I first became aware of despacho ceremony a few years ago whilst on holiday in Boliva, where, visiting Copacabana on route to Lake Titicaca, we witnessed the extraordinary sight of flower covered cars and trucks parked outside the church, being sprayed with beer and champagne. Our guide explained that a year before, offerings had been made to Pachamama (Mother Earth) and the Apus (Mountain spirits) to ask for new vehicles. Now a priest, as a way of giving thanks, was blessing these manifested vehicles.
Colourful stalls surrounded the church selling flowers and miniature vehicles, houses, money, people, diplomas and so on. We were told that a miniature, of whatever you wanted to obtain, could be purchased, added to a purchased despacho. After this the despacho would be taken home and buried or burnt.
In markets and small towns across Bolivia, we saw witches shops. and in La Paz, the witches market, in all of these you could purchase ready-made despachos or have one made for you. We were told that the quality of the despacho depended on how good the 'witch' was.
I have since learnt that it is powerful Andean practice in Peru, Bolivia and Equador, to make offerings in the form of despachos to Pachamama, the Apus and to other spirits such as the stars or sun, in reciprocity, reverence and thanksgiving as well as for manifesting.
An Andean or Q'ero Shaman known as a Pampa Mesayoq, a keeper of earth-based ritual and knowledge i.e. a healer with knowledge of herbs and divination who is an expert in constructing despachos and in ceremonial offerings, would perform despacho ceremonies.
A despacho at it's most basic is a prayer bundle or Mandela into which are put offerings and prayers but it is also far more than this. It is an exchange of energy through providing beauty, power and energy in return for the desired result. It is also an act of love, a way of giving back, a reminder of the connection with all living things, a way of bringing balance and right relationship with Pachamama and a bridge between ordinary and non-ordinary reality.
Despachos are constructed not from the head but from the heart and the despcaho ceremony brings participants into alignment with the 'three bands' or levels of consciousness, physical (yankay), feeling and heart (munay) and spirit or energetic wisdom (yachay). This alignment is said to be comparable to aligning the chakras or energy centres.
There are over 200 recorded types of despacho and the content is determined by the purpose. They contain symbols of everything, elements, weather, the directions, clouds, mountains, rainbows, emotions, ideas, earth, stars, fruits of labour and so on, along with, flowers, incense, wine, sweets, fruits of the earth sugar and a shell, all filled with prayers and intent.
Some examples of despacho are:
Pachamama despacho - an offering to the earth
Apu despacho - an offering to the mountain
Chaska despacho - an offering to the sun
Anyi despacho - Anyi is the operating principle of Andean Shamanism and relates to reciprocity and divine exchange, so this is a thanksgiving despacho
Aya despacho - to aid the spirit of the recently dead to pass from the physical body gracefully
Cuti despacho - for protection
Q'ero Shaman say they understand that their cosmology and symbols differ from ours but that they wish others to share the intent of the despacho. Whilst not attempting to replicate Andean despacho ceremony we are able to construct contemporary despacho to honour sacred teachings and give thanks to the universe, our ancestors, guides and to all living things, thus creating our own Anyi, from our hearts.