Chattering happily with one of my travel mates, I suddenly stopped talking and proclaimed with glazed eyes, “I’m feeling a bit woozy and light headed. I need to breathe and try to ground myself.” A couple minutes later our bus pulled into the parking lot of our destination.

We departed the bus and our guide, Vera, chose for us to traverse a short tunnel through a rock outcropping to enter into the belly of this particular sacred site. She told us that the center of the passageway would be completely dark, so we should carefully slide our hands along the walls to keep our bearing.

I was already altered, but as we walked towards the hole in the rock, the tears began. As I stepped into the tunnel, my body started shaking with uncontrollable sobs. Entering the pitch black section deliberately, I wasn’t in a hurry to get back to the light on the other side. In fact, I wanted to stay there and lay my entire body against the wall and collapse into Mother Earth. I did this for a brief moment, sensitive to the people following not far behind.

When I emerged from the tunnel, it was as if a time warp had occurred. I was completely out of my body and could barely manage shuffling my feet. Saksaywaman had a hold on me and I had no choice but to surrender to her spell.

Saksaywaman (we were encouraged to think “Sexy Woman” to remember it) is a sacred site outside of Cusco, Peru, where I had the privilege of visiting for the first time in October 2018. Later that day when I asked Vera what Saksaywaman meant in Quechua, she told me “the head of the puma.”

Of course it did.

When I travel to sacred sites, I am very conscious not to have an expectation, yet I am always aware that magic awaits. What was awaiting me in Peru was a personal animal guide who would dominate my experience.

Let me go back to the beginning…

During our trip, we had the opportunity to purchase individual healing sessions with one of the three shamans (paqos) that accompanied our tour group. I jumped on the opportunity on the first day and, after don Wilbur Salas worked on me, he shared his observations. He noted how I had difficulty trusting and how I feared sharing my heart – my authentic self – fully with people. Yet at the same time he saw how porous my energy field was and told me “it is too easy for people to get inside you.” He counseled me to invoke my protections every day and encouraged me to give love and stay open-hearted.

Intuitively, I asked him if I should call in the puma to help me with these heart teachings. “Yes!” he agreed, sharing a few more instructions and then telling me to “…focus on the tail and eyes.”

In this region of Peru, their cosmology includes is a strong emphasis on the three worlds (Hanaqpacha – upper world, Kaypacha – middle world, and Ukhupacha – lower or inner world). Animal totems accompany each world: The condor in the Hanqpacha, the puma in the Kaypacha and the snake in the Ukhupacha. My intuition to call upon the puma came from knowing this association.

That afternoon, our paqos brought their wares to sell and I was immediately drawn to a puma staff, but my brain was hesitant because the stone puma head was black (pumas are golden). Yet I trusted my heart and purchased the staff. The puma had begun working me.

The next day our group participated in Shamanic Breathwork and in my journey a black panther came to me! She has been protecting my apacheta and told me that there is much more she could do for me if I would allow her. I eagerly agreed and she proceeded to show me her medicine, give me specific instructions on how to use her, and told me very clearly, “I will teach you how to live more from your heart, but first you must feel safe. I am here to protect you. I will always be with you and never leave you. I will walk on your right side and when you sleep at night I will lie next to you and curl my tail in a spiral around your heart.”

Tail! Don Wilbur said to pay attention to the tail. How could he know?! Amazing. This beautiful black panther who showed herself to me was my “puma.” And now I know why the puma staff I purchased had a black head. But the synchronicities and magic don’t end there!

A couple days later was when our group visited Saksaywaman. I learned that Cusco was laid out to be the body of the puma, Saksaywaman was the head of the puma, and a particular configuration of zig-zag walls inside Saksaywaman were the teeth of the puma. That’s why I was both stunned and not surprised at all that the Quechua translation of this word was “head of the puma.” And, of course, my staff had the head of a puma.

After Saksaywaman, we had the opportunity to shop in Cusco for a few hours. Vera made sure to take us all to the Shaman Shop and it was there I was stopped dead in my tracks by the likeness of my black panther…on a drum hanging on the wall. Eyes…eyes! Don Wilbur talked about the eyes!

Her golden eyes pierced my heart and I asked the store owner (who also created the drum) if he would get it down for me. I stroked it, held it, thumped on it with the drum beater. I hugged it close to my chest and wandered around the store, still altered from the day’s events. It was expensive and, again, my head was hesitant to pay that much money for something this early in the trip. A friend suggested, “Just put it down and walk away and see how you feel.” My eyes immediate grew huge, a lump formed in my throat, and I squawked, “I can’t!”

There was my answer. This magnificent creature is now part of my morning ritual as I beat my black panther drum and call in my daily protections as don Wilbur advised. I’m still not completely clear why I had such an intense experience at Saksaywaman, but can only conclude it was part of my initiation into Puma medicine. As the saying goes, “The longest journey you will ever take is from your head to your heart.” By the grace of Peru and my black panther, I am one step closer. Haylli!

About the Author

Stephanie Red Feather, PhD.

Stephanie Red Feather, PhD.

Featured Contributor

Stephanie Red Feather is a soul wisdom excavator. Through experiential workshops, wisdom teachings, private facilitation, and initiatory processes, Stephanie helps you find your truth, trust your heart, and own your spiritual authority. She has been supporting seekers in their spiritual journeys and personal transformation for over 11 years.

Her specialties include shamanism, embodiment, divine feminine mysteries, life as an empath, Shamanic Breathwork™, Shakti life force, inner authority, masculine/feminine balance, shadow work, energy healing and Reiki, and Voice Dialogue.

Stephanie is a Magdalene High Priestess and facilitator of the Priestess Process™. She is a certified Shamanic Breathwork™ facilitator and ordained shamanic minister through Venus Rising Association for Transformation as well as a certified spiritual healer through the International Assembly of Spiritual Healers and Earth Stewards. Stephanie holds a Doctoral Degree in Shamanic Psycho-Spiritual Studies and has been a practitioner in the Pachakuti Mesa Tradition for over 11 years.

In addition, Stephanie is a writer and prolific creator of programs and materials including Earth Embodiment School™, the Shamanic Dance of Transformation, Soul Check-In, the Embodiment How-To Manual, and How to Make Decisions with Your Heart: A Guided Meditation. She is preparing to publish her first book on being an evolutionary empath.