SPIRITUAL MEDICINE - CEREMONY
Coca, and The Sacred Plants of the Incas -
The Shamanic World of the Andes
by Howard G Charing
The Incas regarded coca as "the divine plant" mainly because of its property
of imparting endurance, nevertheless its use was entwined with every aspect of
life; the art, mythology, culture and economy of the Inca Empire.
Millions of Indians have chewed coca on a daily basis for many hundreds of
years, yet never has a plant been so misrepresented and its use so controlled by
prejudice and ignorance, including up to the present day. The Conquistadors
considered it an idle and offensive habit to be prohibited, but it was soon seen
that the Indians could not work without coca even when forced to do so.
The coca leaf has been sacred to Andean people since the dawn of pre-Colombian
civilization. Doris Rivera Lenz, a renowned Andean Ceremonialist, healer, and
Coca leaf Diviner, when asked about the source of the information she divines
from them, she says:
"They give me such a powerful awareness it is as though an energy comes into me
from just touching them. I invoke Mother Nature and the spirit of the coca, and
with just seven leaves, the answer comes, as though through an open doorway."
An ancient method of diagnosing illness, still common in Peru, is to rub an egg
over the body of the patient. Doris is gifted in this tradition and prescribes
remedies which include medicinal herbs.
Much Andean wisdom is based on observation of nature, noting for example, that
if the ducks go round in circles, there will be long rains, etc... Involvement
with nature prevents the mind from becoming mechanical, can see that it is
constantly nurturing us and helping us to grow.
An 'ofrenda' is the most important ceremony used by Andean Indians to relate
with Mother Earth. The ofrenda is a symbol of reciprocity with nature and its
purpose is to teach us to reproduce this attitude. Through it we speak back to
nature saying we understand the message and concord.
The ofrenda which is also known in Spanish as a 'pago', is not
a 'payment' to nature as the Conquistadores saw it, implying a sinister pact
with nature spirits. Additionally, they accused the Indians of being miserly
because they preferred to pay symbolically rather than with real money!
An ofrenda is an expression of gratitude, not of debt or obligation.
Neither is it selfish to want things for ourselves as some people see it even
today. It is true that urban people in Peru have started to make ofrendas for
reasons such as wanting their businesses to flourish, but good business can
equally imply good health, and harmony to the community and for the natural
In an Andean community realities are closer to earth than they are in the city,
it is more important that the cattle do not die than to have more private
possessions. Hence in the country there is a better understanding of the
shamanic meaning of the ceremony, the re-establishing of relationship to nature.
This is why we need a little preparation so that an ofrenda can work for us too.
We live in a time of the fulfilment of an ancient Inca prophecy. This is the
time of the new Pachacuti, a great change bringing with it a new relating to the
Earth (Pachamama). Each Pachacuti is a era of time about 500 years. The last
Pachacuti occurred with the Conquest in the early 16th century, and the Q’ero
(Inca) priests have been waiting ever since for the next era, when order would
start to emerge from chaos. The current Pachacuti refers to the end of time as
we understand it, the end or death of a way of thinking and a way of being. A
new relationship with the living Earth, and an emergence into a golden age of
peace. There are many indications that changes in human consciousness are taking
place, yet there is still a long way to go. It is part of Doris’s vision to
show us traditional ways that we can re-engage with the sacredness of life and
the Earth so we too can more fully participate in the new Pachacuti.
About the author:
Howard G. Charing, is an accomplished international workshop leader on
shamanism. He has worked some of the most respected and extraordinary shamans &
healers in the Andes, the Amazon Rainforest, and the Philippines. He organises
specialist retreats to the Amazon Rainforest He is the author of the best
selling book, Plant Spirit Shamanism (Destiny Books USA), and has published
numerous articles about plant medicines.