This article is an introduction to despacho ceremony and gives ideas on how to use your creativity in doing your own ceremonies. However, this article is not an instruction on how to do despacho ceremony. I teach that in a one day workshop or in my Medicine Wheel Mystery School class. I also maintain the most comprehensive list of despacho ingredients and their symbolic meaning, including ingredients for the Hawaiian despacho. If interested, please contact me for a copy.
What is a Despacho?
A despacho is a sacred offering (ofrenda) created in ceremony that originated from the high Andes of Peru over 5000 years ago. In Peru, these ceremonies are performed by Andean priests (paqos). It is a gift of reciprocity (ayni) offered to the mountain spirits (Apukuna) and Mother Earth (Pachamama) through ritual. The energy of reciprocity promotes balance and interdependence with Spirit.
The ritual consists of placing natural items onto paper that have been infused with gratitude and thanksgiving through prayer and intention, and then folding this into a bundle to be burned. When the bundle is burned, the prayers in the despacho ascend to the Spirits in the form of smoke.
Despacho is a Spanish word. For some unknown reason, the Quechau term for despacho, which is “haywarisqa”, is not used by North Americans. This is surprising to me since the ceremony comes from the Q’ero, whose language is Quechua. Perhaps the Spanish term is used since the Spanish culture has been greatly syncretized in Peru. The haywarisqa rituals original intent was a way for the people to show appreciation for their alpaca herds and to insure their continuing prosperity.
Despachos can contain up to 200 different ingredients. Most all of the ingredients are food stuffs and natural items (recados). All of the ingredients have a symbolic meaning and are infused with prayer before placing on the paper. The symbolism of the ingredients is reminds me of the Jewish ceremony of Passover dinner (seder). Each item that is consumed has a profound and specific meaning attached to it.
Creating a despacho is a big gift that comes from a simple, economically poor, but very spiritual culture of the Andes. The creation of a despacho is a way to give back through prayer, intention, and love. It is a way to pay it forward through giving gratitude for blessings still on their way. A despacho is a powerful ceremony to be used for manifesting or for healing.
Each offering should be placed with creative balance, symmetry, and a sense of composition.
Creating intricate patterns with natural items isn’t done only in despacho ceremonies. Similar ceremonies are created with sand or powder. The Tibetan Buddhists use colored powder to create sand paintings of mandalas. The process takes several days and then the result is destroyed after completion. The purpose is to learn about the concept of impermanence. The Navajo create sand paintings for religious rituals and healing ceremonies. These beautifully rendered designs are also destroyed once completed. Sand painting is also practiced during Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) in Mexico and the US. Streets are decorated with sand paintings that are later swept away symbolizing the fleeting nature of life. In fact, birds even do it. The male bower bird of Australia creates a beautiful and intricate painting on the ground from sticks and objects. The female views this work of art and if she approves she will mate with him.
Even though it is traditional that a trained medicine person, shaman, or paqo performs a despacho ceremony, anyone can do it. As in all energy work, the only true prerequisite is authentic intention. So, do try this at home!
The Q’ero performing a despacho ceremony in Peru. Pictured is Don Francisco (center), Dona Juanita (right), and Don Francisco’s son (left).
The despacho ceremony can several hours to complete. There are 5 steps:
1. PREPARATION Purify participants (by smudging), consecrate the ground, assemble the contents. Experienced shamanic/medicine people will want to complete a journey prior to the event to determine specific details about conducting the ceremony.
2. CREATING THE DESPACHO Offerings to the despacho should come from the following categories: animal, plant, mineral, and human-made. In some traditions animal products are placed in the south, plant offerings are placed in the west, mineral offerings are placed in the north, and human-made products are placed in the east. Usually a shell and star fish are placed in the center.
Offerings are arranged on a square sheet of paper. Early despachos made before paper was available were made on animal skins, large leaves, shells, and woven fabric.
Many red-colored ingredients are used to represent Mother Earth (Pachamama). Many white-colored ingredients are used to represent the Mountain Spirits (Apukuna).
Participants place their intentions (prayers) into offerings by holding them in their right hands, visualizing their intentions, holding the intentions in their hearts, then gently blowing these intentions into the offering.
3. INFUSING THE DESPACHO The finished bundle is infused with positive energy (sami) from all particants.
Infusing despacho with sami
4. DESPACHO CLEANSING Each participant’s body is blessed or wiped down with the despacho bundle by starting at the crown and moving the bundle down the front of the body (representing the past), down the arms (representing the present), and down the back representing the future.
