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Despacho Ceremonies

The Despacho Ceremony

By Alex Stark. Copyright and all rights reserved.

Among the Quechua Indians of Peru, Bolivia, and Ecuador, a despacho ceremony is the centerpiece of a complex spiritual and ritual heritage. Despacho ceremonies are performed to promote health, well-being and prosperity, or when calamity or misfortune befalls the client.Despachos are also used to thank for special events, to celebrate good luck, or to help the soul of a deceased person journey into the beyond. Despachos are performed to promote fertility in fields and herds, to cure illness, or to undo harm or witchcraft. On very special occasions,despachos are also performed when larger cultural or ecological events threaten the entire community.

The specialists who perform such ceremonies are known as Pampa Altomisayoc, which translates roughly as “high priests of the ordinary realm”, the work “pampa” referring both to the level ground of agriculture as well as to the ordinary world of mortals. Over 200 different types of despachos have been recorded, depending on the results desired. In general terms, a despacho is understood as a request for good fortune, its name derived from the Spanish word for missive, message, or care package. This implies that the ritualist is “sending a message” to the realm of spirit in which a particular outcome is being promoted. Depending on the purpose, a despacho may require the presence of the client, an extended family, or the entire community. Despachos can be performed by individual Altomisayocs, or by teams of altomisayocs, often paired into male and female quadrilles.

The end product of a despacho ceremony is a graphic mandala made of a wide assortment of natural and man-made products: seeds and vegetables, gems and minerals, incenses, animal products, and man-made symbols that may depict or symbolize the desired result. In all cases, however, the intent is symbolic and metaphysical, and the understanding is that a despacho allows the client or the community to request a result from the realm of spiritual power. Consequently, despachos are typically addressed to the larger forces of nature: Pachamama(Mother Earth), Apukuna (mountain spirits), Chaskakuna (the stars), Inti (the sun), and so on.

In addition, despachos can also be performed as a form of Ayni or reciprocity with the universe. The concept of Ayni is central to Andean shamanism and is based on a mutual dependency between humans, nature, and spiritual forces. Ayni brings balance into our lives and creates relationship between our secular and sacred worlds. Andean metaphysics postulates that human health and well-being depend on balanced reciprocity between all elements of life. Therefore, when soliciting a particular outcome through a despacho, our obligation is not to pray or request for a particular result, but rather to provide beauty, power and energy in the form of a graphic mandala which can then be “exchanged” or bartered for the desired result.

When working with a despacho, the Altomisayoc is accessing the non-ordinary dimensions of reality, the ultimate source of all things. In fact, thought the contents of the despacho may have symbolic significance, the intent of its creators transcends any literal or symbolic content, directly accessing archetypal and energetic forces. Don Manuel Q’espi, an elder of the Q’ero tribe, spoke of despachos in this way:

“The despacho is a gift–a giving back of what we receive everyday in our lives. We seek, through the despacho ceremony, to bridge the ordinary and non-ordinary realms; to establish new patterns of relationships and possibility. The despacho places us in right relationship, right Ayni, with Pachamama and all of her manifestations.”

In order to create a despacho, the Altomisayoc must perfect a specific shamanistic maneuver, the harmonization and balancing of three “bands” or levels of consciousness: yankay, the physical universe, yachay, the spiritual or wisdom realm, and munay, the feeling or heart center. By integrating these qualities with personal intent, the group intent, and gratitude to the earth and nature, which supports all of the community’s endeavors, the despacho re-harmonizes and balances the community into a single energetic body in which the luminous fibers which connect us all are reaffirmed and strengthened.

The despacho contains symbols of everything: the elements, the four directions, weather, clouds, mountains, rainbows, the fruits of human labor, emotions, ideas, and so on. When the offering is complete, the entire assemblage is folded, tied and wrapped in a sacred weaving. It is then offered to the forces of nature either by burning, burying, or by casting into water. The energy of collective intention captured and contained in the despacho is thus released into the universe, where its message of reciprocity and gratitude can reach the most appropriate agent for manifestation. The result is renewed harmony and balance in ordinary life.


To construct a despacho, you first have to collect the items that you plan to include in the offering. This will depend on the intention or purpose of the ritual. The list below contains many of the most common items, with their respective meanings.

To begin, lay a large sheet of white paper on the ground. Add items in patterns that represent the purpose of the ritual, as well as the Cosmos at large. You can think of the despacho as a work of art, or as a symbolic representation of the purpose behind it, or both. Mandala arrangements are common, as these can represent and contain multiple meanings and representations.

