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Inkan Religion

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Edition 2015
The Tawantinsuyo
The Inka
Inkan Religion
General and City Planning
Materials and Lithic Tech
Inkan Architecture
Coca Leaves
Andean Camelids
Andean Condor
Inkan City of Qosqo
Present-day Festivities
The Cathedral
Saint Blaise Church
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Home >> Peru Cities >> Cusco Travel Information >> Inka Religion



As in many other Andean cultural elements, Inkan Religion is also a product of the evolution developed in this corner of the world through thousands of years living together with nature. It is in synthesis a general rule for religion all over the world that when man can not explain, demonstrate or dominate some phenomena or powers superior or uncontrollable by himself, he gives to them a supernatural explanation or origin. Thus, a snake that with just one bite could cause convulsions and death of a fellow was considered as sacred. A puma (cougar or mountain lion) that was the most powerful of all the Andean fauna, uncontrollable even by man was another god. Lightning and thunder that caused fires and destruction was another deity too. Like that, dozens and even hundreds of elements from which man was dependent had and still have a divine character. Religion is defined as the joint of moral beliefs and values that rule individual and social conduct; likewise, the practice of rituals that man establishes in order to keep in touch with all that is divine.

As a consequence of its social division, it seems that in the Inkan Society there was also a private cosmovision for the nobility and another for common people. A proof of that is that temples were very exclusive and used just by the Inka and priests. Therefore the temples were always protected and closed. Along with beliefs that Inkas tried to impose in their territory, symbolized by the Inti or Sun God, many pre-Inkan ones survived showing variations according to the regions with the same tradition.

In general terms, it was considered that all deities were subordinated and created by an invisible, eternal and all-mighty God that was named as Wiraqocha. Though it is argued that the real name of that god is Apu Kon Titi Wiraqocha or perhaps Illa Teqsi Wiraqocha. Some scholars believe that probably this same god was identified with other names like Pachakamaq and Tonapa. The Wiraqocha God was over the three worlds of the ancient Peruvian cosmovision. Therefore, his dwelling is not found in the Hanan Pacha or upper world identified with the sidereal space, neither on the earth's surface or Kay Pacha, nor in the Ukhu Pacha or lower world identified with the underground. Nevertheless, the Inti or Sun was the par-excellence deity among Quechuas. It is suggested that it was the most popular god. The Inka or King was considered the Sapan Intiq Churin or the "Only Son of the Sun". So it was necessary to confer importance to the cult of the Sun among the tribes he conquered. This is the reason why every city or village must infallibly have had temples dedicated to its cult. It is evident that the most important temple for this male deity, identified with gold, was the Qorikancha . That same temple is known by some others as Intikancha or Intiwasi. In the Quechua religion it was considered that the Moon or Killa was a female deity, identified with silver, and that the Sun's wife must unfailingly have had a temple near that of her male partner. The most important priest in the Inkan Society was the Willaq Uma (Foretelling head) that in normal conditions was a close relative of the Inka: his brother or uncle.

A Luis E. Valcarcel's study indicates that all the Gods, less Wiraqocha, dwelled in the "Hanan Pacha" and over there arrived the spirits of dead noble persons too. From that world came the Inkas as Sun's children. Two mythical beings established a regular communication between the different worlds of the pre-Hispanic cosmovision; from the "Ukhu Pacha" or underground world went over the earthly world or "Kay Pacha" and were projected through the "Hanan Pacha" or celestial world. These mythical beings were represented in the form of two snakes: Yakumama (mother water), that when arriving to the earth's surface was transformed into a "great river" and passing to the upper world into Illapa (thunder, lightning and thunderbolt; it was considered to be the god of waters). The other snake was Sach'amama (mother tree), it had two heads and walked vertically with slowness and the "appearance of an aged tree"; arriving to the heavenly world it was transformed into a K'uychi (Rainbow) that was a deity bonded with fertility and fecundity. Besides, the Earth or Mother Earth known as Pachamama, was a pan-Andean deity that was and still is the object of a cult all over the Andean Mountains, the same as in the coast the Qochamama or Mother Sea. Likewise, the stars occupied a preponderant place in pre-Hispanic religion. Many stars and constellations, such as the star Ch'aska or Venus, or the Pleiades constellation had divine characters. Today, the Andean peasant, follower of Inkan Religion and traditions still uses some constellations specially in order to foresee the future; according to the brightness of their stars it is possible to know for example if next year there will be rains, prosperity, happiness, disasters, etc.

