by Ralph White
August 20 to September 3rd, 2018
I have just returned from the Open Center’s 14th Esoteric Quest, an ongoing exploration of the rediscovery of the lost spiritual traditions of the West. During many Quests in Europe and North Africa, from the Alchemical World of Renaissance Bohemia n 1995 to Ancient Alexandria: Birthplace of the Western Mind in 2012, we have journeyed far into distant worlds both historically and geographically. But this year we traveled to South America for the first time to connect with the marvelous culture of the Incas and other Pre-Columbian cultures.
What can we say about this Esoteric Quest 2018? It is not an exaggeration to say that it was outstanding, filled with marvels, permeated by beauty, spiritually moving and uplifting, and humbling in our growing awareness that the ancient Andean cultures have endured for so long and remained so spiritually intact.
We were privileged to glimpse the essence of indigenous Andean spirituality, and its essence seems clear. Gratitude lies at its heart and its expression is love. Gratitude for the vast starlit heavens, the abode of Viracocha, so clear in the mountain nights; gratitude for the sun and the moon, for the abundance of Mother Earth and for the waters and the wind that make life possible. Gratitude in fact for simple human existence in this realm of wonders.
We were fortunate to experience multiple ceremonies with Quechua paqos or Aymara killawayas, each one ending with celebrant or shaman embracing each of the participants in a gesture of warmth and unity. In these remote regions of Peru and Bolivia, there is an enduring sense of brotherhood, of sisterhood, of our shared experience in this middle Earth of the puma between the upper world of the condor and lower world of the serpent.
Always in the Andes, there is the presence of the Apus, the mountain gods, and the lovely, hanging clouds with which the Apus are said to converse. The spiritual traditions there, which appear to co-exist comfortably with Catholicism, convey the sense that the whole natural world is sacred and worthy of our highest respect. One can only ponder with admiration the achievements of the Incas in creating an abundant society in which all were taken care of and the land itself was made into a work of art by ubiquitous terraces that not only enabled highly successful mountain agriculture but that also enhanced the beauty of the world by weaving not only with the wool of lamas and alpacas but with the soil itself.
What have I returned with from these High Andes? Perhaps a psyche purified and uplifted by the mountains and lakes, a mind expanded by knowledge of these Andean cultures and their wisdom, and a renewed reverence and respect for the living spirituality of the indigenous Andean peoples that has endured through centuries of oppression and marginalization and is experiencing today a resurgence that can only be embraced with joy. At a time when we desperately need a living ecological ethic to heal from the ravages of materialism and consumerism, the Andean cosmo-vision or spiritual worldview offers us a beautiful and inspiring example of how to live in harmony with and respect for the great universe that surrounds us. As the world looks for inspiration and a practical demonstration of the ability to live in harmony with Mother Earth, or PachaMama, it is time to look toward South America, to both its ancient Pre-Columbian and its contemporary indigenous cultures, as models of spiritual and ecological wisdom from which we, in our industrialized and existentially empty society, can learn deep lessons of which we are in vital need.