Despacho describes the Andean ceremonial practice of making offerings to the mountains (apus), Mother Earth (Pachamama), and other spirits of nature in reciprocity, reverence, and thanksgiving.
A despacho is an act of love and a reminder of the connections we share with all beings, elements, spirits, and sacred places. At the deepest level, it is an opportunity to enter into the essential unity of all things, the living energy of the universe.
Despachos offer us a vehicle for moving and shifting the energy of the group, the world, the cosmos.
A despacho is created during a celebratory ceremony. In the cosmology of the Andes, all life is perceived as one grand, infinite ceremony. Because physical survival is so hard in the high mountains, life is experienced as a true gift to be lived, not a problem to be solved.
There are at least 300 variations of despachos in the Quechua-speaking Andes (primarily Peru and Ecuador). While there are certain elements common to all despachos, the particular healing intention—such as bringing harmony and balance to the earth, honoring new beginnings, or getting rid of an illness—determines the design of the offering, some of the contents, and even the way that offerings are added.
The ceremony brings participants into alignment:
With their personal intent, the group intent, and gratitude to the earth, which supports us in all our endeavors.
With the "three bands:" physical (yankay), feeling and heart (munay), and spirit, or energetic wisdom (yachay). (The alignment of these bands is comparable to alignment of the seven chakras or the fifteen chakras of other cultural frameworks.)
With the community, through the sharing of coca leaves and gifts of stones, all of which strengthen the luminous fibers that connect us all.
A traditional despacho is created by medicine people (paqos) who work through their spiritual power in alignment with the cosmos. As the ceremony begins, red wine and white liquor (pisco) are offered to the spirits of the mountains and to Mother Earth. The medicine persons and all the participants feed each other coca leaves—the sacred plant of the Andes—into which their intent and prayers have been blown. These gifts are a sign of community and strengthen connections.
The offering is created on Andean weavings that represent the masculine and feminine in balance (mastana and uncuna).
White paper, for clarity, is placed on the weavings for a base.
A bed of incense is laid, to carry the prayers of the offering into the cosmos.
Flower petals (red for Pachamama, white for mountains) are laid in a sacred geometric pattern, commonly in a circle, four directions, cross, or flower pattern, depending on the intent.
Sets of coca leaves, called kintus, are prepared with intent by each participant, then collected by the medicine people and placed in a pattern on the offering, again reflecting the particular intent.
After the initial "bed" is created, some or all of the following symbolic representations are prayed over, offered up, and added:
Fruits of the earth (seeds, raisins, grains, nuts, corn, quinoa)
Sweets (wrapped candy, sugar, chocolate)
Representations of the sea (a shell) and the stars (a starfish, the five-legged star of return, unfolding into the Fifth world)
Silver and gold papers representing threads to the earth and the cosmos
Confetti for the joy in life
Miniature tin figures of animals, people, and tools
Llama fat from white llamas (symbolizing the sun)
A baby llama fetus (representing that which is unborn or not yet manifested)
White cotton (for the clouds that surround the mountains and bring rain)
Many-colored wool (for the rainbow bridge into the cosmos)
Condor feathers; and so on.
A despacho contains symbols of everything: elements, weather, clouds around mountains, rainbows, the four directions, lakes, rivers, humans, fruits of our labors, earth, stars.
Every item represents a part of the Andean animist cosmology, is imbued with intent for connection to the mountains and the cosmos, and affects the totality of energy in the universe.
Cleansing and Blessing with the Offering
When the offering is complete, the bundle is folded, tied, and wrapped in sacred weavings. The paqo (medicine person) circles the group with the despacho bundle, cleansing the luminous bodies of each participant to remove any heavy energy, and blessing everyone. These heavy energies, or hucha, become part of the offering, as both the despacho and the earth "eat" heavy energy and transform it.
Finally, the offering is burned. Participants do not watch the offering burning, so Apuchin (the old condor) can come to eat any remaining hucha, and because watching might hold back some of the filaments of intent being sent into the cosmos.
Wisdomkeeper Don Manuel Q'espi Speaks of the Meaning
Q'ero Elder Don Manuel Q'espi, in a presentation at Canyon de Chelley in May 1997 (translated by Jose Luis Herrera), spoke of despachos this way:
“The despacho is a gift--a giving back of what we receive everyday in our lives. We seek, through the despacho ceremony, to bridge the ordinary and non-ordinary realms; to establish new patterns of relationship and possibility. The despacho places us in right relationship, right ayni, with the Pachamama. It establishes a linkage between our three centers of interaction in the kaypacha (the physical universe); our llankay (our personal power and source of action, located in our solar plexus), our munay (the source of our love, located in our heart chakra), and our yachay (wisdom, sourced from our foreheads or “third eye“).
The contents of the despacho are in part determined by its purpose. The various elements that comprise the despacho energetically interact to permit access to portals or bridges from the ordinary and non-ordinary worlds. When working in ceremony with the despacho, one is accessing the non-ordinary energetic dimensions, the source of things. Though the contents may have symbolic significance, the despacho, when performed with the correct intent, transcends literal and symbolic domains and directly accesses the archetypal and energetic realms.
In order to build a good co-existence with nature, the only real choice we have is to enter with our heart, wisdom, and our action. We call upon the spirits of the waters, of the mountains, and of the Pachamama to come and help us prepare the offering. We have the intent of seeking to establish and maintain a continuous dialogue with the Mother and to bring balance and harmony to our lives, and to all our relations. It is through the dynamics of love, of right thinking, and of right action that our lives become bountiful."
