Cowed by climate change 

Image of map of Peru
In March 2017, Reuters reported ‘Abnormal El Nino in Peru unleashes deadly downpours; more flooding seen’ https://www.reuters.com/article/us-peru-floods-idUSKBN16O2V5

In the article it also says,”While precipitation in Peru has not exceeded the powerful El Nino of 1998, more rain is falling in shorter periods of time – rapidly filling streets and rivers,”said Jorge Chavez, a general tasked with coordinating the government’s response. Reuters also reported, ‘Some scientists have said climate change will make El Ninos more frequent and intense.’

People often live on flood plains which have been dry for a decade or more. The poor people usually have no choice, as they are rarely offered safer lands. They are the first to be swept away when catastrophic rains fall, and it is almost a form of genocide as they find themselves in danger’s way when no proper planning to protect such populations has taken place.

Human settlements along Peru’s north coast are susceptible to climactic disruptions caused by El Niño weather cycles. Scientists have found the chemical signatures of warmer sea surface temperatures and increased rainfall caused by El Niño in coral specimens that are around 13,000 years old.

Researchers, led by University of Colorado-Boulder professor of aerospace engineering sciences Steve Nerem, used satellite data dating to 1993 to observe the levels of the world’s oceans.

Nerem and his team took into account natural changes in sea level thanks to cycles such as El Niño/La Niña and even events such as the 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo, (https://www.thoughtco.com/mount-pinatubo-eruption-1434951) which altered sea levels worldwide for several years.

The result is a “climate-change-driven” acceleration: the amount the sea levels are rising because of the warming caused by manmade global warming. For more on the reasons for rapid melting of glaciers globally seè https://www.conserve-energy-future.com/causes-effects-melting-glaciers-humans-environment.php

In recent decades, accelerating glacial melt is adding to the issue of unleashed water. In the Andes this surplus water ‘has enabled a gold rush downstream, contributing to the irrigation and cultivation of more than 100,000 acres of land since the 1980s’. (https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/26/world/americas/peru-climate-change.html)

In some areas the rapid ice melt has created a bonanza for farmers, but this will not last much longer. The parched Peruvian coast is already suffering from shortages of fresh water since the rhythm of natural glacial ice melt providing water to irrigate the land in a more predictable fashion has become a thing of the past.  Glaciers have turned into blackened rocks as the ice recedes. The poverty in Peru makes people desperate to access fresh water, plus the population of these Catholic people is still increasing. Many places in the world are increasingly seeing their fresh water supply drying up – some corporates like Nestle see this as a business opportunity and are much reviled for that belief (see https://www.zmescience.com/science/nestle-company-pollution-children/)

Mining in Peru is a major activity with international companies working with the Peruvian government and achieving higher output than Mexico for lead, zinc, phosphate, gold, silver,copper – but no responsible plan seems forthcoming to provide a reliable fresh water supply for the local populations – see http://denjustpeace.org/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/Peru-Conga-REM-Rept-English-March-84.pdf

Back in 1945, the impact of ice melt was illustrated vividly in a tragic happening. The story is told by Hugh Thomson who tells us of his travels searching for Ancient Peru, in his vividly expressed book, A Sacred Landscape, 2006.

A tragedy hit a tiny place, difficult to reach by road at that time, a place sited at the confluence of two rivers, high up at 10,000 ft. The place is called Chavín. It lies between the coast and the Amazon, and the Andes in both up and down directions. The ‘white mountains’ of Cordillera Blanca displayed huge amounts of snow and glaciation back in 1945, and for millennia before that.

Pilgrims and travellers have learned that Chavín de Huantar is the wellspring of Andean culture, which lay unnoticed until Julio C. Tello arrived here in 1919. It is now known that the place not only pre-dates the Incas, but also the Machu Picchu, built between 1200 and 200 BC. But in 1919 this was not known; Tello put it on the map. He excavated and located massive jaguar heads on the side of the main temple, the so-called Castillo. With the help of a lively five year old local boy, Marino Gonzalez, he was able to explore the interior of the temple, a maze of tunnels and passageways, full of imposing sculptures. The little boy went happily down ventilation shafts and entrances to ascertain how to clear them. Tello worked repairing the site over 25 years with the help of his assistant, Marino, who learned from the great man. When he grew up he took over the dedicated work Tello had begun, and continued until he died aged 83 years.

