Despacho is a beautiful, old tradition in the Q’ero lineage of Peru that has been used for centuries for a variety of occasions and celebrations. It can be said that it is generally used to celebrate all sides of humane experiences – births, deaths, expressions of gratitude – but a profound observer may soon realise that the despacho ceremony has multiple layers and may also be used for a deeper physical and emotional healing in order to restore harmony and balance in one’s life.
It also serves as a direct prayer and offering to Mother Earth (Pachamama) and many spirits from the Q’ero pantheon. The despacho can be seen as the ultimate embodiment of the landscape of life and reaches far to the source of creation. One may call it a journey to the soul of nature and its cycles with appreciation to the world of spirits and acceptance of the broad spectrum of humane experiences.
In the Andes region, the despacho is traditionally performed after each season or cycle to renew the power of nature on our bodily form and to reconnect with the Universe for the greater good of the whole community. Each prayer brought to the ceremony is a gift of power that serves as a messenger of a change and healing.
Its core part oscillates around a little prayer bundle, a sacred parcel, that is created during the ceremony and holds multiple symbolic elements and offerings. In many ways, this process is similar to creating a mandala, as each piece that is used to create the offering holds a meaning. Similarly to the creation of a mandala, the beauty of the offering is transitory and very temporary and the whole creation will, in the end, be passed over to spirits and, very literally, removed from this realm.
Essentially, the despacho is a gift to the spirits and the expression of gratitude to the universal elements of life. It also serves as an energetic exchange and invitation to a healing work and general protection to those who expressed a will to participate in the ceremony.
Speaking of participants, it is not only the shaman, known as Laika, who charges the bundle with energy, but also participants, who also influence the energy of the bundle as they contribute with their own prayers and symbols.
Laika may ask participants to choose from a variety of offerings of various shapes and meanings, from sugar and sweets, crackers and raisins to grains, rice, corn and herbs, coca leaves, flowers, decorations, feathers, beans and nuts, and with each of those carefully chosen elements a deep intention comes.
Affection and affiliation to the world of nature and aim to feed the elements of the Earth and spirits around us. Rice will be seen as an element of fertility and can help to bring our prayers into fruition, beans are used for protection, corn is a very special gift to the mother Earth, raisins will represent our ancestors and our blood lineage, animal crackers are directly connected to our animal spirits. Sweets, in general, represent everything in relation to love, joy and sweetness of life. Flower petals have various meanings but often they are used for healing.Offerings are slowly and carefully, piece by piece placed on a large piece of paper, cloth or a leaf, that will later be used to wrap them with.
Depending on the occasion the ceremony can be very short or as long as it’s needed. It starts with the invocation, the initial prayer and cleansing the ceremonial space. Participants gather around the shaman and a small altar, which usually is a piece of cloth, musical instruments and offerings then the creation of the bundle begins. The elements are selected and a prayer is said before each one is placed in the bundle. Laika will often blow prayers into the elements and whisper to their forms. It is also common for Leika to read participants’ future from the coca leaves and help them to get rid of bad thoughts, confusion and other concerns.
The ceremony culminates with the bundle being completed, carefully wrapped and ceremonially being burned or buried. Sometimes, it might also be placed in the running waters. It is believed that placing the bundle in the fire should ignite quicker transformation, the water may help to clean what is desired, while burying may be used for slower, but steadier results. When despacho is offered to fire, participants are usually asked not to look at it and release any attachment to what was given away, until the offering is fully consumed by the flames.
No matter which way is chosen to complete the offering, it always is conveyed fully to the spirits and released from this realm, at that stage.