Posts Tagged ‘coca leaves’

Earth and Dance

December 5, 2010
Jorge Luis Delgad called Amantani Island the island of love and said that it worked with the pink (munay) ray. I had to agree that there was something about the place. I felt relaxed and energized at the same time, as if something were about to happen and I was poised for it without needing to think or do anything, really. I could feel my heart reaching out to my host family, even though we shared no common language. They were a bit shy and I felt soft and respectful around them.

After being served a meal, Sandy, Tim (my travel group companions also staying with my host family), and I made our way back down the hill and joined the rest of the group for more ceremony. We had taken part in fire, air, and water ceremony. Now it was time for earth ceremony and it would be led by don Mariano, Jorge Luis’s teacher.

I gravitated towards the Peruvian shamans. I was learning. The Peruvian shamans always managed to find the best place to sit at ceremony and they seemed to do so effortlessly. Perhaps they had some sense about the land that guided them. Or maybe it was just about comfort. I didn’t know, but I was learning to follow their lead.

Only a person or two separated me from don Mariano and I noted, with a bit of amusement, that he carried some of his shamanic supplies in a North Face pack. It was very much like the odd pairings one experiences in dreams. In the sleeping dream state, I might find myself making a dinner for long dead relatives in a mansion that seemed to belong to me. In this waking dream, the very alive–and very revered–don Mariano was pulling shamanic items out of a North Face pack on an island in the middle of Lake Titicaca. No sleeping dream could match that!

But I was also amused because I had long been toting some of my own shamanic items around in a pack my husband brought back from Kosovo. I had needed something practical to transport white sage, a Celtic cross, my Om tuning fork, special stones from special places, candles, scented herbs and flowers for scattering, a rattle, and other items I used when I cleared and blessed homes. My drum and beater, large feather fan, my altar cloth, and many other items didn’t go into the pack, but some of the smaller tools did and while the pack had served me well, I’d always been a bit amused about it. I was not the archetypal image of the female shaman (or shamanista, as my friend Melisa Pearce referred to me) and my pack was certainly not the archetypal image of what a shaman would carry tools in. But here was don Mariano pulling shamanic tools out of a North Face pack. I loved that we shared that bit of practicality in our work.

Jorge Luis spoke to us about earth energy and suggested that we practice looking at the distance between ourselves and a tree or mountain, then feeling the energy. I knew what he meant, or thought I did. I’d long practiced softening my eyes to see the auras of trees and I often allowed the tug of energy between me and a mountain or lake or tree or boulder to inform me and open me to communication with the spirit of it.

As with the other ceremonies, coca leaves were involved. A small fire pit (cold) was used in this ceremony. Four people at a time brought their k’intus (fan shaped arrangement of three coca leaves) to the pit, one person taking each of the cardinal directions. We then blew our intentions into the coca leaves, touched the earth, and put the coca leaves into the fire pit.

Earth Ceremony--Offerings at the Fire Pit

It seemed a simple enough ceremony, but it was a powerful one for me. When I made my way to the fire pit and kneeled, I blew my intentions into the k’intu and was drawn to bend down and kiss the earth three times before placing my coca leaves in the pit. And as I did, my crown chakra began to vibrate. I was immediately in an altered state of consciousness. I could not give words to it in the moment, but my later sense of it was that I was feeling myself as a bridge between heaven and earth, in love with both and at the service of both. My crown chakra continued to vibrate for some time and, later, it began to vibrate again.

Once the earth ceremony was complete, we all drifted towards a large square that seemed to serve as a local gathering place. There was a sense of waiting for something and I could guess what that might be: the dreaded dancing in costume. I was weary from the day’s activities and so were Sandy and Tim. We were also concerned about finding our way back to our host home. And the sun was sinking. I wanted to get the heck out of the Amantani Island version of Dodge before the festivities began. We made our way down the path, but didn’t get far before being hijacked by Paulo and Juan Carolos.

