My first trip to Bolivia was in 1971. I spent two years in Bolivia on that trip and lived primarily in the Departments of Potosí and Chuquisaca running a Spanish-language literacy project. Today Quechua is spoken by over 80 percent of the people in these Departments with a majority of the native Spanish speakers residing in the cities of Potosí and Sucre. While I lived in the cities of Potosí and Sucre I spent most of my time in the outlying pueblos, in places like Tarabuco and Betanzos. It was there that I met my first Maestro, Don Juan Carlos. He told me a story about the origins of the Shaman's Mesa that I have heard repeated, with minor variations, throughout the Quechua-speaking regions of Bolivia and Peru. This is the story of the origin of the Mesa as told to me by don Juan Carlos in Betanzos.
Wiracocha, the creator of the world, looked down and saw that his creation was not following the path that he had intended. He told Condor (remember that Condor is one of the totem animals of Hanaq Pacha) to go down and have a look and see what was happening. Condor flew for days and days observing the actions of the people on earth and then he returned to Wiracocha and told him that the people had become self-centered, egotistical and materialistic; all they did was look out for their own best interests and they had forgotten their responsibility to look out for each other. Wiracocha was very saddened by the news. However, he had a solution. He asked Condor to return to Kay Pacha in the form of a man. He told Condor that whomever he touched would be healed, not just healed physically, but healed spiritually and emotionally as well. Wiracocha also told Condor never to tell anyone who he really was, because when he did so he would return to hanaq pacha.
Condor flew down to Kay Pacha and traveled from pueblo to pueblo healing souls and spirits and also bodies. Slowly the world began to change and people began to remember the path. Condor worked for many years and began to grow old. He looked like an old man because no one knew that he was Condor. Finally one day he knew that it was time for him to leave Kay Pacha and return to Hanaq Pacha. A young man had been following him for some time, leaning his teachings and his ways. He took the young man aside and told him that he was Condor and that it was time for him to return to Hanaq Pacha. He told the young man to travel high into the mountains. There he would be guided to a bush and under the bush he would find a cloth bundle. He was to unwrap the cloth bundle and hold the stone that he would find therein. Condor told the young man that the stone was his (Condor's) heart and that the young man could continue to heal bodies and souls by using the bundle with the rock inside.
The young man did as he was told and made a long and solitary trek into the sierra, the mountains. He followed the tail of Puma (totem animal of Kay Pacha) to a bush and under the bush he found the cloth bundle that Condor had spoken of. The young man unwrapped the bundle and found inside an ordinary looking rock. However when he touched the rock blood started to flow from the rock (1). At that very instant down in a pueblo the old man transformed into Condor and flew up into the sky to Hanaq Pacha. The young man carefully wrapped the rock back up in the cloth and carefully took his bundle down the mountain. He loving cared for the bundle the rest of his days and used it to heal all who came to him.
Shamans in the Andes today carry a cloth bundle with them that contains tokens of their Apus, usually rocks and crystals from sacred sites along with other sacred images and tools. These objects are all power tools. An object is added to the mesa bundle when a shaman gets a strong "yes" that an object should be included. Some items included in a bundle have generic, cultural meaning, for example I was taught to always include a bell in my bundle because it brings intuition. Other items have specific, personal meaning. For example, my bundle contains a small, perfectly round quartzite stone, about the size of a golf ball. I pick the stone out of a stream in the Blue Ridge Mountains. The stone was weathered and smoothed by centuries or millennium of tumbling in the stream, making its way down from the mountains. It reminds me of how experience smooths off our rough edges.
The cloth that I use to wrap up the objects for my Mesa is a one-meter square piece of hand-woven fabric that I bought off a loom in the Andes Mountains. It has special meaning to me because I watched the weaver work, talked to her about her weaving, learned what was involved and how long it took to make. Her weaving helped to support her family, but it was also a labor of love. Every time I touch the cloth my heart is transported back to the Bolivian highlands.
The bundle is activated and turns into a Mesa when it is opened up. The cloth becomes the altar covering and the objects are carefully arranged on top of the cloth. The apus arrive when the bundle is opened. It is always good to great the Apus with music (I play a tune on a Native American flute) and then with a prayer . . . Apu of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Apu of Illampu . . . I keep you always in my heart." and then I give an offering to Pachamama.
When a bundle is opened and the Mesa is set it is connected to all of the other Mesas. I was told by my Meastro (Teacher/Master), Don Juan Carlos, years ago, "Never feel alone, you are always connected to me and the other curanderos (healers) through our Mesas, the energy connects us all." Not only does the Mesa connect us with our Apus, with other Mesas and their workers, it also connects us with our history. One of the treasured objects in my mesa is the small figurine of a llama, it reminds me of my years in the Andes Mountains. Another is a small, carved raven by Zuni artist Tim Lementino. It reminds me of one of my totem animals, Raven, and also of the time I spent with my Northern Cheyenne blood brother in Lame Dear, Montana. Another item in my bundle is a quartz crystal point from Tibet that has special meaning for me. I'm 60 years old now and so I have more than half a century of memories caught up in my bundle. If you decide to make a Mesa then your bundle will start to carry your memories and consequently your energy as well.
When the temperature gets above freezing I'll set my Mesa up in the forest and take a few pictures to share with you . . . future blog.
(1) Catholic readers might note a similarity between the bleeding rock (heart) of Condor and the bleeding heart of Christ. I don't know if the similarity is coincidental or if it is the result of the intertwining of ancient Andean beliefs with 16th century Catholic teaching. My guess is that it is the latter.)
If you are new to my blog on Andean Shamanism you might want to go back and read the first two posts, they will provide background and you will understand the Quechua terms that I used in this post.
I'm Dr. Dave, a modern druid. I lived and worked in Bolivia and Peru for over six years, where I and was trained by Andean Shamans, and today practice Druidcraft and contemporary shamanism.