Solstice Celebration in Machu Picchu, Peru
by Kathy Doore for Labyrinthina.com
Perched high atop a precipice overlooking the magical citadel of Machu Picchu, it suddenly dawned on me I had entered a land of multi-dimensional reality — stairways to heaven, organic caverns, stones with soul! The ancient city was a rocky exaltation, a mass dominated by form. Pachamama, the “earthmother”, exuded perfection. I pinched myself. Journeying here had meant sharpening the senses. Long before I set foot on foreign soil the pilgrimage had begun. My friend Wendy and I had planned for months to actively participate in the ancient Incan Solstice, honoring the moment of “global renewal” celebrated every June in the Southern hemisphere.
After an overnight flight to Lima we arrived in Cusco, the exquisite Incan city in the sky, with its blend of Incan stonework and Spanish colonial architecture. The very name “Cuzco” evokes the essence of this feminine land, and means “navel – the center from which all life flowed”. Known as the “land of the four quarters”, the Inca empire intersected at the present day Plaza de Armas. At the heart of this system was the “Temple of the Sun” from which a connection of invisible lines called “ceques”, radiated outward in all directions, unifying an entire web of sacred shrines. Within this tapestry of energy are the astonishing Incan sanctuaries of Sacsayhuaman, the purification fountains of Tambomachay, and the ritual moon cavern of the Pachamama at Kenko.
We boarded a local bus and headed down the Sacred Valley of the Incas transiting through the colorful villages of Pisac, Yucay, Urubamba, and Ollanta. Transportation was never a problem, Jitney style buses constantly zipped up and down the valley, riding these conveyances was an assured way to appreciate the local color. As we traveled through the traditional Quechua communities, we sensed an innate pride, and long history of self-reliance. These modern day descendants of the Inca seemed amused by the two gringa’s who easily mingled in their markets.
A scenic one-and-a-half hour train trip, deposited us at the bustling village of Agus Calientes, built along the railroad tracks near the base of Machu Picchu. Small shops resembling beat-up shipping crates dotted the tracks like pop beads. All about were small, scruffy dogs, chickens pecking in the dirt, and babies with runny noses wrapped up like brightly colored Christmas bundles. This was home for the next two weeks.
Aguas Calientes means “hot water,” and is named for its hot springs– a group of refreshing communal pools perched on the hillside above the village. However the lure of this colorful spot lies not in its bubbling waters, but in its proximity to the magical citadel secretly hidden in the peaks above.
Known only through myth, Machu Picchu was essentially “lost” for nearly 400 years, the Spanish invaders never found the Sanctuary, it lay secreted away, hidden, and overgrown by vegetation but fully intact. When, in 1911, a young American explorer, Hiram Bingham, accomplished what the conquistadors could not, the city was lost to the outside world no more.
Machu Picchu, Peru.
Along with our new friends Jaime, a local guide, and John, an Anthropology student from the States, we made plans for a pre-dawn ride to Machu Picchu. Long before sunrise the four of us boarded a small mini-van that would wind its way up the narrow cliff — a harrowing trip by day, this 8 kilometer ride was nearly death-defying by night. The dirt road had l3 switchbacks, no light, and dropped dramatically to the surging Urubamba River below.
Two places are best suited for working with the frequency of the celestial body during the Winter Solstice. The stone altar known as the “Torreon”, a semicircular Sun Temple with a window oriented for observance of the solstice, and aligned with the Pleaides, is by far the most popular. With a much more vigorous hike to a higher elevation, another solar temple, the “Intiwatana”, commonly known as the “hitching post of the sun” is often overlooked. At these altars the Inca devised a system to connect his higher lightbody with the Divine source. On this, the longest winter night and the shortest winter day of the year, “Inti” (the sun), who seems to be weakening and dying, is reborn, and begins to grow in radiance and renewal. Rebirth and regeneration are the essence of this celebration.
The changing hues of dawn outlined the majestic mountains Putucusi and Huayna Picchu. We carried flashlights as the dreary sky hung heavy to the quarried walls. Up past the Torreon and the Temple of Three Windows, we progressed up the Grand Stairway arriving at the quiet, deserted acropolis in the sky. Crowning the pyramid, the Intihuatana is the place where the sun is energetically anchored to the earth, uniting the earthmother with the skyfather.
Intihuatana “The Hitching Post of the Sun”
At the center of this devotional altar was the Intihuatana, a quadrangular rock emulating the mountain itself, spiraling stone dancing into sky. Atop its base was carved a smaller stone pointing to the heavens, personifying the Apu (mountain spirit), Huayna Picchu. Four edges of the vertical rock correspond to the four cardinal points. A Golden Sun Disc was once believed to be affixed to bind the sun, preventing it’s leaving and begging for its return.
There were over one hundred people in the Sanctuary by now, all having gone to the Sun Temple. But, as if by unspoken agreement, our little group headed directly for the more remote Intihuatana, and enjoyed an uncommon privacy. We began our offering by intoning prayer and offerings of coca leaves, the “divine plant of the Incas”. Jaime led us in a traditional ceremony, and prepared the coca leaves.
Facing East we made k’intu’s (three perfectly formed coca leaves nestled together and infused with our prayers), and placed them as sacred offering on the stone altar. Jaime told us that Andean spirituality is based upon “munay”, the power of feeling, “tukuymanayniyo”, supreme love, “ayni”, sharing, and “noqa kan kani”, which translates as “you and I are the one”. Ritual offerings of k’intus are part of a greater blessing known as a “pagapu” or “despacho”, and represent the union between the “kay pacha” (physical world) and the “hanan pacha” (spiritual world) with which “Mama Coca” communicates through her leaves and stems, and the “ukhu pacha” (astral world) with which she communicates through her roots. The encounter between these energies results in “Union with all things”.
We paid tribute to the directions, Apu Veronica to the East, Apu Salcantay to the South, Apu Pumasillo to the West, and Apu Huayna Picchu to the North, and to the Sky Nations, above, Pachamama, below, and the “divine within”. We prayed for the cloud cover to lift, offered our devotions, and waited for Inti to arrive.
At the perfect astronomical moment a beam of radiant sunlight traveled over smooth stone, casting it’s shadow on carved granite. Connecting our light bodies with Father Sun, we simultaneously rooted our physical bodies with Pachamama, the Earthmother, becoming channels of pure light essence, giving birth to our luminous selves. We welcomed this extraordinary gift with reverence and harmony, nurtured in the womb of the mother and gifted by the golden essence of the father. This cosmic dance of the receptive and procreative was now infused within each of us, anchoring our inner journey and releasing lifeforce outwardly in a continuous dance of creation.
It took several weeks to integrate these lessons of Spirit. Traveling to the Andes was not difficult, coming home was. Like many Westerners faced with this dilemma my reality was appeased only after much soul searching. I soon realized how little is needed to live a simple life of abundance. Perhaps that’s why I’d set upon this journey, to be reminded that there are many ways of achieving this union.
The truth is, pilgrimage is arduous. It creates a reflection in which to see oneself. A part of me became a part of all that I encountered along my path. A connectedness bound our differences. This journeying cleared away the clutter, allowing new thought.
To become caretakers of the sacred we must open ourselves to new experiences, cultivate our sensitivity and be willing to embrace that which is different. I am indebted to my brothers and sisters of the Peruvian Andes for sharing their beautiful lessons of Spirit and for allowing me to tread in the footfalls of their ancestors.