I first met don Oscar Miro-Quesada in 2005, at the 5th Annual International Gathering of the Heart of the Healer Foundation. Don Oscar founded this non-profit service organization (www.heartofthehealer.org), with the vision that it might serve as an umbrella for teaching shamanic healing arts and preserving indigenous earth-honoring wisdom traditions. I had been invited to speak at that year's gathering, held at a church camp on the shores of Lake Michigan, because of my own history studying Peruvian shamanism. As an anthropologist, I had been living and working in Peru on and off since 1975. I had completed my dissertation working with female shamans on the north coast of Peru. I had written a book and published many articles about the magic and mystery of curanderismo as it is practiced there. In that context, shamanic healers use ground altars called mesas to restore their patients to health by calling on their spirit allies--from every kingdom of nature--to assist. Through a ceremonial process that involves song and spoken prayer, offering of sound and scent, pattern and color, these helping spirits fly from every corner of nature to inhabit the medicine pieces (called artes) that stand upon these altars. In my years studying shamanism on the north coast of Peru, I had witnessed many miracles of healing during these shamanic rituals. But, until meeting don Oscar, I never understood how it happens, nor had I been touched by the magic myself.
This gathering was the first time I saw a version of these altars in a North American context. In a beautiful, enclosed gazebo just up the hill from the large hall where the main events of the weekend were taking place, eight of his most advanced students had been asked to set up their own mesas. These radiated out like spokes from a central altar in the middle of the room. When I walked in, the aesthetic beauty of what I saw just overwhelmed me. The aroma of fragrant incense filled the space, its smoke wafting skyward toward the open-beamed ceiling. At each end of the sun-bathed room sat an attendant, one male and one female, in lotus position--both with blissful looks in their eyes. Artes were placed on each of the eight mesas, and although each mesa contained different objects, they were all laid out similarly, in mandala-like shapes, with perfect symmetry and grace. The feathers and flowers, crystals and smooth stones, conch shells and candles, framed photos and small statues that were set upon the ground cloths that made me think of the slightly wild beauty of an English garden. Each piece just seemed to grow right out of the ground cloth on which it sat. As I walked respectfully around the ouside of this gigantic three-dimensional patchwork quilt. I felt myself stepping more buoyantly. My heart grew warm, and I began to smile as I soaked in the beauty before me. This was my first exposure to the "Pachakuti Mesa Tradition," as don Oscar referred to it, and I was enchanted.
Back in the great hall, I delivered my remarks, and then I listened to don Oscar speak. He shared a message about how to live in harmony and respect with our Earth mother and with one another. What was needed, he insisted, was a return to a more respectful way of living--which was founded in the notion that we are all related and that we get what we give. Over the course of the weekend, all those gathered listened to these wisdoms in the great hall. We built sacred fires and shared prayers of gratitude to the great waters of the lake. As the weekend progressed, we also shared stories and broke bread together, and we began calling one another "brother" and "sister." The days were warm, and as the time passed, I found myself shedding layers of disdain and hopelessness, cynicism and loneliness, just as naturally as I was shedding my shoes. I found it easier and easier to smile. As I looked around the great hall whenever we gathered, I saw in the faces of all present in the same openess that I was feeling. I began to picture each person gathered there as "family."
The night before the last day of gathering, I remember feeling completely dejected that this event was ending. Like the proverbial kid who revels in the attentions received at her first birthday party only to find herself alone again when the party is over, a deep yearning for connection had been awakened somewhere deep inside of me. Although not religious, I remember uttering a desperate prayer as I dropped off to sleep that I might find a sense of meaning and belonging--somehow. And in my dreams that night, don Oscar appeared. I remember him looking deep into my eyes. I remember his smile. He said, "If you are sincere in your desire, and if you are truly open to change, when you awake in the morning, and you will begin to find what you seek."
