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!


Poetry for Paqos

Poetry is just the evidence of life. If your life is burning well, poetry is just the ash.”
― Leonard Cohen

I am sharing something quite different in this post. As some of you may know, I completed doctoral coursework in modern American and British fiction and poetry. Recently, when I was revisiting some poetry, I was inspired to share excerpts that speak about life and nature. These particular excepts remind me, as Leonard Cohen says in the quotation above, to make sure my life “burns.”

hummingbird and three dianthusAs paqos, we are on a path of conscious evolution and that starts with our resacralizing our relationship with nature. We are hummingbirds feeding on the sami (nectar) of the living cosmos. These poems are like sami to me, and I hope they are to you as well.

We start with part of a Mary Oliver poem about how to meet the end of your physical life with joy. Since she is one of my favorite contemporary poets, we also end with an excerpt from another of her poems. The other excerpts may inspire your immersion into nature both as a paqo and as a “natural” human being. For instance, the Walt Whitman excerpt reminded me of the Inka Seed. A paqos we are in ayni with nature, but we are also in ayni with the entire cosmos of living energy. Like poets, in the words of poet Wallace Stevens, we are “priests of the invisible.” Enjoy!

(Note: If you are viewing this post on a phone, the line breaks in the poems may be effected.)


Mary Oliver, Excerpt from “When Death Comes”

When it’s over, I want to say all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.

I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.


Walt Whitman, Excerpt from Section 1 of “Song of the Universal”

Come said the Muse,
Sing me a song no poet yet has chanted,
Sing me the universal.

In this broad earth of ours,
Amid the measureless grossness and the slag,
Enclosed and safe within its central heart,
Nestles the seed perfection.

By every life a share or more or less,
None born but it is born, conceal’d or unconceal’d the seed is


By William Wordsworth, Excerpt from “Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey, On Revisiting the Banks of the Wye During a Tour, July 13, 1798”

. . . The sounding cataract
Haunted me like a passion: the tall rock,
The mountain, and the deep and gloomy wood,
Their colours and their forms, were then to me
An appetite; a feeling and a love,
That had no need of a remoter charm,
By thought supplied, not any interest
Unborrowed from the eye.—That time is past,
And all its aching joys are now no more,
And all its dizzy raptures. Not for this
. . . For I have learned
To look on nature, not as in the hour
Of thoughtless youth; but hearing oftentimes
The still sad music of humanity,
Nor harsh nor grating, though of ample power
To chasten and subdue.—And I have felt
A presence that disturbs me with the joy
Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime
Of something far more deeply interfused,
Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,
And the round ocean and the living air,
And the blue sky, and in the mind of man:
A motion and a spirit, that impels
All thinking things, all objects of all thought,
And rolls through all things.


Conrad Aiken, Excerpt from Section 4 of “A Letter from Li Po”

Exiled are we.
Were exiles born.
The ‘far away,’

language of desert, language of ocean, language of sky,
as of the unfathomable worlds that lie
between the apple and the eye,
these are the only words we learn to say.

Each morning we devour the unknown.
Each day
we find, and take, and spill, or spend, or lose,
a sunflower splendor of which none knows the source.

This cornucopia of air! This very heaven
of simple day! We do not know, can never know,
the alphabet to find us entrance there.

So, in the street, we stand and stare,
to greet a friend, and shake his hand,
yet know him beyond knowledge, like ourselves;
ocean unknowable by unknowable sand.


Mary Oliver, Excerpt from “Humpbacks”

Listen, whatever it is you try
to do with your life, nothing will every dazzle you
like the dreams of your body,

its spirit
longing to fly while the dead-weight bones

toss their dark mane and hurry
back into the fields of glittering fire

where everything,
even the great whale,
throbs with song.


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”)!