A Shaman Shows the Way: Channeling the Pachamama in Machu Picchu


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.

Machu Picchu, Peru

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.

Shaman Daniel Gutierrez prepares for a ceremony at Machu Picchu, with a little help from a friend.

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.

Shaman Daniel introduces visitors to the spiritual significance of Machu Picchu on a Mystical Tour of the citadel arranged by Sumaq Machu Picchu Hotel.

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.

Marian Gerlich

Marian Gerlich is a life-long Public Relations professional specializing in travel and upscale hospitality. She co-founded P&G Communications in 1990, which quickly won acclaim for its award-winning PR campaigns for some of the world’s most extraordinary hotels and resorts. She discovered her passion for travel PR when she served as the Public Information Officer aboard the SS Universe, sailing around the world for 100 days with the Institute for Shipboard Education and escorting student groups into South China and India, while handling media in countries ranging from Taiwan and the Philippines to South Africa, Brazil and Venezuela. Returning to the U.S., she accepted a position as PR Manager of Sitmar Cruises in Los Angeles, a pioneering luxury cruise line sailing to Canada/Alaska, Trans-Panama Canal, the Mexican Riviera and the Caribbean. Prior to co-founding P&G, she was senior vice president of The Fontayne Group in Marina del Rey, CA, a travel/tourism PR agency, where she developed strategic PR programs and spearheaded new business development. Ms. Gerlich was graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Colorado State University with a B.A. in Technical Journalism, and was invited to return as a Professional in Residence, lecturing to PR and Corporate Communications students about Travel & Tourism PR. She lives in Los Angeles with her globe-trotting/travel writer husband, Ed Placidi and their two “magic cats” – Merlin & Houdini.

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