When it comes to ancient pyramids, the massive structures erected by the Egyptians on the Giza Plateau receive much of the focus. But on the other side of the world, at Caral in Peru, lies another pyramid complex of similar antiquity, constructed by the Norte Chico people ca. 2600-2000 BCE. The fact that people on both sides of the planet happened to build pyramids at the same time in history is, we are told, a coincidence…your mileage may vary!
One of the reasons for the lack of knowledge about Caral may be the difficulty travelers encounter in reaching this remote location – despite the intriguing ruins being listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Thankfully, Australian travel writer Michael Turtle undertook the journey, and has blogged about his visit to Caral, and included some fantastic photos that he took while there, such as the one at the top of this post. Click through on the link above to see a bunch more.
While in South America, Michael also visited the temple complex of Chavin de Huantar (also in Peru), which dates back to around 1000BCE. In his blog he mentions the fascinating link that the temple seems to have with shamanic plant use, including the mescaline-containing cactus San Pedro and the DMT-containing seeds of the ‘Yopo’ tree, Anadenanthera peregrina. For more on this topic, see Mike Jay’s article “Enter the Jaguar”, available in full as a sample article (PDF) on the website of our anthology series, Darklore, from which the excerpt below is taken:
Chavín’s architecture…can be understood as a visionary technology, designed to externalize and intensify these intoxications and to focus them into a particular inner journey. This in turn offers an explanation for why so many might have made such long and arduous pilgrimages to its ceremonies. It wasn’t necessary to visit Chavín simply to obtain San Pedro or Anadenanthera. Both grow wild in abundance in the Andes; there could hardly have been, as in some cultures ancient and modern, a priestly monopoly on their use. Those who came to Chavín weren’t coerced into doing so; it drew participants from a wide area over which it exercised no political or military control. The Chavín ceremony, rather, would have offered a ritual on a spectacular scale, where the effects of the plants could be experienced en masse within an architecture designed to enhance and direct them.
Within this environment, participants could congregate to enter a shared otherworld, and also submit themselves to a highly charged individual vision quest. The sunken plaza might, as the reliefs suggest,
have harnessed the heightened consciousness of San Pedro to a mass ritual of dancing and chanting; the participants might subsequently have ascended the temple steps individually to receive a further sacrament of powdered Anadenanthera seeds administered to them by the priests via bone snuffing tubes. As this was taking hold, they would be led into the chambers within the pyramid where they could experience their DMT-enhanced visions in solitary darkness. Here, the amplified rushing of water and the growls and roars of the unseen participants around them would enclose them in a supernatural world, one where ordinary consciousness could be abandoned, the body itself metamorphosed and the world seen from an enhanced, superhuman perspective – analogous, perhaps, to the uncanny night vision of the feline predator. The development of the subterranean chambers over centuries would reflect the logistical demands of ever greater numbers of participants willing to enter the jaguar portal and submit themselves to a life-changing ordeal that offered a glimpse of the eternal world beyond the human.
If we want an analogy for its function drawn from Western culture, it might be the Eleusinian Mysteries, originating as they did in subterranean chambers near Athens a little later than Chavín, around 700BC. Like Chavín, Eleusis persisted for nearly a thousand years, under different empires, in its case Greek and Roman; like Chavín – and like the Hajj at Mecca today – it was a pilgrimage site which drew its participants from a diverse network of cultures spanning virtually the known world
Visit Michael Turtle’s blog for more fascinating articles exploring the ancient sites of the world.