by Harriet R. McMahon, Ph.D.

The Sacred Valley of Peru holds the remnants of a great civilization and culture, the Inka Empire. This fertile valley surrounded by majestic mountains is an inspiration and incredible place to have the opportunity to visit.. As we are driven from downtown Cusco to Urubamba the breathtaking views of the countryside caused chills and excitement to run up and down my body. I somehow forgot about the last twenty-four hours of sleepless travel and felt a new burst of energy and excitement. I was finally here. As our bus made its journey to Urubamba my eyes feasted on the incredible mountains that lifted their heads to the sky - some of them snow capped but all of them with their strong and wise faces gazing up at the heavens and sometimes appearing to be glancing at me. For quite some time I had been studying the Andean teachings and had been taught by my teachers about the Apus, the spirits of these sacred Mountains, but I never realized how strong the impact that being in Peru would have on me. The people, the land, and the atmosphere combined to provide each of us to a uniquely personal shamanic experience.

When you looked into Don Manuel's eyes they were filled with life, wisdom, love and mischief. He truly loves life and his land and we were gifted with his presence and his desire to share his wisdom with us. Don Manuel Q'espi who is the oldest Kuraq or fourth level Paqo (which is one who walks the Andean path) would be with us, during our travels and experiences, celebrating with us the wonderment of life.

Jose Luis Herrera was our guide and Shaman, and his teachings along with Don Manuel, enriched our experiences beyond expectations. We were taken to Ollantayambo, which at one time was an agricultural, social and religious center of the Inka. This beautiful place was lined with ancient terraces and Inka ruins. As we stood in the Temple of the winds, Jose Luis spoke of the four winds. The south representing our ability to change; the west representing our ability to articulate; the north representing our oneness and uniqueness of engagement; and the east representing vision.

After exploring these ancient ruins, we gathered with Don Manuel and his apprentice Juan, to participate in a ceremony where we each prepared Kintus. One prepares a Kintu by putting three leaves from the sacred plants of Peru together. With our breath we imprinted the Kintus with our prayers and fed them to each other. Don Manuel and Jose Luis spoke of Ayni, which is the basis of all ceremony and ritual. Ayni is the spirit of reciprocity, the first lesson of the Andean Cosmology. In every investment in one's lifetime whether it be with family, friends, career, there must always be an exchange of Ayni. If Ayni isn't present then that relationship may be coming from a place of ego and should be revisited. As we fed each other Kintus I felt the impact of how important intention is in every ritual, ceremony, prayer, and in everything that we do. Feeding Kintus to one another was an act of Munay, another principle of the Andes that means unconditional love and beauty.

We were then led to a fountain from which sacred water poured down from the hills above. We continued our ceremony by cleansing our three energy centers, which are the qosqo (navel), the sonqo (heart), and the qanchis (3rd eye). Using these sacred waters we were able to discharge anything that no longer supported us and that we wanted to leave behind. We then were able to cleanse the centers, which balanced the luminous body. We completed the ceremony with imprinting the three centers with the sacred waters. Again, I was reminded of the importance of intention whenever one is in ceremony.

The next day we drove to Moray, the agricultural center of Cusco. When you look at Moray you see different levels of terraces carved into a bowl, which was excavated and farmed by the Inkas. As we hiked down into the center of one of the "bowls" one could feel a temperature shift (from cool to warm) along with a powerful energy shift. Don Manuel spoke of the possibility of destructive weather that was threatening the mountains of Peru and that we would be preparing a Despacho to help shift the weather so that the crops, livestock and residents of the mountains would be protected. A Despacho is an offering of natural items that are prepared through ritual, imprinted with prayers, and then offered to Pachamama (the earth) or the Apus. We then prepared kintus and imprinted the kintus with our prayers, which Don Manuel gently and lovingly placed into this offering. Other items were prayed over and placed into this package and upon completion it was folded up and placed in a sacred cloth to be burned later that evening. We did many Despachos throughout our journey and the power and beauty of this ceremony has now become a very important spiritual practice in my life.

That evening Marco, another truly gifted shaman and guide, led us on a journey to a sacred site called Amaru Wanka. We drove to a remote village deeply tucked away in the hills of the Sacred Valley. We walked to a site surrounded by ruins and in the center was a large rock shaped like a frog. Marco invited us to climb up on the rock and connect with its energy and to spend some time in meditation. We remembered the words that Don Manuel and Jose Luis shared with us earlier that day. They spoke of the "memberships" that we select such as family and how the first membership in the Andes is with Pachamama (the earth) because we are the articulators of Pachamama but Ayni was to be applied to all our memberships. Marco worked with us individually at the "frog rock" and guided us through a cleansing ritual. The tail of the "frog" was actually a carving of a serpent. We were to kneel low enough so that our head was resting in the mouth of the serpent. Due to my height this was a painful position for me. I was also feeling the beginnings of a migraine headache but I worked at staying present with the ritual, feeling Marco working with my three energy centers, using his mesa (a sacred bundle of healing stones) to slough away the old "stuff" as the serpent sheds its skin. Marco poured a mixture of sacred flower essences into the serpent's mouth and the healing mixture went down my spine. I imagined my spine as a hollow flute so that the Kawsay (living energy) from this fluid could flow easily through me, allowing the healing to occur. As I stepped away from the rock my body felt light, my mind was clear and calm, and the headache was gone.

My journey to the Sacred Valley in Peru has reawakened my soul. I have reaffirmed my oneness with Pachamama and Spirit just as a lost child finds its way back to its mother. My consciousness has been expanded and my awareness is amplified, and I pray that I will always live in ayni (reciprocity) and munay (love and beauty) with all my relations.

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Copyright 1999-2002 Harriet McMahon (Creative Growth and Healing)