Beyond Tourism: Travel with Shamanic Intent

In the process of individuation, which is central to Jung’s analytical psychology, it is necessary to build a personal myth that fits one’s own life and facilitates its spiritual growth. In the previous essay Margaret Allen’s dream, as recounted by her and Meredith Sabini, beautifully illustrated this process. Another way to do this is to travel with “special intent,” as do Colman and Montero, in order to find and experience something in a foreign culture that focuses and amplifies one’s own inner vision. In a certain sense, this is a larger use of active imagination—one involving a whole culture, its myths, and its rituals. I call this mythic imagination. The more closely and intensively one participates, the greater the rewards, although the immediate experience is not always pleasant. The trip portrayed in this paper is to the back country of Peru to witness a marvelous festival with strong echoes of ancient ritualized human sacrifice. It is a true example of a transforming experience.

Those of us who are interested in expanding and deepening consciousness are often inveterate travelers, for we have learned that the outer journey to another cultural landscape increases access to the inner world. But travel is usually synonymous with tourism, and being a tourist may not open the doors of perception in the way many would desire. Many tourist programs recognize this need by tailoring their offerings to particular interest groups, for example, they organize trips with a specific intellectual, aesthetic, or spiritual focus. This essay is our attempt to provide travel opportunities for individuals and groups in much the way the traditional shaman “travels.” We think of it as travel with intent, as consciously using travel as a way to cross to an other world. Our trips can be very pleasurable, but because of the serious intent behind them, we try to find venues where it is possible to witness and possibly participate in rituals that most authentically evoke the divine spirit of that culture. We are also interested in facilitating a recrossing back to our own culture and helping travelers integrate and transmit what is learned. In order to elucidate our vision, we will describe the annual festival of Qoyllorrit’y in Peru and our preliminary initiation into Andean mysticism, which we participated in during the summer of 1994.

Human sacrifices are among the earliest form of ritual. Archeological finds at a number of the highest Andean peaks have unearthed well-preserved children whose facial expressions suggest peaceful acceptance and contentment despite their hideous deaths (Tierney 1989) .The Qoyllorrit’y festival captures the non-coercive surrender of human life typical of Peru’s ancient fertility rites and ensuing Inca sun worship rule. The festival took place at the Nevado de Qolqepunco, a glacier seventeen thousand feet above sea level, and concluded with the ritual death of a young man. For three days and nights, accompanied by steady drumming, the music of flute, harp, and trumpet, and the devotional energy of close to seventy thousand Andean villagers, we camped in this icy environment. There we awaited the dawn of the last day and the final sad and triumphant descent of all but one of the hundreds of young male initiates.

The dramatic sacrificial ceremony in the snows of Qolqepunco was the climax of our initiation, but just as pertinent were the preceding weeks, which prepared us to partake in the ceremony. We learned an ancient meditation method that has been part of the Andean priesthood ‘s sacraments for centuries. These techniques are a portion of a very complex cosmology and set of mystical and meditative practices constituting a remarkable tradition that included an ecumenical ethos that allows for the reciprocal interchange of initiations between different mystical traditions. Persons who felt themselves to be ready and who, in addition, were judged by the priest to have achieved a high enough initiation level in their own path, either in a formal religion or in a personal spiritual practice, could undergo a short form of the initiatory journey created especially for this purpose. Completion was tantamount to full initiation.

The trial informing the aspirant of his or her readiness to embark on this venture took place on the first day of the initiation during a mass at the cathedral in Cuzco. Each of us implored the Virgin for permission to proceed, and we repeated our request before the shrine of the highly revered Crucified Black God of the Earthquakes. An inner experience of peace and joy and a sense of rightness and belonging suggested the candidate’s readiness to face the powerful forces in the coming weeks; but if fear was predominant, then the initiation was annulled. During the initiation a few members of our group did feel fear, some in overwhelming amounts akin to a panic attack, and so they stopped. After three weeks immersed in the spirits of the Andes, the festival of Qoyllorrit’y, and its glacial sacrifice, we completed the circle by returning to the cathedral and the festival of Corpus Christi in Cuzco.