This process is called cleansing (mikhuy) or cleaning totally (llimphu). Mikhuy are is a process of cleansing and digesting heavy energy (hucha). There are many shamanic processes of eating hucha from a person, place or situation in order to it back into right relationship (ayni).
Finally, offer your despacho to the fire, or bury it if you are on a mountain or other place where a fire is not possible.
Cleansing and blessing with the depacho bundle
4. DISPOSING OF THE DESPACHO A despacho is ritually burned, buried, or s unk in a lake or other body of water depending on the intent of the despacho.
Typically the despacho is burned at fire ceremony (which is led by a training medicine person, shaman, or paqo). Only the ceremonialist places the bundle and watches it burn. All other participants turn their backs to fire as it burns. There is a powerful energy that is emitted as the despacho burns therefore it is considered dangerous to watch it burn except by the trained masters who know how to manage this energy. Also participants turn away as a sign of respect so that the Spirits can come consume the energy (hucha) of the despacho in private and bring the prayers up to the heavens.
If a despacho is created for blessing a person's new home then that one could be buried underneath the foundation or on the property of the house. If buried, the Earth should be properly prepared with offerings of cornmeal, tobacco, and coca.
What is a Kin’tu?
A kin’tu is the most common offering to a despacho. A minimum of one is made by each participant in the ceremony. A kintu is a bundle usually consisting of 3 perfect coca leaves. (Other leaves, such as bay, are substituted for coca in the US where coca leaves are illegal.) A red petal is added to represent Mother Earth (Pachamama), a white petal is added to represent the Mountain Spirits (Apukuna), and sometimes a yellow petal is added to represent Right Relationship (Ayni). All of these elements are held together with llama fat. The participant’s intent or prayer are then blown into the kin’tu. Blowing (phukuy) is a gentle breath that transmits energetic connection or prayer to an object.
The 3 coca leaves symbolize the 3 worlds of Andean and shamanic cosmology: The Upper World (Hanaq Pacha), The Middle World (Kay Pacha), and the Lower World (Ukhu Pacha). Coca leaves are very prevalent in Andean culture and ceremony. The leaves are chewed daily but specifically when participating in ceremony. They are also used in divination. When chewed the leaves give energy and increase the body’s ability to deal with the high altitude.
Types of Despachos
There are several hundred different types of despacho including offerings for births, deaths, marriages, good luck, prosperity, bless spaces, and longevity. The majority of despachos are performed to honor the Earth (Pachamama) and the sacred mountains (Apukuna). Despacho ceremony can be created to honor any special occasion. It is especially appropriate for : births, deaths, weddings, anniversaries, retirements, homecomings, housewarmings, birthdays, rites of passages, and safe journeys.
Below I will describe some traditional despachos and then some unique ones that I have conducted.
The common traditional despachos are:
APU DESPACHO Created as an offering to the mountains, which are the providers of the waters and the weather. The mountains are a very integral part of Andean life.
AYA DESPACHO Created to break connections or to soothe the transition from one situation to another. It is used for death, divorce, ending a relationship, ending a job or career, and loss of a loved one. I performed a despacho at the Aids Grove in Golden Gate Park to remember and honor all of those individuals who have passed the veil due to AIDs illnesses. A participant brought some ashes from a friend of ours who had recently died. His mother wanted him to be a part of our despacho. This is one of the most moving despacho ceremonies I have done.
AIDs despacho performed at the AIDs Grove in Golden Gate Park
AYNI DESPACHO Created for reciprocity, balance, harmony, right relationship (ayni), sacred interchange, love (munay), abundance, and gratitude (anaychay). Anyi is for manifesting. Ayni despachos are performed with the right hand in a clockwise motion.
CUTI DESPACHO Created to send back, give back, return something, set things right, cleanse and purify heavy energy (hucha), and to deflect a direct sorcery attack. Cuti literally means turning back or shielding off. Cuti despachos are performed with the left hand in counter-clockwise motions (unwinding). They should be burned as soon as possible after creation.
CHASKA DESPACHO Created as an offering to the stars (chaskas) and to our star, the sun. Chaska despachos are used to benefit a great number of people or during massive environmental events (earthquakes, tsunamis, etc). The chaska despacho brings the power of the earth, the mountains, and the stars into right relationship. Meg Beeler performs a lot of chaska ceremonies in the bay area. She has written an article on despachos. The link to it is in Links section.
PACHAMAMA DESPACHO Created specifically as an offering of thanks and healing to Mother Earth (Pachamama).
WIND (WAYRA) DESPACHO Simple ritual that releases kin’tus (or other object of prayer such as feathers) directly into wind.
