My eyes were closed, my arms outstretched and my face lifted to a sun-filled sky when Shaman Daniel raised his crystal-tipped scepter over my head. Moving it slowly down my body, he chanted softly, invoking a blessing from the Pachamama – revered earth mother and goddess of the Incas. I was soaring like an Andean condor over Machu Picchu Mountain as a soft wind rose like a sigh, engulfing and swirling around me, and a sense of great peace consumed me. Opening my eyes, I saw Daniel smile. “The Pachamama has welcomed you home,” he said in Quechua. Then I saw the astonished eyes of our tour guide and interpreter, Eddie, who whispered, “I’ve never seen the wind do that before.” The Pachamama had, indeed, announced her arrival.
As an internationally acclaimed wonder of the world, Machu Picchu is magical in many ways – from its majestic setting in the Andes to its ancient lore. But there is also powerful mysticism here among the Apus (mountains), considered themselves to be divine. I had come to Machu Picchu to walk in the footsteps of the ancient Incas, but also to explore the spiritual significance of this sacred site, under the guidance of a Shaman.
Dressed in traditional white with flowing jet-black hair, Shaman Daniel Gutierrez embodies the idyllic image of an Andean spiritualist. Descended from generations of Shamans, he keeps the lore alive and provides an essential connection between today’s Peruvian people and their cherished past. My small group was introduced to Daniel by Sumaq Machu Picchu Hotel , itself an authentic embodiment of Andean legacy, nestled at the foot of the legendary mountain redoubt. At Sumaq’s request, Shaman Daniel performs many traditional ceremonies for guests, from a “Payment to the Earth Ritual” to a time-honored Andean wedding ceremony. He would lead us on a Mystical Tour of Machu Picchu, explaining how the Incas lived, worked, celebrated and prayed for guidance to their gods.
We boarded a bus for the 20-minute climb up a winding road to the historic citadel. Trekking up the steep stone steps, Daniel employed the ancient Incan practice of chewing coca leaves as an energy kick – and happily shared them with us. But soon, we discovered they were also talismans: he handed us each three leaves, and instructed us to offer a prayer to the north, south, east and west. The leaves would embody our wishes and prayers, and we would leave them at Machu Picchu as an offering to the Pachamama.
With a Shaman’s insight, we learned why certain rock formations signified a god’s presence; how structures were advantageously aligned with the stars; and how the Incas worshiped the earth and pledged to protect it.
It’s not clear how long Machu Picchu thrived, but to me, one thing is clear: The Pachamama protected the sacred site from discovery until the gold-hungry Spanish conquerors had vanished and the coast was clear. Then, she lifted the clouds to allow discoverer Hiram Bingham inside, so the cherished Incan citadel could live again, this time as an awe-inspiring example of Incan ingenuity to be celebrated worldwide – and protected by an ever-watchful maternal force of nature who sleeps with one eye open.