Thanking Pachamama: The Andean Peoples Pay Tribute to Mother Earth
Catch a glimpse of this month-long Inca shamanic ritual with Reuters Connect
For the indigenous peoples of South America’s Andean states, which span Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia, the month of August is dedicated to the sacred worship of Mother Earth, also known as Pachamama in the indigenous Quechua language.
In Incan mythology, Pachamama was believed to be the goddess of fertility, helping both to nourish and protect life on earth. Today, the deity is still considered a personification of the earth and of nature, retaining its pivotal role in the religious beliefs of the Andean peoples, who gather yearly to make offerings in her honor.
Celebrations of this ancient ritual commence on August 1st, with a different town playing host to the event each weekend.
The Pachamama ceremony, also known as the “Offering to the Earth”, is a sacred ritual in which an offering (despacho) or payment is made to Mother Earth, largely accompanied by a traditional prayer asking the deity for good health, luck and protection. The average ceremony, whose main objective is to dispel negative energies and cleanse its participants, lasts between two and three hours.
While early Incan worship commonly included the sacrifice of different animals and at times even humans, modern day worship has (thankfully) shed its gory past, though its offering practice still forms an integral part of the ritual – albeit in a tamer form. Nowadays, typical payments include sullo (dried llama fetus), peanuts, rice, anise and beans.
Though known in Incan mythology as a gentle and conciliatory goddess, Pachamama is also believed to possess the power to bring about earthquakes, landslides and lightning bolts when provoked. Should lands be abused, plants neglected and animals made to suffer, the deity will punish those at fault.
If pleased, however, Pachamama will bless the soil with a good harvest and offer protection to those who seek it.
To begin the Pachamama ritual, the shaman – a religious leader able to channel the spiritual world’s transcendental energies into the material world – starts by carefully laying out a lliclla (woman’s mantle) on which he places an uncuña (ceremonial cloth).
Once spread out, the cloth is topped with the chosen offering to the Pachamama – comprising only the finest quality foods – and various decorative and symbolic items such as meaningful family heirlooms.
Next, the shaman presents the kintus (coca leaves), which are paired in groups of three before being handed to the individual participants for the prayer. The latter then proceed to place the leaves first in their right hand, then in their mouths and commence with the prayer, which is repeated a total of three times during the duration of the ceremony.
Afterwards, participants are encouraged to share a glass of chicha de jora – a native Peruvian corn beer – with Mother Earth in a ritual toast known locally as challa. The contents of the glass – which is refilled and passed around in the group until every participant has completed the step – are gently sprinkled over the despacho.
The final step of the ritual is the burning of the despacho in order to return it to Mother Earth in ash form and reap the rewards of one’s prayers. Alternatively, the payment can also be buried to complete the cycle.
More recently, Pachamama served as the inspiration behind Argentinian movie director Juan Antin’s 2018 animated film of the same name. Earlier this year, Variety reported that Netflix secured rights to the César-nominated feature, which follows the adventures of young Tepulpai who lives in a remote village in the Andes Mountains and dreams of becoming a shaman.
“‘Pachamama’ has been a very long journey, guided by a message that came like an echo from ancient times – a message of love, respect and gratitude to our cherished Earth. Thanks to Netflix, I am thrilled to share this awe-inspiring story with a global audience,” Antin commented.
In 2019, Pachamama Day continues to serve as an unwavering reminder to nurture the land that in turn nurtures us.