Add items in sequences that reflect the organization of the Cosmos. For example, you can begin by adding items that derive from the vegetable kingdom, then those that are mineral, then animal, and finally those made by human hand. To finish, decorate with flowers, candy, and other colorful items. The paper is then folded and tied with colorful twine or ribbons, decorated again, and then offered to appropriate forces of the Cosmos that were invoked to partake in the ritual.

The despacho can be offered by burning, burying, or by casting into water. The particular mode has to be determined by dowsing or by consulting coca leaves or by any other suitable divination mode.

Stages in the construction of a Despacho


Below is a short list of the possible meanings to be used in despacho offerings. You can add to this list or substitute other items that could also have a similar interpretation.

Vegetable Products
Although this is a generic list, many refinements can be made by proper selection of the specific harvest, location, and quality of the products listed below. In all cases, the item should be evaluated energetically through dowsing or divination in order to determine its qualities and meaning.

  • COPAL: Offering to the Lower World, the Shadow
  • FRANKINCENSE: Offering to the Upper World, the Ligh
  • PALO SANTO: Holds Space for our Prayers
  • COCA: Sacred Wisdom of the Mother
  • TOBACCO: Offering to the Sky Father
  • SAGE: Purification, Banishment of the Negative
  • ANISE: Celebration, The Senses
  • BERRIES: Rewards, Fruits of Labor
  • CEDAR: Wisdom of the Forest
  • CORN: A Gift of the Earth, Our Daily Sustenance
  • CORNMEAL: Offering to the Earth Mother
  • COTTON: Dreams, Clouds, Mountain Snows
  • FIGS: Ancient Mountain Spirits
  • FLOWERS: The Beauty of Nature, the Power of Light, Reproduction & Fertility
  • GARLIC: Absorption of the Negative, Banishment
  • GRAINS: Sustenance, Abundance
  • LAVENDER: Purity, Purification
  • LAUREL: Sacredness, Victory over Adversity
  • LEAVES: Honoring Nature Spirits
  • LIMA BEANS:Sacred Places, Huaqas, Power Spots
  • LIQUOR: High Energy, Honoring the Spirit World, our Ancestors
  • PEANUTS: Caves, Places for Elemental Spirits
  • POLLEN: Offering to all Living Creatures
  • RAISINS: Offering to the Dead
  • RICE Offerings to the Spirit World
  • SWEETS: Fertility, Beginnings, Potential
  • SUGAR: Sweetness, Feeding the Spirits
  • VEGETABLE OIL: Our connection to the Nourishing Power of Nature
  • WAYRUROS: Seed of Protection
  • WINE, RED: Honoring the Mother, Menstrual Blood
  • WINE, WHITE: Honoring the Moon, Fluids of Purification, Urine

    Various minerals will resonate differently with different traditions, but some aspects are common to all. There are nuances, however, depending on place or origin, manner of extraction, the relative age of the mineral, in whose possession it might have been, and so on. Old jewelry is a valuable source of quality minerals that can be also understood as being returned to the Mother, especially in burial despachos.

  • GOLD: Masculine, The Sun, Insight
  • SILVER: Feminine, The Moon, Intuition
  • AGATE: Acceptance, Emotional & Physical Balance, Raises Consciousness
  • AMBER: Protection, Memory, Calming
  • AMETHYST: Higher Knowledge, Insight, Grounded Psychic Growth, Courage, Self-esteem
  • AVENTURINE: Joy, Mental Clarity, Positive Attitudes
  • BLOODSTONE: Blood & Heart Healing, Vitality, Courage, Higher States of Consciousness
  • CALCITE: Astral Projection, Balances Yin/Yang qualities
  • CITRINE: Successful Relationships, Letting go of Addictions, Self Confidence
  • COPPER: The Earth’s Gift, Conductivity
  • DIAMOND: Removes Blockages, Balances the Mind, Sexuality & Power
  • FLUORITE: Practicality, Getting Things Done, Ability to Perceive Higher Levels of Reality
  • GARNET: Circulation, Stimulates Imagination, Self-esteem & Willpower, Calms Anger
  • HEMATITE: Protection, Aids Astral Projection, Increases Self-Esteem
  • HERKIMER: Cleanses Subtle Bodies, Past life Memory, Clairvoyance & Dream work
  • IRON: Strength, Persistence, Endurance, Direction
  • JADE: Good Luck & Prosperity, Strong Immune System, Divine Love, Protection
  • LOADSTONE: The Power to Attract & Bind Together
  • MOONSTONE: Open up to feminine qualities: Receptivity, Intuition, Sensitivity, Clairvoyance
  • OBSIDIAN: Removal of Obstacles & Negativity, Prophetic Vision
  • OPAL: Protection, Cosmic Consciousness, Intuition, Emotional Balance
  • PERIDOT: Clarity, Patience, Clairvoyance, Positive Emotional Outlooks
  • PYRITE: Material Realization, Good Fortune, Eases Anxiety
  • CLEAR QUARTZ: Purity of Perception, Purity of Intention
  • ROSE QUARTZ: Love & Romance, Purity of Feeling, Confidence, Expression, Creativity
  • SMOKEY QUARTZ: Purification, Elimination of Shadow Aspects, Fertility, Creativity, Joy
  • RUTILATE QUARTZ: Breaks old Patterns, Childhood Blockages, Ease Depression
  • RHODOCHROSITE: Cleansing of Subconscious, Self-Identity, Strengthens Androgyny
  • RUBY: Spiritual Balance, Heart Healing, Confidence, Flexibility, Vitality, Leadership
  • SALT: Protection, Boundaries
  • SAPPHIRE: Communication w. Spirit Guides, Clairvoyance, Telepathy, Expression
  • TIGER EYE: Works on Mass Consciousness to Separates Desire from Need
  • TOURMALINE Dispels Fear, Negativity & Grief, Promotes Balance, Eases Compulsiveness
  • TURQUOISE: Fresh Starts, Offering to the Ancestors, Strength of Entire Body, Protection

