What is a Mesa, and how is it used in post-tribal shamanism?

In Spanish, mesa simply means “table”. Growing up in Arizona, I was used to it referring to the big, flat-topped mountains that were often sacred places to the native Navaho and other nations that lived near us. The Quero of Peru use the word to refer to the traveling altar/medicine bundle that is carried by some of their native shamans.

As I have worked with Grandfather, over the past three decades, I have come to use a prayer rug as a travel altar. This rug is placed at the center of the circle in all of my workshops, where it holds a center stone and a constellation of tokens, each one representing one of the individuals in the workshop. 


Kenn with Mesa at ConVocation in Detroit.

To really understand how the Mesa works, it helps to know a little about altars in general. To put it simply, an altar is an intentionally liminal space, a space set apart to act as a portal through which we can interact with the world of Spirit. Everything we place on an altar becomes more than the object itself. For instance, when we are creating an ancestor altar, we place tokens to represent the ancestors, and those objects magically “become” the ancestors. This is a way to welcome the ancestors into our physical world and our homes. 


When we place the mesa at the center of a community, be it a weekend workshop, a years long training, a group of healers or a family, the effect is to begin drawing them all into a deeper alignment and connection. As the One Center stone is placed in the middle of the mesa, it creates the axis about which this new whole will turn. As the individuals place their tokens upon the mesa, they become a part of this greater whole. The mesa becomes a the threshold between the worlds – between this world and the shamanic realms. 

As the individuals begin to deepen their connection, they may shift the location of their tokens. These shifts serve to draw up the growing awareness of this communion, in which the separate selves become the one self. Words don’t do this process justice, but the experience is transformative. 

When used in the setting of one’s home, the mesa can hold tokens of your family, ancestors or larger community. These tokens/elements can be added and withdrawn as needed. 

You may ask why we would bother with a mesa. Why carry this around and set it up? The answer is, that this mesa is a powerful way to connect and engage the invisible world. And engaging the invisible world is essential to the practice of shamanism, in any tradition. 


The best reason for experiencing the mesa is the experience itself. If you have ever attended one of my workshops, you know what I mean. 

Next up: Why would you want to train in shamanism if you have no interest in becoming a shaman? 

 © Kenn Day 2017