Many chroniclers indicate that Waka or Guaca was a sanctuary or sacred elements used in order to worship different regional, local or family gods. The Wakas as shrines were spots where the spirits of the dead dwelled, and they were served by the Tarpuntay, priests (sorcerers or wizards for conquistadors) in charge of the religious ceremonies. Those priests also did the Much'ay or Mocha (in its Spanish form), that is, giving out resounding kisses in the finger tips and addressing them to the gods with extended arms. Because in a Waka the "mocha" was done it is also known as Mochadero. The Wakas in the Qosqo Valley were aligned in 41 Ceques or Seques, that is, imaginary lines or directions that departed from the Qorikancha (Sun Temple) following the directions of the Four Suyos. Polo de Ondegardo made an account of Ceques and Wakas existing by the middle of the XVI century in which a total of 350 shrines were counted. Nevertheless, many modern scholars suggest that those were 365 Wakas in this valley, every one dedicated to every of the year's days; because Inkas knowing how to fix solstices and equinoxes also knew the solar year of 365 days. Besides, "month" in Quechua is "killa" that means "moon" as well.

It was considered that the life of a person or a dynasty could emerge from a river, a mountain, a water fountain, a feline, a bird, etc.. Those were existence sources where a mythical person "appeared" suddenly and they were named Pakarina; in the popular belief they were many and kept as divine entities. In the Rivers, Crags (Kjakja), Hills (Orkjo), etc., dwelled spirits that were invoked with prayers and offerings. Through the years the Apachetas or Apachejta were formed over the mountains, on the highest passes of the roads. They were mounds or piles of stones, chewed coca leaves, old "ushut'as" (sandals), clothing pieces or some other elements that walking travelers left as grateful regards for local spirits. Today, the indigenous apacheta has been replaced by the Cross that is widely used; its christianization had perhaps its origin in the Lima Province Council in 1567 quoted by Alberto Regal, in which summary it is read, " It is ordered that every priest in his district must strive for disappearing and destroying completely those adoratories that Indians call Apachitas, and if it seems something decent to him, to place crosses instead of them." Something like Apachetas were the Thokankas (Thokay: to spit) that were big stones or steep boulders located also over the hills' edges and in which base walking travelers relaxed and spat their "akul-iku" (ball of chewed coca leaves) or some masticated corn.

The embalming art reached a great development in pre-Hispanic Peru. In Inkan times every dead person was mummified, no matter what his social status was. The only difference was that mummies of common people were kept along with their daily life goods and even food in cemeteries located almost always in spots of difficult access; while that mummies of noble people were kept in Wakas (Temples). The Mallki (Mummies) were object of cult and served by their ayllu (organized community or social group formed by about 100 families) or lineage as if they were living persons. Even more, in some important festivities there was a great procession of the mummies of the Inkan State Chiefs and some noblemen around the Qosqo's Main Square. Another important element in the Inkan Religion were the Wayke ("brother" in Quechua) which were idols or representations of noble persons, sculptured in precious metals generally in natural size. They were revered because they were believed to be trustees of the person's spirit, as they kept ashes of intestines of that person in a small box placed by the chest of the idol. It is necessary to underline that in the Inkan Society precious metals did not have an economic value but their value was almost exclusively ceremonial, and for example, conch shells or Mullu (Spondylus sp.) were even more valuable than gold or silver, because they represented the Qocha Mama or Mother Sea.

There are references that in the Inkan Society people practiced prayers, fasts, sexual abstinence in festivities, and there was a concept of sin. In family homes people had and still today have the Qonopa or Illa known as Wasiqamayoq or Ullti too, they are family idols or amulets in charge of protecting the house and bringing good luck and prosperity. They are sculpted in stone with different shapes and colours, and almost always with shapes of South-American cameloids having a hole on the back known as "qocha" (lagoon) where people pour wine, chicha or alcohol during the ceremony called "haywarisqa" (ceremony of offerings) and where they also deposit the "k'intu", that is, three coca leaves stuck with llama "untu" (tallow).