Six months later, this extraordinary man invited me to his home in South Florida. Armed with a book proposal and a sabbatical project idea, I told him that I had been so touched by what I had experienced at Lake Michigan that I wanted to write a story about transformation. He listened intently as I explained. First, I wanted to explore how the shamanic healing traditions of north coastal Peru that I had studied had been transformed as he had brought this tradition north to the United States. I also wanted to explore how his life had changed in the process of his own apprenticeships. Additionally, I wanted to know about this transformation in the lives of the students who had studied the Pachakuti Mesa Tradition with him. Finally, I wanted to explore how anthropology as a discipline might transform through the kind of experiential writing that I hoped to do. After I finished pitching my proposal to him, he looked me deeply in the eyes, just as he had in my dream six months before, and he said simply, "Of course I'm willing to help you write your ethnography of transformation. But before I do, tell me this: Are you first willing to be transformed?"
Thus began my own journey of transformation. It was, as don Oscar is fond of saying, a long journey, because it involved that seventeen-inch transit from head to heart. In the seven years since that invitation, I have immersed myself completely in my own process of awakening. I have apprenticed deeply to don Oscar's teachings through attendance at weekend workshops and intensive trainings. I participated in a three-year apprenticeships in bio-energetic healing and have been endorsed as a teacher of the Pachakuti Mesa Tradition. I have volunteered in many positions with the Heart of the Healer Foundation.
When don Oscar asked me to help him to put some of his transformational life story and some of his teachigns into writing in the summer of 2012, I was deeply touched and honored because, until that time, he had mainly shared these stories, teachings, and traditions orally, according to the wishes of his first shamanic teacher. Yet we were approaching Decembrer 21, 2012, (and the beginning of all the prophesied transformation signified by its arrival). Don Oscar knew it was time to put some of his life story on paper to assist us. I am deeply honored to craft the manuscript that can assist him in this task.
Don Oscar's story is one of great courage. It is also a story that carries with it a great message. It is the story of a young man who awakened to its own beauty and wholeness while facing the same kinds of life challenges that test us all: we all struggle to find ourselves, to find meaning in our lives, and to recognize greater purpose, which is to serve others. His story shows us the way.
Born in Lima in 1951 to a very intellectual family, Oscar Miro-Quesada spent his early years in Peru. As a child, he struggled with chronic illness, he struggled in school, and he struggled with family dysfunction. When he was ten, he experienced what many would describe a miraculous healing facilitated by beings from "beyond the veil." This experience informed his early interest in exploring shamanism as a doorway into all the realms of consciousness that can help us understand life's deeper mysteries.
More "Spanish" than "Indian" by Peruvian standards, he felt as though he was a "stranger in a strange land." When he was seventeen, he began to awaken to his connection with a heritage that is much deeper than simply biological. It is the heritage of the 3,000-year-old shamanic tradition practiced by his ancestors. This book presents the legacy of his heritage, which holds the promise for restoring us to right relationship with ourselves, with one another, and with our beloved Mother Earth.
Between age seventeen and age thirty-one, don Oscar split his time between the north coast of Peru, where he apprenticed with his cherished shamanic teacher don Celso Rojas Palomino, and the United States, where he completed college, graduate, and post-graduate studies. After returning to Peru in 1982, he began a new apprenticeship with don Benito Corihuaman Vargas. After don Benito's passing, he came again to the United States, to fulfill his promise to don Celso to "bring teachings north." It was in that year he began teaching the shamanic practices that are the focus of this book. Since 1986, he has taught tens of thousands of students, established a framework for the emergence of a global shamanic community based on the principle that "right action, born of compassionate spiritual wisdom, unites" and founded the Heart of the Healer Foundation (THOTH), which continues to expand the legacy of these soul-enriching wisdom teachings today.
In the seven years since this project began, I have been blessed and deeply touched by don Oscar's shamanic teachings as well as his close friendship. These experiences also helped us in our work as co-authors. The project has been a seamless and joyful co-creation. I have created the over-arching structure for the presentation of don Oscar's life and teachings (for which I take complete responsibility, especially where this framing falls short of truly communicating the beauty inherent in the message). But it is the one-on-one interviews I conducted with don Oscar as well as more than 600 pages of materials gathered from notes compiled during teachings and trainings that allows his own voice, as the sole author of his life's journey, to shine through. I am honored by the trust he has placed in me now to render some of his transformational life story and his teachings on paper. My fervent hope is that I may thus be of some service as both a quill and a vessel for the message. May the great scribe Thoth speak through my heart as I write.
