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.

What Is a Layqa?

Is a layqa a being of lightness or of heaviness? It depends on whom you ask.

Before we even begin discussing what a layqa is, let me mention that it is spelled a number of different ways. You might know this term as laeqa, laika, laiqa, or some other spelling. The most universal spelling in the literature is layqa, which is an Aymara word. More on that later. . .

So what is a layqa? Almost every source, from a Quechua dictionary to serious Eyes in universe compressed AdobeStock_83298346anthropological sources, defines a layqa as a magician, wizard, sorcerer, or witch—a paqo who uses his or her personal power for selfish and even destructive reasons. For instance, the dictionary of the Academia Mayor de La Lengua Quechua, Cuzco, 1995, defines layqa as (my translation from Spanish):  “A brujo (witch or sorcerer) or hechicero (wizard, one who bewitches). A person with malevolent intent or intending to bring harm, injury, or even bad luck to another person.”

One of the most respected anthropologists of Inca traditions, John Howland Rowe, says in his seminal article “Inca Culture at the Time of the Spanish Conquest” (published in Handbook  of South American Indians, edited by Julian H. Steward, vol 2: The Andean Civilizations, 1946) that at the time of the Conquest, the Quechua word for sorcerer was kawco, but in more modern times the Aymara word layqa was used to denote practitioners of black magic, who were “hated and feared by the Inca.” Those convicted of sorcery were often put to death, along with their entire families (Rowe, 314).

Aymara is a language spoken in the Andes, principally in Peru and Bolivia. The Bolivian legend of the “Salt of Tunupa” recounts how the local people feared the Qullpa qullpa layqaysaqa—literally,  the “haunted salty earth.” Layqa is the ancient Aymara word for wizard, although in the deep recesses of time it could have referred to any practitioner of the healing arts or the sacred arts, what today we might call a paqo. But that meaning is lost to the recesses of time. Almost every recorded oral history or written history of the Andean peoples reports that the term layqa refers to a witch or sorcerer. This is the term contemporary indigenous people in the Andes use when referring to those who practice black magic.

As an example, in the renowned rendering of the oral history of the life of a single Quechua man, Gregorio Condori Mamani: Autobiografía (Ricardo Valderrama Fernández and Carmen Escalante Gutiérrez, 1977), the term locals use to indicate a paqo who has turned to practicing witchcraft is layqa. (As an aside, Ricardo served as my Quechua translator during the interviews for my book on the Q’ero, Masters of the Living Energy, originally published as Keepers of the Ancient Knowledge.) Another example is from the dissertation of Regina Harris, a comparative literature explication on the “Ukhu Mankakuna: Culinary Representations in Quechua Cultural Texts” (texts were both colonial and contemporary; University of Maryland), in which she reports that there are cooks who produce “malevolent” food. Such a cook is called a layqa wask’uq, a “witch cook.”


Everywhere you look in the Andes, the term layqa has an agreed upon usage: it means a someone with malevolent intent.

As I indicated earlier in this discussion, there are some suggestions and perhaps even evidence that the term did not always mean someone who practiced the dark arts. At one time, it is possible that a layqa was simply a paqo, even a healer. don-francisco-offering-despacho-compressed-lisa-sims-img_4160 Medical anthropologist Alberto Villoldo, who teaches Andean and other traditional sacred arts through his organization The Four Winds, and researcher Ina Rösing, a German anthropologist, espouse this meaning. They may be correct. But my questions are: Does it matter what this term used to mean in the far reaches of time? Isn’t it more important to use it according to its most widespread and more contemporary meaning?

A case can be made either way. For instance, knowing what it used to mean can be useful, especially if we consider that the meaning of paqo or healer could have been corrupted by the Spaniards who chronicled the Inca culture after the Conquest. They generally imposed their Christian beliefs on this culture, labeling paqos as witches or sorcerers.

However, even allowing for the very real possibility that the word layqa may have been unintentionally or intentionally corrupted by Christian chroniclers does not, to my mind, settle the issue. Here’s why. When we speak, we want to be understood. So when we use a word, we assume that others know the generally accepted meaning—that we share and mutually understand the word in the context in which it is used. The generally accepted meaning in the Andes for hundreds of years is that layqa means sorcerer. So if you use the term, you can expect that Andeans (and those of us who have learned one aspect or another of the “spiritual” tradition of that culture) to understand that term to mean sorcerer. If you don’t agree that generally accepted usages apply to conversation or writing, then you are on your own in terms of risking misinterpretation or being an audience of one.

