Q’ero History and Cosmology
The Q’ero natives are a tribe from the remote high Andes. There are no roads to their villages – you have to walk or take a donkey 3 days from the nearest road to reach where they live. For a long time the modern world didn’t really know about the Q’ero – they lived so remotely that only a few hacienda owners who treated them like slaves were aware of them. Since the modern world was virtually ignorant of their existence, most of their history before the 1950’s is only known through the stories and oral traditons of the Q’ero themselves.
There is enough evidence to confrm that the Q’ero were once part of the Inka empire. What their role in that empire was is uncertain. The Q’ero claim that when the Spanish arrived and killed the Inkarri – the Inka King – that the whole Q’ero’s people fled high into the mountains to hide and remain free. A small group of the Spanish invaders followed them but a great Q’ero priest called on the mountain spirits to protect them and the mountain spirit caused some sort of avalanche that killed the Spanish who chased the Q’ero. The Q’ero went high into the remote mountains and were left alone because no one else could chase them or survive long at that high alttude, and eventually they were forgoten.
The rest of the Inka empire thought that the Q’ero were extinct. That high in the mountains life is very harsh. It is hard to grow food and
make a living, but the Q’ero are extremely hard working and resilient. They also have very powerful priests who they call paqo’s. The word paqo means something like a priest or practitoner. While the Q’ero spiritual practce in many ways looks shamanic many claim they are not technically shamans because they do not use altered states to work with spirits (no drumming or plant medicines ect). Instead they call the spirits – this is an animistc practce. One beneft of living so remotely and secretly in the mountains is that the Q’ero had almost zero contact with the modern world and Catholic European culture – more than any Andean culture the Q’ero are known for still living the same way they have for thousands of years. This is why they are considered some of the most authentic and traditonal Andean healers, and because their traditonal ways are so powerful they are highly sought out as teachers by other healers in the area.
In the 1950’s the Q’ero decided to come out of hiding. I mentioned that there were a few hacienda owners who treated them like slaves – the Q’ero were being abused and decided they needed help from the outside world to free themselves from this servitude. They also had prophecies that said they were to teach and share their culture and spiritual practces with the modern world. So they came to the festval of Q'ollorit'i where an anthropologist recognized their hand-woven clothes as being of Inka origin. Because the Spanish had destroyed the local culture and practces these weaving paterns had been lost and were only seen in museums – but the Q’ero stll knew how to make them and were all
wearing them. If you ever see these woven paterns they are extremely high quality and very intricate – all done by hand and without following any pattern, just making each one unique from the weavers mind.
Since then many people have been learning from the Q’ero and incorporatng their traditons into the other local practces. A lot of the shamanic
practces in Peru can have a Catholic influence because of the close relatonship with the Spanish invaders for 500 years. Many shamans included Catholic rites so that they could continue to practice in a land where the Spanish would kill anyone practcing paganism. This would be for example one of the reasons that the cactus Wachuma was renamed San Pedro after Saint Peter – when the locals were taught about the saints and heard St. Peter holds the keys to heaven they thought St. Peter must really be Wachuma! And so they changed the name as a way to
avoid persecuton by making the medicine sound more Catholic. Because of the heavy Spanish influence on indigenous cultures it had become hard to tell what practices were traditonal Peruvian and which were Catholic influenced, but with the Q’ero people could learn how to return back to their roots a little bit.
As we keep discussing the Q’ero cosmology and practice one thing I want to point out is that the Q’ero have no dogmatc beliefs and no organized religion. They do not all necessarily agree on everything or tell the same stories and prophecies. They do not all practice exactly the same. There is quite a bit of variety and if you ask two different Q’ero shamans about one subject it is totally possible to get conflictng answers from both of them. They have a few core values which guide their morals and lifestyle, but other than that they can often have unique beliefs. So when I discuss their cosmology, this is only coming from my personal understanding and what I have heard from the Q’ero I know. If you
read something diferent in a book or see them doing something different in person – this wouldn’t surprise me because there is a lot of variety in their traditon.
The Q’ero have two diferent levels of paqo: pampa mesayok and alta mesayok. They also work predominantly with mountain spirits (called “Apu’s” as in “Apu Ausangate”) as well as Pachamama (the cosmic mother which might mean the whole universe, or may mean just the Earth or “Mother Nature”), and they also work heavily with the Sun (Inti TayTay), the moon (Mama Killa), the stars (hatun chaska or “star people”) and the ocean (Mama Qocha). Their language is Quechua which was spoken by the Inka empire.
