Peruvian Shamanism and
The Curandero’s Mesa

What is shamanism?

sorcerer (10K)

Over tens of thousands of years, our ancient ancestors all over the world discovered how to maximize human abilities of mind and spirit for healing and problem-solving. The remarkable system of methods they developed is today known as “shamanism,” a term that comes from a Siberian tribal word for its practitioners:“shaman” (pronounced SHAH-mahn).

Shamans are a type of medicine man or woman especially distinguished by the use of journeys to hidden worlds otherwise mainly known through myth, dream, and near-death experiences. Most commonly they do this by entering an altered state of consciousness using monotonous percussion sounds, such as drums and rattles.

Shamanism in Peru

Peru has a very rich history of shamanic culture, going back 4,000 years to the Chavin civilization. The culmination of the ancient cultures of Peru was the Inkan Empire, which met it’s downfall 500 years ago when the Europeans invaded. Much of the ancient knowledge survived in various forms. The residents of the high Andes have perserved much of the old knowlegdge. The indigenious people and mestizos of the Amazon work primarily with the sacred vine,Ayahuasca. And along the Northern Coast, ancient shamanic knowledge has merged with folk Catholicism and the use of the sacred cactus, San Pedro.

The Q’ero of the High Andes

qero (59K)

The Q’ero who live high in the Andes are believed the be the direct descendants of the Inka. They live pastoral lives, herding llamas and alpacas, and growing corn and potatoes. But certain members of their community undergo initiation that lead to them becoming paqos, or shamans. The Q’ero have a deep connection with the mountain spirits, known as apus, and with the spirits of other features of their environment, as well as the animals who live there. They have a very deep understanding of the energies of the human body and the natural world. Like the Mayan, they are holders of prophesies that foretell of the coming of a new age of man. The Q’ero paqos carry mesas that are comprised primarily of sacred stones, known as khuyas,which are collected at special sites and often have very specific significance. The Q’ero keep their mesas wrapped in a bundle when it is not being used by the paqo.

The Curandero’s Mesas of the Northern Coast

curandero_mesa2 (14K)

In the Northern Coast of Peru, the shamans, known as curanderos,have developed very elaborate mesas, which are set up for special all-night healing ceremonies in which the sacred San Pedro cactus is consumed. These mesas are beautiful in their complexity, and each one reflects the curnandero’s personal path as a healer through their choice of objects, or artes.Curandero mesas often contain Catholic symbols, artifacts from ancient Peru, spirit waters such asAqua de Florida, stones, seashells, and a wide variety of everyday items. Traditionally, along the northern edge of the mesa there is row of hardwood staffs, known as varas. The curandero uses his or her mesa as a kind of “control panel” and as a gateway to travel and access medicine on behalf of his/her client.

The Pachakuti Mesa Tradition draws on both the paqokuna and curanderismo lineages, as well as elements from other worldwide shamanic traditions in a synthesis Oscar Miro-Quesada refers to as “cross-cultural shamanism.”

Pachakuti Mesa Tradition

Across the world shamanic traditions have flourished and persevered in times that have been favorable to them and also those during which their existence was deeply threatened. Yet, in spite of attempted eradication and the wider prevalence of cultural amnesia, many practices of this global lineage have survived - often greatly transformed through their adaptation to the shifting sands of culture. 
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Despite changes in appearance and the frequent adoption of aspects of the"new" religions and belief-systems that have accompanied the transformation from hunter/gatherer, pastoral, and subsistence cultures to agricultural and urban life-styles, core shamanic beliefs and practices continue to sustain people throughout the global ecosphere.

Within the Peruvian Andes and coast the synthesis of millenia-old shamanic practice and modern religious belief is found in both the traditions of the paqokuna and huachuma curanderismo. These traditions have, to varying degrees, incorporated elements of folk Catholic belief, cosmology, ritual, and liturgy. While this certainly ensured survival in a changing and persecutorial environment it also points to the wisdom of recognizing the inner syncretic nature of the shamanic universe as a principle of action.

The salient feature of both the highland paqokuna and coastal curandero traditions is their focus on the ritual and ceremonial mastery of the mesa. In each case the mesa is an altar-like collection of shamanically invested artifacts arranged according to the teachings of the lineage and the personal insight of the healer. Though somewhat different in form, both traditions engage the culturally acknowledged powers of the natural and ancestral worlds through the mediating instrument of the mesa. Through propitiatory ritual and invocational ceremony, states of contact are reached with these powers in which balance, health, prosperity, and fertility are restored within the community. Underpining all practice is the recognized law of ayni, as it is known in the highlands, in which it is understood that there exists a delicate state of interdependance between all levels of the physical and spiritual worlds. Perhaps best expressed as the "Law of Right Returns," or, more colloquially, "today for me, tommorow for you," the notion of ayni succinctly encapsulates the knowing that within the intricate matrix of interdependance that is our universe, an inbalance is created when a return"payment" is not offered for the intervention of the spiritual realms. Since practically everything within indigenous and shamanic culture is seen as a result of actions and dynamics taking place within the spiritual realms, one of the primary pursuits of a people becomes the maintainance of proper"payments" to those "causal" realms. The person for whom this becomes a specialty is the paqopampamisayoq, and altomisayoq, or the curanderodepending on their tradition.

