A Table of Union
The Peruvian Mesa as a Syncretic Tool

by Aug 4, 2022

My shamanic training is rooted in Peruvian curanderismo, specifically in the use of the spiritual altar called a mesa. A mesa is the shaman’s gateway into the soul realm. In Spanish, mesa literally means “table,” which is fitting because it is the place where the shaman comes to feast on the fruits of spirit, where the shaman invites the invisible forces of the universe to commune. As noted by author and shamanic practitioner Matthew Magee, the mesa is “a living control panel, co-created by Spirit and the curandero, to become a vehicle for experiencing the ineffable.”[1] As a “control panel,” it is a tool to help one navigate the invisible realities on the shamanic path. The mesa is the vehicle from where the spiritual practices of the shaman as well as their curanderismo (curing) and divinatory techniques are performed.

The mesa, in form and function, is a syncretic tool, meaning it incorporates a union of ideas normally at odds with one another. This spiritual combination also creates an extraordinary ritual experience. It is the syncretic nature of curanderismo (the shamanic art of curing, specifically within the mesa lineage) that has drawn me to it and allowed me a space to bring my own religious past into union with my present state.

The Campos

The mesa is normally constructed using a cloth laid either upon the ground or a table of some sort. It is comprised of sacred objects, called artes, to represent various ceremonial or healing powers which augment the overall power of the mesa. Each arte has a specific ceremonial purpose depending upon where it is placed on the mesa. The mesa itself is a representation of the shaman’s cosmos, a map of the originating powers of the universe itself. Typically, the mesa is divided into multiples parts, or fields, that represent these universal powers. As pointed out by anthropologist Douglas Sharon, “The mesa, as a reflection of Andean cosmology, is a mediating space between the levels of the cosmos with the sides…representing the two primary cosmic forces and levels, while the apex (the shaman’s seat) represents the unification of opposed principles linked to a central, mediating cosmic axis (cross).”[2] Essentially, the curandero is the mediator between two primary cosmic forces that create the universe as we know it today, those forces represented on the mesa as corresponding fields.

In curanderismo, these fields are called campos in Spanish. Every lineage of curanderismo represents these campos in their own way, but generally they are portrayed as three vertical fields upon the cloth of the mesa extending from top to bottom: one on the left, one in the middle, and one on the right. They are known primarily as the campo ganadero, the campo medio, and the campo justiciero.

The way the mesa operates, any arte that is laid on a particular field will take on the powers and energies of that corresponding field. Therefore, any artes you may have in the campo ganadero will naturally take on the attributes of the campo ganadero, and so on. Let’s examine what each of these fields means and how they represent the ideology of the shaman’s work.

The Campo Ganadero

The field on the left is called the campo ganadero—in Spanish meaning the “field of the rancher”—otherwise known as the field of the magician. A rancher controls his flock of cattle, and so too the shaman is also a magician controlling the forces around him. The tradition of curanderismo is a superstitious one, and there is a prevalence of sorcery, manipulation, and bad luck (mala suerte) which is wielded against others. A true curandero is one who knows how to contain these types of forces and use them for beneficent, rather than malevolent, purposes. The purpose of the campo ganadero is to contain these forces and leverage their power for a constructive outcome in harmony with the other forces on the mesa.

Due to its proficiency in magic, the campo ganadero is the field of the feminine. By referring to the feminine I am not attributing anything to gender, as we all have masculine and feminine aspects within our soul. The feminine is a form of energy we can all tap into, regardless of identity, and it is one of majestic protection. The idea of the womb is a perfect symbol for the containment necessary to wield the forces of magic. The curandero uses the campo ganadero to dispatch negative energies or malevolent forces, as the womb protects and nurtures the child within. Also, it is attributed to the field of the dark arts and some sorcerers in Peru certainly use it for those means.

The three campos together represent the concept of time and the life span of the human. Therefore, the campo ganadero represents the past, our personal history and place of our ancestors. We learn from our past in order to reorient to the present and future; it is here where the shadowy aspects of past history reside, which we may reconstruct to serve the present day.

The Campo Justiciero

On the right-hand side of the mesa is the campo justiciero, the “field of divine justice,” the divine judge. This field embodies the mystical quest of seeking connection with the Divine, generally associated with white magic or beneficial energies. The path of the mystic is not about changing what is (such as through magic) but raising and lifting forth the potential of a situation. This is the true essence of communion with the Source of Creation, to uplift the already divine nature of the world around us.

The campo justiciero is primarily a masculine field, the field of force or pushing energy out into the world, a channel of creative force. Whereas the feminine side centers on protection, the masculine side is a movement in a direction conducted by the shaman. Therefore, the healing powers of raising the potential of an individual and helping create their own future is vital within this campo.

The Campo Medio

Now finally the campo medio, the middle field, also known as the field of equilibrium. This campo is not so much a field in its own right than it is a fusion of the campo ganadero and campo justiciero. This where the two opposing forces of the universe come together in harmony, which may not always be a pretty sight at first, but through time, effort, and will they are stabilized into a cohesive union or balance.

