Huachuma ceremony, March 22, 2015, Sacred Valley, Peru
By Sanne Burger
When we leave, early in the morning, we are escorted by five dogs. Two of them are ours, the other three are street dogs. It’s like walking with a pack of wolves. We feel safe, invigorated and proud. Jumping in a taxi to Calca we have to leave them behind. It doesn’t matter. They can take care of themselves, they are free.
Sergey picks us up in Calca. He is exactly on time. We take a taxi that brings us to our spot at the river. Sergey can’t walk far: he hurt his leg in a dream. Yes, in a dream. He woke up from a vague dream full of action and speed one night and couldn’t walk the next day. Eventually he went to the hospital and the doctor said: ‘You ripped a muscle. What did you do, did you fall from a mountain?’ ‘No’, Sergey answered, ‘I had a dream.’ He’s still limping, two weeks later. Russian limping shaman in Calca.
We walk the last few hundred meters to the same spot where we were last time: a lush and green area in a remote swing of the Urubamba river. The river is wild this time of year, at the end of the rainy season. Sergey has brought two bottles of medicine. One is rather mild, the other one is fresh and pretty strong. ‘Usually the dark coloured juice is stronger than the light coloured one, but this time it’s the other way around. This medicine keeps surprising me’, he says, while setting up the altar: a shamanic sword, wooden figures of owl and Huachuma (San Pedro)cactus, condor feathers, the head, skin and claws of a puma, a head of an owl and claws of an eagle. These are a few of his totems. They all came to him when they were already dead, searching for healing. He lights a mapacho and blesses the altar by blowing smoke over it.
Stefanie and Michelle drink the mild medicine. They haven’t done Huachuma that often and Sergey feels they need to go slow. Khalid and I drink the strong medicine. Sergey doesn’t drink today. ‘I need to process the accident’, he says. ‘But don’t worry, I’ll be here for you.’ Already after half an hour all four of us feel the effect of the medicine. It’s going fast today. The weather is amazing. White clouds, deep blue sky, a blazing sun and a cool breeze. We all disperse, doing our own thing. Michelle lays down and falls asleep, Stefanie looks like a fairy, sitting cross legged on a rock, Khalid starts moving a bit further up the slope and I take a walk up the mountain. There the medicine takes full effect. I start doing a bit of Qigong and feel how I connect to nature through the movements. I move with the trees, the river and the mountains. I feel the flow of the water, the wave and kindness of the trees and the immense power of the mountains, especially one, far away but straight in front of me. I raise up my arms, fists crossed, and take in its power. I feel a surge of energy through my body, it’s fantastic, almost orgasmic. How much power can a human being embody? I can hear the voices of my ancestors say: ‘A woman is not supposed to be that powerful.’ I realize how ingrained that is in me, in all women. We have learned to hide our power, to act like dumb blondes, in order to perpetuate the illusion that men are more powerful, while in fact there is no difference in power, only in style.
After a while I walk back and sit down with Sergey and Khalid. Both Khalid and I are very excited about how intense the medicine is. He felt the same like me just before, but from the male side: how difficult it is for men as well to really embody their power. We agree that in reality there is no war of the sexes, there are no victims or offenders. Neither sex is better or worse, stronger or weaker. It’s time we all embody both our power and our vulnerability and share it with each other.
‘I want to drink more medicine’, I say to Sergey, jumping up. ‘Wait a bit’, he says. ‘And when you’ve had your second cup, I want to do a little ritual with you.’ ‘Okay’, I say and go down to the river to cool down. Stefanie is lying on her back on a stone a bit further up the path. She looks like a floating fairy. Michelle is sitting in the river, emerged in the water and by very deep feelings. They both look so beautiful.
After some time it’s time. We sit around the altar and Sergey serves both me and Khalid a second cup. After I’ve drank Sergey summons me to lay down on my back in front of the altar and close my eyes. I do so, feeling a bit giggly. Then I feel how he puts the head of the puma on my chest. For a moment I can’t breathe, it’s that powerful. Then he put her claws on my hands, lights a mapacho and blows the smoke over me and Puma. She feels like the softest being that ever touched me, softer than my mother. She comes close, very close to me, in the gentlest way. She nuzzles me, nose to nose, as if she wants to get to know me. I sense the delicate softness of her fur and her being. I feel her paws sink into my hands. It’s so soft and yet so powerful I again am overwhelmed by awe. Then it feels as if she dives in me. Her head disappears into my chest and there she is, everywhere. I’m embodied by Puma. It feels amazing. Little shocks of energy surge through my body and my muscles move, as to adapt to this powerful being in me. I’m not afraid, in fact I’m enjoying it with all my senses. This is amazing! I never knew it is actually possible to connect with a spirit animal and now it is happening for real.
