Photo Credit: Hannah Rae Porst
When I stayed in a Q’eros village at 16,000 feet in the Andes last year, I was blessed to participate in several “despacho” blessings performed by the Q’eros shamans. To the Q’eros, the primary spiritual principle is one of “ayni,” which refers to a sort of spiritual reciprocity. They believe that “Pachamama” (Mother Earth) is inherently nurturing when all is in balance. When things go awry and this reciprocity is not honored, Pachamama withholds her blessings and may even become hostile. The fields may not yield as many potatoes, and natural disasters may destroy their homes or their people.
The Cosmology of the Q’eros
For many lineages, this ceremony has been performed by one of two kinds of shamans. The “altomesayoq” are of the highest lineage, chosen by the “apus,” the spirits of the mountains, who cause this kind of shaman to be struck by lightning. If the shaman survives, he or she is an altomesayoq. The lower rank of shaman, the Pampamesayoq or “pakos,” are also qualified to perform this ceremony. Central to the cosmology of the Q’eros is the understanding that the world reflects back to us our state of ayni. When we are in right relationship with nature, she is good to us. When we fail to bless and express our gratitude to Mother Earth for all we take from her, we fall out of balance and she withholds her blessings. Coming back into ayni restores the flow of blessing and synchronicity.
Because so much is taken from Pachamama each day—food to eat, water to drink, minerals from the land, wood for the fires, beauty to nourish our souls—despachos are a way to bring “ayni” into balance. This kind of ayni is not a “tit for tat,” scorekeeping kind of reciprocity. It’s more vibrational than numerical. The wealthy are those who are always feeding the balance so that they are forever in debt to the village and the earth because of all the blessings they have bestowed. To these blessers, riches of love, gifts, and caretaking will always come.
The Despacho Ceremony: A Portal to the Soul of the World
When I was with the Q’eros, villagers would gather in a ceremonial circle around the shaman, who performed the despacho ceremony. But most of us Westerners don’t have a shaman to lead this ceremony in our village, some of us have been given permission by the shamans of the Q’eros to bring this ritual into our families and our work. The shamans who taught me were very clear that this is the time on the planet when all people are invited to bring these rituals into everyday life.
The despacho ceremony takes participants into ritual space and operates at the level of the soul. As the shaman adds gifts to the mandala of the despacho, the participants focus their intention on gratitude and blessing, and the vibration of the circle elevates. The ceremony becomes a living prayer that touches all who participate. This ceremony is performed as a commitment to the natural world to partner with it, to be its caretakers, to express love and gratitude in every action.
In honor of Earth Day, let me invite you all to perform a despacho ceremony of your own.
[Disclaimer: I am always sensitive to the accusations of cultural appropriation. I am also aware that I am a neophyte in all things indigenous, and I will likely fail to describe this ritual perfectly. Please know that the intention behind it is pure. I trust that the intention behind it will be transmitted, even if the details are in any way imperfectly accurate.]
How to Perform a Despacho Ceremony
1. Choose the object of your despacho.
You may offer this despacho to Pachamama, to a particular mountain, to the ocean, to a river, or to any part of nature that you feel needs to be thanked and blessed.
2. To begin to prepare for your despacho, find a large piece of paper and a piece of string.
The shamans I met with used wrapping paper or paper bags they had cut open to lay their mandala upon.
3. Collect leaves on a piece of cloth.
The Q’eros use coca leaves on a hand woven piece of cloth, which is part of the shaman’s “mesa” or healing bundle. But because transporting coca leaves from Peru to the US might have caused trouble with the drug-sniffing dogs, I’ve used eucalyptus, Manzanita, and other leaves local to my area. You may use whatever kind of cloth works for you.
4. Gather gifts that you wish to offer to the earth.
The shamans I worked with tended to use candy, money, rice, corn, and flowers, but I’ve modified and added tea, essential oils, crystals, and other valuable gifts.
