CommentaryTraditional Remedies

The Andean Cosmos and Wachuma, a Talk in Cuzco’s Municipal Library

April is the month of the earth and all the planet take a pause in their daily lives to salute the earth. In the Andes we know her as the Mama Pacha, the Mother Earth. And, from this space we take a pause to speak of the Andean world view and of the Apu Wachuma, the Lord Wachuma based on the recent presentation by Lic. Victor Estrada Cervantes* in the Municipal LIbrary of Cuzco as part of the Martes Culturales, or Cultural Tuesdays, held every week at seven pm.

The speaker maintains a long and tight relationship with the Lord Wachuma, as he calls it. Estrada Cervantes calls himself Chaka Runa, or bridge person. He has been the disciple of different masters in different parts of the Andes. In this way Don Victor acquired the experiences of the Andean world which he shared with us.

The meeting room is full. Before starting his talk, Chaka Runa asks us to receive a litte azahar water, orange blossom water, and to rub them strongly before placing our hands on our face and breathing in with one deep breath the scent of azahar.


He is the first to perform this exercise, as an example. The hosts pass down every aisle of the audience to give them a burst of this scented water. When it is our turn, we felt how the scent purified our respiratory passages and forces our attention onto the experience itself.

Once everyone had done the exercise you could feel how the ambience of the room was perceptibly different. We did this experience to the sounds of soft melodies of Andean instruments accompanied by the sounds of nature.

The Chaka Runa began his talk by first clarifying several concepts that were basic in order for us to understand his exposition. Some of them were basic and could be found in any dictionary. Among these were entheogen, substances, psychoactives, depressives, psychotropics, hallucinogens, and drugs. Chaka Runa also made reference to the people of Ancient Peru and the clear evidence of the use of wachuma among them. Wachuma is also known as the San Pedro Cactus or echinopsis pachanoi. They also used other plants as we can tell from different cultural manifestations, such as in weavings, ceramics, etc.

The Mountain Apu
The Mountain Apu

In South America you can find a range of cactuses including the Gigantón and the Wachuma, which both are in the family of peyote. Like this last one which is from North America, they contain the psychoactive component called mescaline, although in different proportions. Both the gigantón and the wachuma are found in the whole territory of the Andes. They are also a fundamental part of the Andean worldview, just like the mountains which make it up. These high masses are called Apus, Lords, in our worldview and are guides who live and give life.

An appreciation of the micro and macro cosmos is also important to appreciate the holistic focus of the thought of Andean man. His spirituality is found in the nature of these natural spiritual beings. These include the Apu Wachuma as a master (teacher) plant of self healing. And behind the ceremony of the wachuma are found the sciences of the spirit and of our ancestral mystical schools which are part of our norm of ayni, with its model of sharing and reciprocity as a guide to life.

In order to comprehend this ancestral knowledge, Chaka Runa spoke of the concept of pacha or space and time. It is he said, the masculine energy of creating, recreating, and procreating. Space is the sacred places where people create, recreate, and procreate.

The Chacana next to Cuzco's Traditional Bulls on a Rooftop
The Chacana next to Cuzco’s Traditional Bulls on a Rooftop

Having an appreciation of the basic duality of the Andean world we can see the deity Pachacamac represents the masculine side in the sacred geometry, the vertical, while the Pachamama represents the female side, a horizontal line. In Pacha, then are superimposed the two lines, first a vertical one and then a horizontal one, followed by another vertical one and a horizontal line until a kind of stair made of three steps is created. The reflection of this dualism is found in the image of half a chacana.

Since in the Andes what is found in the macrocosmos is also reflected in the microcosmos we find the projection of the chacana’s other half. Within that is the triangle, the harmony of the three worlds. The quadrangle is the wise use of the four elements and the circle is eternity, the principal point representing equilibrium.

Returning to the tree steps we find the first division of kay pacha, this pacha or space time, which is the first step and represents our physical world. It corresponds to the sacred animal, the puma, which is also the representation of man since just like him it has no territorial limits. He can occupy different climates. He is also accompanied by the Quechua word llank’ay, which represents work and the force of will.

The next step, ukhu pacha, the space-time within, represents the mental plane of mankind. It also corresponds to the sacred animal, the amaru or serpent, and to the Quechua word yachay, which stands for teaching and learning as well as iniciative and creativity.

The Condor of Machu PIcchu
The Condor of Machu PIcchu

Finally we come to the third step which is hanan pacha, the upper space-time. It represents our vital energy and its sacred animal is the condor which, in turn, stands for freedom. The Quechua word that designates this is munay. It is the unconditional cosmic love.

The three stairs must be taken together, with the point of serving, and in that way compose the concept of ayni.

The fundamental task of wachuma as part of our ancestral medicine is to harmonize these worlds, taking us into balance between the macro and micro cosmoses, according to Don Victor’s presentation.

Unfortunately, the schedule of the meeting room did not allow for a longer presentation. The speaker concluded with a call for everyone to appreciate ancestral medicine. He also invited people to participate in a wachuma session so that they can experience in their own flesh, this way, the experience of having their consciousness awakened.


As someone who has had the good fortune to experience sessions with teacher / master plants, I can tell you the experience is intense. The first experience after ingesting these plants is like a rebellion of the body and the mind. Many times they shake with the memory of the flavor of the plant. But once ingested the feelings of revulsion and disease diminish and one feels a sensation of peace filled with an awakening of the senses. They seem sharper, as if somehow they were mysteriously tuned. The world has more clarity, sounds are sharper, flavors are more intense, the same with the sensations of scent and touch. In the journey through awareness one can return to his steps and seek to find the better path.

* Lic., short for licenciado, is a difficult word to smoothly translate into English given differences in the respective educational systems of the Spanish-speaking and Anglophone worlds. This abbreviation before a name means the person has graduate from the university but has performed more work than the equivalent degree in English. She or he has in addition researched and written a thesis as a demonstration of their education resulting in their being “licensed”, certified as a person of education.

The Temple of the Moon
The Temple of the Moon

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