Understanding and Honoring the Pachamama
ANDAHUAYLILLAS, PERU- Primordial knowledge of the Pachamama (Mother Earth), mysticism and ancient Incan customs are as perceptible in the Andes as the stone ruins of Macchu Picchu or the Incan fortresses of Pisac and Ollantaytambo.
Herbal remedies and alternative medical practices pervade Andean communities. I witnessed the ancient wisdom in practice one day during a visit to a hanging bridge made of sticks, straws and plants with a few of the community’s young mothers and their children. The six-year-old son of one of the women was running along a rock wall when he tripped and fell and cut his head open on the rocks below. One of the other women quickly turned to one of her sons and asked him to urinate into her hand. She poured the urine onto the wound. The blood stopped flowing immediately. The woman explained to me that fresh urine stops bleeding and works as an antiseptic.
As we continued to walk I noticed one of the women collecting dried cow dung. The dried cow dung, she told me, not only functions as fuel for her kitchen stove, but also as a rheumatoid cream. She beats the cow dung into a past and mixes in herbs from her garden and uses the cream to alleviate pain in her knees and lower back.
The locals are aware of the nature that surrounds them. Most of the locals can tell you how cold it is going to be just by looking at the sky. The absence of clouds, they say, means that it is going to be cold and windy. They can predict rainfall. They know all of the local fruits and vegetables and they know the medicinal purposes of all of the herbs.
Mysticism and ancient spiritual beliefs continue to hold prevalence in Andean communities. A few days after the boy’s fall the mother and her son returned to the site of the incident to perform an ancient ritual to request the release of the child’s spirit, believed to be held captive by the Earth. They buried coca leaves and salt on the spot as an offering or payment to the Earth in exchange for the release of the boy’s spirit. The mother explained to me that in the days following the incident he woke up startled and frightened in the night and that the ritual was necessary in order for him to sleep peacefully.
Mysticism also comes into play during the planting and harvesting seasons. Many of the campesinos buy magical herbal mixtures to ensure a good harvest. Magical herbal potions to ward off all types of misfortune or attract positive spirits can be found in the local markets. Also noticeable are the two clay bulls that sit on top of the roofs of many of the houses. The bulls are good luck and fortify the house.
Many of the Andean people are Catholics. They celebrate their Patron Saints, the children attend catechism and are baptized. But they have not abandoned ancient Incan beliefs. Rather a dual spirituality has resulted, that is both Catholic and pagan, that believes in Jesus Christ but also worships the Pachamama.
The reason for this juxtaposition seems to be grounded on the historic and contemporary dependence of the Andean people on the land. Even in the 21st century, the people are dependent on their family chacras, or small farms. Therefore a spiritual correlation is drawn to the earth as a result of their appreciation, or reverence, for the Pachamama and her earthly divinities.