In addition to my deepest debt to don Oscar Miro-Quesada, I am full to overflowing with gratitude to all teachers of the seen and unseen worlds who have supported this adventure. There are too many "two-leggeds" in the ayllus and suyus of my Pachakuti Mesa Tradition family to thank individually here, yet I trust you know who you are and how much I love you all I would be remiss, though, not to mention Jason Blaesing and Matt Magee, whose friendship and whose books about the practices and the cosmological background that inform the Pachakuti Mesa Tradition have lifted me up. To Poetic Panther for providing her transcriptions of tapes from don Oscar's teachings of the early 1990s, to Anita Stewart, whose words I have largely borrowed for the despacho practice described at the close of chapter 5, to Bonnie Knezo for holding the vision of this completed story and to Cindy Miro-Quesada for her mastery of all the worlds, I also offer my most heartfelt thanks. Pachis, pachis, pachis, for all my relations.
Bonnie Glass-Coffin, Ph.D.
Logan, Utah/March 2013
I am Oscar Manuel Miro-Quesada and this is my story. It is a story told within the immediacy of the present moment, even as it recalls the past. It is a story about how I came to serve the earth by returning to the origins of a once-forgotten tradition. It is a story about how honoring these ancient wisdoms can awaken us all to the spiritual dimensions of life.
Some people say that my story is extraordinary, yet, apart from the particularities of my journey, it is a story that we all share. Like me, you have suffered. Like me, you have the power to choose in every moment to awaken to the lessons before you. Your soul, just like mine, is evolving toward great mastery. Like me, you are also a native child of Mother Earth, indigenous to our planet. Like me, you can either choose to be a victim or an evolutionary partner in the unfolding of the great sacred hoop of life. My fondest dream is that you shall volunteer for the latter.
As I share my particular journey with you now, my wish is that you remember to receive life as it is, in order to embrace the wholeness of your birthright. Remembering usedto be easier than it is now. Once upon a time, we moved through a wilderness where every plant, every rock, and every animal spoke to us, each embracing us in its song. Every moment was animated, charged with vitality and a sense of life-affirming wonder. All humanity delighted in the ebb and flow of this fluid correspondence with the natural world. When we were attentive and appreciative, we remained immersed in the abundant spirit of Mother Nature. We viscerally understood our Earth mother's personal dream. We were aware of the diverse expressions of her cosmic eras and world cycles. Sensitive to the seen and unseen forces that held the fabric of creation together, we established deep alliances with those powers for the greatest good of all.
In that time, we kept alive the ritual honoring of the seasons, the songs, dances, sacred pilgrimages, and the community living needed to cultivate this respectful relationship. Our children became elders to cultivate this respectful relationship. The earth and humanity continued to peacefully co-exist in sacred trust.
We all carry a template that remembers. But with the rise of the modern world, it has been so easy to forget the truth of sacred relationship. We have fallen into a long and painful sleep of forgetfulness as we have become isolated from one another--and from our true selves. In forgetitng, we suffer from the physical, emotional, and spiritual pain of separation and of loss. Yet this suffering is often the driving force that allows us to attend again to what is really a call from the true self. These difficult experiences can help us to awaken and to remember. The story I tell here is how I came to this place of remembering my beauty--and my wholeness. My prayer is that it may serve you on your journey also.
I have waited many, many years to share these words. I have waited to write this book because the wisdoms of my teachers are part of an oral tradition that flows like water from the mountains of my homeland. To keep it flowing, changing--ever evolving--through an oral transmission was my first teacher's deepest desire. However, I find myself compelled to share my story in this moment because the time of the great "world-turning" called the pachakuti that was prophesied by my ancestors is upon us. In this time of great challenge, I feel an urgency to share these teachings in a way that can reach beyond the sound of my voice.
