery comes with incorporating a fourth-level understanding of the energy dynamics.

Let me begin by stating outright that seqes and poq’pos are real. We work with them. Don Juan Nuñez del Prado has said there are only two core images for the entire tradition: seqes and poq’pos. Literally translated, it is a tradition that works with “cords” of energy and “bubbles” of energy (energy bodies or energy fields). That’s true, and it doesn’t get any clearer or more definitive than that! But just what cords and bubbles actually are varies according to our perception, and at the fourth level of perception, we get beyond the images to pure energy dynamics. To explain, I am going to define each of the main concepts and briefly discuss their energy dynamics from both the third-level and fourth-level perceptions. Just from these descriptions you should be able to get a good handle on the two perceptual views.

Seqe

Third level: A seqe is a cord or line that you communicate energetically along or through. It is a cord of energy that you extend out of yourself and your energy body to connect with something (such as the cosmos, an apu, a sanctuary, another person). Once you have established the connection, you can either send energy out from yourself along the seqe or receive energy from the other entity back to yourself along the seqe. Seeing a seqe in its most literal form as an actual energy cord is seeing it rather like ainteresting conversation telephone landline wire or an electrical transmission line that carries energy through itself. If there is no seqe, there can be no connection and thus no transmission in either direction.

Fourth level: A seqe is not a literal cord that must be laid down first before you can send energy along it. It is the energy flow itself. It is a way to describe any particular flow or stream of energy. During saminchakuy, you use your will and intent, consciousness and awareness, to drive a stream of energy in a certain direction for a specific purpose. However, it’s important to realize that each of us is always making energetic connections by sending out energy and receiving energy, although mostly we are unconscious to these exchanges. These are still seqes, except they are unconscious flows we send out or receive. Whether we are conscious or unconscious, the flow of energy from us or to us is a seqe.

Poq’po

Third level: A poq’po is your energy body, a bubble of energy that surrounds and interpenetrates your physical body and that has a defined area, with an outer boundary. It is the metaphysical counterpart to your physical body.

Fourth level: Your poq’po is a field of information and energy that surrounds and interpenetrates your physical body. You don’t form your own personal poq’po until you are born, and it develops in complexity of energetic content as you develop. It is a defined field that is influenced by and imprinted with the information that comprises your psyche, or mind. It is, in a sense, the energetic container of your personality, your humanness. It is imprinted with the qualia that make you who you are (and different from anyone else). Qualia is a term from psychology that has many meanings, the simplest of which is “this is who you are because this is what you sense and feel about yourself and the world.” The qualia reflect how you make meaning in life. Your poq’po is an energetic field informed by your mental and emotional reactions and perceptions of being alive in the world and in relationship with others. Qualia include your physical sensations and mental and emotional perceptions, from how you see the color blue to your emotional pain or pleasure to the memories that arise when you smell coffee brewing in the morning to the kind of people you value as being worthwhile to form relationships with. Your poq’po is imprinted with all of your life experiences, thoughts, emotions, beliefs, and so it encodes how much sami you carry and how much hucha. As you can imagine, your poq’po is incredibly dynamic, and it changes as your sense of being changes.

Opening and Closing Your Poq’po

Third level: Literally, in saminchakuy, when you “open” the top of your poq’po, you can imagine a tiny point or opening through which you send a seqe (a cord from the third-level perspective) out of your energy body and upwards to establish a connection with the hanaq pacha to pull sami down and to yourself. Or, conversely, you can “open” the bottom of your poq’po to send a cord down into the Earth to connect with Mama Allpa and pull her sami up and into you. To end the practice, you disconnect the seqe/cords and “close” your bubble.

Fourth level: We are not literally “opening” the top or bottom of our poq’po, but opening ourselves, our beingness and flowing energy or receiving enegy consciously. Think of “opening” as “being willing” to work with energy, to undertake the process of conscious interchange; and “closing” as consciously deciding to end the practice. Remember, we are always flowing sami through us. If we weren’t, we wouldn’t be alive. But when we direct our attention—when we decide to use our will and intent to do something energetically—we have to “open” ourselves to sharing or to receiving. In saminchakuy, we are using intention to direct a concentrated stream of sami over and through ourselves, willingly allowing ourselves (all of ourselves, our poq’po or psyche and our body) to be touched by sami’s transformative power. When we “close” our bubble, we aren’t really closing anything. We are just intending or deciding to stop the flow of energy, to end the practice.

I hope from these definitions and discussions, you can see with new eyes and perceive in new ways both what a seqe is and what you are doing during saminchakuy, or during any energy practice for that matter. Understanding saminchakuy at the third level helps us to visualize what is going on. It simplifies the process so we can more easily learn it. Once we do learn it, however, it is empowering to understand it from a fourth-level perspective, to feel in a deeply perceptual way the energy interactions we have initiated. As I said, we are always consciously and unconsciously sending and receiving flows of energy (seqes), and saminchakuy is a fully conscious practice. It is a time-specific application of will and intention for the restructuring (mast’ay) of our own beingness through the action of sami to unblock or transform our hucha.