Feathers used as kin’tus released in the wind
WISKA DESPACHO Created to capture or imprison disruptive energies to kill their momentum.
WATER DESPACHO Created specifically to be release in a body of water. As with all other despachos, all items used should be natural and easily decomposable. For photo, see the section on Retirement Despacho.
During my last trip to Peru I saw two variations on the traditional despacho ceremony. They are the Four Directions and the Four Elements despachos. I mention these examples to present different ways of looking at how despachos can be constructed.
FOUR DIRCTIONS DESPACHO The Tuwantosuyo means four directions of the Inka Empire, with the center being Cusco. This despacho consists four separate “mini” despachos, one for each direction. The diagram below shows the four quadrants and their representations.
FOUR ELEMENTS DESPACHO This despacho also consisted of four separate ‘mini” despachos, one for each element. Two of the elements were laid on paper and two elements were laid on wool.
Here are some unique despacho ceremonies I have created:
INDIGENOUS BABY DESPACHO This despacho ceremony was co-created with others during a prayer walk retreat on Mt. Diablo. The first step was to take a group journey to talk to the spirits of the land. We asked them how we could best honor the land and remember the Native Americans who first lived on the land. The answer was to create a “baby” out of natural items that would be the main element in the despacho. This “baby” was passed around to each member of the ceremony, who shared what they were grieving for in this life. They then added a natural token to the baby’s blanket. The other items that went into the despacho were all the natural foods and materials that the Native Americans would have had such as acorns, pine cones, plants, herbs, flowers, etc. This despacho was buried on the mountain when it was completed.
Baby made from natural items swaddled in cotton blanket
HAWAIIAN DESPACHO LaBryanna Kubo and I created a despacho to honor the ancestors and indigenous island deities as well as all those who were exiled from family and home to Molokai because they suffered Hansen’s Disease (leprosy). All of the ingredients we used were chosen specifically to represent the Hawaiian culture and environment. A complete list of ingredients is available by contacting me.
LaBryanna and myself creating Hawaiian Despacho using bed of Ti leaves, which have always been used to wrap Hawaiian prayer bundles
HOLOCAUST/HOMOCAUST DESPACHO I created a despacho ceremony I created for the Holocaust & Homocaust victims of World War II. I did this for two reasons: one, to remember and honor all of our ancestors that lost their lives in the Death Camps, and two, as a personal healing for myself, who was such a victim in my most recent past life. Performing this ritual helped me to come to closure and acceptance with those traumatic events. At least 15,000 gay men and 6,000,000 Jews plus others totaling an estimated 11 to 17 million souls lost their lives in the Death Camps of the German Empire. I felt a great many of them present at my despacho ceremony.
Offerings in the despacho included many Jewish foods, such as matzo, kosher salt, egg noodles, coconut macaroons, Israeli couscous, and Manischewitz wine. I also used items to represent gay people such as rainbow licorice, lavender flowers, and rainbow yarn.
My next planned despacho project, I want to commemorate the Hellocaust, whose official name is the Maafa. The Maafa refers to the 500 years of slavery and slave trade, colonialism, dehumanization, and exploitation of Africans. It’s another period in history that I feel deeply connected to.
RETIREMENT DESPACHO I created a water despacho to honor my career in telecommunications and to give thanks for the financial security that career provided me. The first layer had an acorn for growth, chocolate coins and allspice for prosperity, corn for sustenance, rice for abundance, flowers for beauty, and a gummi butterfly for transformation to my new career as a hypnotherapist.
Before the flowers were added. I used a clay bowl that will decompose naturally back into earth elements. Another option would be to only release the contents of the bowl to water and not the bowl itself.
After the despacho was released in water. The flowers are floating toward the ocean carrying my prayers of gratitude to the Spirit World.
Here is a prayer in Quechau for the despacho ceremony:
Mamaqocha chaskiwaikuKay despachutaKay pachiwaikuK'intuta hampicamayoq.
English Translation: Sacred messenger, container of the maternal, we offer the Middle World to the above. In the realm of this world, we are all brethren, honoring the ordering of the 3 worlds with this symbolic act. May this offering be a container of powerful medicine. (Mira-Quesada, 1997)
One may also want to add a phrase such as: “If I make anything wrong please be ok with it.”
Kerry Colgrave does beautiful despachos, sells despacho kits, and has an excellent book on despachos: Prayer Bundles: www.feastsforthegods.com
Two sources of Peruvian despacho supplies:
Copyright © 2013 Drake Bear Stephen. Except as Acknowledged. All Rights Reserved.