Jungian theory, shamanic practices, and the kind of travel we envision here coalesce around key motifs central to each framework. The one overarching principle is the establishment of a perspective larger than the one that typically encases the individual. The grip that ordinary ego awareness has on the psyche needs to be released in order to allow for something else to enter and affect the larger psyche. In Jungian analysis, the patient is encouraged to actively dialogue with dreams and other products of the imagination until these take over the work. The result is a lasting attitude change from the ego’s more limited and constricting perspective to the more encompassing view from the Self, which can embrace the totality of conscious and unconscious possibilities. Shamanic healings parallel this process. Despite the huge variety in form, texture, and color, that characterize shamanic practices around the world, all shamans engage in healing ailing persons or groups. Typically the work begins with music’s steady pulse via drumming, rattling, chanting, and so on and includes the presence or active participation of community members. The induced trance state both lowers regular ego consciousness and opens the threshold to the spirit realm. The encounter with the other world is the altering factor. In all healing systems intent is critical to the outcome which includes the capacity to integrate the other-worldly experience into the ensuing everyday life of its participants.

Our interest in using actual travel for this crossing is partly related to our long commitment to awakening collective as well as individual consciousness (Colman 1995; Montero 1992, 203-32; Montero 1995). To do this there must be development of a reflective organ of collective consciousness analogous to the reflective capacity in individual consciousness (Colman 1995) .Consciousness of our collective identity is a psychological function that seems to be lagging way behind the steps taken this century to develop individual awareness; if this consciousness is not strengthened, the resulting imbalance may be the doom of our species and most life on the planet. The fundamental archetype in life is death and rebirth, but in Our time the newly emerging archetype is death without rebirth (Colman 1995) .The antidote is for groups to evolve the capacity to function with sufficient consciousness to support a larger-than-individual ecological perspective of sustainability while promoting a sense of oneness with diversity in a collective. We need to know more about how to stand firmly at the point of synthesis where material and mystical realms unite while holding in awareness the interconnectedness and interdependence of all life. Our mode of travel invites one to become a participant and observer in an unfamiliar culture, particularly at the level of underlying sacred structures.


Our exploration in the Peruvian Andes in May 1994 was our second trip to this area. We joined Juan Victor Nuñez del Prado, our guide and initiation master, Elizabeth Jenkings, his apprentice, and a group often people in the cathedral that dominates the main square in Cuzco, the ancient capital of the Inca empire. Cuzco, at 11,150 feet above sea level, was originally conceived in the shape of a puma. The surrounding ruins accentuate the jaguar’s body parts; for example, the head is the majestic hilltop fortress of Sacsayhuaman. Peru is vertically divisible into three clearly demarcated regions: the coast, with its beaches, deserts, and valleys; the Andean mountain ranges, at the center; and the largely impenetrable Amazon jungle, to the east. The Andes offers the most viable environment for the development of an empire. Among the soaring peaks and plunging gorges nestle the fertile plains of large valleys through which meander rivers that eventually make their way down into the Amazon basin. It was in the impressive ruins surrounding Cuzco and dot the mountainous walls bounding the sacred valley of the river Urubamba, which connects Cuzco with the jungle, that most of our mystical training took place. On the way Machu Picchu, well known for its spiritual and ceremonial significance, was a key setting for our work.

The journey, most appropriately, began in Cuzco, for visually the city is an eloquent microcosm of the traumatic accommodation to, and assimilation of, Spanish conquest and its legacy since the sixteenth century. For example, most streets and buildings have at their base the exquisite stonework the aboriginal Peruvians are famous for. Rising on top of them are the sumptuous and also extraordinarily beautiful European architectural forms. Major local festivals manifest a similarly perverse overlay of cultures. The Spanish and the Andean submerge and influence each other mostly in their shared love of the grand, the richly colorful, and the aesthetically opulent, no matter how meager the resources available or how sacred the enterprise. For example, we witnessed the final initiatory extravaganza the day we returned from Qoyllorrit’y. The festival of Corpus Christi took place in the main square that day, and this major Catholic occasion coincides with the most holy of festivals devoted to the sun by the Incas and their descendants. Corpus Christi was celebrated by slowly parading a huge silver-plated limousine carrying the Eucharist around the main square, followed by fourteen enormous bejeweled and gaudily dressed statues of Christ, the Virgin, and key saints. Appearances belie the fact that this seemingly typical Catholic procession has been forcefully influenced in structure and meaning by its Andean predecessor and is now one of a kind.

