At our hotel in Pisac, Peru, we were treated to a traditional Andean meal known as pachamanca. A hole is dug in the earth, and heated stones are placed inside. The food, a mixture of meats, vegetables, and herbs, is placed in sacking or cloth and slowly cooked in the ground in a sort of earthen oven known as the huatia (the word pachamanca is formed from two Quechua words meaning “earthen pot”).
The meal was delicious, and we may or may not have been buzzed from the high altitude and several bottles of wine, but my Contiki group and I were certainly not expecting the three shamans who showed up a short time later. Most of us were wrapped in blankets, freezing, and unprepared for the cold conditions of the Andes. I was wearing flip-flops, and was eager to get indoors…until the ceremony started.
The shamans spoke to us in their native Quechua language, translated to English by our guide, Gaby. They proceeded with their blessing to Pachamama (Mother Earth, “Mother World” being a more direct translation), and then invited each one of us to come forward to participate.
I did not want to do it. Not even a little. We watched the first three members of our group go forward, and “wipe down” their bodies with special eucalyptus water in a ritualistic cleansing. The shamans asked each person to set their intention for the blessing. Then, using sacred items like crystals and stones known as Huacas, the shamans called on the forces of the world to help each person achieve their desired state.
I was nervous when my time came, and afraid I’d burst out laughing under the strain of embarrassment. But I didn’t. I felt instantly calm, and I believed every utterance from my shaman even if I didn’t understand a single word. I remember a feeling akin to jealousy over not having the same relationship with the earth—it’s how I feel my religion would be if I were brought up in a different part of the world.
I took the offering of coca leaf, blew against it to scatter the remaining bad spirits, and went back to my seat. We all held hands to finish up the blessing, and then everyone went around the circle hugging each other.
What intention did I set? “I just want a good night’s sleep,” I told someone. I was only half joking.
The absurdity of spending my Saturday night doing such a thing was not lost on me, and I went to bed feeling happier than I had in weeks. All good evenings should end with shamans and lots of hugs.
“Dude,” I tweeted from my hotel room. “I just got felt up by shamans.”