5. Invite others to join you or perform the ceremony alone.
You can gather with others or perform this ceremony alone. Children love participating in these ceremonies. I also use them in workshops I teach. But sometimes I do this all alone, as a private offering.
6. Create the sacred space.
The shamans call in the directions of the Four Winds. You can use this prayer to open the space, or if you prefer, you can create the sacred container in whatever way feels natural for you. Light candles. Burn sage or incense. Ring chimes. Beat drums. Chant. Sing. Pray. Meditate. Call in whatever invisible support you resonate with- God, Goddess, Jesus, Buddha, spirit guides, angels, animal totems. I don’t think Mother Earth discriminates when she is being blessed.
7. Blow your intentions into the leaves.
Pass around the cloth with the leaves. Invite each participant to choose three leaves, holding them in a trio like a fan. Set the intention for the despacho, saying prayers of gratitude and blessing to the earth, and blow these intentions into the leaves three times. Go around the circle until everyone has blown his or her intentions into the leaves.
8. Collect the intention-filled leaves and place them in a circle upon the large piece of paper.
This circle of leaves will form the base for the mandala you are about to create.
9. Now that everyone’s intentions are collected at the base of the mandala, begin to embellish the mandala, adding all of your gifts on top of the leaves.
Take your time. When the Q’eros shamans performed this ceremony in silence, it often took about two hours. Create a work of art with the objects you are offering. Lay flower petals into a pattern. Layer it with chocolate and coins and beautiful stones. Create an act of beauty. Continue until all of the gifts are layered into the mandala.
10. Invite everyone to close their eyes and open their hands in order to receive the blessing from the despacho.
Listen. Receive any messages you are meant to receive. Be open to the mystery. If you have any requests you would like to make of Pachamama or the “Apus,” this is an appropriate time, but remember that the despacho is not about getting what you want, it is a primarily a ceremony of giving and gratitude. Thank Pachamama. If you wish, speak your gratitude out loud.
11. Wrap the mandala into a bundle inside the paper.
Tie up the package as if you are wrapping a gift.
12. When the other participants are gone, burn the bundle in a fire.
The shamans do this part privately because they say the spirits are shy.
* I often do these ceremonies privately, especially when I am hiking sacred mountains. In that case, I do not wrap the mandala in paper or burn it. I simply make the mandala on the ground or on a stone and I leave it in situ, hoping that the Apus understand the fire hazards in California and the purity of my gratitude.
Why Perform a Despacho?
Why go to all this trouble? How does this affect a planet in crisis? Wouldn’t we be better off committing ourselves to activist causes with more visible and direct results?
Maybe the world is not as we think. If you believe what the Q’eros do, everything in the Universe is alive and animate. Everything has and IS consciousness. Cause and effect may not be as we think. Performing a despacho ceremony raises the vibration of the planet, and perhaps if we raise the collective vibration even the smallest bit, we save a tree in the rainforest or we infuse love into the oceans in a way that helps them heal. Our culture teaches us that we must DO in order to see results. But what if raising the state our individual and collective consciousness trips the 100th monkey phenomenon threshold? What if one despacho can flip the switch that makes more of us commit to caretaking the earth and coming into ayni with the natural world?
I don’t claim to know how the world works. After two years of performing despachos every chance I get, I can’t promise you that I have helped the earth. But I swear that it has changed me. Every time I perform one of these ceremonies, alone or with a group, I think of it as a commitment ceremony. I remind myself that as a human being, it is my duty and privilege to be Mother Earth’s caretaker, to be a voice for the voiceless, to express my gratitude for all that I take from her every day, to drink in her beauty and open my heart to her bounty. My heart swells with love for this planet that serves me every day. A despacho is my way of serving ayni. May it serve you the same way.
What would happen if we all did this every day? Imagine how the vibration of this planet might change! Perhaps miracles would happen. I suspect they would.
So let me ask you this question on this Earth Day and every day:
Are you willing to make a commitment to Mother Earth to guard and protect her as her loving caretaker?
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