The Inca empire was a theocracy that imposed the worship of the sun and its mountain-peak homes on the many preexisting ancient and highly developed fertility cultures that worshiped the spirits in water and earth. The Inca himself, therefore, was the deity incarnate, the ruler and the body politic. In the festival to the sun, all the mummified bodies of previous Incas were paraded around the main square after their vigil in the temple of Viracocha, currently the stone foundation of the cathedral. For many years after the Spaniards replaced the Incas with Mary, Jesus, and the saints, during the procession the Andeans would hide the remains of the Incas under the clothing of the Catholic statues and surreptitiously worship their own gods simultaneously with, or instead of, the new ones. Similarly, Viracocha was their first metaphysical god and the most powerful in their pantheon, and the Inca Viracocha was one of their most renowned rulers. Despite the paradoxes involved in joining such different religious and cultural traditions, the worship of Viracocha seems to have been transposed to that of Jesus Christ, the son of God. However, a prominent visual image of Christ has emerged as a very dark-skinned man on a cross. He is most revered in the cathedral and reappears in Qoyllorrit’y as the apparition emblazoned on the stone wall where the sanctuary stands. Appreciating the ability of the Andean psyche to accommodate this divine amalgam and their apparent capacity for simultaneous worship of two different kinds of gods was a major dilemma and lesson for the Western initiates.

For example, we were troubled by the cultural tendency that we felt demeaned the aboriginal and exalted the European import. With sadness we noted that a large egg-shaped stone that once was revered as Viracocha’s icon stood forgotten as a doorpost at the Cathedral’s main gates, while the Black Christ and the mass devoted to him were so obviously important. But the mystical training we were engaged in deeply honored many of the Christian modes while equally engaging in the old traditions and ways. So we exchanged energy with this spirit of the stone at the beginning and at the conclusion of our initiatory journey while simultaneously using the church and its symbols as part of the initiatory trial. Unlike most of us, Our Andean priest guide seemed untroubled by the polarity between the two spiritual traditions of what from our perspective were conqueror and conquered cultures. In fact, he really did not seem to recognize the conflict despite our many attempts to draw him into our struggle. Gradually we understood that the system he was teaching held complementarity above polarity as one of its prime beliefs; later we took part in initiatory rites that were designed to help acolytes grasp this principle as deeply as possible.


The highly complex cosmic vision from which this Andean mystical tradition emerges is richly populated with spirits that inhabit and articulate the three worlds that comprise the Andean cosmos. As Nuñez del Prado describes, the internal world,” uyu pacha, is inhabited by beings who live in caves, rivers, and waterfalls and have characteristics ranging from the murderous and bloodthirsty to the mischievous, witty, and inoffensive trickster qualities of a joker (Nuñez del Prado, 1993) .This world, kay pacha, is made up of plants, animals, rain, hail, snow, wind, rainbows, lightning, and human beings. The generator of life is the omnipresent mother. Pacha Mama. She is accompanied primarily by Nusta, a lesser feminine spirit who lives in special rock formations, and her husbands, the Apus, who are the spirits of the mountains and who protect and guide human beings. The third world, hanaq pacha, is the higher world presided over by God the Father and integrated with Jesus Christ the Son, the Holy Spirit, the Virgin Mary, the saints, and the spirits of the dead. The three worlds are inter-connected. For example, from this world it is possible to cross to the internal world through oceans, lakes, lagoons, and places of origins, and to the higher world via crucifixes, tombs, and religious icons. Communication between the three worlds is maintained by means of the supreme ethical principles of Andean existence, which are based on communal mutuality and reciprocity.

The priesthood is hierarchical, and the many levels of apprenticeship require training under the direction of a master. The focus at first is on learning the elaborate religious functions, offerings, and sacrifices until the capacity to communicate directly with the spirits is attained. The path culminates in the ability to see the higher world and call forth the Creator. A required step on the way is to attend, as a costumed dancer, one of the great religious pilgrimages, such as Qoyllorrit’y, and humbly request the permission of the deity of the sanctuary to follow this path. Also, the aspirant who wishes to ascend to the highest initiatory levels spends three days and nights in solitude at the top of a mountain, then participates in Qoyllorrit’y to conclude his rituals and be consecrated by means of visions uniting him to the spirits of the three worlds.