He described several types of despachos in this way:
"The Pachamama despacho is an offering of thanks to Mother Earth and an invocation for her blessings.
The Apu despacho is an offering to the mountain, which is the provider of the waters. When the mountain glaciers melt they provide the water that feeds the high mountain streams and lagoons. The mountain is the bringer of the weather as well.
The Chaska despacho is an offering to our star, the sun. This despacho is not prepared as often as the offerings to the Pachamama and to the apu. Most of our business has to do with living in this world. Only when very big events (such as a earthquake) are occurring, or whenever an offering is made for the benefit of a great number of people, are Chaska despachos prepared. In this case, the stars as well as Mother Earth and the apu must offer their contribution. For example, in the case of earthquakes or large-scale environmental events which affect larger numbers of peoples, one wishes to bring together the power and the blessings of the earth, the mountain, and the star to bring them into right relationship. This is to help assure that the people go on the right path. [See images below for one Ch'aska Despacho we created in 2011 in Sonoma, CA, as part of a series to help the world come back into balance.]
The Ayni despacho: Ayni is the operating principle on Incan shamanism and refers to “reciprocity” and divine exchange. The intent of the Ayni despacho is to bring balance in our lives and relationship between our secular and sacred worlds.
The Aya despacho is performed to aid the luminous body of the dead or dying to step outside of the physical body gracefully. It is said that the spirit of the dead lingers in the vicinity of the physical body for seven days. The medicine person knows when it is necessary to help the luminous body to sever its connection with the physical.
The Cuti despacho: Cuti literally means “turning back” or “shielding off”. It is an offering for protection. This despacho is typically created with the left hand only, and all motions of placing items in the despacho are performed in a counter-clockwise (or “unwinding”) fashion. The right arm is in “dreamtime” while the left arm performs the action.”
Contemporary Despacho Ceremonies
Those of us who have studied with indigenous shamanic teachers and medicine people (in the Andes and elsewhere) want to honor the teachings and deep wisdom we have received while at the same time making certain practices accessible in contemporary settings.
Our teachers in Peru and Ecuador understand that the cosmology and symbols of their culture are not the same as ours, and want us to share the intent of the despacho.
When we bring the experience of and information about the ceremony to various groups, from holistic medical practitioners to hikers learning about their local ecosystems, we try to translate and bridge the deep cosmological underpinnings of our own offerings and vision into forms that people can use.
As they say in the Andes, it is our intent and focus that create shifts in the energy of the universe.
With this in mind, we create contemporary despachos for many reasons: to honor particular sacred places; to give thanks for a connection or teaching; to offer a gift back to the spirits of the land, the spirit helpers who assist our work, the spirits of the elements and ancestors, and the essential unity of the cosmos.
We may also offer despachos to call and pray for help, as with chas'ka despachos; to release dense energy, as with grief despachos; to help bring balance to a situation, a group, or a place with an ayni despacho; and so on.
While it is possible to bring "kits" from the Andes, or to purchase traditional components of a despacho on the web, it is actually better to work with local, organic items. That way, you reflect on and make a relationship with all the parts of your offering.
Reflecting on the source, energy, and intent put into each component is important. For example, home-grown or organically grown seed and grains carry strong personal and healing energy: why not try to use them? In the Andes much wrapped, sugary candy—special and rare in a culture where nearly everything is home made—is used, whereas in the North, what is more special is the purity of the organic.
On a more practical level, we substitute local leaves for the traditional coco leaves, which are illegal in the north; in California we use bay laurel leaves, which are a similar shape, though not so nutritious.
"There is very minimal structure involved; we seek to step outside of all structure so that we are not bound by form," said Don Manuel.
Reflecting on Your Intent
To decide what to put in a despacho, it is useful to journey, meditate, and spend time in prior ceremony with each item, asking for the gift it would like to impart to spirit.
For example, brown sugar might ask to represent an appreciation of the "sweetness of life" in participants, or to bathe our prayers/lives with "sweetness." Quinoa (a grain) might ask to be a bridge between north and south, as it is grown in the North but is native to the Andes.
Creating Your Despacho
To create your own despacho, either alone or with friends, think of the ceremony as a fiesta. Bring both joy and deep seriousness to this honoring of the connectedness of all things. Because the power in any offering comes from intent, a despacho you make does not have to be exactly like those in the Andes. Here are some simplified guidelines to follow:
Begin by laying a large strong square of paper on some cloth or the ground.
Sprinkle the paper with incense and sugar.
Arrange your kintus of three bay (or other local) leaves pointing in the same direction, blow your personal intent into the leaves, and align your three bands (body, heart, and spirit) with your leaves, then place them on your despacho.
Repeat this for each kintu, making a mandala of the leaves.
Blow your intent into the other offerings you have chosen and place them on the mandala.
When it is complete, fold the offering as follows: fold the bottom corner in towards the center. Fold the left side, then the right, towards the center. Finally, fold the top down, so you have a small package, tie with gold thread or twine, and place a flower on the outside.
When your despacho is complete, bless each other gently with it, starting at the crown and moving the offering down the front of the body, then the back (do this as you would a sage blessing).
Finally, offer your despacho to the fire, or bury it if you are on a mountain or other place where a fire is not possible.
Meg Beeler—Author, Shamanic Guide, and Spiritual Mentor—helps you heal your spirit and find your luminous presence through mentoring, training, healing, and community ceremony. A lifelong explorer of shamanic, animist, and meditative consciousness, Meg is the creator of Energy AlchemyTM, founder of Earth Caretakers, and works with clients worldwide. She lives on Sonoma Mountain in the San Francisco Bay Area. www.megbeeler.com