View from the Square

We attempted to communicate through motions and words we knew they would not understand that we wanted to head back to their home. But Paulo had come bearing a pile of clothes and was intent on dressing us in them. Let me be clear: The will of the Aymara on Amantani Island is a force similar to that of the tides or the wind or the sun, itself.

We surrenedered and Paulo pulled traditional clothes–all of which appeared to bleong to members of her family–over our heads. These were not castoff clothes, but beautifully made and embroidered. Over my head went an embroidered blouse and it was accompanied by a bright green skirt. These went over the hiking pants and knit top I’d been wearing. Then Paulo wrestled with my body until she had two cloth belts tightly cinched around my waist. Interesting. I had already wondered how I would dance at this altitude. Now I saw that I would be expected to dance pretty much dressed in the Peruvian version of what Scarlet O’Hara wore to balls. Over skirt and blouse, Paulo placed one of the most beautiful embroidered shawls I have ever seen.

Tim and Juan Carlos

We were led back to the square where we saw that we could relax because all of our peers looked, for the most part, as ridiculous as we did. The women in the group, no doubt, were as breathless in their cinched belts as Sandy and me. I was beginning to understand that breathlessness in women, while once highly praised, was actually produced by clothing that would not allow them to breathe. While I knew about corsets and the like, this had never really hit home . . . until now.

Melanie and Kay Mott in our Peruvian Costumes

Of course, I would soon discover just how breathless a woman can be. The sun had set, a bonfire had been built, and the dancing began. After avoiding it for a time, I was eventually pulled in by Paulo or Sebastiana (I cannot quite recall) and surrendered to it. (An explanation of that surrender will be found a few paragraphs above in my reference to the will of the Aymara people.)

I’m exaggerating a bit about the tightness of the belts and the quality of breathlessness I experienced, but I will say that I was happy that I work out on a regular basis–both cardio and weight resistance training–because it supported me in dancing wildly at an elevation that was challenging even for me, a Coloradan.

As it happened, it was good training for the hike up the mountain the next day. But that, as they say, is another story.

Copyright 2010 by Melanie Mulhall

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Meeting the Lake, the Land, the People, and Myself

June 16, 2010
Once I had arrived in Peru, my first priority was to introduce myself to the land and to Lake Titicaca. The morning after our arrival, I breathed in the sweet smell of Peru and took my time, as one would do with a new lover. I took coca leaves with me down to a grandfather tree at the edge of the gardens, made a k’intu, a little fan-shaped arrangement of three coca leaves, and entered a prayerful state of consciousness. In that state, I introduced myself to the land and to the lake, spoke of my purpose for being in Peru, and offered my respect. Then I gently breathed blessing into the coca leaves, raised them to the sun, and let the wind take them.

Afterwards, I walked down to the lake and began to get a feel for her. Lake Titicaca is considered to be the epicenter of feminine energy on planet Earth and I immediately felt her tug at my quosqo (the energy center around the navel). I felt connected to her—even felt that I was at her service.

Later I walked the labyrinth on the property, enjoyed the gardens, and helped some groundskeepers clean the stones in one of the pools. I had come to Peru on a service trip, to help Jorge Luis and the shamans and elders gathering at the lake activate the Solar Disc. It seemed to me that anything I could do on behalf of this important cause was a worthy thing to do. The hotel belonged to Jorge, the pool was a part of the hotel, and everyone involved in the Solar Disc activation was gathering at the hotel. If stones needed to be washed, then I would wash stones.

I climbed into the empty pool, looked at the rather startled men scrubbing away at the stones, picked up a brush, and joined in. They seemed amused by the crazy lady scrubbing slime off the stones and made an attempt to communicate. Even though I knew almost no words in the local language and they knew no English, before long, we were laughing and interacting as we meticulously washed the stones. I had made some friends.

Melanie the Rock Scrubber

And Her New Friends

But it wasn’t quite all bliss.

