Amantani Island is an island of less than six square miles on the Peruvian side of Lake Titicaca. It is inhabited by less than 4000 Aymara people who speak Quechua and, some of them, a little Spanish. No English speakers here. There are half a dozen villages on its terraced hills and we were all going to be assigned to families to stay with for the night. We were told that the homes were simple adobe structures with no running water and little or no electricity. We would have beds and access to an outhouse. Our host families would feed us and we would have a little time to interact with them.
The Solar Disc Activation ceremony would take place on the island, at two temples situated at its highest points. These temples, the Pachatata (Father) and Pachamama (Mother Earth) temples, were ancient places, each cared for by a guardian who kept them under lock and key, usually only opened for a ceremony each January 20, the annual feast day for the island. That they would be opened for the Solar Disc Activation ceremony was an usual and very special honor.
Our bus ride to the pier was long enough for me to observe and even chat with (through a translator) some of the Peruvian shamans who were participating in the ceremonies. To my surprise, I discovered that Q’ero shamans—or some of them—have cell phones these days. One of the men reached below his poncho and pulled out a cell phone to take a call as we bumped along on the road. I couldn’t quite reconcile the simplicity of these shamans with the complexity of having a cell phone. Where did he get it? Could he actually get a signal in the mountains where he lived? Was it even his phone, or one borrowed for the trip? I didn’t ask any of these questions, I just observed in stunned silence.
A shaman from one of the floating reed islands, Romualdo Coila Coila, sat next to me on the drive. Romualdo handed me a business card that presented him as a Maestro Curandero. Nestor Caceres Escalante (a fellow traveler and a man of interest, himself) told me that Romualdo did ceremony to Pachamama, soul retrieval, coca leaf ceremony, and a variety of other shamanic activities. When I told Romualdo that I, too, do soul retrieval and a variety of other shamanic activities, he smiled and shook my hand. With Nestor’s help as translator, we chatted briefly about our work. Don Romualdo carried himself with a certain nobility and held a tightly packed internal power that could be felt as I sat next to him. He was a rugged looking man whose eyes and being emanated compassion.
And as I talked to him, I felt pulled to gift him with something I’d brought along that was stuffed in my pack—a round piece of malachite with a small hole in the middle that held a cord so it could be worn around the neck. I couldn’t reach get to it while on the bus, but I asked Nestor to tell him I had something for him that I would present later.
At the pier, we piled onto multiple boats for the rather long ride to Amantani Island. We all seemed to still be buzzing internally from our experiences at the Aramu Muru Doorway and that buzz was coupled with anticipation about the island and the ceremonies to come.
Once on Amantani Island, I was able to retrieve the malachite necklace and as we walked toward the place where we would be doing ceremony, I stopped long enough to present it to Romualdo, who accepted it simply and with dignity. Later, I would see him pull it out from beneath his robe and show it to someone. It made me smile and I was glad to have been drawn to give him that token, small acknowledgment that it was.
We gathered on a beach and Romualdo, accompanied by some of the Q’ero shamans, set about preparing his mesa for a despacho ceremony. This was to be a water ceremony and we would be making offerings to Lake Titicaca as a part of that ceremony. As Romulado set out his power objects, Jorge Luis Delgado spoke to us of water and spirit. He pointed out that water is alive and that whatever is alive can be communicated with. He said that water holds memory, listens, teaches, and shows us the way. “But what is the way?” he asked. “Just flow,” he said, answering his own question.
If water represents the emotional body, then allowing ourselves to flow might be wise advice from Lake Titicaca. Jorge Luis made the provocative statement that the emotional body sometimes “covers the new codes.” The implication seemed to be that allowing ourselves to flow—as water does, effortlessly—might help us wash away resistance and release those new codes, or at least allow them to express themselves within us.
“How do we connect with our own spirit?” Jorge asked. The real magic, he insisted, was our intent. As with other despacho ceremonies, we would be placing our intent into the coca leaves by breathing the intent into them. The ceremony would end with our taking our coca leaves to the lake in offering to her.
As we had done with air ceremony, we removed our shoes. Much to my chagrin, I was again wearing hose. I might have learned from air ceremony, but the hose were just too much a part of my personal ceremony for getting myself together that I hadn’t given it much thought that morning. Once again I was going to challenge a perfectly good pair of hose–this time by tromping over the rocky shore to Lake Titicaca.
Romualdo conducted beautiful ceremony and, at the end, we each silently took our coca leaves to Lake Titicaca and made offering. It was a tricky scramble over rocks and the occasional broken glass on the beach, but we managed with as much composure as we could muster, teetering along. Once back in the circle, a young woman who had heard the story of the miracle of the pantyhose (which I had shared with a select few), teased me about my hosed feet. Surely, she proposed, I wouldn’t have gotten away without tears and runs this time. I looked at one foot and then the other. Then I lifted me feet so that she (sitting on the opposite side of the circle) could see. No runs. No tears. No holes.
Copyright 2010 by Melanie Mulhall