A World of Healing: The Adaptation of the Andean Mesa Tradition into Western Shamanism

I am a carrier of a mesa, a beautiful, multicolored bundle containing various power objects and stones used for moving energy in service of healing. A more commonly known term in the West might be a “medicine bundle”.  This powerful shamanic healing tool has been brought from the Peruvian Andes and elsewhere in Latin America to the outside world through a variety of western teachers. 

The mesa is the shaman’s primary healing tool. Representing the world in sacred balance and wholeness, whenever it is opened, energetic forces are activated to move a person into ayni, or balance.  The energy medicine of the Q’ero and other indigenous peoples from around the world is based on calling on and manipulating an elemental power infusing all animate and inanimate matter. Known as huaca in Peru, it is more commonly known in the West from the Asian words, qi or chi.  The concept of huaca was chronicled by the Spanish conquerors of South America and persists to this day as “the localization of power…in an object, a mountain, a grave, an ancestral mummy, a ceremonial city, a shrine, a sacred tree, cave, spring or lake of origination, a river or standing stone, the statue of a deity, a revered square or bit of ground where festivals were held or where a great man lived” (Brundage, 1963, 47; cited in Sharon, 1978).  Huaca thus can be found in greater abundance in some places and objects from those places will be infused with this life force and can be harnessed in service of healing.  Anthropologist Edith Turner describes it this way:  “energy gives power to our bodies, even to our brains and endocrine systems, and we are healed….healing power is like a wave, a strong force or vibration, and then one feels it as an overpowering effect setting one ashiver, and people call it energy or vibrations.”

Mesas may be portable bundles or they may be fixed shrines or altars where there is a concentration of this kind of power. I carry my mesa with me in a shoulder bag. Compared to some mesas carried by Peruvian curanderos, mine is very modest, despite being extremely heavy.  Across Latin America, they can be several feet long and wide and cluttered with myriad staffs, stones, crosses, pictures of saints, Jesus and the Virgin Mary, bottles of medicine, and other amulets and sacred objects.

My mesa contains 13 stones that have been transformed through a lengthy training and ritual process into kuyas, or power stones into which energy, or magnetismo, has been called and harnessed in service of my own and others’ healing.  Prior to attending these shamanic trainings, I collected a few of the stones in rock shops. Others come from places I have visited and known to have a high concentration of huaca such as Chaco Canyon in Northwestern New Mexico and a local mountain in my hometown known alternately as Mountalto or Brown’s Mountain.

I have also collected other objects in my mesa that are significant to me, such as a bear claw and a chanka--a cross representing the 4 directions that is sacred to the Inka and their descendants. In shamanic traditions, amulets from living animals are often used to invoke the particular energetic quality of that species. The grizzly bear carries the medicine of awakening into one’s true self, fierceness, and the ability to cross from one world to the next.

My power objects are wrapped in or sit on a colorful woven fabric called a mesa cloth with regular, geometric patterns.  They are most often designed in columns, with a line down the center which delineates one half from the other.  This column mediates between the two sides of the mesa and represents the complementary duality of life: the dance between what is seen and unseen.

My mesa also holds the energies of the four cardinal points of the compass, North, South, East and West.  Like the philosophy of the Medicine Wheel in many native cultures, each direction represents a particular energy: South—youth and growth; West–darkness, decomposition and death; North–balance and wisdom; East–light, regeneration and rebirth.  At the center of the directions, with Earth below and Sky above, is the point of mediation or the Axis Mundi.  Like the Axis, or the Great Tree, we want to stand at the center of this wheel and have the fluidity of character to be able to access the complementary energies of each part of the mesa as needed in service of our personal goals–whether of healing, accessing our highest possible destiny, or manifesting a particular outcome in the world.  Therefore, the mesa holds this potentiality within it for both the healer who carries it and for the people he serves.

The basic principle of the mesa when I use it for shamanic healing is that all matter, time and space can be manipulated when we invoke power through engagement with the mesa and its associated objects.  Working in and through this field of magnetism and power, we can more easily change conditions and circumstances.  In contrast, in the Western world, we attempt to change conditions within and around us solely through manipulation of the physical or mental realms of experience.  We all know, however, how difficult it can be to do this, such as when we want to quit smoking or lose weight.    We might try to avoid keeping certain foods or cigarettes in the house and to count calories.  In the world of my adapted, western mesa, I can instead work more powerfully and fluidly at the level of the mythic and the energetic.

We in the West can be very hidebound and myopic in our belief that our worldview is the only “real” or “valid” one.  The fact that these healing principles invoking the elemental powers of the universe have been found for millennia throughout the world among peoples of many cultures and systems of belief should be proof enough that there is something to them beyond mere superstition or belief.  All of us, including scientists, medical doctors and psychologists need to pay attention.  The world urgently needs healing.

I believe that we will soon have to admit that we have hit the limit of what Western medicine and psychology can provide.  While pharmacology and talk therapy have tremendously helped hundreds of thousands of people for over a century, there are still many who continue to struggle with the demons of depression, grief, anxiety, panic, apathy, and even rage.  The healers of Peru and other places in the world have come forth to offer us “new” alternatives distilled from ancient knowledge.  In this pantheon of tools, the mesa is a powerful source of the healing, transformative life force of the universe.  May we use it wisely and well in service of our own and others healing!

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