Shamanic Practice

The Pachakuti Mesa itself originated through Oscar′s many-year apprenticeship with his personal mentors in Peru, maestro curanderos don Celso Rojas Palomino and don Benito Corihuaman Vargas. Emerging from his apprenticeship within the coastal huachumero and the highlandpaqokuna traditions, the Pachakuti Mesa embodies distinct elements from each of these specific traditions of medicine practice. The wisdom of these two lineages, representing related yet disctinct ancestral cultures, creates an organic structure that serves to anchor the vast array of shamanic practices existing to serve life from the personal dimension to that of the community, while harmonizing these with a global vision and the celestial sources of guidance and support. Strenghtening this ancestral heritage and cross-cultural relevance are insights drawn from the world′s many wisdom traditions and the growing understanding of quantum dynamics and consciousness.

Following its original birthing from the cultural and shamanic lineages of Peru, the applied practice of the Pachakuti Mesa has evolved through its service to non-indigenous Western culture. It has become a true repository for the unfolding experience of its dedicated practitioners and community. The Pachakuti Mesa can truly be said to be a continual birthing of the wisdom of sacred community dedicated to a shared Earth-honoring path of service in which the ancient nourishes the present, birthing the creative expression of contemporary practice.

Healing Service

The mesa is the instrument by which the mythic power of prophetic time and the profundity of the three cosmological worlds is harnessed in practice. It is the medium of translation for the spiritual wisdom and understanding of the Andean cosmovision, allowing them to transform into practical applications and effects within a community.

A mesa is the consecrated arrangement of ceremonial power objects that make up a curandero′s "tool set,and is also the point of focus for the spiritual forces engaged through ritualized action. It is simultaneously the seat for spiritual vision and the multi-fold powers of creation, and by being the locus of intention is directed by the healer. Two elements in particular come together within the mesa, blending into its unique form: the transmission of traditional wisdom given by the teacher and the idiosyncratic initiation that characteruzes the individual path. From the integration of these two sources of inspiration a healer′s mesa is born.


The Pachakuti Mesa, as an embodiment of global earth-honoring service, integrates within its primal structure the five alchemically venerated elements of the universe: earth (Allpa), water (Unu), wind (Wayra), fire (Nina), and the fifth transcendent element which is produced by the harmonious intermingling of the originating four - the aether (K′uychi). Each of these elements is focussed in one of the five directions of the quadrangular mesa - South, West, North, East, and Center - and is embodied by one of the five primordial powers of the Andean cosmovision: Pachamama (Earth Mother), Mama Killa (Moon), Wiracocha (Creator), Inti (Sun), and K′uychi (Sacred Rainbow). When these powers are united by vision and intention - lovingly anchored within the physical repository of the mesa - the Pachakuti Mesa blossoms as a transformative agent within the world.

Each of the directions of the mesa hold a particular archetypal form, energy, and healing medicine, arranged according to a dynamic understanding of the mythic and energetic universe. They therefore provide a vehicle for the initiatic apprenticeship of the fundamental forces of creation and, more importantly, the means by which their transformative presence is directed in the world. As an experiential mirror of the dynamically self-aware universe the, Pachakuti Mesa contains within itself both the map and the mapmaker, and ultimately becomes the primary source of instruction and guidance for the healer.

The Power of Ritual

Beyond the base structure of the Pachakuti Mesa and the aligments contained within it, it is the unique experience of the healer that determines the shape it assumes. As a continuously unfolding source of initiation and a reflection of the soul experience of the carrier, the mesa itself will naturally evolve and transform over time. Indeed, a mesa can never remain static - to do so would contradict one of the fundamental experiences of creation: all is in motion. While a mesa will hold certain patterns over time, it must ultimately be recognized as an expression of transformation itself, which cannot be boxed within a static form.

As mentored by don Oscar, the Pachakuti Mesa is a ceremonially consecrated imaginal map of the universe, an archetypal cosmic landscape, which "energetically" anchors both seen and unseen dimensions of theanima mundi (i.e., World Soul) before the shamanic practitioner. It is a beautiful container of spirit, and it is also a soul-infused artifact of the material world. It is a living, dynamic pattern upon which and within which we can consciously do our transformative personal and planetary healing work. As a global community of Pachakuti Mesa Carriers we embrace this ancestral lineage not because it is superior to all other traditions, yet because its effects are healthfully liberating and aesthetically graceful. It is a visually dramatic and sensually rich millennial heritage, which appeals to those who resonate with the healing power in natural patterns, earth rhythms and cosmic cycles. It is also a syncretistic shamanic tradition, which is openly tolerant and widely inclusive of diverse cultural ideologies, religious beliefs and all world wisdom paths. In essence, the Pachakuti Mesa is meant to be a pristine reflection of the individual practitioners ontological sense of belongingness within the Great Sacred Web of Life.

Copyright 2009-2012, All Rights Reserved


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Replies to This Discussion

This is very interesting, RaK. The more I am reading about Shamanism (must now pronounce 'Shaman' correctly!) the more knowledge I am gaining. A great addition to the Shaman group. This last sentence encapsulates everything for me :


 In essence, the Pachakuti Mesa is meant to be a pristine reflection of the individual practitioners ontological sense of belongingness within the Great Sacred Web of Life.

Pauline HUGS


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