The Mystery of Incan Stirrup Vessels

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CondorJaguarSnakeMy daughter and I saw this stirrup vessel in the Larco Museum in Peru.  It represents the Incan symbols for the Three Realms of the Universe.  The condor (look for his bright blue eye) symbolizes the Upper Realm, the world of the gods, celestial bodies and mountain spirits.  The jaguar (the toothy mouth on the right hand side) symbolizes the physical world that we live in, the land of birth and death.  The anaconda (wrapping around it) since it is often found swimming in the Amazon river, represents the watery underworld, where sacred springs emanate and the ancestors dwell.

These distinctively shaped stirrup vessels, with bases ranging from fruit to animals to sexual positions fill the storage rooms of the Museo Larco, over 50,000 of them!  As I looked through the collection, I felt that something was missing.  The explanation that they were “offering vessels” fell flat.  Surely there was something more about these vessels!  If they were only for liquid offerings, why the distinctive shape, and where was the scientific analysis of the liquid residue?

Once I started researching and comparing my experience with the shamanic ritual of ayahuasca, I found the answer in the shamanic beliefs passed down from the Incas.  In my book I describe my first-hand experience in ritual with a native shaman.  During much of the time, he produced a tuneless, breathy whistle to “call the spirits.”

In my past travels, I also knew of the archaeoacoustic properties of a neolithic burial chamber on the island of Malta, where ancient people used a “sound hole” to produce a mind altering standing sound wave throughout the structure.  People who study archaeoacoustics have discovered that many of these ancient pots were produced to create a whistle that generates altered states of consciousness.  So not only were these pots used to “gather the spirit” of the image they represented, they would help the shaman and the participants reach an altered mind state where they were receptive to the energies.

I gave my book the title, “The Call of the Spectacled Owl: An Artist’s Journey thru History, the Amazon, and Spirit (with Travel Tips) because the book covers a lot.  Although this trip encompassed only one country, Peru, I feel like we traveled through different worlds: the Upper Realm climbing the hills of the ancient desert temples dedicated to the Moon Goddess and the Sun God, the Middle Realm with Lima’s modern city and the scavenged city of Iquitos, and the watery Lower World of the Amazon, encompassing the lush jungle and the mystical shamanic realm.

I think I bring a unique perspective as an open-minded artist with a passion for learning all that I can about our connection to Spirit.  I anticipate that the book will be released at the end of June.  I am very excited to share this with you!

  • Patricia Robin Woodruff
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The Artist and Writer as Shaman

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Shamaness 11"x14" pastel on velour paper by Patricia Robin Woodruff

Shamaness 11″x14″ pastel on velour paper
by Patricia Robin Woodruff

“Artists are the shamans of our time.” – Will Bason

One definition of a shaman by Brendan McGuigan is, “… a person who interacts with both the normal world and the world of spirits, usually acting as a sort of intermediary between the two.”  The more I learn, the more I feel that this is my role in creating art, poetry and prose.  I often feel that when I am writing “in the zone”, the story flows through me.  It’s like I am watching it unfold before me and my job is simply to write it down. The same goes for my art.  Often when drawing a live model different animals, insects or plants may suggest themselves and I weave it into the composition.  When I get done, I am no longer surprised when the model tells me that they have always identified with that imagery. I had a very vivid and powerful dream some years ago, where I was perched on a high mountainside with an ancient Native American man.  He told me solemnly that my name was “Listens To The Wind.”  When I awoke, that made sense to me, since my ideas seem to come from an invisible force.  I can’t see it, but I can sense Spirit by its movement in my mind and its creation through my hands.  So here’s a good affirmation for the week: “I am open to Spirit and the infinite inspiration it provides.” – Patricia Robin Woodruff