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OFFERING TO THE SPIRITS, BOLIVIA

The higher we drove, the colder we became. We reached our destination in an unpopulated area where we were told rituals such as ours had been performed for centuries.  A lone Kallawaya sat by the road in the rain literally "for hire" if anyone approached the area without a facilitator for their ritual.  He was quite sodden, but happily greeted us.  He looked at us curiously.  We were probably the only Caucasians he had ever seen in the ritual area.

The hatch on the taxi came up, and I huddled in the relative warmth of the backseat as we all watched the Kallawaya with fascination as he created the offering. A round piece of cardboard was placed upon a folded sheet of tissue paper.  The Kallawaya began by preparing the llama fetus.

He first smeared what looked like animal fat all over its dry and slightly  decomposed body.  He had spools of brightly colored wool with him, and he painstakingly began forming strings of yarn from them.  These were layered atop the cardboard circle, and the red ones were tied upon the neck and head of the unborn llama, almost like a bridle.  Green squash with a hollowed center covered the creature's ears.  Thin strips of gold and silver foil wrapped the fetus's body.  A bouquet of white chrysanthemums provided a bed of flower petals for the decorated llama’s body. 

Figures and symbols made of shiny foil, each with a specific meaning, were placed upon the offering.  White figurines that looked like marshmallow candy and brightly colored pieces of paper were also added.  Dan and I were each given 12 cocoa leaves to place upon the offering, one at a time, and we were instructed to open our hearts and pray a silent prayer with the addition of each leaf.  Silver tinsel was the last adornment added to the odd looking offering.  The entire preparation was elaborate, and took at least three quarters of an hour.  Prayers were spoken by the Kallawaya as he completed the process.

I had worn a few more layers of clothing than Daniel this day, and I have a few more natural layers of protection from the cold than he, so I fared fairly well in the wet and biting mountain air. I also had chosen to stay in the taxi rather than stand in the rain as the offering was created.  Dan hadn't know that the process would be so lengthy, and he stood in the rain long enough to be totally soaked before he finally came back in the cab with me.  He was frozen to the bone and shivering as we left the vehicle and began the ceremony.  I held his shaking hand and tried to pass some warmth his way.

This was to be a fire ceremony, and a completely burnt offering expressed that the Spirits had heard our prayers with acceptance and that they blessed and supported us.  A palette of special wood was broken apart, then stacked and placed in position to hold our offering.  Some form of alcohol that did not appear to be drinkable was liberally poured upon the wood and all that it held.  The rain was fairly steady and it didn't seem possible that the offering could burn fully to ash considering how wet it had become.  The Kallawaya lit the fire and prayed in a language that our ears heard as foreign yet our hearts understood.  He tended the fire carefully with a long stick as Dan and I and Marcos and his son held hands around the burning offering and offered our prayers.  Time became timeless as we stood in circle, mesmerized by the flames.

The Spirits smiled upon us!  Not only did the offering burn completely, its remains actually became reduced to a circle of pure white ash.  The wind, the rain, and the cold Bolivian air only served to feed this fire that represented the desires and prayers of our hearts, minds, and souls. As I hugged a shivering Daniel, we felt tremendously blessed as we made our way back down to the city; down from the reaches of the Spirit world, back down to the world of everyday life. Is not the world of Spirit the world in which I wish to live wholeheartedly and completely?  I pondered this as we slowly and steadily navigated the curvy roads back down to La Paz. The sky cleared, finally, and the sun shone through in shafts of clear light.
 
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