This represents full the shamanic paradigm, as opposed to other forms of spiritual: a shaman wields magic (campo ganadero), connecting to the mystical qualities of the universe (campo justiciero), in order to bring medicine to others (campo medio). Medicine is absolutely the result of magic and mysticism conjoined in equilibrium. Medicine is the true goal and is not something that can be given from one person to another; medicine is found within oneself. It is the initiate aligning with the true intent of their soul’s purpose on this planet. Therefore, any healing practice in association with the campo medio is a transmission only to align a person with their soul’s intent, and nothing else. It is the place where the chaotic waters either of both poles of existence (the campos of the mesa) come to be calmed, to be depolarized and no longer swayed by one side or the other. Due to this, the concepts of masculine and feminine energies fail to exist, and the campo medio becomes a truly androgynous state. Not one or the either, but both and neither at the same time. This is where you become you: the human soul in its most pristine state. There are many other names for this in other cultures: the Middle Pillar of Qabalah, the Middle Path of the magical traditions, or the Red Road of Northern Native American spirituality.

The only time represented within the campo medio is the present, which is both now and infinity all at once. It truly encapsulates the idea that time is not linear but synchronic, forever infinite and cyclical, and it is all happening in the eternal now. It brings elements normally at odds into a harmonious dance, which the shaman uses as tool to bring one’s own state back into harmony with oneself and with the natural world.

Campos as a Mirror

One of my teachers used to tell me that the mesa is a mirror. In that, the campos reflect the aspects of our own being. They can teach something about ourselves in relation to their symbols and meaning. This is normally done through the selection of the appropriate artes for their campo designation. Also, it can be done through simple meditation, which is our own way of reflecting how the universe manifests all around us. Through this reflection, we can see the mesa as a true table of unity within the self. When this is done, the artes on the appropriate campo would normally be selected to assist the shamanic initiate in their healing endeavor.

For instance, close your eyes and imagine a great cloth laid on the ground before you (or, if you already have a mesa, just observe your own altar). Imagining this cloth spread out, invisibly divide the cloth into three vertical zones, one on the left, one in the middle, and one on the right. Upon these zones would be placed artifacts that you find healing within the context of that particular campo. For example: you may have stones in the campo ganadero on the left because that is the place of the past and stones are ancient. Maybe you have feathers on the right in the campo justiciero to represent uplifting energies. Or, a yin-yang necklace in the campo medio because it happens to be the perfect symbol to remind you of balance. Breathe softly and use your imaginative power to conjure a host of artifacts you would use in these campos to represent their distinct powers.

Keeping your eyes closed, now conjure a particular issue into your awareness that you need a solution for. Do you have situation at work that needs fixed? A relationship problem? Maybe it is an emotional or mental hurdle you need resolved? Whatever it is, bring it up with clarity and hold the situation, visually, over your imagined mesa.

First, use the energies and artes of campo ganadero to analyze the issue at hand. What about the issue relates to your past? Have you learned anything from your past that will help resolve the issue? Conversely, is there anything from your past that is contributing to the issue? As the camp ganadero for guidance, for it is an energy and a conscious power in and of itself. What is revealed in the fogginess of memory that can be a gift for this issue?

Next, move your awareness to the camp medio, asking for assistance. What lessons are you learning right now from the issue at hand? How is your current life being affected by this issue? Is there anything in your present life that be leveraged as resolution for the issue? Without worrying about the future, what can you do right now, in this moment?

Finally, shift to the focus of the issue to the campo justiciero. In what way will this issue impact your future self? What needs to shift in order to steer the course, to achieve a better result? Do you have any expectations of the future that are bringing anxiety to the current situation? Do you have any expectations that can help guide you to a resolution?

As you can see, the three campos can work together on the mesa to provide a simple framework for discerning not only decision-making, but (for the shamanic practitioner) a healing path of prognosis for a client. It is a simple, yet effective system, but can also evolve into multiple layers of complexity, depending on the inclinations of the practitioner in how the mesa is built and utilized.

[1] Matthew Magee, Peruvian Shamanism: The Pachakuti Mesa (Kearney, NE: Morris Publishing, 2005), xvi.

[2] Joralemon and Sharon, Sorcery and Shamanism, 186.

 

Bibliography

Joralemon, Donald, and Douglas Sharon. Sorcery and Shamanism: Curanderos and Clients in Northern Peru. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1993.

Magee, Matthew. Peruvian Shamanism: The Pachakúti Mesa. Kearney, NE: Morris Publishing, 2005.

 

About the author

Daniel Moler

Daniel Moler

Daniel Moler is a visionary creator and student of the shamanic arts.  He is writer, artist, and creator of the hit comic series Psychonaut Presents and The Simon Myth Chronicles, the author of The Shamanic Soul and Shamanic Qabalah from Llewellyn Worldwide, as well as the psychedelic urban fantasy RED Mass, and the Terence McKenna guidebook Machine Elves 101. Daniel has been trained in a variety of magical and shamanic modalities, including Peruvian curanderismo. Visit Daniel online at www.danielmolerweb.com. Most of this current article is excerpted from The Shamanic Soul released from Llewellyn Worldwide on June 8th. You can get a copy at www.llewellyn.com.
Daniel Moler is a visionary creator and student of the shamanic arts.  He is writer, artist, and creator of the hit comic series Psychonaut Presents and The Simon Myth Chronicles, the author of The Shamanic Soul and Shamanic Qabalah from Llewellyn Worldwide, as well as the psychedelic urban fantasy RED Mass, and the Terence McKenna guidebook Machine Elves 101. Daniel has been trained in a variety of magical and shamanic modalities, including Peruvian curanderismo. Visit Daniel online at www.danielmolerweb.com. Most of this current article is excerpted from The Shamanic Soul released from Llewellyn Worldwide on June 8th. You can get a copy at www.llewellyn.com.
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