Our initiation roughly followed the pattern prescribed for the ascent of aspirants to the higher levels of priesthood except that it was highly condensed in time and learning requirements. Our apprenticeship lasted a few weeks instead of many years, and we relied wholly on our guide to make all necessary offerings and pace us through the rituals, which sensitized us to the experience of crossing to either of the other worlds. The training itself was highly experiential and largely consisted of the interchange of energy with spiritual beings at locations such as caves, lagoons, mountain peaks and passes, ruins, and Catholic icons where the inner and worlds connected with this world. Eating was both the metaphor and the actual practice through which energy patterned its movement. Typically, we took in through the cosco, the belly area, the more rarified spiritual energy of the sacred place, thus opening key centers in our body, and then we released into the ground the heavier residue in us. Many of the ruins had a designated area, near the most holy of spots, with a rock that had been carved as a seat or bed for just this purpose, to release heavy energy into the earth.

In this system, unlike in our polarized Western thinking, earth and sky gods had a complementary rather than an oppositional relationship, as did the fundamental tenets of the philosophy on which the religion rested. Even gender differences were based on principles of similarity and reciprocity. Also, both individual and group could coexist without conflict. The ritual form required a high level of meditative concentration on our inner experience, but its focus was the outer world, which included the group. We received and transmitted energy to each other as well as to and from the spirits of the place. We mirrored in our practice the priority of the groups what is part and parcel of the Andean perspective. For Andeans, even the spiritual realm is ordered in symbolic personifications of social groupings that correspond to the actual ones. The community, not the individual, is the unit; and in the end not only maintains a solid sense of belonging but also is provided with his or her own social cosmos.


Qoyllorrit’y takes place ninety miles from Cuzco, but hazardous road conditions and delays typically make it necessary to spend full day getting to base camp. From there villagers embark on their serpentine ascent toward the peak of Qolqepunco. The festival can draw as many as seventy thousand people from allover the land; the participants are mostly villagers, who walk over rugged mountainous terrain to get there. They are dressed in typical colorful garb, and many villages send groups of musicians and Costumed dancing troupes who choreograph a symbolic enactment meaningful to them. This organic weaving of vernacular music, dancing, and drumming goes on incessantly for days and nights. We joined them and, like them, periodically interrupted our arduous climb to prostrate ourselves before the large stone crosses dramatically and strategically erected on the way. We paused before each of these shrines and, not unlike the bands of musicians playing first a slow, lugubrious tune followed by a bouncy or sparkling one, exchanged heavy and light energy with the god. We all replayed in Andean fashion Christ’s agony at Calvary much as the twelve stations of the cross are trekked yearly in Jerusalem.

Qoyllorrit’y takes place on a peak considered a tutelary deity in pre. Columbian times, drawing animal and agricultural offerings. During Inca rule its cult was institutionalized and put in the service of the highest social caste, which displayed its power and wealth with sumptuous festivities. As mentioned earlier, the Spanish conquest, which introduced Christianity to Andean society, was modified by local practices and beliefs, and a pantheon of Peruvian deities and saints took their places next to the European imports. The dark skinned Christ of Qoyllorrit’y is one of these hybrids. The story explaining his apparition and crucified imprint on a natural rock follows a typical Catholic form. Briefly, Jesus came to a very poor, suffering, but obedient Indian boy. After many events came the final encounter, witnessed by a number of adults, when the apparition turned into the agonizing and bleeding Christ on the cross and the boy died. A very large but simple sanctuary was built on the mountaintop encompassing the blazoned rock. During the festival days, pilgrims crowd into it holding lit candles requesting health, money, or whatever wishes they hope to have granted. However, at the heart of the worship are the ukukus, the bear men. These personages are considered to be half divine and half human and those who play this role are selected from the best of each village’s crop of young men. They have to excel in physical prowess as well as in goodness of character. They must be very agile and capable of withstanding the intense cold and thin air of high altitudes, for they are the ones who climb beyond the sanctuary to the highest glacier, where they spend the night challenging and surrendering to greater powers by doing the most daring of feats including handstands, jumping, and running on the glacier. Those who survive descend at dawn carrying a block of ice on their backs, which reflects the light of the rising sun. They are in charge of bringing down the stars, which, as semigods, they have grabbed out of the sky. The ice is delivered to the Christ in the sanctuary. We were shocked to hear that one of the young men died during the ceremony, and we learned that five men had died the year before; we were told this with equanimity by our guide and teacher of Andean mysticism, who also told us that someone dies this way every year. The eager, searching look in the eyes of the villagers who clustered halfway up the glacier at dawn, looking for the returning young men, belied the pose of acceptance. Their eyes clearly mirrored fear and hope for the life of a son, nephew, friend, or some loved one. Yet they offered them annually as transforming vessels in the hope of a better collective existence.