It’s a fact of cultural evolution that word meanings change over time. Sometimes that Past Present And Future Signpost Showing Evolution Destiny Or Agingshift is a result of egregious injustice, such as the oppression of a culture by a colonial power and their forcing their beliefs on the indigenous population. But the trajectory of change over time does nothing to negate the fact that the meaning has indeed changed. If the local populations for hundreds of years have used the word layqa to mean sorcerer, it doesn’t matter if you know it might once have meant any paqo. The fact is that it doesn’t mean that anymore. So, a revival of that archaic meaning among modern English speakers is a rather dubious endeavor.

As an example of what I mean about the logic (and, even, the necessity) of accepting current usage, let’s look at the English word “nice.” It comes from the classical Latin nescius, which means ignorant. That’s the meaning that informed the word as it entered Anglo-Norman usage and eventually found its way to Old English. The word’s meaning morphed along its route to modern English. In the 1300s, it meant silly and foolish in addition to ignorant. By the 1500s, its meaning had shifted to mean meticulous, sharp, or attentive. By the 1800s, it meant agreeable and pleasant, a meaning the word “nice” carries into our current lexicon. If you use the word “nice,” we all understand you are extending a compliment to someone. It doesn’t matter that it would have been an insult hundreds of years ago. Words change, meanings change. Communication means assuming current usage and definitions, not archaic ones.

I feel that same logic applies to layqa. If you use that word with the majority of non-Andeans who study the sacred tradition, we will understand it to mean sorcerer. If you use it with most contemporary Andeans, they will understand it the same way. If you use it with most paqos today, they will understand you are not speaking about them, but about someone who has lost his or her way in their ayni on the path. The contemporary word for a practitioner of the Andean sacred arts is paqo. The word layqa denotes a significant distinction, meaning a paqo who is abusing his or her personal power.

In fact, there are even despacho practices that relate to the layqas; and in at least one, we run into an entirely different definition. Sandra Corcoran, author and Unfolding of Selfteacher of the Andean sacred arts, told me about an experience she had some years ago with a group she took to work in Peru. The paqos who worked with the group included a mestizo who was fully initiated in the mystical tradition and a Q’ero elder, and they defined layqas as “the energy of hungry spirits” who come to feed upon humans’ heaviness, especially unresolved, dense emotions. “They don’t create illness,” they explained, “but because they feed on an individual’s heavy energy, that person may experience the effects as illness.”

With this particular group, they did a despacho as an invitation to these hungry spirit beings. The specific layqa despacho bundle that had been purchased in the Cuzco marketplace was full of dark, unpleasant, even rotting items. The despacho was made from these items and then offered to both “collect the unbalanced energies or illnesses within the group and offer them to the layqas as the food they enjoy, and to remove any impact the layqas might have on the group members’ energetic, physical, emotional, mental and even spiritual bodies.” Instead of being burned, the despacho was tied to a heavy rock and offered to a fast-moving river, because for the Q’ero, according to Sandy, “the water represents the emotions, and out-of-balance emotions are the layqas’ biggest draw.”

I had never heard the meaning of “hungry ghosts” applied to the word layqa, but it makes sense in light of the almost universal meaning of sorcerer. Still, there are some vestiges of its possible original meaning of a paqo, as explained below.

My primary teacher, Juan Nuñez del Prado, has explained that his teachers, especially don Benito Qoriwaman, understood the layqa to be a paqo who is deficient in his or her ayni. It is a paqo who has become selfish and chosen to move the kawsay for the benefit of only him- or herself instead of for the benefit of others. It is someone who as a paqo has personal power—he or she can push the kawsay—but who chooses to use that power for personal gain only. Thus, in this definition we retain the sense of the word as a paqo. And while we don’t go as far as calling the paqo a black magician, witch or sorcerer, we do understand that he or she has chosen to walk the path with heaviness rather than lightness.

So, to end this long discussion, I offer the opinion that if you want to be understood among your peers on this path and the indigenous Andean people and paqos, there is no common or widely accepted meaning of layqa that in contemporary usage denotes anything other than a failed paqo at best and a malevolent practitioner (or hucha-hungry spirit) at worst.

Right Here, Right Now on Earth

I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it.
― Alice Walker, The Color Purple

In this post I want to talk once again about how to be in the world as a paqo. Our path is different from many other spiritual, mystical, shamanic, or energetic paths in Earth.that we seek not to leap beyond this human world but to be the grandest self we can be in this human world. This is a path of conscious evolution. We are seeking, ultimately, to be active participants in the Andean prophecy of the rise of the Runakay Mosoq—the New Humans. So, our work is about shining our human light out through a human body right here in the material plane of Earth and being active contributors to the evolution of our species.

