“Vine of the Souls”

Sounds poetic doesn’t it?

As an anthropological archaeologist I am interested in shamanism both in ancient and modern cultures.  Over the course of my readings, research, and travels I have noticed that almost all of the cultures I have studied have something that is used to cross between worlds or planes. It can be a fermented or distilled beverage, a hallucinogen, or even a botanical that is smoked.  Examples include the Yanomamo using ebene, the Pohnpeians using kava, ancient Egyptians & Mesoamericans  drinking beer, ancient Romans drinking wine.  In Peru, both in ancient and modern times, it is Ayahuasca.

Mostly it is the shamans or priests that will use a mind or mood altering substance to do so, but it is not unheard of for the general population to commune with the spirits as well.


In Quechua Ayahuasca  means spirit vine or vine of the souls.  Ayahuasca is prepared by boiling the Caapi vine (Banisteriopsis caapi) along with the Chacuruna bush (Psychotria vidiris) to create a hallucinogenic liquid.1  Ayahuasca is used for religious purposes either by shamans or others under the supervision of a shaman.  The psychedelic effects of ayahuasca include visual and auditory stimulation, the mixing of sensory modalities, and psychological introspection that may lead to great elation, fear, or illumination.   Its purgative properties, known as la purga or “the purge” intense vomiting and occasional diarrhea.  Indigenous people say that during their trance, which lasts approximately four hours, they enter the world of the spirits and communicate with them.

Our guide at Tambopata, Guido, explained his experiences while taking Ayahuasca.  He talked about the intensive vomiting and the trance that follows.  He believes he communed with Pachamama during his trances.  At the lodge, one can request that the local shaman come perform the ayahuasca ritual with you for a nominal fee of $200.

1  The Ayahuasca.  Sowewankeri Ayahuasca Healing Circle, Peru. http://ayahuascacircle.com/?page_id=6


Ancient Incan mummy had lung infection, according to novel proteomics analysis

Ancient Incan mummy had lung infection, according to novel proteomics analysis.

The Andean Spiral

I spent the weekend in dual celebration of my and my friend’s birthdays.  After a weekend full of fun and festivity, I woke up this morning contemplating the Andean Spiral.  This week’s topic on all things Peru is inspired by this contemplation.

Spirals are found in Ancient iconography of many cultures.  The spiral has been found carved into cave dwellings, rocks and tombs all over the world and can be dated as far back as 24,000 year ago.  Examples exist in Greek and Celtic art, the Nazca earthworks in Peru, Native American petroglyphs, Arabic architecture, Japanese rock gardens, Hindu spiritual texts, Australian aborigine paintings, and African art.

To the Andean people, both ancient and modern the spiral is an important symbol.  Our guide in Cusco, Al, explained to me that to Peruvians the spiral represents equilibrium.  The spiral is an ancient a symbol of unity, wholeness and completion.  It represents the never-ending cycle of life and a path to the Creator.  As I traveled through Peru, I noticed that the spiral is often combined with the Andean Cross in iconographic representation

Peruvian Silver Chakana Spiral Pendant.  Shamans Market.http://www.shamansmarket.com/-strse-1588/Peruvian-Silver-Chakana-Spiral/Detail.bok


Chumbivilcas Textiles. Center for Traditional Textiles of Cusco.http://www.textilescusco.org/eng/chumbivilcas.htm

The spiral symbol has been adopted by modern Peruvians as pervasive symbol used to promote pride in their ethnic heritage.  Peruvians wear this symbol proudly, most often on a piece of jewelry, such as a silver necklace.  The symbol is also present as a design in many woven articles, such as blankets and shawls.  The spiral has also be adopted as a symbol of their tourist industry.  It is incorporated into the “P” in Peru on their tourism logo.

The Andean Spiral is an interesting symbol that simultaneously represents ancient Andean culture as well as modern Peruvian culture.  The spiral has also become representative of Peruvian tourism.  Peru is heavily dependent upon tourism to generate income for its residents.  To modern Peruvians the spiral is symbolic of their ethnic identity – who they are past, present,and future.

Craven Community College, Study Abroad Peru, 2012 – YouTube

Hola Amigos!  Check out this cool new video from our trip to Peru.  One of our participants, Mark, has edited video footage and still pictures to give everyone a glimpse of what the trip was like.  Thanks Mark!


Craven Community College, Study Abroad Peru, 2012 – YouTube.

The Legend of Huacachina


Huacachina is a beautiful island oasis we visited while traveling south of Lima, Peru.  We spent the afternoon in Huacachina after returning from our flight over the Nazca lines.  Several in our group opted to ride a dune buggie up the sand dunes and surf down on body boards.  I, however, an not a fan of sand in general and especially near my face.  So I, along with the rest of our group spent several hours exploring the lagoon and its surrounding oasis.  During our exploration I learned of the Legend of Huacachina.

Huacachina is made up of two Quechua words – Wakay meaning “to cry” and china meaning “young woman.”1  So, Huacachina means young crying woman, named after the legend of its creation.  There are several variations to the legend but they all start out with a beautiful young Inca princess.  In most of the accounts, the princess was in love with a handsome prince, but alas he passed away suddenly.  The princess cried so much that her tears created the lagoon.2  The princess then would sit by the lagoon pining for her lost love.  This is where the story starts to deviate more significantly.