Almost as overwhelming as these deaths was the remarkable social order created in the festival community surrounding us during those three days. Men, women, and children of all ages and states of health somehow climbed this very high mountain, squatted at the foot of its glacier with no food, sanitary provisions, or facilities of any kind, and engaged in a multiplicity of religious and social exchanges in peace and harmony. This was a magnanimous group event defying most of our Western social psychological explanations. Obviously these pilgrims had the rhythm of centuries of custom and tradition to guide them, and it was grandly evident that their behavior flowed from the authenticity of their belief in their spirits and in the vessels that could mediate their prayers. Each individual and small group within the larger crowd seemed irrationally but intelligently linked by a web of invisible threads to the two interlocking spiritual centers. One was a pre-Columbian moving altar embodied in the ukukus, the costumed sacrificial bear men dancing the treacherous slopes of the glacier for the sake of one and all. The other was the crucified Christ, at once an image for the ubiquitous scapegoat victim and an emblem for the conquest and subjugation of human life and soul.

Yet a third center of energy captivated us and the pilgrims during this festival. Not far from the sanctuary, a mount consecrated to the Virgin Mary served as the center for a large area devoted to a very active, symbolic commercial transaction. There one could purchase with make-believe money a small model or facsimile of one’s heart’s desire. Simply built of clay or wood and colorfully decorated, small trucks, agricultural fields, baskets of fruit, human figures, and so on were sold at stone stands. It was a kind of sacred marketplace, a land of fantasies and dreams where the typical Western split between the sacred and profane, between worship and commerce, was most evidently absent. The game could become quite complex. As soon as we entered the scene, we were approached by excited villagers who wanted visas to go live in the United States. In notebooks fashioned to resemble passports we wrote visa entry messages with signatures notarized by yet another vendor at his post. In exchange, we were awarded a travel business on Sun Street and a University of Andean Mysticism. The rest of our money we deposited at the Virgin Mary bank, where we found numerous Indians who behaved like New York stock traders on a day of heavy trading. Good humor and hope permeated this commercial realm, but it also exhibited all the frenzy and seriousness that financial transactions foster.


In Cuzco the two of us parted ways with the other group members, fully cognizant of their reality in us but easily relinquishing the actual group ties that had held and shaped us through our shared initiation. Our enhanced sense of a communal bond with all of humanity greatly facilitated the release of personal connections. Here we can only try to speak briefly for ourselves; although our intense immediate responses to the experience in the Andes were different, the ensuing integration of the experience into our daily lives has been similar in effect.

Both of us were raised in the Judeo-Christian tradition, one a Jew and one a Catholic, but neither of us is currently an active worshiper in our faith of origin. However, each of us had faced in our personal and collective histories the sacrifice of family members and social groups to the political upheavals in Europe and Peru. Arthur, as a Jew deeply involved for much of his life in the death-rebirth saga of modern Israel and the Holocaust, was extremely sensitive to the Christian oppression of the Andean people. His initial outrage at the historic and ongoing role of the Catholics as conquerors and despoilers of the highly developed Inca culture was inflamed further by what he witnessed in Qoyllorrit’y. It seemed to him that Indian customs had been subsumed by Catholicism; a symbol of that domination was the surrender of the ukukus’ hard-won star/ice treasures during Catholic Mass held by an Irish priest at the sanctuary. Yet ultimately he came to embrace a larger reality, one in which the Indians, however poor and downtrodden, have nevertheless effected a spiritual miracle: the marriage of Inca and Christian ritual into a new faith that worked for them and which paradoxically served his own development and those of his colleagues.

