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Ceremonial Alchemy

We arrived quite early that October morning; the second car in the Anacortes ferry line heading to Orcas Island off the coast of Washington State. Such was our excitement to experience Indralaya, a theosophical nature sanctuary on the island, where we planned to build an apacheta of gratitude to Dora Kunz and to link it with the 15 apachetas we had built previously along the Cascade Mountain Range. I was eager to bring Erica to this primordial sacred land that has been pivotal in my life and I was eager to use my ceremonial skills to offer gratitude for all I had received from it.

Indralaya, a Sanskrit term meaning home of the spiritual forces in nature, was founded over 90 years ago by several theosophists that included Fritz and Dora Kunz. Erica and I had arranged to stay in the cabin they built over half a century ago and we planned to commemorate the 20th anniversary of Dora’s passing by creating an apacheta for her. Born in Dutch Java, Dora Van Gelder Kunz was an exceptional clairvoyant and healer who devoted her 95 years on earth to the service of humanity. In her late 80s her healing hands brought my teen-age son through a life-threatening illness.

After the hour ferry ride that recalibrated our city selves into the magic of the island’s graceful rhythms of nature, we settled into the Kunz Cabin at the water’s edge. The cabins at Indralaya are rustic; many are basic sleeping rooms that use communal bathhouses. There are no televisions or radios on this 78 acre sanctuary where rabbits, deer and other wildlife roam freely. I had taken refuge here when my marriage was dissolving. I also brought my son here for healing workshops with Dora. Returning to this haven always expands my heart.

In tune to the majesty of this idyllic setting we headed down the trail toward the beach, offering tobacco and crystals to the spectacular trees, mushrooms and moss along the way. At the beach we created our anchoring mandala with the kelp, shells and cedar fronds that had fallen or washed ashore. Activating the mandala was exhilarating. As we heartily belted out each direction to the water, Mamaqocha seized the strong vibrations, absorbed them into her depths and returned waves of joy at our feet on the shore. It was an intimate loving exchange of gratitude. I had held a vision of creating the apacheta tucked away at the beach or hidden in the forest, but we quickly realized there were no stones on this beach of ground shells and driftwood.

Upon returning to the cabin we opened our despacho kits onto the living room floor and entered sacred space to create. When my three despachos were complete I brewed two cups of tea. Glancing out the kitchen window I spotted a pile of stones that resembled an apacheta already built. A flash of recognition illuminated my mind and I tucked the observation away. After completing her despachos, Erica happened to the same window and saw the same pile of stones. She exclaimed that perhaps there was our apacheta – already built. Her vision confirmed my vision and we burst into euphoric laughter at how easily our plan was manifesting. Our intent was to celebrate Dora and this apacheta was right outside her cabin door. The beauty, simplicity and grace of the discovery was a delightful gift.

Collecting our coats and tools, we went outside and carefully removed the moss-covered top stones, saving them to be returned as camouflage. Removing the inner stones we finally reached the earth. We left the outer ring of stones undisturbed to keep the apacheta as natural-looking as possible. I buried the despacho I had created for Dora wrapped in her memorial service program and we consecrated the ground with cornmeal, tobacco and a k’intu. Carnation petals went on next to be hidden within the apacheta so as not to attract attention. With focused intent we silently rebuilt the stones incorporating the offerings we had brought and lavishing them all with Florida water and tobacco as we worked. Finally we put the moss-covered stones on top and incorporated a capstone. We toned the directions and anointed the apacheta with Cascade Mountain Range water we had gathered on our pilgrimage. We then offered the poems we’ve read to every apacheta we’ve created, in this way firmly linking them together. The rock pile had been transformed into an activated apacheta that glowed before our eyes yet we knew it would go unnoticed by most everyone. The elegance of our endeavor was profound.

The following day our personal despachos were released in ceremony to Mamaqocha. We walked the sacred land communing with the magnificient madrone and cedar trees, the prolific salal and all the varieties of mosses, giving them offerings we brought to honor them. In turn, we were gifted several khuyas.

All too soon we were again on the ferry preparing for the transition back into the world of humans. As we pulled away from the dock a bald eagle gracefully flew across the boat right before my eyes. My heart felt a flash of recognition and I acknowledged the eagle’s confirmation that our adventure was well-received by the unseen world. Offering ceremony and gifting tobacco created a resonance that was so much stronger than all the previous visits I had made to the island. I was leaving Indralaya with a more profound sense of balance and harmony with the spiritual forces in nature. Such is the power of sacred reciprocity.

Photos by Joan McDougall and Erica Alessio.

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