Visitors come to Peru for its beautiful and varied landscapes, its world-renowned cuisine and its people. They also visit for the deep history and traditions that have endured from the time of the Incas. One of these traditions is the Pachamama ceremony and I was thrilled to have the privilege of participating in this exclusive ceremony! Read on to hear about my experience sharing in this local custom and to learn more about Pachamama ceremony.
What is the Pachamama Ceremony?
The Pachamama ceremony, or “Offering to the Earth,” is a sacred ritual in which an offering (called a despacho) is made to Pachamama, Goddess of the Earth or Mother Earth as participants make a prayer or request for whatever they wish. People in some South American countries have been performing this ceremony since the time of the Incas and it is still important to people today. Peruvians typically do a Pachamama ceremony at least once per year. This practice is especially popular among businesses to ask for prosperity for the coming year. The ceremony is also done for homes to ask for protection, good luck, health or in order to get rid of bad energies. The ceremony usually takes about two or three hours.
People who practice this ritual believe that the earth is open to receive offerings in the month of August. Therefore, the shamans come from the mountains to the cities during this time in order to perform Pachamama ceremonies.
The shaman are typically men who live in traditional villages and communities in rural areas. In these areas, this ritual has been passed down from generation to generation from the time of the Incas.
The items used during the ceremony
Offerings and various other elements are typically used and may differ based on the type of offering being made. One symbolic item used during our ceremony was a shell representing the Mother Lake. Others were a small white candle representing the mountain and a cracker to represent work. Items for offering included red and white flower petals, candy, coca leaves, rice, anise, beans and peanuts. The shaman used llama fat and leaves to help the despacho burn. There was also flower water to clean our energy and Port to offer Pachamama something to drink.
What happened during our Pachamama ceremony?
Preparing the despacho
The shaman started by putting a large white sheet of paper on a blanket on the floor. He then put down of layer of cotton in the shape of a square, so that everything would stick to the paper. Taking out a bag of coca leaves he carefully examined them to select the best ones. He then gathered them in groups of three or more, holding them in the creases between the fingers of his left hand. He gently blew on the leaves as he gathered each group. Once his hand was full, he started laying the bunches on the blanket, next to the paper.
He then proceeded to put various decorative and symbolic elements in different locations on the cotton. This was followed by the offertory items. At times the shaman would blow on an item or whisper a few Quechua words before putting it down. He returned to the bunches of coca leaves, selecting a bunch of three which he handed to each of us. We took it with our right hand, and then held it with both hands while we said our prayers or wishes with great faith (as we were instructed).
His actions were very intentional, honed by years of practice. There was a beautiful rhythm to his movements and the deliberateness in the way he slowly unfolded a piece of paper containing incense, careful not to spill its contents. This was also visible in the way he placed a dried fig, the small white candle and other items on the growing despacho.
Closing the despacho
He then asked each of us to mentally repeat our prayers over our three coca leaves and then blow three times on the leaves to pass our energy onto them. He took the leaves from each of use and placed them onto the despacho. Once all the items had been placed, the shaman put four colored strings in a « U » shape around the despacho to close it and sprinkled a small amount of Port for Pachamama.
We poured beer into a single glass so we could each have a drink with Pachamama. The shaman went first, sprinkling some of the beer onto the despacho before drinking the rest. We refilled the glass and passed it on to our hostess who sprinkled a few drops onto the despacho, had a few sips and then passed it on to the next person until we had all completed the ritual.
Next, we chewed coca leaves, which the shaman had selected and laid out for us. He wrapped the despacho up, tying it with white string and wrapping it in a blanket. We each held the despacho, silently whispering our prayers one last time before we took it to be burned.
Burning the despacho
We walked to a clear area where the shaman built a fire from materials we had gathered. He unwrapped the despacho when the fire was ready and held it up to the mountains as he whispered a few words before placing it in the fire. As it burned, he poured the rest of the Port around the fire. We could see the offering items inside as the flames burned away at the paper. I watched the candy bubbling as it slowly melted.
We spent some time getting to know the shaman while we waited. He told us that he was from Q’ero, a small community in the mountains. His journey to Cusco was a two-day walk. We also asked him if the Pachamama ceremony is still very popular. He told us that he typically performs five ceremonies per week.
The shaman stayed with us until the despacho had completely burned. Then he said his goodbyes and descended the hill alone – off to do another ceremony.
Getting to share in this once in a lifetime experience really made me feel like I was truly immersing myself in the local culture. As the ritual unfolded, the thought struck me that what I was seeing and experiencing is probably how the ceremony was performed in the time of the Incas – how awesome is that!
The Pachamama ceremony is normally private and not usually offered as part of the standard tourist packages. However, at Pie Experiences, we don’t just provide the standard tours. We want to share our Peru with you – immersing you in our culture through unique and unforgettable experiences so you leave with a deeper knowledge and understanding of our beautiful culture and country.
Like to learn about other unique Inca traditions? Read this post about Pachamanca, an ancient Incan dining ritual where the food is cooked in specially built underground « ovens. »
You’re probably already planning to visit Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley if you’re in Cusco. Why not add a Pachamama ceremony so you can clean your energy before visiting Machu Picchu? Contact us for more information on this and all our other tours!