Excerpts from Two White Feathers

An Andean priest, Apu’s first principle is to serve humanity – to be a channel for the Goddess Pachamama (Mother Earth) and deliver healings. With twenty-five years of shamanic training and practice, and the ability to alter a person’s DNA or energy fields and restructure and realign experiences to manifest a different reality, he was not a man to be trifled with.

Six months before the pilgrimage itself, in Puno, a bean reading by Apu with black seeds known as huayruros, predicted significant change for me. This was a strange affair in which your future is read according to how the small red and black beans fall. Apu said, ‘You need to learn to trust in matters of the heart and open the door to opportunity. Change the way you earn money, take care of your body, put yourself first so you have the energy to work with other people and remove doubt from your spiritual path.’ He predicted that I would teach people through my writing, work with children and educate them in spiritual ways. ‘You are a white witch! The spiritual path is magical if you open your heart and trust.’ He repeated more than once, a mix of frustration and consternation on his face, ‘Remember your flight with the Condor.’

I had a lot to take in. After an hour we arrived at a huge snake-like boulder and Apu took strange-looking shamanic tools from his brightly coloured bag and laid them on a rock. ‘I ask permission to enter these sacred lands,’ he said. Then we moved into the Valley of the Spirits, where I had seen intriguing stone figures from the bus. Over an hour-and-a-half hike, Apu told stories and gave vivid interpretations of family groups and caterpillars en route. Then he declared we had arrived at the condor’s nest and asked if I wanted to go flying. That is, did I want to partake in an Andean initiation?

To do this I would need to connect to the energies of Pachamama. Augustine, a Pampa Misayok, describes the feeling of connection with the heart, or spiritual ascent, as ‘a masculine spirit come into my heart, like my heart opening with the call of Hampoi (Welcome) the same way my heart opens when thinking of someone I love.’ He continues, ‘Then I blow this happiness into your head, your heart and finally your hands.’ Augustine calls on different mountains for various purposes – Ausengate for love, the Serpentine for health and Machu Picchu for wealth.

Apu offered me a walking stick and, still damp, we hurried down in the failing light. We navigated the rapids getting wet up to our thighs, climbing up ladders and across rocks, and we took a brief skinny dip before I fell on my right buttock in the wet, slimy conditions. I found that if my internal chatter was negative I slipped – so from then on I kept my mind empty. At the top of the mountain, after the waterfalls, we descended past the benches where Apu declared the site of the throat chakra portal. Dusk was falling fast and we were lucky to have got down before dark. Muddy, wet and exhausted, we crossed the wooden slatted bridge which swayed from side to side high above the boiling river. Apu threw his stick into the water, thanking it for a job well done. On the main road we flagged down a taxi and sat back under a tarpaulin. We got into town at seven p.m. At the hotel, Apu thanked me for my company on a very special day with the masters. Yet he looked preoccupied.

Soon, others dressed in white joined us in preparation for the Eagle Meets the Condor ceremony. Then, led by the master in a feathered hat and the priestess who wore ceremonial yellow and had long black plaits, the ceremonial group and the Q’ero shaman appeared in a waft of smoke. They bowed to the pyramid temple and as one moved down onto the flat land. They then formed a circle to make offerings of fruit, precious rocks and jewels for an important ceremony joining the energies of the North and South Americas, the Eagle and the Condor as legend predicts. After ceremonial speeches and personal introductions, the offerings were buried to the eerie sounds of a goat’s-foot rattle and an instrument made from a gigantic shell called a Pututu.

It was at the very end that our sign occurred. It came after our private offering, our hands held around the circle, when as a token of reciprocity Apu gave Hetsua the sun disc from around his neck. A Mexican shaman knelt in front of Apu, hands spread upwards thanking the Gods. In that moment North met South and the masculine and feminine energies were united. It was then that the sky opened and a deluge of hailstones covered the ground. The five of us returned triumphant but damp, cold and tired, having achieved our aim. For Apu and I, our ch’ama pilgrimage ended as it had begun, up a sacred mountain near Mendoza.