Peru was now of greater interest to other archaeologists and Tello hoped tourists would visit Chavín and that would inspire new roads to be built leading there and improve the economy for those peasants living in the town. 

By 1945, Tello was 65 and living now in Lima. He suggested the prefect of the area, who lived in Huarez, visit with a view to opening Chavin to tourism and he accepted. He took a party of people, including his 18 year old daughter, who was keen to become an archaeologist one day. Marino was supposed to meet the party, but he slept in and missed the bus taking them.

They arrived on 17 January, 1945. The party descended into the darkened labrynthine galleries that honeycomb the temple. Once inside, they heard a distant roar. After making their way through the narrow passageways, they surfaced back to the temple top.

Unknown to them, as they experienced the wonders of the temple, a block of ice had fallen from a glacier into a lake high above them, blocking it temporarily. Gradually as the water rose it flowed over the block of ice and that was when the roar of unleashed water was heard. The floodwaters triggered a landslide, and mud and rocks were carried with the floodwaters and submerged the visiting party and much of the south west of the town was destroyed. It was a horrible death for those caught up in it, some dying slowly in the mud where no one could reach them.

But Marino worked with others to restore the temple and new areas were also unearthed to add to the fascination of the place. To see a gallery of the Chavín sculptures and discoveries over recent years, see https://web.stanford.edu/~johnrick/chavin_wrap/chavin/galleries4.html

Image of ruins of the Castle or Castillo


Image of reconstruction of the Temple and its environs

The Castillo presented as an impregnable castle with seemingly no entrance. Hugh Thomson used the now known entrance at the ‘blind side’ along a narrow strip between the ancient ruins and the river to describe the ruin he visited in the early 2000s.

Image of a granite sculpture of a fearsome entity within the bowels of the temple.

Andean existence has been dogged by extremes of weather, and water is both welcome for irrigating the parched deserts areas but also terrifying when flooding waters caused by torrential rain or, as described above, disasters occur due to melting glaciers, bringing landslides and death to all in their path. 

The Ancient Andeans allowed those amongst them with confidence to tackle the frightening spirits who wielded such forces causing death and devastation.

These were their priests, who practised shamanism. The spiritual forces were part animal, metamorphing into human and other creatures, forming their fearful bodies. 

Fresh water plays such a vital role in our struggle to survive that we must work to keep it safe and available for all of us. We can understand how the people of Chavín expected their priests to negotiate just enough, but not catastrophic amounts, of fresh water.

In Peru, the ingenious irrigation by terracing the slopes was developed when early settlers worked out sympathetic natural systems which promoted a variety of crop production to satisfy the food supply of increasingly settled populations. Working with nature through observation of river courses and respecting flood plains was something not of academic interest but central to successful farming. 


The experience of El Niño could teach how something can happen on an annual basis and be controlled for, but that the behaviour of this event can become erratic, violent and overwhelming. Thus, through the times when it seemed the forces which caused this event were more predictable, it is understandable to believe this power has negotiated a relatively manageable annual event. The early Andean culture of high priests carrying out the negotiation is found in many cultures across the world. But too severe an event, the powers must be displeased and priests might lose credibility and then perhaps to save their skin, they might suggest human sacrifice. Healthy children and llamas were shockingly sacrificed and their remains have recently been located in Peru. This happened only 550 years go (see https://www.livescience.com/62434-massive-child-sacrifice-ancient-peru.html). This may have been done in a desperate bid to appease the mighty El Niño forces. Or, like Canute thinking he can command the elements,  it may be that present day opinion leaders choose to turn a blind eye and deny climate change is even happening.

The theatre of shamanism is powerful and is still practised today. It appears to involve the art of confronting the focus of fear rather than cowering before it. 