The wisdoms I share here will help comfort and save us because they give us hope, courage, and the tools to change. They affirm that they do have the power to create a New Earth in the midst of a seemingly crumbling world. With these wisdoms, we remember that we are powerful, whole, and at one with the Great Originating Mystery. We recognize that all separation, all feeling of being cut-off from the Creator, all feeling of "dismemberment" is illusion. We re-member who we are. And as we re-member, we will once again live authentic lives of service as we reclaim our place in the unfolding story. We are the ones we have been waiting for. And it all begins with the individual soul.
Many have asked the question, "What is Soul?" If you ask me, I will tell you this: soul is alchemy, transformation--ever-changing evolution. It is multiple experiences of being--over the course of our lives and over lifetimes.
The soul's evolution is the focus of this book. As we learn to offer gratitude to the unseen world, perform graceful rituals and heartfelt ceremony, and call upon the ancestral wisdoms of Earth's original peoples, we return to the Garden, to be at one with the Source from which all creation flows. This return to wholeness unleashes in us the power to change the world.
The particular rituals that my teachers shared with me derive from the north coastal and central Andean regions of Peru. They include the ritual creation and management of a mesa or healing altar in ways that allow the forces and powers of nature to flow through. As these powers are managed, wholeness and transpersonal harmony is restored, both within ourselves and throughout our beloved Mother Earth.
As these rituals begin to be practiced, earth-honoring sacred communities come together again for a common purpose. With this coming together, there is a quickening and a morphic resonance that is created. Healing happens more quickly as a result.
As a fellow traveler on this path, I know that in order to transform ourselves, we must first respond to life's challenges. We are on an adventure that leads us to embrace our innermost feelings and fears. It is a journey of courage and of return to an awareness of our beauty and purpose. This is how the soul evolves. Mastery of the challenges, like all good art, requires humanity creativity and disciplined imagination. It requires great courage as well. Thus, each of the chapters in this book presents a challenge that we must face, as well as the tools and the wisdoms to move forward.
The name of the great Egyptian Scribe Thoth serves as a fitting acronym to present these challenges, for mastering these is an alchemical process. As we successfully move through this process, we unlock the Divine within ourselves. We are like Thoth also because our willingness to play this sacred game of soul-evolution transforms us into sacred messengers to others. We become, through our apprenticeship to life's mysteries, participants in an ever-expanding global shamanic community at a most auspicious time. In THOTH, or Trusting Soul, Honoring Spirit, Opening Heart, Transforming Mind, and Healing Body, we awaken to our true selves as we reclaim our birthright of unlimited power to change the world.
Each of the chapters in this small text presents one of these mysteries, which have all been encoded into the Pachakuti Mesa itself. Each chapter begins with a challenge, followed by pieces of my life story to show how these issues have manifested themselves for me. After that, I share insights that have come from my journey. These are highly condensed versions of teachings I offer my students in workshops and trainings. Then, I offer a few practices for daily living that draw from the Pachakuti Mesa Tradition as tools for addressing these fundamental challenges in our lives.
My deepest desire is that the words in this little text may serve you in your journey even as you carry their message of personal and planetary transformation to others. For, even as these teachings are needed now, they must also be carried forward as graceful rituals, befitting of the next seven generations. It is my wish that you receive these words as both a charge and a comfort. This is my sacred bequest to you.
It was a gloomy, overcast day in 1981 as I was traveling north from Lima to see don Celso. Since our first encounter in 1969, he had been my maestro--teacher, mentor, and way-shower. Don Celso Rojas Palomino had initiated me into the secrets of a 3,000-year-old shamanic tradition called kamasqa curanderismo. He had opened me to the world of my ancestors.
As I pondered the rumors that had propelled me to visit this time, my mind wandered back to our first meeting. "I have been waiting for you, my son," don Celso had told me, as he raised his eyebrows in surprise at the three surfing buddies who stood with me in his dirt-packed yard.
It was a Tuesday afternoon just before my eighteenth birthday. With our surfboards and a spirit of adventure, we four had traveled to the north coast in order to find this famed huachumero. We wanted to drink the visionary San Pedro plant-medicine for which he was known. As he spoke softly, his dark eyes revealed generations of both magic and mystery. As I looked deep within them, they also reflected who he knew me to be. It was a moment of instant, mutual recognition. He soon set my three buddies packing and welcomed me to stay and change my life.