Like many shamanic cultures the Q’ero also believe in and work with the 3 worlds – they call the upper world “Hanaq Pacha,” the middle world is “Kay Pacha” or “Kawsay Pacha,” and the lower world is the “Uchu Pacha.” These worlds are also often represented by different animals – the lower world is represented by the serpent Amaru (or sometmes also called Sachamama), the middle world by the puma Hatun Puma, and the upper world is most ofen represented by the condor (Apu Kontor, Apuchin, or Apuchina), though sometmes it is also represented by the hummingbird Sawai’kint. The 3 worlds and the 4 directons are ofen represented by a symbol called the “chakana” or “Andean Cross.”
Ukhu translates as “inner, interior or deep.” Pacha is basically translated as world or space and tme. So the Ukhu Pacha is the lower world. This is a place you can journey to for maturity and growth to take place. It contains both Sami and Hucha and it is a place where Ayni is not yet realized – so here we can learn Ayni and bring ourselves into a deeper relatonship with the world around us. Here we can encounter our own shadow selves and unconscious minds so that we can learn and grow and heal. Here you can heal soul loss, and here you can come to die so that you may be reborn. The serpent symbolizes this world because it sheds its past (its old skin) to be reborn and because it lives belly to belly with the earth and in holes that go underground.
Kay translates as “this” or “to be or exist”. Kawsay is the living energy within everything. So the Kawsay Pacha is our world – the middle world. All energies and influences meet within this world – the Kawsay Pacha is connected to everything. This is where we can learn lessons and apply that knowledge to our everyday lives. The Puma or Jaguar represents this world because of the strength and presence these animals carry.
Hanaq Pacha is the upper world – Hanaq translates as “above or over” and Hanaq Pacha together means something like “highest world.” This is where the most evolved states of consciousness live and this world is comprised completely of Sami (light energy) – no Hucha (heavy energy) or disharmony exists here. You can journey here to bring back awakened blessings to the Kay Pacha. The condor or the eagle represents this world because it flies higher than other birds and can carry the prayers of the people to the heavens. Interestngly enough, there is also
an interestng relatonship between the condor and the puma where the puma will watch the condor circling weakened animals and know it has easy prey there. When the puma kills the injured animal it will leave some of the meat for the condor otherwise the condor will stop helping it hunt. So the puma uses the condor for guidance just as we can look to the heavens of guidance, and the puma always respects the love of the upper world by giving something back in reciprocaton.
The Q’ero also have a number of defning principles and values which guide their lives. The first is that everything has its own living energy and is a part of a greater whole – they call this energy kawsay. The other main guiding principles are as follows:
Ayni – Reciprocaton. When you give you must receive and when you receive you must give. Everything is constantly exchanging energy and the moreyou connect with and give to the world around you, the more you will receive. To give freely and to be open to receiving requires trust, and this is a key for exchanging energy. This is the basis for example, of making oferings to the spirits to have prayers answered. Another beautful aspect of this belief is that instead of trying to make profts or get a better deal than people you do business with – you instead seek to find a fair and equal exchange where everyone benefts. All exchanges and connectons with others are based on this principal of reciprocity.
A perfect example of reciprocaton with the world around us is when you breathe – exchanging air with the world around you and changing oxygen to carbon dioxide, which a tree will then breath and turn back into oxygen for you.
With Living Energy (Kawsay) making up the world around us and reciprocaton (Ayni) connectng us all, there are 3 powers to help you move energy and come into deeper reciprocaton with the world around you. Yachay is the power of the mind, Llank’ay is the power of the body, and Munay is the power of love which can be used to move Kawsay. Kawsay is the living energy all around us, so moving Kawsay means you can move energy like Sami and Hucha.
Munay – More specifcally than love, Munay is directed or intentonal love. Learning how to develop a strong sense of unconditonal and intentonal love for the world around you can help you move more Kawsay. Munay is built through trust, acceptance and caring as well as acts of kindness and generosity.
Yanantn – Harmonious relatonship between compliments. The celebraton of diversity. All differences are beneficial and complimentary. Energy is neither good nor bad, but instead heavy or light, and all energy is useful. Energies working together are life-affirming and create more Munay and Ayni.
Yachay – Power of knowledge and the mind. To learn, to know and to remember. Learning from the experience of others and passing down this
knowledge to those who come afer you. Also being flexible in your thinking to allow more learning.
Llank’ay – Power of acton and work. This is not only physical work, but mental work, creative and artistc work, and even healing work. Ceremonial and conscious lifestyle imbues work with meaning and for the Q’ero ceremony and work always go together. When they plant a new crop they do it with ceremony, and when they harvest the same crop they do it with ceremony. This brings new awareness and appreciaton to your work and lifestyle.
It was mentioned before that Munay, Yachay and Llank’ay are synergistcally connected. Love and beauty (Munay) make daily living pleasing and soften the hard edges of dificultes. Without initiatng right acton (Llank’ay) nothing gets done and things stagnate. Acton for its own sake can lead to conflict, however - the best outcome of action proceeds from knowledge (Yachay).