    Animal Products
    Please note that specific animals or animal products will lend to the item the resonances proper to that animal, species, or individual. A quail egg, for example is very different from an eagle egg. A chicken’s first egg is also distinct from her later eggs, and so on.

  • ANIMAL SHAPES: Honoring our Relatives in the Animal Kingdom
  • FAT: Purest form of energy
  • BLOOD: Life Force
  • BONE: Our Inner Core, Structure, Connection to Animal Relatives
  • CORAL: The Power of the Sea, The Subconscious
  • EGGS: The Unborn, Purity, Healing
  • FEATHERS: Connection to Birds and to Native American wisdom
  • FETUS: The Unborn, Pure Potential
  • FUR Boundaries, Our Relations in Nature
  • HUMAN HAIR: Honoring our Connection to the Animal World
  • INSECTS: Time, The Web of Life
  • MILK: Connection to the Mother, Honoring Trees
  • PEARLS: Infinite Wisdom & Purity
  • STARFISH: Foundations, Successful New Beginnings
  • SEAHORSE: Delicacy & Balance
  • SHELLS: Power of the Waters: Depth, Faith, Flexibility

    Man-made Symbols
  • ALPHABET NOODLES: Language of the Soul, The Unwritten
  • ASHES: Offering to Our Personal Ancestors
  • BEARS: Personal Power
  • BUTTERFLIES: Happiness, Spontaneity
  • CANDLES: Celebrations & Rejoicing
  • CANDY: Compassion & Love
  • CIRCLES: Completion, Good Luck
  • CONFETTI: Happiness, Celebrations
  • COINS: Good Fortune, Wealth
  • IMAGES OF COUPLES:Marriage, Love, Reproduction
  • CROSSES: Decisions, Coming Together
  • DICE: Good Luck
  • FISH: Abundance, Prosperity
  • FLUTES: Voices of the Ancestors
  • FROGS: Keepers & Guardians of the Waters
  • GOLD LEAF: Wisdom, Direct Knowledge from Nature. Message from the Mother
  • SILVER LEAF: Intuition, Clairvoyance, Message from the Moon
  • GOLD THREAD: Connection to the Earth Mother
  • HANDS: Sensitivity, Mastery
  • HEARTS: Working from Love, from the Center
  • HOLY WATER: Blessings, Protection
  • KNOTS: The Web of Life, Interdependence
  • MEN: The Masculine Principle
  • MOON: The Feminine Principle, The Shadow, Nourishment
  • RAINBOWS: Meeting of Ordinary and Extraordinary
  • RABBITS: Fertility, Reproduction
  • SEQUINS: Happiness, Joy, Celebrations
  • SILVER THREAD: Connection to the Mountain Spirits
  • SKULLS: Power of the Past, Power of the Ancestors
  • STARS: Hope, Aspiration
  • SUN: The Masculine Principle, The Light, Creation
  • SUN & MOON: Balance of Opposites, Harmonization
  • BUDDHA: Enlightenment, Attainment
  • THE GODDESS: The Feminine Principle Made Flesh
  • THUNDERBOLT: Expression, Power of the Voice,
  • TURTLES: Healing Power
  • WOMEN: The Feminine Principle