As contemporary Shamanic practitioners, we may find ourselves exploring and investigating a variety of contemporary and traditional spiritual and healing practices. After a period of time and practice, we might choose to focus our energy on just one or two that feel like the most natural fit and truly call to us on a soul level. Or, if it feels more natural to us, we might continue to explore an eclectic range of practices. Regardless whether we are called to one tradition, a few, or several, it takes many years of dedication, study, and practice to integrate what we have learned into a deep and meaningful and cohesive practice of our own.
While an eclectic practice can be exciting and interesting to explore, it can also feel disjointed. Without dedication to deep and consistent practice, we may find ourselves flitting from one practice to another, or one lineage to another, and our Shamanic practice may never get past an elementary level. This can prove to be unfulfilling and ineffective in the long run. To grow and mature in our eclectic Shamanic practice, we must discern what is part of our soul’s path and calling, and what’s just a passing interest. Once we have determined the practices and lineages that call and speak to us most, we can look for ways to create a more cohesive Shamanic practice while still honoring the individual personal connections we have made to a diverse group of spirit allies and teachings. Important to any Shamanic practice, especially if connecting with spirit beings, rituals, or ceremonies from a culture other than our own, is to have permission from elders or trusted teachers of that lineage to make sure we are properly honoring what we have learned and being respectful.
Two particular Shamanic practices work well together as a way to integrate an eclectic practice. One is the Shamanic Journey of Core Shamanism, founded by Dr. MIcheal Harner (Harner, 1990), and the other is the portable altar, called a mesa, based on the teachings of the Indigenous elders of the Peruvian Andes, and in particular, the Q’ero (Kinch, 2010; Wilcox, 2004). Through learning Core Shamanism and building a personal mesa, the eclectic Shamanic practitioner can integrate various elements of their own spiritual practice, fortifying their connections to their helping spirits, the Divine, the Earth, and their own ancestors.
CORE SHAMANISM AND THE SHAMANIC JOURNEY
The teachings of Core Shamanism are meant for anyone who might have an interest in learning to connect with helping spirits and spirit guides for healing, guidance, wisdom, and more. The techniques of Core Shamanism are not dependent on the focus of a particular culture, religion or spiritual practice. Sandra Ingerman (2008) describes Core Shamanism as a path of direct revelation—by learning and practicing the Shamanic journey, each person builds relationships with their spirit allies and receives guidance directly from them, rather than going through an intermediary such as a minister or priest. A Shamanic practitioner feeling called to an eclectic path can take time to build relationships with a variety of allies, such as angels, deities, ancestors, religious figures, nature spirits, power animals, and more.
The Shamanic journey is the fundamental practice of Core Shamanism, and can be learned in a relatively short period of time. However, it takes many years of dedicated study and practice to build strong relationships with spirit allies and to be able to facilitate healing for the community in a competent and consistent manner. Taking one weekend workshop or short online class series does not replace the deeper learning that occurs with a long-term commitment to proper study and training.
THE MESA TRADITION OF THE ANDES
The Q’ero tribe of the Peruvian Andes is an Indigenous tribe with pre-Incan ancestry. They have maintained their traditional spiritual and healing practices for many centuries. The mesa tradition of the Andes has been made available to the contemporary Shamanic practitioner because Q’ero shamans, Pacos, have generously and openly shared their teachings with others for many years. They have seen that many of us have lost our own way of living in sacred and right relationship with Pachamana (Mother Earth) and each other (Bryon, 2012).
Don Manuel Quispe, a Q’ero Paco, shared that he felt many of the new Shamanic healers would come from the West. They might end up studying various lineages and traditions, be well educated, and be able to transfer knowledge of the ancient ways to the needs of our contemporary society. He also felt that Westerners would be called to the Shamanic path because we were the ones who most needed to take responsibility for what has been done to the environment, and to repair our sacred relationship with Mother Earth (Bryon, 2012).
While we have been given permission to work with the framework of the mesa and to make it our own when studying with Q’ero Pacos, Indigenous Andean teachers, or those trained by them (Wilcox, 2004), it is also important to understand the dedication involved when building a mesa, and to know when we are following their traditional practices and when we are not.
There are many Western-trained mesa carriers who build their mesa with stones honoring the four directions in the teachings of North American traditions, or include stones or crystals for the seven chakras which are an Eastern-based teaching, or stones that represent their core childhood wounds, such as the mother and father wounds. While these teachings can be a helpful part of a practitioner’s healing process, they fall outside of the traditional Andean cosmology. A more traditional Andean approach, as we will see, is to find stones and items for our mesa that represent our greatest munay—our love and will—or the places we find and feel the most unconditional love from our guides, ancestors, helping spirits, Mother Earth, the Divine, and the cosmos.
The Traditional Mesa
The foundation of the traditional mesa is 12 kuyas, found stones, typically from the Andean mountain range surrounding Cuzco, known as the navel of the Inca empire. Stones from these sacred mountains can help connect a Paco with the powerful energetic support of the Apus, or great Lords of the Mountains, who guide and protect life in the Andes and the people that honor them. A Q’ero Paco’s mesa might also include stones from the Ñustas, the sacred feminine nature spirits of lagoons, lakes, caves, and other natural features that support the concentration of female energy in the natural landscape.
