Pippa Slattery is currently studying on the M.A. for Creative Writing at the University of Limerick. She has recently been shortlisted by New Irish Writing and has short stories published in The Blue Nib, The Galway Review and The Tiny Seed Journal. Her stories Rag Doll was shortlisted for the Kanturk International Arts Festival and The Chakana Cross for the American Women on Writing journal. She has short stories and poems in both anthologies Vessel of Voices and Opening Doors. Pippa lives overlooking Lough Derg, in Co Tipperary.
At present I am studying on the Creative Writing MA at the University of Limerick and writing my first novel.
The Chakana Cross
When the curtain fell, I had not been expecting it. Not at all. I had been walking up the steep uneven steps of the Inca ruin of Saqsaywaman, outside Cusco in Peru. The sun on my back. My daughter’s hand a solid grip to stop me falling. I was visiting her during her year in South America and we were spending three weeks in the Sacred Valley. I had spent years training as a shamanic practitioner but had never visited Peru and every day was proving an adventure; this day was to prove as mystical a day as any I had ever known.
As we reached the top of the steps, an age-worn holy man emerged from the shadows cast by the sun and invited us to sit with him. And that’s when it happened. That’s when the curtain fell.
A warm breeze embraced me as the holy man offered cocoa leaves to restore me from my climb. He held chakana crosses that he had carved from the stones there. The stepped, equal armed crosses sat in perfect symmetry around their centre hole; this axis mundi the symbolic window for shaman to look through and journey into other worlds. The highly polished near black stone glinted green from the speckled marble encapsulated within and sparkled in the sunlight. The tiny necklaces swayed gently from his wrist, from the strings that bound them. He held one, neatly nestled into the palm of his hand and in his Peruvian-Spanish tongue, he began to describe the meaning of this Inca Tree of Life. My daughter translated, as his brown weathered fingers traced the lines and points of each section of the cross. To the left of centre, three points depict all our worlds. Hanan Pacha, the celestial heavens of the upper world. Then Kay Pacha, Mother Earth; the world we all inhabit. And Ugha Pacha, the inner world, associated with new life as well as death. As his fingers moved, my spirit soared to a different realm, fleeing from my body like a young eagle taking flight. And as my spirit flew, the curtain fell around me.
I walked into the Pachas on my own. Walked into the different worlds I thought I knew. I found myself in sky, in sun, in moon. I walked naked through the stars, as though they were friends I’d once known. I saw below me all of Mother Earth and saw the connection of everything. Every living being and rock and tree, made from the same energy as you and me. Millions of atoms finding different forms but the essence of each is no different at all. I carried on walking to the inner world. A place so many people fear. But death is not the enemy, it is purely an altered space, that’s all. No further from us than anywhere more common place. A place of new life; young souls and old. A place of rest. A place to be reborn. It was a testimony to the different worlds I comprehended. But until today, firm understanding of such existences had evaded me in full. Today I was witness to the complete embodiment of heart and soul. To whole new realms that were solid and true. No longer just ideas. These realms are real, and they exist all around, for all of us to feel.
I walked alone and then I saw him. The old weathered man who was still talking. But I saw him in an uncommon way. I saw him as energy, as the light of night and day. Yet he still held form. And I knew him from another life. Of that I was sure. It was the way he looked at me, through unguarded eyes. Through them, I truly recognised his soul. The eyes are our windows and his were clear. And I knew I’d loved him many times before. He held my gaze and smiled at me. A meeting of souls. No more. No less. I didn’t want to leave that place. I hungered to stay there, for it was my home.
But the curtain could not stay fallen around me as it was. The condor and the puma and the snake called me back to Mother Earth. As the curtain lifted, I sat with tears stinging my sun burnt face. My daughter and the man were quite compassionate to my emotional state. I felt bereft at my sudden return to my surroundings, even though I felt supported there. The ancient stones towered like giants around us, as we looked down from our high plateau to the city below. Such stones I had never seen before until I travelled through Peru. Pre-Inca races had built massive citadels, working and cutting the stones to fit together without mortar or supports. Stones so huge that it remains an enigma as to how they were transported or raised. The Inca then added more buildings and terraces, turning them into places for agriculture, astrology and spiritual learning. A divine aura exudes from every surface, an energy field that brings the most ordinary of people to their knees in awe. When I had fully returned from that different realm and could feel the warm earth holding me again, I tried to explain to the holy man what I had seen. My daughter translated and he smiled at me. He touched my arm.
“It is not the man you see, but the energy of the place.”
His humble words surprised me, as I swore, he’d known me in the other realm. Maybe he did or maybe his words rang true and I just experienced a oneness with everything I saw. He blessed us then, in ancient tradition of the ruins, and my daughter and I went to sit in absorption of the day. When we looked up, the holy man was gone. He had simply melted back into the world of Saqsaywaman, leaving the two of us, holding hands under the sacred stones that held us there.