As one learns and grows, each principle transforms into a higher form. Munay becomes deeper impersonal love that embraces all things. Yachay becomes the superior consciousness one arrives at through the proper cultivaton of love and work. Llank’ay is not just work and routine ritual, but becomes right livelihood. A conscious way of living that promotes the welfare of others and encourages service performed in the spirit of loving kindness.
These principles can also be thought of as the ability to feel (Munay), think (Yachay), and act (Llank’ay). Just to work, just to think, and to be consumed by one’s emotons is imbalanced. When in harmony, these principles balance an individual. According to Q’ero belief, for one to be at peace and happy it is necessary to harmonize these in your manner and daily life. Only when the emotions, thoughts, and actons are aligned can you be a balanced human.
These foundatonal beliefs are a large part of what drew me to the Q’ero. If you ever spend tme with them you can see how their belief system has led them to their current culture and spiritual practce, and they are the most humble, caring and peaceful people you could ever find. I think these values also represent a deeper spiritual traditon… Sometimes in practical spirituality like shamanism people can lose sight of what is really important. Yes, healing and getting practical help in life is very good, but there is also a deeper spirituality of
personal experience and love and connection and altruism that sometmes gets overlooked. I am really inspired by traditions that focus on how to be a good loving person who tries to leave the Earth better then they found it. I mentioned before that the Q’ero do not use trance states from plants or drumming to communicate with spirits. Instead their ceremony focuses heavily on long improvised prayers, offerings to Pachamama and the Apu’s, working with a style of altar called a mesa, and working with condor feathers. They also use different stones for energy work and may do ceremony in temples or power spots in nature. They really work with nature spirits and the medicine of nature in a
very grounded and old traditional way. Even though they don’t use plants to reach altered states it should be mentioned that they highly revere the Coca plant and will often chew it every day. They chew the plant for food and to help with work, but also as a form of prayer and they even use it in offerings – the Coca plant is integral to their culture.
When the Q’ero talk about working with energy and moving or pushing energy, they designate these energies into “light energy” (Sami) or “heavy energy” (Hucha). Sami can also be translated as nectar – energy that feeds and sustains us. Hucha is dense energy that has become out of harmony or out of balance – the Q’ero do not think of this energy as negative or bad, but just as energy that needs to be rebalanced and transformed back into harmony. Many times Hucha is caused by repressed emotons, traumas, environmental or energetc pollution,
dark thoughts and so on… Healers will cleanse Hucha and replace it with Sami to help restore health and balance to the body, mind and spirit. When the Hucha is cleansed it is done in a way so that it may become Sami once again – often times the paqo’s will give the Hucha to Mother Earth or the Mother Ocean to transmute back into Sami.
From the Q’ero view a person’s body also has certain energetc centers which can be used for moving energy, and which can also become imbalanced if too much Hucha accumulates. The frst part of this energy body is called the poqpo – it is an egg shaped energy feld around your body that most people would call an aura. There are also 5 energy centers called “chunpi’s” which are similar in some ways to chakras. Chunpi is a Quechua word for “belt” and these energy centers are described as 5 belts around your body with “eye’s” in the center of each one called a “nawi.” The eyes line up in a line down your core in the same locatons as your root, solar plexus, heart, throat and third eye chakras (there is no nawi/chunpi at the sacral chakra or crown chakra). The chunpi’s are as follows:
- Yana Chunpi (root chakra – black). The eye for this chunpi is siki nawi. It is
associated with the element of water and the spirit Mama Qocha.
- Puka Chunpi (sacral and solar plexus chakras – red). Qosco nawi.
- Qori Chunpi (heart – golden). Sonqo Nawi (“eye of the heart”). Inti Taytay
- Qolqe Chunpi (throat – silver). Kunka Nawi. Wind and Mama Killa.
- Kulli Chunpi (third eye and both regular eyes are 3 nawi’s which combine
to make this one belt/chunpi – violet). Third eye is called Qanchis Nawi. Connects
you to Source or Creator.
One chunpi in partcular deserves a special menton. This is the Puka Chunpi located at the solar plexus. Its nawi is called the qosqo and this is the most important energy center used by paqo’s to push Kawsay. Qosqo is the Quechua word for “naval” and can also be spelled “Cusco.” The city of Cusco is considered in Peru to be the naval of the universe and of Pachamama. These chunpi’s are special energy centers that can be used in meditaton to cleanse your energy or someone else’s energy, or to connect with different energies around you. There are even special stones designed for performing energy work on the chunpi’s called “chunpi khuya’s” (khuya is a magical stone used for healing).
~ This chapter is an excerpt from my book How The Earth Saved My Soul - Copyright 2017