Her Hips Don’t Lie
A beautiful green humming bird hangs off a fuchsia stem, the lights are coming on all over the hills and a fire still smokes in the garden of Healing House - the dying embers of an indigenous Incan ceremony to honour mother earth.
The feminine shapes of the continent have been inspiring poets from Chilean Love Master Pablo Neruda to El Gabo (Gabriel Garcia Marquez) to Shakira. But its not the tiny Colombian hip shaking temptress that is worshipped in these parts. Here there is only one woman to rule them all. She lives in the Andes and her name is Pacha Mama (the Peruvian cosmic Mother Earth goddess.)
Its only a short walk from San Blas,the arty ‘hood in Cusco where I’m staying to her domain. Steep steps rise ever upward towards Cristo Blanco; the white statue of Christ on the hillside that overlooks the town; the surrounding Incan ruins of Sacsayhuaman (pronounced appropriately, Sexy Woman) and the gentle rise and fall of the surrounding fields.
The mountains of the Andes are extraordinary: soft, undulating waves of palest green that loom high into tall slopes only to drop away again in pleats and folds.
So far i’ve explored her generous curves via horseback (on a “trusty steed” ironically named Peregrino - Gunpowder) and even attempted to rock climb one of her many faces. I’ve sat on the grass, with my woollen alpaca socks off, soil under my soles, cradled in bird song and the lazy humming of bees, outstretched and embraced in the comforting folds of Mother Earth’s arms.
The Q’ero People
Earlier today under a bright blue sky and fierce mountain sun, the residents and staff of Healing House run by Nicky, have been joined by three indigenous Que’ro people from an inidenous tribe in the Andes. They have come down from the hills into Cusco today to share with us a ceremony where we will offer up a “Despacho” or gift, to Pacha Mama.
The Q’ero people live in one of the most remote regions of the Andes up to altitudes of 4500m in small, humble one room dwellings without access to electricity or running water.
Their mythology states that they are the direct descendants of Inca Priests living before the colonisation by Spain. Their story speaks of a premonition of the invasion and a forthcoming dark age. They sent representatives from their tribes far away into the mountains to preserve the wisdom of the Incan way of life.
The Incan Empire was eventually defeated by Spanish conquistadors who built Catholic churches on sacred Incan sites but somewhere in the cool, dark hills of the Andes the mystical Qe’ro people lived on, passing down from generation to generation the magical rituals and their reverence for their cosmic goddess Pacha Mama (mother earth) and a whole host of other mountain spirits - the Apus.
Juan and his brother have been invited here to host one of their sacred ceremony to Pacha Mama. Decked out in brilliantly bright pink, red and black woven garments, they are joined by wife and 4 year old daughter Senticka who are clad in traditional female Quechan dress of big, bunched skirts and brown felt hats.
A Despacho Gift
We sit in a semi circle and lay out our own sacred objects and ornaments to be blessed as part of the ceremony. I take off the necklace i’m wearing, a gold plated tantric star representing the divine masculine and feminine.
This concept or yin and yang is present in the Quechan traditions too and the masculine and feminine here will be represented by offerings of red and white carnations whose petals are carefully laid out along with along with llama fat (a sacred animal to the Q’ero communities) coca leaves, incense, money, sweets, some candy in the shape of ears of corn (another valuable commodity) money and even some pink wafer biscuits.
“Despacho” is quite simply and literally a gift for Pacha Mama that will contain wishes for abundance and prosperity along with all of our own individual wishes and blessings. Juan places all of the items in an intricately laid out pattern onto sunflower patterned wrapping paper along with two ribbons, one red and one white that represent our path in life. Grain with raisins on top is also placed into the offering, representing negative energy with the sweetness felt when the heavy energy is displaced. The Q’ero believe that we can offer up all of our heavy energy to Pacha Mama. She’s a sturdy broad. She can take it.
Juan and his brother cleanse their hands with Aqua di Florida, a scent made out of flowers and alcohol and popular in Shamanic ceremonies. The bottle is passed around along with a bag of coca leaves, we take six each and whisper our wishes into them. One by one we then go up and kneel in front of the Qu’eros whilst they bless us, taking our leaves and blowing blessings through them onto our bowed head, chanting in Quechan. When they have finished our leaves are also carefully placed in the gift wrap along the ribbons.
Juan continues to bless the package, chanting in Quechan and ringing two clear bells and splashing more Aqua di Florida over our sacred objects which are also blessed. Once the final chants and blessings have been made we take back our objects before the gift for Pacha Mama is wrapped up in different coloured cotton string that represents the rainbow, a sacred national emblem of the Cusquenans.
After the ceremony is complete the Despacho is unwrapped onto a fire and then burnt. It is considered rude to watch the fire while it burns so instead the Q’ero sell us some of their wares, fine alpaca hats that feel authentically wrought and are decorated with condors, closely woven bags and bracelets. Apparently we only discover after if the Apu have granted our blessings. Here’s hoping.
How precious and sacred our access to mother nature is. How unconscious we are in our treatment of her throughout so much of the world.
The myth continues that the Q’ero people would receive a sign when the time was right to come back down from the hills and share their wisdom and ceremonies with the people.
That sign came in the 1950s but at a time when the world feels at crisis point and warfare, terrorism, death and disaster seem to be escalating at a terrifying pace perhaps more and more of us need to be sharing the worship, reverence and gratitude that the Qu’ero people feel for mother nature and our dear planet, before it is too late.
An appropriate thought for International Women's Day!