The Chavín priests would put themselves in trances by using coca leaves, mescaline from San Pedro cacti, certain mushrooms and a snuff made from powdered anadenanthera seeds. These latter named seeds contain DMT (dimethyltryptamine) which requires a preparation of mescaline prior to the hard hitting DMT. The resulting contortions, growls and grimaces exhibited by the user are typically understood by Amazon cultures as feline transformation. This is usually a solitary experience making the subject hunch in a ball, eyes closed, absorbed in an interior world.

Image of snuff receptacle


Image of cacti drink vessel


The temple’s labrynthine styling was tailored for this solitary experience where priests could be alone and battle the spirits one on one. But they could also use incense to create smoke atop the temple, and appear to those far below them whilst musical sounds from singers and shell trumpets accompanied their awesome appearance. This theatre was essential to persuade the villagers that they truly had battled on their behalf. The strong jaguar sculpted heads on the side of the temple invoke the power of frightening spirits which must be fought and subdued with negotiation.

Shamanism, to me, is one of the most logical and powerful original belief systems since it places evolving human existence in a relationship with Nature. Ghengis Khan was a practising shaman when he first led his armies. Ashkenazic Jews likely originated from the Ashina elite and other Khazar clans, who converted from Shamanism to Judaism.

To act without sensitivity, respect and humility to the greater forces which retain the balance of this Planet is to sign our own death warrant. We’ve been busy doing that for too long.

The Chavín priest warriors used hallucinogenic drugs to enter the world of Natural forces, taking these powers on as warriors doing battle, using cunning and mastery; it must have seemed the pinnacle of human relations with the daunting greatness holding the fate of tiny humans. In this way, once these solitary battles had been fought, the priests could believe they could take on fellow humans when they chose, using their inner powers gained from the battles of the interior world. This gave Ghengis Khan massive self belief to impress his people to the extent he remains a legend today due to his conquering successes creating the largest empire ever to exist in this world.

The priests took it upon themselves to battle the gods who could bring on tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, powerful storms and seemingly endless rains or continually drying winds. (Peru is in a highly seismic zone – see https://earthquaketrack.com/p/peru/recent)

Before these Andean cultures arose, the tribes had previously lived for millennia along the coast of the Pacific, and at some point moved toward the mountains and harsh landscapes.

Matthew Des Lauriers, an archaeologist at California State University in Northridge, has found simple stone tools, flakes like razors, used, no doubt, to cut open mollusc shells, on Cedros Island off Baja California. The coastal human tribes are thought to have been in existence at least 13,000 years ago. They had travelled the Pacific coast and were adept at surviving using simple methods.

Another coastal site has been discovered by Tom Dillehay, an archaeologist at Vanderbilt University in Nashville. He led a study digging down into a mound at Hueca Prieta. This is one of the oldest sites in the Americas, at around 15,000 years old. There he found artefacts of human community life, with similar flake stone tools as were found on Cedros Island.

Creatures encountered at these coastal sites feature in the beautifully carved sculptures, paintings and pot designs found more inland up in the mountainous areas of the Andes, such as Chavín. These populations in their thousands grew out of the coastal tribes. They carried with them the strong awareness of spirits in the form of animals of the sea and land continuing down through millennia in their art and oral tradition.

If you look at http://valhalladsp.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/picture-21.png we can see the importance of the shell trumpets, brought from the coast to the mountains, to play ceremoniously to add to the imposing theatre the priests engaged in on behalf of their people. This was not fake news. It was confronting their fears in the only way they knew how, just as we all try to will something to happen, such as to make a war stop, to save a child buried in rubble, to rescue young children trapped in a cave. Who can say that our joint will cannot achieve success?  

But we must also ‘be careful what we wish for’; if we take what we don’t need at the expense of the planet or fellow humans we are more likely to displease the forces out there and suffer the consequences.

About borderslynn

Retired, living in the Scottish Borders after living most of my life in cities in England. I can now indulge my interest in all aspects of living close to nature in a wild landscape. I live on what was once the Iapetus Ocean which took millions of years to travel from the Southern Hemisphere to here in the Northern Hemisphere. That set me thinking and questioning and seeking answers.
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