Sacred Coca Leaves: An interview with J.E. Williams, OMD

Photo of sacred coca leaves by J.E. Willianms, OMD from his article “Revisiting the Purity of Ancient Spirituality”.

(This interview with James Williams was published in my newsletter before 2012. It is still valid today as we navigate the fifth world.)

Dr. Williams has over twenty-five years of experience in integrative medicine specializing in rejuvenation and longevity medicine and is an internationally known expert in immunity. He is the author of numerous scientific papers and articles on sustainable medicine, ethnobotany, and biodiversity, and has written five books: Viral Immunity, Prolonging Health, Beating the Flu, and The Andean Codex (on Peruvian Shamanism), and Winter Rain, a book of poetry. Since 1967, he has lived and worked with indigenous tribes to protect and preserve culture, environment, and intellectual rights. His current work with the Q’ero in the Peruvian Andes includes building projects, education, and community health. He has been initiated into the traditional shamanic lineage of the Q’ero and is an adopted family member. He is one of the founders of Ayniglobal.

As a researcher, doctor, and spiritual guide, you have devoted a lot of your life to the study of plants.  Have you always felt a connection to the plant world?

Yes. I was raised on an old fashioned working farm and was very close to nature since early childhood. The forest was my home and even now, I feel most at home in the deep forest. The trees and plants were my friends, and animals my brothers and sisters.

In your book, “The Andean Codex”, you describe your apprenticeship with an Andean paqo or shaman named Don Sebastian Palqar Flores. He teaches you about the sacred coca plant. Why is coca associated with spirit and ceremony?

Mama coca, as we call the spirit of the coca plant, is considered the “bridge” between the human world and the spiritual world. It is the leveling ground, the starting place for communication where everyone has an equal voice. It is also the way the high mountain Quechua natives adapt to the extremes of living at altitudes above 12,000 feet.

Is coca considered to be a plant teacher like ayahuasca or San Pedro cactus?

Coca is not a hallucinogen. It heightens awareness and sharpens consciousness. In that way, it is unlike Ayahuasca or Huachuma (San Pedro), which are used in special ceremonies because of the intensity of the experience. You might say that coca is the mother of them all that confers the wisdom needed to guide our actions and thoughts.

What does a k’intu symbolize?

The K’intu is composed of three perfect coca leaves. It symbolizes the three worlds of the Andean cosmosvision and the three dimension of time-space-energy. A k’intu is always used as a blessing and offering to Pachamama, the Apus, to the Awkikuna (nature spirits), and to fellow humans during ritual coca leaf chewing.

I once saw a photo of a paqo blowing into a k’intu. Why is this done?

We blow our breath into the k’intu offering our soul, our life’s breath, fully and completely during ceremonies.

When you use sacred coca leaves in ritual, can you sense or hear Mama Coca?

Yes. Mamacoca opens intuition and reason for wise decisions along the shamanic journey or on the high mountain trails. The connection is felt as a unity between heart and mind, emotion and thought. Nature responds synchronistically by sending an animal messenger or uniquely shaped clouds or rainbows.

How does exchanging and chewing coca leaves help to weave the community together?

Every important act, and all is important to the Q’ero, is begun and ended with the ritual group sharing of coca leaves. When we visit a paqo, coca leaves are brought as a gift. When we make a ceremonial offering, called a despacho, we include coca leaves. When disagreements arise, as in all human affairs, when coca leaves are present, no one raises his or her voice over another.

Andean people used to exchange coca leaves to seal a bargain.  Have you ever seen anyone do this?

Coca leaves are used in this way and in all aspects of daily life in the Andes.

Don Sebastian is well-known for his coca leaf divination. What happens during one of these readings?

He consults Mamacoca by offering prayers for the individual in question, then letting the leaves fall like petals onto a ceremonial cloth called an uncuno. Unusually shaped leaves are selected from the bunch of coca leaves and are ascribed meaning according to their shape, size, and uniqueness. Sebastian then gives an assessment of what he sees, feels, and intuits all based upon his experience and what his guardian Apus inform him.

When is a coca leaf divination performed?

Divination can be performed at any time and for a number of occasions including during illness.

Are divinations ever performed to guide groups of people or all of humanity?

Yes, they are used to guide the community or during special ceremonies, for example when we go in the high mountains for shamanic initiations. They have not been used to guide humanity, but we are preparing for a large ceremony to take place in Peru specifically for this purpose.

What is the most profound thing you have learned from your contact with the spirit of the coca plant?

The most profound thing is the most simple. We are to learn a new way of living on the Earth. During these planetary transition times, we are to hold tight to Pachamama’s teaching of Ayni, the way of mutual reciprocity and spirituality guided by reason.

Thank you for sharing your knowledge with the readers of this newsletter.   How can we learn more about your work and teachings?

Come on one of our journeys to Peru. See the website: www.andeancodex.com

 

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