An Esoteric Quest for the Lost World of the Incas in the Andes
I have just returned from the Open Center’s 14th Esoteric Quest, an ongoing exploration of the rediscovery of the lost spiritual traditions of the West. During many Quests in Europe and North Africa, from the Alchemical World of Renaissance Bohemia n 1995 to Ancient Alexandria: Birthplace of the Western Mind in 2012, we have journeyed far into distant worlds both historically and geographically. But this year we traveled to South America for the first time to connect with the marvelous culture of the Incas and other Pre-Columbian cultures.
What can we say of this Esoteric Quest 2018? It is no exaggeration to say that it was an outstanding experience, filled with marvels, permeated by beauty, spiritually moving and uplifting, and humbling in our growing awareness that the ancient Andean cultures have endured for so long and remained so spiritually intact.
We were privileged to glimpse the essence of indigenous Andean spirituality, and its essence seems clear. Gratitude lies at its heart and its expression is love. Gratitude for the vast starlit heavens, abode of Viracocha, so clear in the mountain nights; gratitude for the sun and the moon, for the abundance of Mother Earth and for the waters and the wind that make life possible. Gratitude in fact for simple human existence in this realm of wonders.
We were fortunate to experience multiple ceremonies with Quechua paqos or Aymara killawayas, each one ending with celebrant or shaman embracing each of the participants in a gesture of warmth and unity. In these remote regions of Peru and Bolivia there is an enduring sense of brotherhood, of sisterhood, of our shared experience in this middle Earth of the puma between the upper world of the condor and lower world of the serpent.
Always in the Andes there is the presence of the Apus, the mountain gods, and the lovely, hanging clouds with which the Apus are said to converse. The spiritual traditions there, which appear to co-exist comfortably with Catholicism, convey the sense that the whole natural world is sacred and worthy of our highest respect. One can only ponder with admiration the achievements of the Incas in creating an abundant society in which all were taken care of and the land itself was made into a work of art by ubiquitous terraces that not only enabled highly successful mountain agriculture but that also enhanced the beauty of the world by weaving not only with the wool of lamas and alpacas but with the soil itself.
What have I returned with from these High Andes? Perhaps a psyche purified and uplifted by the mountains and lakes, a mind expanded by knowledge of these Andean cultures and their wisdom, and a renewed reverence and respect for the living spirituality of the indigenous Andean peoples that has endured through centuries of oppression and marginalization and is experiencing today a resurgence that can only be embraced with joy. At a time when we desperately need a living ecological ethic to heal from the ravages of materialism and consumerism, the Andean cosmo-vision or spiritual worldview offers us a beautiful and inspiring example of how to live in harmony with and respect for the great universe that surrounds us. As the world looks for inspiration and a practical demonstration of the ability to live in harmony with Mother Earth, or PachaMama, it is time to look toward South America, to both its ancient Pre-Columbian and its contemporary indigenous cultures, as models of spiritual and ecological wisdom from which we, in our industrialized and existentially empty society, can learn deep lessons of which we are in vital need.
An Esoteric Quest for the Lost World of the Incas (Part Two)
This week is the second installment on the Esoteric Quest just completed a month ago in the High Andes of Peru and Bolivia. Our experience in South America was the continuation of a conference series begun in 1995 on the Western Esoteric Traditions, now including those of the Western Hemisphere.
This Quest was certainly one of the most cosmic so far. We returned with vivid memories of the vast waters of Lake Titicaca, the beauty of the snowcapped Cordillera, and the fascinating practices of the shamans (killawayas, yatiri and paqos) of the highlands and their ancient reverence for the Sun and Moon, the starlit heavens, PachaMama, Mother Earth, and the gods or powers of wind and water that together make life possible.
One cannot engage with the spiritual life of the Andes without seeing the essential role of ceremony in this resurgent culture. Our Quest included numerous rituals with the indigenous people – on the banks of the Urubamba River; in the Temple of the Virgins on the Island of the Moon; with the Q’ero paqos in Cuzco who had traveled many hours from their high mountain home to be with us; at the oldest archeological site in the Americas, Tihuanaco, and many more. Each time, emphasis is placed on the power of intention, the careful placement of the sacred coca leaves, the invocation of blessings from the natural world, and the full use of ceremonial objects. And then the burning of the complete offering, the release of old patterns, and the invocation of the higher spiritual powers. We were fortunate that August is the month when PachaMama’s mouth is considered open to receive offerings in preparation for the planting of crops in September.
What was so surprising was the universality of this practice in both Peru and Bolivia, among the Q’ero, Quechua and Aymara peoples and the way it seems to co-exist comfortably with Christianity. The successful syncretism between the two paths, with neither objecting to nor fearing the other, was deeply impressive.
These spiritual traditions are widely referred to today as the Andean Cosmovision, and they live powerfully in the arts. We met Mamani Mamani, the greatest living Bolivian artist, whose work colorfully and vibrantly expresses the three words – the Upper World of the Condor, the Middle World of the Puma, and the Underworld of the Serpent. Spiritual forces permeate every aspect of his art with dynamic color and form, each image evoking the power of the traditional beliefs and giving them a contemporary form. Mamani Mamani’s work is happily not limited to galleries and shows. Instead, he has painted whole multi- story buildings in El Alto, the Aymara city of a million and a half on the highlands above La Paz. These structures no longer display the unappealing red brick of unfinished buildings so common in the poorer areas of the Andes. Instead dramatic colors and forms speak of a healthy and vigorous worldview powerfully resurgent in these highlands and embraced by the Bolivian government of Evo Morales for their empowerment of the Andean peoples’ wisdom and creativity.
A visitor can only be moved to see this traditional spiritual wisdom that honors all the elements of the natural world regaining its place of honor in the cultures of Peru and Bolivia. The Incas, despite their sophistication and the extent of their amazing empire, the Tawantisuyo, were only the last of a long series of civilizations in South America. Tihuanaco had existed for millennia before the Incas arrived and is, in fact, the oldest structure in the Western Hemisphere. To see the enormous steles of PachaMama, the alignments of the temples with the solstices and equinoxes, and the overall sophistication and beauty of the site is to wonder where this all came from. Could such a sophisticated culture really have emerged from simple hunters and gatherers living in caves? One can’t help wondering if there is a huge missing piece in our understanding of human evolution.
Tihuanaco stands today as a reminder of the truly ancient history of the civilization of the Andes, and a source of pride for the indigenous peoples throughout the continent whose sophisticated cultures had the misfortune to be demeaned by the conquering Spaniards. But that’s why the Open Center creates these Esoteric Quests – to participate in the rediscovery of the half-forgotten spiritual history of the world. We’ve been producing them now for twenty four years and it feels like journey has only just begun.