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Coca, and The Sacred Plants of the Incas - The Shamanic World of the Andes

Coca, and The Sacred Plants of the Incas - The Shamanic  World of the AndesbyHoward G Charing

The Incas regarded coca as ‘the divine plant’ mainly because of its property of imparting endurance, nevertheless its use was entwined with every aspect of life; the art, mythology, culture and economy of the Inca Empire.

Millions of Indians have chewed coca on a daily basis for many hundreds of years, yet never has a plant been so misrepresented and its use so controlled by prejudice and ignorance, including up to the present day. The Conquistadors considered it an idle and offensive habit to be prohibited, but it was soon seen that the Indians could not work without coca even when forced to do so.

The coca leaf has been sacred to Andean people since the dawn of pre-Colombian civilization. Doris Rivera Lenz, a renowned Andean Ceremonialist, healer, and Coca leaf Diviner, when asked about the source of the information she divines from them, she says:

"They give me such a powerful awareness it is as though an energy comes into me from just touching them. I invoke Mother Nature and the spirit of the coca, and with just seven leaves, the answer comes, as though through an open doorway."

An ancient method of diagnosing illness, still common in Peru, is to rub an egg over the body of the patient. Doris is gifted in this tradition and prescribes remedies which include medicinal herbs.

Much Andean wisdom is based on observation of nature, noting for example, that if the ducks go round in circles, there will be long rains, etc... Involvement with nature prevents the mind from becoming mechanical, can see that it is constantly nurturing us and helping us to grow.

The ofrenda
An 'ofrenda' is the most important ceremony used by Andean Indians to relate with Mother Earth. The ofrenda is a symbol of reciprocity with nature and its purpose is to teach us to reproduce this attitude. Through it we speak back to nature saying we understand the message and concord.

The ofrenda which is also known in Spanish as a 'pago', is not
a 'payment' to nature as the Conquistadores saw it, implying a sinister pact with nature spirits. Additionally, they accused the Indians of being miserly because they preferred to pay symbolically rather than with real money!

An ofrenda is an expression of gratitude, not of debt or obligation.
Neither is it selfish to want things for ourselves as some people see it even today. It is true that urban people in Peru have started to make ofrendas for reasons such as wanting their businesses to flourish, but good business can equally imply good health, and harmony to the community and for the natural world.

In an Andean community realities are closer to earth than they are in the city, it is more important that the cattle do not die than to have more private possessions. Hence in the country there is a better understanding of the shamanic meaning of the ceremony, the re-establishing of relationship to nature. This is why we need a little preparation so that an ofrenda can work for us too.


We live in a time of the fulfilment of an ancient Inca prophecy. This is the time of the new Pachacuti, a great change bringing with it a new relating to the Earth (Pachamama). Each Pachacuti is a era of time about 500 years. The last Pachacuti occurred with the Conquest in the early 16th century, and the Q’ero (Inca) priests have been waiting ever since for the next era, when order would start to emerge from chaos. The current Pachacuti refers to the end of time as we understand it, the end or death of a way of thinking and a way of being. A new relationship with the living Earth, and an emergence into a golden age of peace. There are many indications that changes in human consciousness are taking place, yet there is still a long way to go. It is part of Doris’s vision to show us traditional ways that we can re-engage with the sacredness of life and the Earth so we too can more fully participate in the new Pachacuti.

About the author:
Howard G. Charing, is an accomplished international workshop leader on shamanism. He has worked some of the most respected and extraordinary shamans & healers in the Andes, the Amazon Rainforest, and the Philippines. He organises specialist retreats to the Amazon Rainforest He is the author of the best selling book, Plant Spirit Shamanism (Destiny Books USA), and has published numerous articles about plant medicines. Website


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