Pilar, for many years a resident of the United States, had been born an upper-class Peruvian, the descendant of the Spanish rulers of the land. During her childhood the racial and class barriers between rich and poor were impermeable. As part of that division Indians had been her servants, nurturing her body as if she were their own child, without question or even the right to complain. In their milieu she learned of powers at least as mysterious and enticingly strange as the aesthetic and intellectual gifts of her European birthright. While still a young woman she watched the military revolution of the 1960s transfer economical and politic power to the Indians and other, racially mixed lower classes while decimating the fortunes of her own class and family. Now, years later, her participation in an Andean initiation brought much-needed healing. The symbolic human sacrifice stood for her own symbolic sacrifice—the loss of her birthright and the personal suffering of herself and her family even as centuries of social abuses were redressed. The festival of Qoyllorrit’y purged her anger and deepened her compassion for all participants in the historical drama of her country.

Perhaps most critical was the way the events of Qoyllorrit’y deepened our relationship by providing a living mirror for the sacrifice and difference that lived in our dyad. We were able to witness our past worlds and our past and present prejudices in a sacred setting that transformed antagonisms into interconnectedness and polarity into complementarity, a gift that continued to have positive consequences in our relationship long after we left the high Andean glacier.

The call for all of us—as a group, as a pair, and as individuals—was for a deeper and broader understanding of the death-rebirth archetype, the repetitive demand by life to give itself up for its own renewal. At the center of our learning was the realized experience of the sacred and the profane, the individual and the collective, and matter and spirit as one undivided whole. The poverty we saw around us in the Andes accentuated our awareness of the sacredness of the material world we inhabit in California. We clearly realized that it was not just nature but also our technological super-impositions on it that are the face of God. Once back in the United States, we could more readily identify in our paved surroundings those threshold structures dedicated to our communion with the divine. For example, our supposedly secular therapy offices, where we participate in healing practices with clients and colleagues, are clearly altars not unlike the mountain peaks, caves, icons, and other places and means we used for crossing to the spirit realm in our Andean journey. In Jungian terms, the view from the Self had been affirmed and established in the ordinary reality of our everyday experience.

We have both worked for over twenty years with individuals and with groups to enhance a conscious dialogue with unconscious forces as they arise in the present or move through people’s lives. Our decision to investigate travel as a “crossing” technique, one that will serve our mission to awaken collective consciousness, has been fueled by the rich journey we took and by the promise of other journeys to come. Ultimately the inner vision is not separable from outer reality, much as the body is not separable from the psyche. Travel in the mode we have described above is a powerful teacher about these inseparabilities, for in these experiences crossings are not only shamanic-like dreams, fantasies, and active imaginations but actual crossings of the entire organism into powerful other world settings in which coping is critical. Crossing through bodily presence in the actual physical, aesthetic, commercial, social, and spiritual aspects of a new place while participating with intent in the ecstatic rituals of a culture is an extraordinarily potent way to bridge the threshold to another world, learn and heal, and perhaps move closer to a unified vision of existence in which humans play their part.


  • Colman, A. D. 1995. Up from Scapegoating; Awakening Consciousness in Groups. Wilmette, Ill: Chiron. Montero, P. 1992. The Imaginal at Crossings: A Soul’s View of Organizational and Individual Analysis. Willmette, Ill: Chiron Publications.
  • —.1995. “The Altar in Human Groups: A Path to the Living God.” In Proceedings of the Thirteenth International Congress for Analytical Psychology, Zurich, in press.
  • Nuñez del Prado, J. V. 1993. “The Cultural State of the Inca Empire: The Andean Priesthood.” Unpublished manuscript.
  • Tierney, P. 1989. The Highest Altar: Unveiling the Mystery of Human Sacrifice. London, Penguin.

Pilar Montero and Arthur D. Colman