Updated: Mar 15, 2022
Initiation With The Birdpeople Of The High Andes
John Perkins often said that the Birdpeople of the high Andes are among the world's most powerful shamans. Revered shapeshifters, they are descended from the ancient Quechua and Inca peoples - extraordinary healers and powerful agents of change. The vortex valley they live in is surrounded by volcanoes, sacred springs, and healing waters.
More than 60 shamans live in this valley; drawing on the volcanoes' power, shapeshifting into their fire and into the plants, waters, winds and earth for spirit medicine and healing. The energy here is palpable. The shamans hold the energy of the volcanoes and infuse their patients with this power by engulfing them in balls of fire.
I have facilitated numerous Dream Change trips to Ecuador to work with Andean Birdperson Don Esteban and his sons. The group is trained extensively in traditional, indigenous ways and initiated as Yachaks - the ancient Quechua equivalent to the word 'shaman'. The shaman is the guardian of Pachamama - Mother Earth, Mother Time, Mother Universe. Traditionally the shaman is the mediator between the physical and the spirit world, speaking with the spirit of the rocks, the waters, the plants, and the animals and maintaining the balance between people and nature. What people experience in an eleven day period defies their sense of time and reality, pushes their physical, emotional and psychological limits, and cracks their hearts wide open.
In the final phase of the journey, participants are initiated at a revered spring that infuses them with the power of the land and the volcanoes. Quechua Birdpeople shamans have come to the sacred spring since time immemorial. It opens at the backside of a volcano that last erupted 4,000 years ago, the water flowing out from a cave approximately seven feet long. The springs' source is the crater lake of this volcano, plummeting depths researchers have not been able to measure. The bottom has never been found.
As you approach the spring after descending a long, winding ravine, you can hear the loud, rhythmic pulses of the heartbeat of Mother Earth. The spring is forced up through the ground and into the back of the cave by powerful, lethal gasses. Eight people have died attempting initiation there in the last ten years. If you are not ready, if your intention is not right, or if you are not guided by the right shamans, death is a painful asphyxiation. The last person who died in the sacred spring collapsed into the pool of water inside the cave and the person who came in after him collapsed just as quickly. The spring accepts you or it doesn't.
Three years ago John had been initiated deep inside the cave. He told me of his struggle to breathe, and of Don Esteban's ecstatic relationship with the spring - like that of an impassioned lover.
Last year my group was initiated in a pool of water outside the cave, doused in the healing waters by Don Esteban. After the group had been initiated I sat in the pool and struggled to breathe as the gaseous waters gushed over my head and face. I felt panic. Earlier I had so wished to be initiated deep in the cave like John yet now the thought of that terrified me. The spring can be gentle or fierce in its healing; illusions and fears can be forced to the surface. Don Esteban stopped for a moment, held his hand on my head and chanted softly. He crooned a gentle serenade to the spirits. Then he again scooped water into the large, wooden bowl and poured it over my head. This performed more than a small miracle; I could breathe easily.
The sun warmed our heads and backs as we made our way down the steep, winding slope of the ravine. The three shamans, with their children and wives, accompanied us. Don Esteban deftly descended the sinewy path, his fragile white espadrilles hugging the Earth as if his feet held the perfect memory of each stone and patch of dirt. As we neared the spring, I stopped the group to listen to the heartbeat of the Mother. Awe showed on their faces. The rhythmic pulsing grew louder with each step as we passed through the arbored passageway to a small clearing within feet of the spring.
We brought offerings for the spirits: roses, candles, food, trago - the sugar cane alcohol so sacred to the Birdpeople and used in their fire blowing. We invoked the spirits in ceremony and smoked the sacred tobacco. Then, two at a time, the group participants were led by the shamans down a grassy slope to the waters' edge. I watched their ceremonies with Don Esteban before meeting with the spirit of the spring. I silently witnessed as each sat in deep reflection at the cave's entrance, shoulders heaving occasionally with the struggle for air. I was taken by the immense love I felt for each of them. I felt at one with the sacred spring.
Then, once again, it was my turn.
I took off my clothes and left them on the moist, grassy bank from where I had witnessed each ceremony. I stepped into the cold water and waded over to where Don Esteban was waiting for me. He placed rose petals into my cupped hands and sprinkled Florida water over them; then I briskly rubbed the flowers and cologne into my body. I felt the spirits being drawn to the beauty of the rose petals clinging to my wet, naked skin and to my aromatic smell. Don Esteban blew the sacred smoke over me and motioned for me to move toward the cave. Stepping carefully among the rust-colored mineral rocks, I made my way to the cave's mouth and sat on the large, flat stone. The heartbeat of the Mother reverberated through me. Tun-do! Tun-do! Tun-do! I doused myself with the water and sat in awe. I could breathe.
Longing to go inside the cave I tentatively crawled in, my legs completely submerged in the cold mineral waters. I looked carefully at the glistening inside walls and in wonder at the sacred spring gushing through a deep hole at the back of the cave. Then, taking clear, deep breaths I finally inched my way to the back wall where the spring gushed through its virgin hole.
Like a child I splashed and bathed myself in the rush of water at the springs' source. Never had I experienced such oneness in the natural environment. Never had my sense felt so alive and awake. After what seemed like an eternity I honored the impulse to leave and carefully backed out of the cave. As I neared the entrance a swift pang hit my lungs. I stepped out quickly and the warm surge of fragrant air relaxed my chest.
My body hummed with each sensation as I pulled my clothes on over my cold, wet body. I was handed a lit cigarette and blew a puff of smoke in the direction of the sacred spring. I held my hand over my heart for a moment then carefully made my way up the muddy bank, climbing over the knoll with the shamans to the clearing where my group sat. Each person looked radiant. They glowed.
Some may say that I experienced a 'miracle' in the cave of the sacred spring but I have realized this is too extraordinary a word for it. The primordial energy of the elements is who we are, its 'magic' always available to us. We have simply forgotten.
First published in Magical Blend November 2002
by Llyn Roberts