A Paco typically spends a year or more making pilgrimages, praying, and making offerings at just one of the locations from which they have acquired a kuya, in order to establish and build the relationship they have initiated with this particular sacred place. Building their mesa in a traditional way is something that could take a decade or more. Kuyas embody a variety of spiritual powers. Some cleanse or clear heavy or discordant energy known as hucha. Some are acquired in pairs, two stones that represent the balance of complementary opposites, such as male/female energies known as yanantin. There are kuyas for each of the four corners of the Inca empire, and stones connected to a Paco’s place of birth, which hold special power for that particular Paco. Meteorite stones connect a Paco’s medicine to the stars—an important connection to life in an agricultural tradition and a connection to their ancestors. A Paco’s mesa might also include other items, such as a shell to represent the waters, or the origins of life known as Mama Cocha, a crystal to represent the Upper World or heavens, a cross or other religious or sacred item personal to that particular Paco.
The items of the mesa are wrapped in a mestana—a woven cloth or tapestry that contains sacred symbols of the Andean and Incan cosmology, such as representations of the Apus, Ñustas, flowers, Sun, and other sacred beings and elements important to their cosmology. Wrapping the items in this way protects them, and makes it easier to carry them as the Pacos have needed to travel to different locations to farm and tend their herds.
Andean Pacos also go through a series of initiations known as karpays. These initiations support their healing and spiritual work, and the building of their mesas. The Q’ero and other Andean Pacos have adapted and shared a variety of versions of these karpays with those outside their lineage to support them on their spiritual paths, in building their mesas, and to strengthen their sacred relationship with the Earth.
Building a Mesa for Contemporary Shamanic Practice
In the Andes, many Pacos view other spiritual practices and traditions that have similar foundational beliefs as valid as their own, and as equal paths to forging a relationship with the Divine and Mother Earth and all that is (Wilcox, 2004). They often encourage and guide their students to find their own medicine by developing their own relationships with the land, their spirit allies, and their ancestral traditions, incorporating connections to these varied elements into their own personal mesa.
Building a mesa is a sacred process that can take a great deal of time and should be done with care, honor and respect under the guidance of a respected and skilled teacher. This may be an Indigenous Paco, or a traditionally trained teacher who has permission from the Q’ero or Indigenous Andean Pacos. As students of the Andean spiritual path, it is important to not just dump a bunch of things into a cloth just to fill it up. It’s also not necessary that we try to include items from “high profile” spiritual places such as the Sedona red rocks, Machu Picchu, or the Grand Canyon, unless we actually have a deep and profound connection to these places and have gathered the items properly and with respect.
What we can do is look for stones that speak to us from sacred places in nature where we live, from the lands of our ancestors, and from our birthplace. We can include shells from our favorite beach, a few special crystals, religious tokens such as a goddess or angel statue, prayer cards, rosary beads, medals or medallions, etc. from our own spiritual practices, and sacred items gifted to us from our own ancestors. We can also include herbs and plant allies that resonate with us, hair or feathers from a power animal if we have them (using care to remove these items before traveling across borders with the mesa if they are restricted), a small statue of a power animal, or a skull for shadow work or ancestral healing. When we acquire these sacred items from nature, it is important that we honor the reciprocity of the gift and leave an offering if we are taking something. An offering can be a bit of cornmeal or tobacco, some sweets or birdseed, or other biodegradable items. In this way we honor sacred reciprocity, which is the teaching of ayni from the Andean traditions. We can seek to purchase a Q’ero or Andean cloth for our mesa from a reputable source which supports the tribe’s livelihood, we can find a cloth that relates to our own ancestral traditions, or we can use something even more personal such as a prayer shawl or scarf, or a baby blanket from a child or grandchild in the family.
INTEGRATING CORE SHAMANISM AND THE MESA
We can integrate Core Shamanism and the Andean Mesa tradition to build cohesion in an eclectic Shamanic practice. We can use the Shamanic Journey to connect with each item we choose for our mesa, learning more about the item’s connection to our personal path and what it has to teach us. The stones in our mesa offer empowerment and links to the sacred places in nature that are meaningful and hold medicine for us. We can hold a mesa stone as an ally and work with it to journey to that particular sacred place on a regular basis for more teaching, guidance and healing. We can also honor the spirits of that place while we connect with them in the journey.
We can integrate Core Shamanism and our mesa when working for others. We can journey into our mesa for teachings and we can journey with our mesa for power animal and soul retrievals if we have been trained in these methods. The mesa is a particularly effective conduit for power animal and soul retrievals because the energies we are retrieving for our clients can absorb whatever healing or empowerment energies contained in our mesas that a client might need to support them in their healing process. The mesa can also be used as an extraction tool, as well for clearing heavy and dense energies.
In this way, the Andean mesa and the Shamanic Journey of Core Shamanism invite integration of an eclectic Shamanic practice. They become a framework for contemporary practitioners to integrate diverse ancestral and religious traditions, while respecting and living in sacred reciprocity with the land where we live and where we were born. We can explore our birth religions on a deeper level through these practices, we can honor and strengthen our connections to our own ancestors and ancestral traditions, and we can incorporate elements of other spiritual and religious traditions that have called to our hearts and souls and that we have permission to practice. We can create more wholeness in ourselves in a time when our Western culture is more fragmented and disconnected than ever. And in this way, we can be conduits for the future we would like to see—of connection, honoring diversity, and creating unity with love, dedication, and respect.
Bryon, Deborah, PhD. (Fall 2012, vol. 5, issue 2). A Dialogue with Jose Luis Herrera on Peruvian Shamanism. The Journal of Shamanic Practice, 13-19.
Harner, Michael, (1990) The Way of the Shaman. HarperOne.
Ingerman, Sandra, (2008) Shamanic Journeying, A Beginner’s Guide. Sounds True Publishing.
Kinch, Denise. (2010) A Walk Between Worlds: Truth is Beauty, The Q’ero. Xlibris
Wilcox, Joan Parisi, (2004) Masters of the Living Energy: The Mystical World of the Q’ero of Peru. Inner Traditions