For a long time my heart has felt drawn to the Andes. I don’t know why I was called to somewhere so far from where I lived, but once I made it there for my first visit it was like returning home… Nowhere had I ever felt so much like myself – so much like I was at home.
When I first made the journey I had many ideas of what I wanted to see and do there, but there was one culture specifically that really touched my heart deeply. The Q’ero natives of Peru were members of the Inka Empire, but when the Spanish first arrived over 500 years ago the Q’ero fled high into the mountains and were protected by the Apu’s – the great spirits of the mountains who they still venerate today. Because they lived so high in the mountains the Spanish had very little contact with them and their culture remained intact and unadulterated by Christianity and European culture. They kept living the same way, singing the same songs, and their medicine practice was preserved. The rest of Peru for a long time thought they were extinct.
But after 500 years living in isolation these people returned to share their prophecy and culture with the rest of us. They are incredibly open, loving and sharing about themselves and their culture and they have the most beautiful perspective of looking at the world. They value hard work, simplicity, unconditional love and reciprocation with all that is around them. They believe in giving and sharing because the universe always reciprocates with blessings in return, and this is a big secret to much of their magic and outlook on life.
A few years ago I was able to meet a few of the Q’ero healers – two brothers Juan and Louis Q’espe. Both are Pampa Mesayoks trained from the age of 4 to be healers and servants to their community. They work in the traditional ways of their ancestors, and I was lucky enough to not only learn from them, but to receive my most treasured piece of medicine from them – my mesa. Since receiving my mesa it has become the foundation of my personal medicine practice and one of my closest companions – I take it everywhere with me and it rarely leaves my side. I turn to it for guidance, for healing, and when it is time for me to help others heal it is my first go-to.
Mesa’s are altars that come in many forms – most often a large table or blanket with a healers medicine items arranged across it in a grid or structure to invoke healing and wisdom. It is the motherboard that connects the healer to all the spirits and energies they need to help their community. The Q’ero mesa is a bit unique though in that they also fold up into medicine bundles with all of the contents fitting inside, and this is usually how they are carried around and worked with. The healer does much of their work with the mesa closed, but also opens it up to work with depending on the situation. The outer cloth which holds the mesa together is called a mastana and is generally made of a beautiful and intricately woven cloth containing the woven geometric language of the Inka in its patterns. Inside the cloth are most importantly stones and crystals which connect the healer to the Apu’s and mountain spirits, and also other items like herbs and plants, pictures, symbols or figures like crosses or small staffs and keys. The bundle is then tied together with a symbolic string called the huaraca – which symbolically ties the healer to the Sun.
Everything in the mesa is based on symbolism to help remind the paqo (healer) about their connection to all of life around them. The woven symbols on the cloth might depict the condor or the puma, or Grandfather Sun or Mother Ocean. The stones inside connect the paqo to the mountain spirits, but they also represent the healers connection to the upper, middle and lower worlds that so many healers and shamans seem to work with. Generally there are 12 main stones in the completed mesa – 3 in each of the four directions to represent the 3 worlds in each direction. A 13th stone usually holds the center and traditionally this is a stone given to you by your teacher. Each stone has its specialty and specific area of expertise, and these stones combined with the energy of the mesa is a large source of the paqo’s expertise in healing. The four directions which the stones are associated with are depicted in the Andean medicine wheel which in some ways is very similar to the North American medicine wheel, but with different animals to represent the directions.
The Andean medicine wheel starts in the South with Sach’amama – the great serpent. This is related to the element of Earth and also to the physical body. In the west is the great cat or Hatun Puma – either a jaguar, puma or black panther. West relates to water and the emotional body. Sitting in the North is the royal hummingbird Saiwa’kinti who teaches us about the heart and following your passion in life. North is associated with fire and soul purpose. The fourth direction East is held by the condor Kuntur or the great eagle Apuchin. This direction is where you find your vision and wisdom as well as your connection to the Upper World. All these directions are represented on the Chakana – the Andean Cross, which has 3 layers in each of the directions to represent the 3 worlds in each direction – just like the 12 stones in a mesa.
So how can someone build their own mesa and experience this wisdom for themselves? You do not need any special materials, all you need is a personally significant cloth of some kind to be your mastana, 12 stones that specifically call out to be in your mesa and something nice to tie it all together with. You don’t need to start with all 12 stones, but if it feels more appropriate you can build up to 12 over time as you connect with and grow your mesa. If you have anything else significant that wants to be in your mesa add that as well, because the stones like to be kept company and this is your medicine bundle – a reflection of you that should be personal and unique!
To fold your mesa correctly into the tied medicine bundle you start with the mesa laid out in a diamond shape in front of you. All of your medicine items should be in the center. First you fold the bottom corner up – connecting the earth to the sky. Then you fold the right side next which is the masculine side associated with mysticism – fold the corner to the center of the mesa, and then fold the flat flap or side that is left on that side over the bulge of your medicine items within. Then you repeat the fold on the left side, which is the feminine side associated with magic and healing. After that you fold the top side down which is symbolically your head and there should be a perfect spot to tuck this flap into your mesa. Afterwards tie the mesa across the middle of the bundle with your string – tie it each direction to hold the bundle together so you can carry it without the contents spilling out. You now have your finished mesa!
To begin working with your mesa the best thing to do is to meditate with it, talk to it, carry it with you. Open it up often to handle the stones or set it up for special ceremonies or meditations at home. Whenever you open the mesa say a small prayer welcoming and thanking the spirits – thank Pachamama (Mother Earth), Creator and the Apus and your spirit guides. Eventually you will learn what each stone is for and what it specializes in, and eventually the mesa will teach you how to use it for healing and divination. If you use the stones for healing always clean them afterwards before they go back into your mesa, and when it feels appropriate it is also a good idea to feed your mesa – feed it some herbs or leaves which you might place in the bundle for a few days, feed it flowers or smoke from a sacred burning herb. Feed it with energy from a ceremonial fire. Feed it any way you feel called to.
The mesa is a great and personal tool that will grow with you as you grow. It is a reflection of you so treat it with honor, respect and love. Meditate with it and it will speak to you – listen and it will teach you. Always be grateful for what it offers, and when you hold that gratitude in your heart remember the Q’ero and their story of preserving this medicine to share with the rest of the world.
Two images are added below - the first shows you how to correctly fold the mesa following the directions written above and the second photo shows how the mesa should look when it is finished being folded and tied. The second image has the empty mesa which was used in the folding example as well as a full mesa so you can see what both look like.