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Victoria’s Stones

A local encounter I’ll never forget.

JoEllen Burkholder


All I wanted to do was to see what was on the tiny table in the middle of one bright yellow wall. There were so many interesting little things – stones, tiny statues, coins, a bell, a few corn cobs. . I wasn’t looking for a lesson on local lore or sacred geography, I only thought to pass some time before we all gathered for dinner. I didn’t want to intrude or ask nosy, ignorant questions of my little host family in Raqchi (Peru). But Victoria wouldn’t hear of it.
“Have you seen the Pachamama?” the young teenager asked, “Do you know Pachamama?”
“Yes,” I told her. I knew about the Earth Mother, the guardian and life giver of the Andes. I’d read about her in books, seen images of her both colonial and contemporary.
Without asking, Victoria sat down on the floor and invited me to sit with her. “Here, I’ll show you,” she said. One by one, she picked up many of the pieces from the family shrine and explained each one and why it was there. One large stone was Pachamama, another was Pachatata, the Earth Lord, Pachamama’s spouse. There was also Saramama, the corn mother, and Ekeko the god of abundance, portrayed not as a wealthy, indigenous dwarf, but as a gold-guarding dragon.
Eventually, Victoria turned to more local tales. Did I remember the bend in the fence as we walked down the hill from the ruins? The big rock there marks the place where trolls guard the entrance of underground caves rich with gold. Did I see the house across the road when we came into town? One day a doctor came to town to treat poor people in the village. He lived in that house and helped many people. One day he went walking in the mountains and vanished because he was an apu, a guardian spirit of the people. These were stories everyone in town knew, Victoria assured me.
Victoria had her own stories to share. She pulled out little collections of stones protected by pieces of cloth. “These are from the place where I found my lost sheep, unharmed, after they wandered away,” she said as she handed me one. “These are from the pass into the next valley, and something told me to pick them up,” she told me as she handed me another. “These are from another place, it’s hard to say where if you don’t know it, but you can uses them to pay the trolls by the corner of the fence if they stop you at night,” she said as she handed me another.
I looked at them carefully and tried to decide what their special qualities were. Some were smooth, some sparkled with mica, but to me

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