‘You are so soft and kind’, I say. ‘How is that possible? You are the embodiment of power. You’re a killer!’ Puma is not used to speak, but she communicates with me in a very clear, telepathic wave. She talks with feelings and I translate those feelings with my mind. ‘You humans misunderstand power’, she says. ‘You misunderstand me. Kindness is one of the main assets of power. Without kindness there is no real power. Real power is the opposite of aggression. When you are really powerful you do not get provoked, you do not get angry. Nothing triggers you, you are beyond that. You are always in charge of your emotions and you never get carried away. No other has the power to let you lose control over your feelings or actions. When you are really powerful you understand everything is part of nature. Therefore everything and everyone deserves kindness, also yourself. Sometimes fighting and killing is appropriate and necessary, for example when you have to eat or when you have to protect your children… but otherwise you refrain.
Yes, real power gives freedom. You don’t need anything from anyone, you can take care of yourself. You know how to survive, you know how to live and you know how to act. You have the skills to all of that. You are appropriate. You are mature, you are strong and most of all: you are happy, because you are free and you are free, because you are happy.’
I get up very slowly. It takes at least 10 minutes to adjust to the Puma spirit in me. I feel like a new-born baby and look at my hands, my feet, my arms and legs in awe. Or actually she does. She was shot by farmers in the hills above Ollytatambo a few years ago, after having killed five of their bulls. Now she’s happy to feel alive again, this time in a human body. It’s also a new experience for her. We both feel as if we move for the first time. Her presence gives me a presence and grace I’ve never felt before. I move with a totally new awareness. Very slowly, aware of every step, of every move. I walk to the river and climb down the rocks. The water feels amazing. ‘This is sensuality’, she says. ‘Walking, moving, touching, smelling. Power means to own your sensuality, to not be afraid of it, not be embarrassed by it, not hide it, but embody it every moment of your life, because life itself is sensuality. Sexuality is part of sensuality. It’s not the other way around. Another thing that’s often misunderstood by humans.
To take responsibility for your sensuality, that’s what power is about’, she conveys to me with her energy. I feel what she says more than that there are words involved. My mind is so used to words though. It’s eager to find the right words to what she submits to me. It’s a way to not forget it, to not lose it. Words are my anchor to remember this experience. For her it’s as if she loses me a bit when I’m thinking too hard, as if I disappear into a fog. She’s not used to it, as she’s always in the present. She finds it entertaining but also a bit confusing, as she doesn’t really understand its function. ‘Responsibility means to be impeccable in everything you do. You are part of everything, hence you are responsible for everything. Being responsible means sharing your gifts with the world, sharing your experience and wisdom in a way that suits your spirit, your character, your being. It’s not difficult, it’s natural. It doesn’t crave discipline or suffering, it’s just allowing the flow of life to flow through you. There is no effort in it whatsoever.’
We walk up the river and she is having so much fun, walking on two legs. When we are out of sight I sink down on all four. I want to experience how it feels to walk like a puma. I’m again in awe about the sheer pleasure I feel, putting my paws on the grass, seeing through her eyes; seeing every detail, every shimmer, every colour, every insect around me, hearing all the sounds, smelling a thousand different scents out there. I lay down and let her breathe through me. She lets out a sigh, a soft growl, with every outbreath. It creates such a low rumble that the whole valley trembles with it. I can hear its resonance hundreds of meters further down. It’s delightful, delicious and deeply sensual. It’s fun! ‘Remember that’, she says. ‘Real power incorporates fun. If you don’t have fun you have given your power away, you are doing something wrong. When you see someone in a powerful position and he doesn’t radiate fun, you know he’s not really a powerful person.’
I’m lying in the grass, deeply enjoying this new sense of power, this new understanding of what power really means. It feels so easy, so natural and peaceful. Not at all what I imagined raw, pure power would feel like. I remember how many times I’ve felt totally disempowered in my life, weakened by circumstances, especially heartache. ‘There you’ve misunderstood all your life as well’, she says. ‘You’ve always thought of yourself as incomplete when not in a relationship, but that’s not true. You don’t need a relationship. Power nor happiness are dependent on you being in a relationship.’ This comes as a shock. It is true though. ‘So do I have to be solitary now for the rest of my life?’ I ask, a bit daunted. She smiles. Her smile makes me feel wonderful inside, as if everything in me lights up. ‘No’, she says. ‘It’s not either or. You can be in a relationship or not, but never ever make your happiness, power or freedom dependent on it. Solitariness is about the willingness to be alone, if you have to in order to walk your true path. So remember: if either one of these assets are not present, power is not complete, hence not real.’
It’s late in the afternoon. The sun disappears behind the mountains. Quite sudden it gets chilly. I slowly walk down the hill, immensely enjoying every step. I realize that for the first time in my life I am really, fully at peace with being solitary. When we gather around the altar, everybody sunburned, smiling and shiny, we eat and share our experiences. There are grapes, bananas, watermelon, nuts, crackers, mango jam and peanut butter from Michael’s farm. I dig into the watermelon, it’s delicious. I say to Sergey: ‘Are you aware of what you gave to me today?’ ‘Of course’, he says. ‘You were ready. She will be with you the rest of your life.’ God, I certainly hope so.