In the Alice Walker quotation above, the point is not to walk with your eyes to the stars, but with your eyes on the ground. By extrapolation, we are seeking not the supernatural but the natural. We are seeking to develop the qaway—the vision—to see God in a field of flowers and, of course, in ourselves. The Walker quotation brings to mind the Andean story about the hummingbird, who flies to the farthest hummingbird and three dianthusreaches of the upper world, the hanaqpacha, and there meets Wiraqocha, the metaphysical God. Wiraqocha is at work in his garden, tending the flowers. The metaphor that grows out of this story is that paqos are the flowers in the garden of the world, and we want to cultivate ourselves so that we are rich in nectar. (Sami, which is the light living energy.) When we are rich in nectar, we attract the hummingbird, who comes to feed off of us, connecting us more deeply with Wiraqocha.


My judgment is that too many of us are distracted by the fleeting glitter of a mysterious, supernatural otherworld rather than focusing on the stable bedrock and the sweeping beauty of this world. Paqos are deeply connected with the earth, and they treasure the natural. The Andean spiritual law of ayni (reciprocity) applies to both the spiritual and social worlds, to both the celestial and terrestrial worlds. The despacho, the offering bundle, is full of flowers. And its outward beauty mirrors theFran another despacho inward ayni that infuses it. The despacho draws together the three worlds: the hanaqpacha, or upper world of perfected ayni and of the spirit beings to which we may be offering the despacho; the kaypacha, or this world in which we are the human agents of both the highest and lowest flows of energy, and of everything in between; and the ukhupacha, the lower or interior world where potentiality lives. The ukhupacha is a place sadly lacking in ayni, but it is a place not of condemnation but of rejuvenation.

My point is that a paqo is more a creature of the earth than of the stars. He or she is grounded! Andean practice is about refining the self and so increasing the sami right here, right now on Earth. So, if you could do one thing as a paqo or spiritual practitioner to further your own evolution and that of our species, you might mull over your answer to one primary question:

Who am I in the world?

The Vedic texts tell us that we are not in the world, the world is in us. That thought parallels the Andean view that we are each the center of the universe. Each of us is “in” a different world, because we can only know the world as  filtered through our ourselves—and our “self” has been shaped by personal experience and emotions. Born original sign compressed AdobeStock_92859991This is not a selfish view as much as a self-centric view. We cannot really know anyone except ourselves, and most us barely know ourselves. So when we ask “Who am I in the world?,” we have to start with the “I” before we can say much about the world. The Andean concept of kanay, which is a capacity held at the qori chunpi (the energetic band or belt at the heart), involves coming to know who you truly are. Once you know (using the human power of yachay, or intellect), then you can more effortlessly and accurately be who you truly are (using the human power of llank’ay, or action in the world).

In the Andes, according to the tradition as I was taught it, our work is to become masters of our energy environment. All energy dynamics are perceived as being in relation only to the self. For example, rather than say someone else has hucha, or heavy energy, we say that we feel hucha between ourselves and another person. Then we take responsibility for lessening that flow. We work on our own energy body first and foremost. There really are only two primary energy dynamics, and both are determined in relation to the self: compatible and incompatible energy, andIllustration of woman and man with aura, chakras and healing energy similar (masintin) or dissimilar energies (yanantin). When we can discern the type of energy flow we are feeling, then we can act to make that flow as clean, efficient, and beneficial as possible, not only for ourselves but for others with whom we are in dynamic energy relationship.

So when we ask, “Who am I in the world?,” we shift our perception from seeing problems and difficulties “out there” to examining what is going on “in here.” In a word, we take responsibility—for ourselves and, by extension, for the world of which we are a part. When you take responsibility for “who” you are, then “how” you walk in the world takes better care of itself.

Criss Jami says, “Faith . . .never removes responsibility; it removes fear of responsibility.” I think that just about sums up the Andean tradition as I have come to know it and the energy practices as I have been taught them—take personal responsibility for your energy, mind, actions, and heart. That doesn’t mean later, when you have mastered energy techniques or learned a new ceremony or made contact with a spirit being, or fully healed your wounds, or dealt with all your shadow stuff. It means right here, right now, on this Earth, in this world, just as it is and just as you are. This is our only starting place. But, oh, there are no limits to where we can go!