Olivia, our guide for our three-day trek in the Colca Canyon was never really a spiritual or religious person…until about two years ago. “I would drop some chicha or beer on the ground and say something about it being an offering to the Pachamama,” she says, “but I did not truly believe that this was anything more than a ritual. Now I believe in the Pachamama.”
The Pachamama is a goddess revered by the indigenous people of the Andes. Pachamama is usually translated at “Mother Earth” but a more literal translation would be “Mother World.” In Inca mythology, Pachamama is a fertility goddess who presides over planting and harvesting and is responsible for weather – both good and bad -- as well as earthquakes and volcanoes. Many Peruvians and almost all indigenous people of the Andes believe in the Pachamama.
Olivia is a single woman in her early 40’s from Arequipa who earns a good living as a tour guide. The Colca Canyon is the world’s second-deepest canyon and is the biggest tourist attractions in southern Peru. She speaks English pretty well and can communicate in Quechua, as well. She is friendly and talkative and on our way to a three-day trek of the Colca Canyon, we sat together in the back row of our van. Our rambling conversation somehow got on the subject of Andean spirituality and she told me the following story:
“About two years ago, I was taking a group through the Colca Canyon and at some point near the end of a trek I fell down on the trail and I could not get up. One of my clients helped me up and my leg felt numb, almost paralyzed. I limped back and that night I could not move it. My leg was paralyzed for a few days and I was really scared. Without knowing it, a friend of mine got some herbs from a shaman she knew and made a tea for me. The next morning, I was perfectly fine.”
“A few months after that I suddenly became ill with headaches and fever and I didn’t know what was wrong. I went to my doctor, who couldn't figure out what was wrong either. He prescribed some pills but they did nothing. I felt this way for almost two weeks and I decided to visit the shaman that my friend went to. I met with him and he asked a lot of questions and he talked about the power of the Pachamama and told me that he would gather some things and come to my house later that day.”
“He came over and brought some herbs from Bolivia and a dried llama fetus (see photo), as well as some incense and small bottles. He set up a small shrine in my family room and was ready to begin. He talked about how the Pachamama was everywhere and he just needed to get me into the right state of mind to allow the healing process to happen. He chanted and hummed and talked some more about the Pachamama for almost 45 minutes. I was very relaxed throughout the process and then I suddenly felt very tired. I told him I was tired and wanted to go to sleep. He led me to my room and I don’t remember anything else except waking up in the morning and feeling 100% better.”
When Olivia finished this story, I asked her if her life was in any way different now that she believed in the Pachamama and she said, “No…my day to day life is the same, but now I feel like I’m a part of something bigger. Now, I believe in the Pachamama.”