A despacho ceremony is an ancient indigenous ritual of the Andean people of Peru. Despacho literally means to ship or dispatch something. Creating a despacho is an intentional, focused sacred ceremony in which an amulet-like bundle is filled with natural, biodegradable ingredients. These ingredients hold symbolic elements that represent the prayerful intentions of the despacho-maker.
Think of a despacho as a means to dispatch or ship prayerful intentions off to the heavens.
Luz Clara – Chilean Medicine Woman
Good fortune led me to rural St. Matthews, a small town about 30 minutes outside of my hometown of Columbia, SC. A good friend of mine introduced me to an adventurous spirited young woman who came back to settle the affairs of her family home. Her big dream was to convert her family’s southern plantation into a spiritual retreat center. She was making plans to host a Chilean medicine woman she met on her South American travels. I could not wait!
About 50 women gathered to meet and learn from Luz Clara. As a young woman, she left her country after the violent takeover by the military dictatorship. In exile, she began the difficult work of fighting for political reform for her beloved country. During this time, she suffered a long, painful illness and was helped by the native healers of Peru and Ecuador. During her healing process, she decided to redirect her life to the healing of others. The teachings of these indigenous cultures guided her to appreciate the sacred feminine energy of the earth and our responsibility to connect with it. She knew these ancient ways held power and healing for us all.
Luz Clara travels to acquaint people with the ideas surrounding the concept of the sacred feminine. We gathered to participate in a despacho ceremony. The making of despachos, an Andean amulet-making tradition taught to Luz Clara during her exile years in Peru and Ecuador, is a way to honor transitions in life and give thanks for the gift of life here on earth. Since survival is so difficult in the high altitude of the surrounding Peruvian mountains, a deep reverence towards life is embedded within the Andean psyche. Life is embraced as an absolutely precious gift, a true gift to be lived, not a problem to be solved.
Seeds of the Moon
Luz Clara gave each of us a few small pieces of beautiful handmade paper and a small, silver organza bag that was filled with “Seeds of the Moon” – seeds filled with sacred feminine energy that would hold our thoughts, our intentions, and revelations as we began our despacho ceremony. These tiny, iridescent glass seed beads symbolically held the power of budding possibilities and unlimited potential. These are the gifts the feminine principle holds for each of us.
“You will plant these ‘Seeds of the Moon’ within your despacho. In order to survive and grow, their ground must be prepared. Debris needs to be cleared, nutrients added, and the soil turned over,” she told us before we began our sacred creations.
As instructed, I fetched the piece of fabric we had been requested to bring and began my roaming around the property for treasures that spoke to me. Magnolia blossoms, some fresh, some with faded petals; small pine cones; moss; twigs; seed pods; leaves; wild flowers; thin grape vines. Then I found my private sanctuary under a huge live oak, and I began. Sitting on the floor of the earth, I took a few deep breaths and centered myself.
I closed my eyes and drifted backwards into my life – to my accomplishments and successes, to the things I was so thankful for, to my worries and sorrows. I placed my soft golden fabric in front of me, noticing the beautiful contrast it had against the black fertile earth beneath it. I placed my favorite side face-down upon the earth so that when I folded my bundle, the “good side” would be seen.
Slowly, I began my despacho ceremony, my circle of intention, by placing my “sacred collectings” on the cloth in a circular design, noticing their color, their shape, and their textures. In the center of my golden velvet fabric, I placed several pieces of soft green moss, creating a nest-like shape. Next, I surrounded this nest with the small, light brown pine cones, noticing how they had opened just enough to release their seeds. The wild weed flowers of red and orange were next, encircling the pine-cones with brilliance and passion.
The magnolia blossoms of ivory white formed the final outer seal of protection. As I pulled the individual petals from the blossom, their shape reminded me of a cupped hand waiting to receive. Its dense, sweet aroma entered through all of my senses, and a nearly palpable guiding energy led my hand to the remaining items in my gathering pile. Intuitively, I broke and tore the rest of my collectings into pieces, chanting all the thoughts and emotions that came to mind – putting them to rest within my creation, honoring them, seeing them, recognizing them, and then letting them go.
Words and Gratitude
Then I sat with what I created, pulled out my journal and wrote:
“Trust the process. Trust the process. You do not have to know where or how this all will end up. You do not have to understand everything at once. Maybe you will never fully understand, but remember you are trying to make sense of your life and the world you live in. Is that not enough? Be patient and kind to yourself!”
As I read aloud the words I had written, I sprinkled my “moon seeds” into the fertile ground of my mandala. Taking a huge breath, I began to fold the whole thing into an envelope-like form, giving thanks for all my blessings – my supportive husband, my healthy children, my extended family, my creativity, my art-as-healing work that I was now privately referring to as my calling.
Then I asked for help in releasing those things within my life that were not serving me well – my propensity towards deep sadness, broken relationships, and always doing way too much.
I used my thin grape vine to wrap my bundle with intention. Then I took the small prayer paper and wrote down any further thoughts I had. Trust the process day by day. Remember that you do not have to understand everything at once.
Poignant, Honest and Free-Spirited
We gathered that evening, our last, as a gentle wind stirred the air around us. In a circle facing the fire, we shared our stories, simply and succinctly, using the words we had written on our final prayer paper. We placed our despachos in front of our feet, on large, rounded stones that encircled the fire. The energy of the group was poignant, honest and free-spirited. When we completed the circle, I imagined we would all throw our creations into the fire. I wanted more time with my prayer bundle. I was not ready to offer it up. I was relieved when Luz Clara instructed us to take our despachos home with us and to place them on our personal altars or somewhere we would be reminded of its powerful presence on a daily basis.
On December 23, Winter Solstice, we were to set aside some time to reflect on the despacho we had created. I took my bundle from my home altar, bundled up and sat outside under clear skies. I lit a candle and carefully removed the written scroll from my bundle. As I read the honest, intimate words I’d written on my scroll, I was thankful I took the time out of my “life” to learn from Luz Clara.
I gave thanks for my many blessings and asked to be released from anything within my life that no longer served me. I offered my sacred creation, this bundle back to Mother Earth by lighting a small bonfire and adding it to the flames. As I watched the intensity of the fire flare, I felt lighter and thought of Meister Eckhart’s wise words: “If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is ‘thank you,’ it will be enough.”
Creating a Despacho – From Beginning to End
Why A Despacho Ceremony?
Taking time to pause and reflect on my life is an important anchor for me. I need ceremonies, rituals that imbue my life with richness and meaning. I try to create a despacho for each season to reflect on the symbology of that particular time of year. It helps me enter each season with a fresh start, filled with intentional possibilities.
We create despachos for many reasons. There is really no right or wrong way to do this. Remember that the despacho holds symbolic elements and intentions of the despacho-maker. This tradition is similar to the sacred practice of creating mindful mandalas, but here the created mandala only lasts for a few minutes.
To promote health and well-being in mind, body and spirit
To express undigested thoughts and feelings
To voice gratitude and thanksgiving for life’s blessings
To honor new beginnings, wishes and desires
Take the time to create a despacho. Create one individually with your own personal intentions, or you can make one as part of a collective community.
Share some of your reflections with us as you begin your despacho ceremony.