In one account the princes was startled by a hunter while bathing in the lagoon. She runs from the lagoon, and as she does so, the folds of her mantle stream behind her creating the surrounding sand dunes.1,3  In other accounts she sees him watching her in her mirror and runs, creating the dunes.  Another variant states the when the woman sees the hunter she drops her mirror and that creates the lagoon.4   All accounts do agree that the princess becomes a siren, a mermaid, that lives in the lake to this day tempting swimmers…

1 2007     The Legend of Huacachina. Huacachina.com Tour Agency. Accessed July 5, 2012  http://www.huacachina.com/en/intro/legend.htm

2  Brinkman, Holly. 2010. The Legends of Peru: Ica and Huacachina. The Larikuy Blog: A Hitchhiker’s Guide to Peru, the Land of the Incas. Accessed July 5, 2012. http://www.karikuy.org/blog/2010/09/24/the-legends-of-peru-ica-and-huacachina/

3  Silva, Cassie. In the Land of Sand: Dune Surfing in Huacachinca, Peru. Go Nomad.com: Inspiration and links to plan your trip. Accessed July 5, 2012. http://www.gonomad.com/features/0901/peru-sandboarding.html

4  Arnault, Henry. 2011 The Legend of Huacachina. Ezine Articles. Accessed July 5, 2012. Article Source: http://EzineArticles.com/5966478

The Center of the Universe Revisited


As I posted while abroad, we visited Machu Picchu with a Peruvian Archaeologist named Victor Yanez.  Although I spoke breifly about our pilgrimage to the site, I do not think I did it justice.  So after much contemplation and a perusal of our photographs here is my updated account.

Machu Picchy means “old Mountain” in the Quechua language.  The site is situated on a mountain ridge above the Urubamba Valley in Peru, which is 80 kilometers (50 mi) northwest of Cusco.


In an earlier post on the Andean Cross, I talked about the 3 levels of the universe: the sky, earth, and underworld.  The city of Cusco was laid out in the shape of a puma, representing the earth.  This pattern continues with Machu Picchu, which is laid out in the shape of a condor, representing the heavens. In one areas there was a formation of rocks, some natural and other worked, places as to create a condor.  We could walk into a cave at its center, into the condor and through to the other side.

The sacred geography is recreated in the built environment throughout the site.  In many places rocks have been carved in exact replica of the Andean Mountains behind them.

The heavens are integrated into the site through the use of astronomy.  In several areas, on the summer solstice light will shine through the windows to illuminate sacred stones.  There were also 2 viewing pools, basins with water that reflected light.

Although known locally, Machu Picchu was unknown to the outside world before being brought to international attention in 1911 by the American historian Hiram Bingham.  Since the site was never known to the Spanish during their conquest, it is highly significant as a relatively intact cultural site.

There are several theories about how Machu Picchu was used during prehistory, but that will have to wait for another day…

*Photos courtesy of Patrick Lebo, aka Pachagordo…

The Andean Cross

Today I was contemplating the Andean Cross.  In the Quechua language  this cross is called Chakana. It’s name comes from the Quechua word “Chakay” meaning to cross or bridge.

Incan life and society was based upon prinicples of belief and behavior that is symbolized by the Chakana.  The chakana still holds meaning to modern day Andean culture.  Art and jewlery made by Incan descendants often depict the Chakana.  In fact, I purchased a lovely silver Chakana pendant while I was in Cusco.

The Chakana is a 3-stepped cross symbolizing the 3 tiers of Inca life:

  • Hanan Pacha: the upper world of the stars, celestial beings and gods (It’s animal totem is the condor)
  • Kay Pacha: the middle world of Mother Earth and human life (represented by the puma)
  • Uqhu Pacha: the lower world of the underworld and death ( represented by the serpent)

The circle in the center denotes Cusco, the navel of the Inca Empire.  Cusco, from the Quechua word “Qosqo” means origin, navel, belly button.  The entire Incan universe is thought to have radiated out from this central point of the Inca kingdom.  This is where the “Sapa Inca” or ruler resided with his court.

The 4 cross arms depict the 4 cardinal directions (north, south, east, & west) and the 4 classical elements (earth, air, water, & fire).  They also represent the 4 rules Andean people live by: work, love, knowledge, and sharing.

Some depicitons of the Chakana have a triangle around the hole in its center.  The 2 bottom points at the base of the triangle represent duality, such as man:woman, good:evil, and dark:light.  The peak of the triangle represents balance.

The whole symbol also represents the 12 months of the celestial year.  Many buildings, temples, and religious sanctuaries have chakana iconography.

People of Andean culture, both past and present has a rich view of the universe and their place within it.

Hasta Luego!

Chair of Social Science, Humanities,
& Foreign Languages

Liberal Arts & University Transfer
Craven Community College

800 College Court
New Bern, NC 28562
Email: bellaceroc@cravencc.edu
Phone: 252.638.7328
Fax: 252.638.3231

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