by Ralph White
This week is the second installment on the Esoteric Quest just completed a month ago in the High Andes of Peru and Bolivia. Our experience in South America was the continuation of a conference series begun in 1995 on the Western Esoteric Traditions, now including those of the Western Hemisphere.
This Quest was certainly one of the most cosmic so far. We returned with vivid memories of the vast waters of Lake Titicaca, the beauty of the snowcapped Cordillera, and the fascinating practices of the shamans (killawayas, yatiri and paqos) of the highlands and their ancient reverence for the Sun and Moon, the starlit heavens, PachaMama, Mother Earth, and the gods or powers of wind and water that together make life possible.
One cannot engage with the spiritual life of the Andes without seeing the essential role of ceremony in this resurgent culture. Our Quest included numerous rituals with the indigenous people – on the banks of the Urubamba River; in the Temple of the Virgins on the Island of the Moon; with the Q’ero paqos in Cuzco who had traveled many hours from their high mountain home to be with us; at the oldest archeological site in the Americas, Tihuanaco, and many more. Each time, the emphasis is placed on the power of intention, the careful placement of the sacred coca leaves, the invocation of blessings from the natural world, and the full use of ceremonial objects. And then the burning of the complete offering, the release of old patterns, and the invocation of the higher spiritual powers. We were fortunate that August is the month when PachaMama’s mouth is considered open to receive offerings in preparation for the planting of crops in September.
What was so surprising was the universality of this practice in both Peru and Bolivia, among the Q’ero, Quechua and Aymara peoples and the way it seems to co-exist comfortably with Christianity. The successful syncretism between the two paths, with neither objecting to nor fearing the other, was deeply impressive.
These spiritual traditions are widely referred to today as the Andean Cosmovision, and they live powerfully in the arts. We met Mamani Mamani, the greatest living Bolivian artist, whose work colorfully and vibrantly expresses the three words – the Upper World of the Condor, the Middle World of the Puma, and the Underworld of the Serpent. Spiritual forces permeate every aspect of his art with dynamic color and form, each image evoking the power of the traditional beliefs and giving them a contemporary form. Mamani Mamani’s work is happily not limited to galleries and shows. Instead, he has painted whole multi- story buildings in El Alto, the Aymara city of a million and a half on the highlands above La Paz. These structures no longer display the unappealing red brick of unfinished buildings so common in the poorer areas of the Andes. Instead, dramatic colors and forms speak of a healthy and vigorous worldview powerfully resurgent in these highlands and embraced by the Bolivian government of Evo Morales for their empowerment of the Andean peoples’ wisdom and creativity.
A visitor can only be moved to see this traditional spiritual wisdom that honors all the elements of the natural world regaining its place of honor in the cultures of Peru and Bolivia. The Incas, despite their sophistication and the extent of their amazing empire, the Tawantisuyo, were only the last of a long series of civilizations in South America. Tihuanaco had existed for millennia before the Incas arrived and is, in fact, the oldest structure in the Western Hemisphere. To see the enormous steles of PachaMama, the alignments of the temples with the solstices and equinoxes, and the overall sophistication and beauty of the site is to wonder where this all came from. Could such a sophisticated culture really have emerged from simple hunters and gatherers living in caves? One can’t help wondering if there is a huge missing piece in our understanding of human evolution.
Tihuanaco stands today as a reminder of the truly ancient history of the civilization of the Andes, and a source of pride for the indigenous peoples throughout the continent whose sophisticated cultures had the misfortune to be demeaned by the conquering Spaniards. But that’s why the Open Center creates these Esoteric Quests – to participate in the rediscovery of the half-forgotten spiritual history of the world. We’ve been producing them now for twenty four years and it feels like the journey has only just begun.
Click here to read An Esoteric Quest for the Lost World of the Incas (Part One)
Featured Image: Q’ero paqo