Part I: In which the foundation is laid.
An open secret exists just beneath the bustle of everyday life in Cusco. It’s actually a phenomenon that occurs in pockets across the Andes. It’s unknown to outsiders, even expats who have lived there for decades…unless they accidentally stumble upon it and are invited. That’s exactly how it happened in this case. I’m no longer amazed how one thing leads to another because I’ve been shown over and over that I’m led to what I’m supposed to experience and who I’m destined to meet that supports this work.
It all started two years ago when I needed to find an appropriate place near Cusco to hold a ceremonial space for the teachings of Don Alberto Manqueriapa, a respected jungle paq’o.* I queried my long-time friend Christo who told me of a hidden compound, a site with small temples and a garden honoring all sacred traditions, its stewardship held by a spiritual man of great humility and sweetness.† As I was then at home in the US, I asked another friend, Marianne, if she would make the connection and see if we could make arrangements for a time during last year’s spiritual travel program.
At the high stone wall, an oversized wooden door opened into a place not unlike something you might see in a movie. The informal garden held small altars and religious statues from world traditions placed here and there. A huge domed adobe oven sat across from a cloistered seating area. Several chickens, a fancy breed with feathered topknots and naked necks, scratched the dirt in-between. I’ve since noticed the collective intake of breath for those who haven’t entered here before. Indeed, it was of some other world, not Peru. Yet it contained all that, too. It was inclusive.
A few steps beyond were the temples, one round and the other a small antechamber. Then the kitchen building and living quarters. Flowers, shrubs and trees took up every bit of remaining ground. It sounds as though all should be strewn over an acre or two. But part of its beauty and the stillness it lent had to do with how all fit in a surprisingly small space, the sacred and daily life coexisting, one within the other. As it should be.
At our first visit, the steward told us how he came to be there after intense dissatisfaction with a material life, traveling to far reaches in search of his soul, finally finding himself in Peru where this special place was unexpectedly given to his care. He was soft-spoken, unassuming. He did not pronounce but simply told his story as though still amazed it had all happened to him. When he talked briefly of the angels and how they spoke directly, it caught my attention but not long at that point. We experienced Don Alberto’s teachings there, and I’m quite sure whatever was resident helped us receive them.
Little did I know how all this would evolve over the coming year, for my friend Marianne took to heart the steward’s mention of the angels⎯what the local people also referred to as talking to the Apus, with an altomisayoq as intermediary.‡ She said to me, how did she not know about this when she’d been living in Cusco for thirty years? But then she’s Dutch by birth, not Cusquenan. Over the year between then and now she attended a number of these sessions, introduced to them through the steward.
It’s said that during the times of the Inca, people’s sensibilities were developed to the extent they could communicate with the Apus in daylight. As those capabilities waned, such visible encounters would have somehow overcome them. Now it’s all confined to complete darkness with the necessary presence of an altomisayoq. But only to call in the coordinates for these beings to materialize in the place where the people are gathered to receive them and request counsel. The altomisayoq is not a medium. Those Apus, Santa Tierras and Mamitas of sacred places or villages who manifest during a session are completely separate entities from each other and the altomisayoq. They speak directly in their own voice to the petitioner, not through the altomisayoq as channel.
It’s hard to know how common this practice is today in remote Andean villages. With sadness, I heard that it is no longer so in Q’eros as no altomisayoqs remain in the villages, having passed long ago or moved to Cusco or elsewhere. But there was a time when the Apus did still appear there to give counsel when called upon. Q’ero Santos Machacca told me of the time when they were consulted about his grandfather’s health. Don Manuel Quispe, who passed in 2004 at 99 years old and well-known to many westerners, was the intermediary and provided his rustic home. There were offerings of chicha⎯a fermented drink⎯and coca. The Apus somehow entered through the thatched roof with a great flapping of wings, announcing their arrival by first landing on the back of Don Manuel, bending him double before taking their place on the mesa with much stomping and noise-making. In most ways, the process has not changed.
I was soon to find out…and truly believe the ambience of the hidden space, and sacred way the steward held it, set the stage for what was to happen…
Read Part II in which the Apus appeared here.
*Paq’o is a Quechua word with no direct translation, the closest being a cross between shaman and mystic in the Andean tradition.
†This steward prefers to operate beneath the radar, as do most altomisayoqs working strictly within their communities, knowing that those with pure spiritual intent will find their way to what is offered. Any mention of their name in writing on the internet is strictly forbidden in their lineage. To maintain respect, the exact site location and name of the holy men who provided our direct encounter will go unmentioned.
‡Apu is a Quechua word that translates to mountain. But the meaning goes deeper. The Apus are the living entities of the Andes, no less than Pachamama (Mother Earth), Mama Quilla (Mother Moon), Inti (Father Sun), Mama Cocha (Mother Ocean) and other elementals comprising the world. As mentioned, angels are also referred to depending on the influence of Catholicism, so prevalent in Peru, or other world traditions where the reference is generally accepted. An altomisayoq is the name given to the highest level of Andean priest, one who communicates with other dimensions. They are said to have been initiated directly by the Apus and thus able to call upon them for the benefit of the people. While increasingly rare in these times due to the great sacrifices required of them, there are a number who live in or near Cusco.