Outside my car window, a landscape of stark contracts now stretched before me. Bone-dry deserts punctuated by wide green ribbons caught my gaze. Wherever the earth was touched by life-giving rivers that flow down the mountains, fields of sugar cane stretched toward the sky. Wherever kissed by this blessing of wellness, the parched desert opened in flower.
Approaching don Celso's hometown of Salas, it seemed that nothing had changed since my last visit. Burros still lumbered down dusty roads, sagging under the weight of the fresh-cut cane stalks that they carried. Their barefoot owners still urged toward the simple mills where the juice would be squeezed and boiled.
Cutting cane and loading burros was something I knew well from my years of apprenticeships with don Celso. In addition to serving his community as a maestro curandero, a master shamanic healer and teacher of ancient wisdoms, he was a master magician and true alchemist when it comes to distilling the sugar-cane squeezings into rum.
"It has to be green," he would admonish us, his machete flashing like lightning in the field. He held his glistening bronze body with light-grace as a dancer, cutting only the stalks that he sought. As his other apprentices and I could load the cut cane to be processed, he would remind us, "Remember to keep it green. The young cane that still yields to the wind is what produces the sweetest elixir."
Keep it fresh. Be open to the teachings of each moment. Let go of the need to be perfect. Model your life on the wisdoms of nature. These were the lessons of the cane-field. They were the essence of his shamanic teachings too. As I passed by the sauntering burros, I smiled as I remembered again.
Finally arriving at don Celso's modest adobe home, I stepped out of the car and gratefully stretched my aching legs. Chickens scattered in all directions as I shouted my greeting and stepped over the threshold. Standing upon the hard mud floor, we greeted one another warmly. We sat and settled in to catch up.
After a time, I brought up the reason for my visit. "Maestro," I began softly, "there are rumors circulating that you are preparing to depart for the higher realms, the heavenly abode. What's this about?"
"That's right," he said simply.
"But, maestro, you still have a full head of hair, and your skin is still soft and smooth like that of a young man. I just can't fathom this," I insisted.
Although dressed in the tattered shirt and the well-mended ancient pants he always wore, his bearing was regal as he spoke. He sat in his favorite wooden chair, sipping a small glass of the finest, smoothest cane alcohol he had crafted. As he brought the glass to his lips, he drank slowly, honoring the labor of love that created it. The sale of this homemade rum had, over the years, fed his family. These sales freed him to spend time and energy serving his community with his shamanic vocation as well. I could feel his gratitude for that gift in every sip that he took.
"My son, remember to look beyond my physical form, use your inner sight to gaze beyond. What is it that you see now?" I closed my eyes. I looked. I gazed, just as he had taught me to do. With my inner sight, I did not see him sitting there at all. I could not feel any life force, and I knew what he had declared to be true. Honoring his pronouncement and his simple, honest life, I opened my eyes and gently took his hand. As our eyes met, I told him, "Maestro, I love you. You can count on me."
Then don Celso met my gaze. His voice strengthened with the urgency of his message as he spoke. "You know our people are a bunch of idiots. They use the magic of these ancestral ways unwisely. Their actions feed the engine of fear that drives the desperate. You know that if people contunue to use these powers to try to achieve selfish desires and for personal gain, we are all going to be screwed."
"My son," he continued, "I need your help. We all need your help. Take what I have taught you to your adopted homeland. Take the kamasqa, the power of creation you have been gifted during your long apprenticeships with me to people up north. Use your perfect English and your years of training in U.S. universities to open your eyes! Because when the gringos see this work, they are going to wake up. They are going to want to learn these ancient wisdoms to carry creation forward and to become healers themselves. And as the gringos recognize and honor the ancient ways, our people here will begin to honor these too. We all need these wisdoms to endure the changes that are coming. My son, you have seen the truth of my dreaming. Trust me. Pay attention to me now and promise me this. I bequeath this lineage to you now."
As he finished speaking, I looked deep into his eyes and squeezed is hand.
"As you command, let it be so, maestro," I affirmed.
This was my pact and my agreement. And it is in fulfillment of this pact that I share these wisdoms with you now.