Because of the nature of the trip and the work to be done, I knew that my time in Peru could, and probably would, surface my “stuff”—my internal detritus. Lisa (my longtime friend and the ringleader of the Denver contingent) and I had discussed it numerous times and had done plenty of internal clearing in preparation for the trip. Still, I knew that whatever needed to come up for review was likely to. And it did, my second morning there.

No warning. Like a sniper attack in the well-intentioned jihad for my spiritual sanity, ordered by kindly helping spirits—but painful, just the same—I found myself knocked off center and feeling vulnerable during a conversation with Jorge Luis, himself. I saw it for what it was: my stuff coming up. Once the conversation was over, I felt my feelings, explored my thoughts, meditated, and shed a few tears. And I breathed a few prayers of gratitude for all the hucha clearing I’d done before coming to Peru. Then I did a little more hucha clearing.

And then I went exploring again. I’d heard that there was a temple in Chucuito and I set off on foot to find it. It had been referred to both as a sun temple and as a fertility temple by some fellow travelers, but a merchant in town frowned at the notion that it might be considered a sun temple and insisted that it was only a fertility temple. The merchant pointed me in a direction.

Still, I wasn’t quite sure where it was and stopped, past the plaza and church, at an area that was walled off. An old Peruvian man stood at the locked gate awaiting entrance and a young man—very blonde and very white—came to let him in.

I approached and said, “What is this place.”

The young man, clearly an American, told me that it was a retirement home for the very elderly and that the people staying there were very poor. I asked what had brought him to this small retirement home in this small town in Peru and he told me that he had just completed college and was there doing service work—repairing, building, and fixing things up. He would be leaving in a few days to work elsewhere. We chatted about his work, our homes in America, and the fact that many shamans from around Peru and around the world would be congregating very close to where he was in just a couple of days. He was startled by the news . . . but no more startled than I had been to find him in Chucuito.

He pointed to the temple (Inca Uyo), which I had just passed. I backtracked, paid my two dollars to get in, and was promptly taken in hand by a young girl who looked no more than seven or eight. She was quickly joined by a slightly older boy and the two of them chaperoned me. The phallic looking statues peppering the grounds suggested that it was, indeed, a fertility temple.

Fertility Temple

The tour was quick. Within a couple of minutes, the girl began calling out what sounded like, “Finis! Finis!” and kept repeating a word I did not understand. (Of course, “finis” is Latin for “finished.” She certainly was not speaking Spanish and I had no sense of whether she could have been speaking in Aymara, the local language.) But I wasn’t finished experiencing the site and the boy was more accommodating. He pointed out several things of interest, the girl continuing to call out quite insistently and becoming more and more agitated the longer the tour took.

When she rubbed her thumb against her index and middle fingers and looked at me with disdain, I finally understood that she was not only insisting that the tour was over, but that she wanted money for the quick spin around the grounds. I had been at the temple but a few minutes. The two had chastised me when I suggested I just wander the grounds on my own. My head was spinning from the brush-off. I gave her a dollar. The boy demanded one too, but I’d had enough of the merchant urchins by then and simply turned and walked away.

The fellow travelers who had been to the temple before me had been enchanted by the delightful, loving children who had given them a tour. Their guides were clearly quite poor and equally sweet. But the boy and girl who ushered me were wearing designer duds and seemed to have affection only for making a buck. The boy at least had basic manners, but the girl was both disrespectful and pushy.

Yes, it can be said that the majority of Peruvians are not particularly well off, a condition that has spawned many little entrepreneurs. And, no doubt, some tourists are less than respectful of the Peruvian culture, people, and land. But the chasm between my friends’ experience and mine was a vivid and pointed message that Peruvian children, like people everywhere, are not generalizable.

Days unfold and reveal themselves to us regardless of where we are, but sometimes we are more cognizant of it, on alert for what might transpire. This day had more to reveal. We were taking a side trip to Sillustani—a place known for its UFO activity. The day was already revealing itself as being just a little disconcerting and odd. I wondered what was next. 

Sillustani

Copyright 2010 by Melanie Mulhall