We stood in the light of a very bright half moon, around a blazing fire, invoking the Great Spirit to protect the earth. Just after we had invited the Jaguar spirit to protect the earth, a cacophony of coyotes howled in the distance. There were at least 6 of them, howling, baying, almost screaming out. The dogs, two Labradors and a German shepherd, started to bark, restless and anxious. Heidi, the Shaman conducting the ceremony, laughed and said 'We sent the Jaguar after them'.
Earlier, we had sat in Louise's house, in a large circle and participated in the Despacho ceremony. We were there to celebrate Earth Day and to let go of any of our fears, worries, negative ideas. Out of the group of 10 people,only 2 had participated in a Despacho before. I had seen part of one on a TV programme here in Canada, called Medicine Woman. What I had seen intrigued me.
Heidi is a Shaman with a lot of experience. She is over 6 feet tall, blonde, in her late 40s perhaps. She drives a bright red Ford Mustang. I liked the contrasts in her. The obvious gravitas she had, her connection to each person in the room, her deep knowledge of shamanistic ceremony combined with humour, warmth and a touch of flamboyance.
The idea of the Despacho is to create a bundle of objects that represent the things you want to share with Pachamama. It can contain anything that speaks to you including objects created from leaves and flowers into which you blow your worries and fears or hopes and dreams. In our case, we were honoring the earth and giving back to her in thanks for the bounty she provides us.
Surrounding Heidi were a variety of bags, boxes, plastic containers, flowers, bottles of wine, all containing representations of things that belong on the earth or in the Universe. It is a highly ritualised ceremony with great attention paid to each item that will be sprinkled in a circle on the paper enclosing all the offerings. As she went along, she explained what each piece meant and some of them were shared out amongst all of us to imbue them with our own spirit.
|Incan Shaman creating the Despacho|
As each layer appeared, the circle of offerings on the paper grew and grew. Some of the objects that were there included flower petals, sugar, sparkles, representations of animals and humans, a Southern Cross, beans, corn, juniper berries, raisins, peanuts and much more. I was thrilled to be asked to make a representation of the female, using Playdoh. At first, I tried to make a female figure and realised it was not going to work because the Playdoh was too soft so I created a complete circle representing the wholeness of the female experience. Another woman created the male representation as the head of an eagle.
Once all the layers were placed on the paper and blessed, we were invited to place our layers of leaves and flowers, one for the earth and one for our own dreams, into the hands of Heidi or Louise. She placed the earth offering in the circle and then used the personal offering to bless each person and wish that their dreams would come true. For each person, she had a special message.
|How a completed Despacho might look|
Once this was done, the paper was folded and tied up with a ribbon and then covered in a woven cloth and again tied up with a ribbon.
Before going outside to start the fire ceremony, Heidi cleared the aura of each of us using the bundle we had created. She then whispered something in each person's ear. I watched as each person before me was cleansed and wondered what she might say to me.
When it came to my turn, as she used the bundle to cleanse my energy, a shower of sugar cascaded over my head and shoulders. I later found out that I was the only person this happened to. It was like a shower of sweetness. Heidi whispered to me "Don't hide your inner beauty. You are truly beautiful. You must look to the plants and trees and hear what they say to you and allow them to honour your beauty. This is very important. You must not hide any longer."
I smiled as she said it because it was a reflection of thoughts I have been having in the last few months. I have had this feeling that if I relaxed my whole being that I might be able to see what the plants have to say to me. I know it sounds strange but I have had a strong feeling about it for a while now and was not sure how it might manifest. Coupled with this, I have been having dreams and also having the Universe present new information about this to me on TV programs like Medicine Woman. One dream I had was very vivid. A female Indian Shaman entreated me to pay close attention because she would reveal my animal totem. She kept repeating 'Pay attention, pay attention'. She told me my totem is the black wolf.
|A Shaman prepares the Despacho|
It was time to go outside and give the offering to Pachamama.
The fire was lit with great ceremony, all of us singing a blessing song in the ancient language of the Incas. Only some of the participants knew the song (I certainly didn't) but it was easy to catch on after a while. We sang it many, many times as the ceremony unfolded. It became almost a hypnotic chant that filled the night as it gradually grew darker and darker. Right as the light faded, the half moon came out brightly, lighting the proceedings. The sky was brushed with vague wafts of cloud that almost looked like the shape of the Northern Lights, or Aurora Borealis.
Each of us was directed to take some sticks, as many as we wanted, which would represent arrows to throw into the fire to let go of any thoughts, worries or issues. As the fire grew, we chanted on into the chilly moonlight, each of us taking our turn to kneel in front of the fire and ask for our issues to be taken care of by mother earth. Once we cast the stick(s) into the fire, we took the fire's warmth with our hands and brought it around us.
During the ceremony, the dogs stayed close. Some of them lay in the fire circle while the ceremony continued. As soon as it was finished, they disappeared.
I was asked to put a special stick, representing an offering to Pachamama from the male and female, into the fire with the only man present.
I had thought that I would feel detached from this whole experience as it was new and strange to me but, on the contrary, once it got going, I became immersed in the ritual. I remembered what I had heard on Medicine Woman, a programme about a Native Canadian woman called Danielle Behn who is a medical doctor. She traveled around the world learning about native medicine in many different native cultures and one of the things that struck her most, other than the actual facts of the medicines, was that ritual plays a huge part in healing. She determined to start to use ritual of some kind in her Western medical practice and also to learn more about the plants she encountered along the way. The whole programme inspired me. Particularly her determination to let go of her Western training and try to open her mind to these new and strange experiences.
Last night, I took a leaf from Danielle's book and tried the same and, by the time we got to the part where Heidi cleansed each of us, I had let go of my skepticism and embraced the huge possibility of sharing my energy with the earth and feeling that we are all part of the enormous Universe.
None of us wanted to leave. We dawdled around the fire, chatting and laughing. When it came time to go, we all hugged each other and said we wanted to experience more of this. I hugged Heidi goodbye and told her she was beautiful and she laughed and said " I am only reflecting the beauty in you. It's all you"