A despacho is a traditional Andean ceremony to bring alignment and balance to oneself and the world. Literally meaning “to gift,” a despacho is a symbolic offering of love or gratitude, and serves to remind us of the connections we share with all beings, spirits, plants, and places.
During a traditional despacho ceremony, participants build a despacho together by assembling various ingredients (each representing a symbolic element) and adding their own individual prayers of gratitude.
There are many variations of traditional despachos. While some elements are common to all despachos, the particular healing intention of the individual ceremony -- such as bringing harmony and balance to the earth, honoring new beginnings, or overcoming illness -- determines the unique design of the offering, its contents, and even the way it is assembled.
An Aya Despacho celebrates the life of someone who is in the process of, or who already has, departed, and helps to bring energetic closure. The intention of this despacho is to create a symbolic rainbow bridge between the worlds, to ease the process of crossing over.
Creating an Aya Despacho
An Aya Despacho is a rainbow of colors and layers, made up of seven different colors of paper.
The outer layer is a large piece of black paper (generally construction paper, or other similarly strong paper), that serves as the “wrapping” for the despacho. It should be about 28 x 20 inches in size.
Standard tissue paper works well for the inner layers of the despacho. You will need individual sheets of red, green, blue, purple, gold and white paper, each similar in size to, but slightly smaller than, the outer black paper.
As you build your despacho by following the steps and adding the ingredients below, these layers will come together to create a rainbow of color that honors each of the worlds through which your loved one has traveled, or will travel to in the future.
Open Sacred Space
Begin by opening Sacred Space. Call in the cardinal directions, the earth & the heavens.
Red wine and red carnation - An offering to the Earth, the blood of the Mother.
- Using the red carnation as a sprinkling tool, sprinkle a few drops of red wine outside on the earth.
White wine and white carnation - An offering to the mountain spirits, that they might join you in ceremony.
- Using the white carnation, sprinkle a few drops of white wine into the air.
Building the Despacho
This layer represents the dark world of the unconscious and unknown. Each element added to this layer acknowledges the mystery.
Fold the paper into thirds in one direction, and then into thirds in the other way. When you re-open the paper, you will have nine squares. You will build your despacho within the center square.
Sugar – For the sweetness and love
- Place the sugar in each corner of the center square of the black paper.
K’intu – To carry prayers and wishes
- A K’intu is made up of three dried leaves from native trees. Bay leaves are commonly used as well.
- Place the three leaves on top of each other, stems facing down.
- Add one red carnation petal (earth) and one white carnation petal (mountains) on top of the leaves.
- Blow your prayers and wishes into the K’intu. The breath is very important. It is an active prayer of engaging the sacred.
- Pass it to the person on your left, who will add their prayers and wishes to your K’intu.
- Once all the K’intus have been passed, place them in a circle in the center of the despacho.
For this layer, each participant will create:
Two K’intus – to honor unfinished business and unfulfilled dreams
On top of the K’intus, add:
- Seeds (anise, flax, flower, etc.) - to plant the un-manifested dreams
- Fat (Crisco) – to feed the growth of the un-manifested dreams
- Beans (one red, one black) – represent both masculine and feminine for balance
This layer represents Earth, or Pachamama. The items added to this layer are in gratitude to the Earth.
- Chocolate – recognizing the richness of our lives
- Candles (colorful birthday candles) – to light the way
- Red wine – in gratitude to the Earth (Using a red carnation, sprinkle wine on the despacho)
- Photo of the person – honoring our loved one
- Candy Sprinkles –a celebration of life
- Incense (lavender, sage, or other fragrant dried herb) – to awaken the senses.
- Herbs (oregano, thyme, rosemary, etc.) – to garnish the journey
- Seeds – for new beginnings
This layer represents this moment. Everything we add to this layer is in gratitude for the abundance in our world.
- Raisins – for the wisdom of our ancestors that lives on in us today
- Alphabet noodles – to enable us to step beyond language
- Animal cookies – to honor the animals
- Peanuts – in gratitude for the trees
- Quinoa – in gratitude to the plants
- Seaweed – for the bounty of the oceans
- Money (real money is not recommended) – for the trades we make
- Tools – that which helps us to create
- Seeds - seeds of the Earth
- Corn – for fertility
- Cinnamon (1 inch sticks recommended) – the spices of life
- Fat – the fuel to deliver our prayers
This layer represents the sky, clouds, and the sacred mountains. Everything we add to this layer is in gratitude to these elements.
- Sugar – for the sweetness in life
- Cotton balls - in gratitude for clouds and the rain they bring
- White rice – for the raindrops
- Salt – in gratitude for the waters
- White candles – to shine forth with light
- White sugar beads – air spirits that guide you
- Angels (choose something that represents angels) - angels to protect you
- White flowers – for the wisdom of the mountains
- White wine – in gratitude to the mountains
- White feather – for your flight
This layer represents the many colors of the chakras and the rainbow bridge between the worlds. Everything we add to this layer is in gratitude to the rainbow.
- Shell – holds the intent for this despacho
- Human figure – connects the departed with her/his sacred cosmic twin. (Place a male or a female inside the shell.)
- Multi-colored yarn - represents the rainbow bridge (Place the yarn around this layer of the despacho in a rainbow-like arch.)
- Colorful flowers – represents the chakras
- White ribbon or string – the circle of life. (Use the ribbon to make a circle around the elements of this layer.)
- Confetti – for joy
- Incense (sage recommended) – to call in the guides
This layer represents vision and alignment with destiny. Everything we add to this layer is in gratitude to the stars.
- Two K’intus – to surrender to the unknown
- Copal – incense to carry our dreams
- Gold stars – infinite wisdom of the stars
- Silver leaf – to celebrate the mystery of the moon
- Gold and silver flutes – for the music in our lives
- Sea Star – as above, so below (in the spirit of earth stewardship, consider using a representative of a sea star, rather than the natural item)
- Seed Pod (cardamom seed) – for our becoming
This is the layer of oneness and nothingness. It covers all the other layers.
There is nothing added to this layer.
Completing the Despacho
- Participants, if they choose, may honor the despacho by placing their hands above it to feel its energy.
- Once the rainbow layers have been assembled and all items added, fold the outer black paper over the contents of the despacho so that the paper overlaps itself.
- Start by folding the bottom third up.
- Then fold the top down.
- Next fold the right side over the middle.
- Finish by folding the left side. This is the top of the despacho. Traditionally a despacho stays up right. The despacho is now a smaller square.
- Tie the despacho with gold and silver cords. Wrap the cords carefully around the despacho without flipping it over, so all the prayers are undisturbed.
- Tuck an additional K’intu into the top for any forgotten prayers.
The Aya Despacho should be burned in a Fire Ceremony shortly after completion. Participants should not watch the despacho burn. Once it is placed into the fire, one should look away from the flames until the burning of the offering is complete. This symbolizes non-attachment to the outcome and a release of all claims to that which was given away.
Close Sacred Space
Sacred space should be closed by calling in the directions either after the despacho has been completed, or after the fire. If the fire ceremony is held separately, it is important to complete the Aya Despacho ceremony by closing the directions.
Adapted from “Aya Despacho,” Healing the Light Body School of The Four Winds Society.
Despacho photos by Candace Brad.