Our first sight of the majestic Apu Tahoma (Mt Rainier) overwhelmed me with tears of joy and deep connection. Seeing an old friend is always heart-warming but this time I felt closer to the mountain than when I had lived in the neighborhood. Our group of six had been creating despacho offerings to Tahoma for nine months in preparation for this journey across Washington State to honor our regional apu. In brilliant sunshine we arrived, and the mountain spirits gifted us warm days and clear star-studded nights of sparkling beauty.
We all saw this trip as the culmination of our efforts, until we encountered the visitor center. There we discovered a chart of the Pacific Rim Ring of Fire highlighting the volcanic mountains in the Cascade Range. This was a game-changer for Erica J and me. Instantly, we recognized that this trip was actually the introduction to a pilgrimage where we would create ceremony and apachetas at the fourteen Cascade volcanic mountains, from Mt Baker at the Canadian border to Lassen Peak near Redding California. Recognizing this as a sacred agreement with Pachamama, we eagerly accepted the assignment.
Once home and out of the heady mountain air we began manifesting our sacred compacto to both connect and strengthen the Cascade Range apus through apachetas. To begin relationship with these ancient beings we uncovered their native names. Once we had those, books were ordered and their photos were copied. We became familiar with lahars and lava tubes, calderas and fumaroles while researching the histories of these giants. Native legends that connected the ancestors to the mountains were sought out as well as prayers and poems that spoke to their spiritual essence. We also began gathering gifts of love for the apachetas we would bring forth. Heather created staffs we would gift to every apacheta and other friends held space for the pilgrimage through apu photos on their mesas. Erica and I divided the pilgrimage into four trips over two years beginning in June 2017. We would travel in the less crowded months of early June and October.
The following new moons found us creating despachos to honor the Cascade Range focusing on the first of our four trips, this one in June to honor the northern apus: Koma Kulshan (Mt Baker), Tacobia (Glacier Peak) and Tahoma (Mt Rainier). Photos, cone incense, snowflake sugar sprinkles and icy glitter were among the items added to cotton clouds symbolizing these glaciated mountains. We read poems into every despacho and connected with the spirit of the apus in our dreamtime. Sacred relationships were solidly forming with the mountain energies.
An integral key to building an apacheta, whether it’s on a distant mountain or in your backyard, is to establish relationship with the nature spirits of Pachamama, our sacred Mother. Communing with the beauty of Earth in person on in dreamtime brings us guidance as to where she wants her apachetas constructed. She told us how to proceed and we were listening.
Cresting Snoqualmie Pass on Interstate 90 on our first trip, we were gifted the most spectacular vista. An incredibly clear June morning showed us all three snow covered peaks of the apus we had made relationship with and were now traveling toward. The nature spirits were brilliantly reflecting the intense sunlight, dancing us a huge welcome. Seattle is rarely so clear and to see all three peaks at once is extraordinarily unusual. We enthusiastically returned the embrace with deep gratitude for this gift of confirmation. They were expecting us!
We had not established an agenda when we arrived at our first apu, Komo Kulshan, trusting we would be shown the way. Indeed, we were guided to create a tobacco, cornmeal and shell mandala in a snowy area where the road was still weather-blocked. This natural mandala ritual was to be repeated at every apu when we arrived. Not only was it our introduction, it was also an initiation into the plant energies of these vast ecosystems.
Aware that the real strength, resilience and durability of a mountain is not at its summit but at its base, stretching outward for several miles, we went to a lower elevation of green forest and opened ourselves to guidance. We felt directed to follow a remote road to a small brook with rocks where we collected water to both anoint the apacheta we would build, and to combine with waters from the other apus we would visit. Then, standing silent with closed eyes and open hands, we attuned to this untamed nature energy as we calibrated our resonance to the surroundings. When we opened our eyes, one spot beckoned with glittering light and vibration. In this sacred state, we approached the earth and silently set to work consecrating the ground, burying a small despacho and gathering stones from the brook with a graceful rhythm. Time was suspended in this holy wilderness of elemental energies. It seemed as though the apacheta came into being in an effortless instant. When complete, we adorned it with flowers and the offerings we had brought. Then we gave voice to the poems we had gathered and offered our deepest gratitude.
This ritual of honoring the apu with a natural mandala, then allowing ourselves to be guided to the apacheta site was repeated again at Tacobia and Tahoma before Trip One was complete. In each ceremony we again experienced a time-suspending state of grace, yet each apacheta was unique, blending perfectly with its surroundings and the energies of the individual apu. Our extensive preparations had connected us long before we arrived and made the physical construction flow with the ease and grace of intimacy.
Our first trip concluded where the pilgrimage was conceived, Apu Tahoma, tallest apu of the Cascades. Erica and I would visit this sacred friend one more time for closure when the entire pilgrimage was complete. But for now, we had to leave the powerful solace of the mountains and their wild energies, not yet wanting to release their magnetic pull. Re-entering three-dimensional life, we traveled east over the wide open farmlands of central Washington and were gifted with three separate rainbows, one for each apacheta we had created. We knew Pachamama was pleased with our efforts.
Photos by Erica J and Joan McDougal
About the Author
Joan’s quest to experience the ineffable led her to live and work in an intentional community with the Theosophical Society outside of Chicago for five years. After relocating to Idaho, she was delighted to discover the opportunity to meditate and study Qi gong at the Genessee Valley Daoist Hermitage. Joan deeply values beauty, especially the gifts of Pachamama. She communes with gardens and wilderness areas whenever possible. In 2014 Joan was introduced to don Oscar’s teachings of reverence for the natural world, elegance in ceremony, and the concept of sacred reciprocity, all of which propelled her to embrace the Pachakuti Mesa Tradition. She still lives in Idaho with her cat Toulouse.