Offerings could consist of different elements such as food, chicha or Aqha (alcoholic fermented beverage made of maize), llamas, guinea pigs, etc. Liquid offerings were poured in fountains and channels named Phaqcha, thus chicha or animal blood was irrigated as a sacrifice. Occasionally food and some other offerings were given as ashes so that like this they could get more directly to the gods. Animal sacrifices were executed in order to foretell the future by means of the study of their viscera, heart, lungs and other organs. There is a strong controversy about the practice of human sacrifices in the Inkan Society. Some Spanish chroniclers, normally Catholic priests, wrote that in some special circumstances sacrifices of children were practiced (many scholars believe that this position springs up as an intent willing to justify the conquest and genocide since imposition of Christianity), like as the case of the priest Vasco de Contreras y Valverde, whom using different documents in 1649 asserted that when Wayna Qhapaq died "... his corpse was brought to this city, where in his funeral four thousand persons were killed...". On the other hand, Garcilaso Inca de la Vega states categorically that Inkas had already left that practice of some pre-Inkan Societies, he wrote, "... they did not have death sacrifices with human flesh or blood, but rather abominated and prohibited them as they did cannibalism, if some historian have said otherwise, this was because their informants deceived them and did not distinguish between the periods and places when and where such sacrifices of men, women, and children were made...". In short; today it is known that Quechuas in certain provinces practiced some human sacrifices; Huaman Poma between 1567 and 1615 wrote that " Capacocha" was the name of children sacrifices performed twice a year, while that Cieza de Leon wrote that that was the name for all gifts and offerings for their idols; Pedro Sarmiento de Gamboa wrote that "Capaccocha" was "the immolation of two male and two female infants before the idol of Huanacauri...". It is supposed that such human sacrifices were performed every year in the most important temples only, no human blood was shed in less venerated ones. Besides, Johan Reinhard (1992) gives information about remains of human sacrifices found by the summit of some high mountains. Father Cobo wrote by 1639 that when sacrificing boys, " They were killed by strangulation with a cord, or by a blow with a club and then they were buried, and sometimes they got them drunk before having them killed." The above mentioned Spanish soldier Pedro Cieza de Leon, called the "Prince of Chroniclers" by Von Hagen, wrote by 1553 " It is told by many -perhaps by one of those writers who rushes up his pen- that there were feast days when they killed a thousand or two thousand children, and even more Indians. These and other things are the testimony we Spaniards raise against these Indians, endeavoring by these things we tell of them to hide our own shortcomings and justify the ill treatment they have suffered at our hands. I am not saying that they did not make sacrifices, and that they did not kill men and children at such sacrifices; but it was not as is told, not by long shot. They did sacrifice animals and llamas of their flocks, but many fewer human beings than I had thought, many less, as I shall relate..."

When the Spanish conquest came, multiple events and actions ocurred tending to radically and abruptly change the religion of a whole continent, germinated and strengthened in millennia of existence. One of the superlative aims of the Spanish conquerors was to try to extirpate totally the "pagan" or "idolatrous" Tawantinsuyo's religion. When the "Indian Reductions" were established in 1572 by Viceroy Toledo, (for some people Peru's Solon, great organizer; but tyrannous and perverse for many others) the Spaniards tried to gather together all the Quechuas in small villages for four important reasons: in order to control them efficaciously; in order to gather more easily the tributes that Inkas' descendants had to pay to the Spanish crown; in order to exploit them indiscriminately without any payment or wage for their work; and in order to change the Tawantinsuyo's religion because like that it was easier to push the Quechuas into the churches. The conquerors began with the sadly famous " Idolatries Extirpation" by which everything that had any relationship with Inkan Religion must have been destroyed. Thus, the most important temples were burned and demolished frequently even to their foundations. A Peruvian version of the "sorcerers hunt" started, in which the Andean "Willaq Uma" and "Tarpuntays" were considered not as priests any more but as sorcerers or wizards, so they were potential or effective victims of the "Holy Inquisition". In short, every follower or practitioner of religion different to Catholicism was repressed, destroyed or eliminated. Nevertheless, in the colonizers' thinking there were different positions about the Andean Man and his religion. There is a famous controversy and dispute that arose between the Spanish missionary and historian Bartolome de las Casas (1474-1568) and the also Spanish writer Juan Gines de Sepulveda (1490-1573). De las Casas suggested the imperative necessity of evangelizing the New World people in concordance with Christian precepts. On the other hand, Gines de Sepulveda argued that as a matter of fact, the Andean "Indian" had to be evangelized but before that he had to be humanized. All that demonstrates that for an important segment of the Spanish colonizers the Andean Man, creator of one the brightest civilizations in the world, was one more animal species that had to be humanized.

Although Catholicism arrived to the Andes almost 5 centuries ago, it is obvious that it did not have enough power or was able to banish completely the ancestral religion of Peru. Through the centuries there was and still exists a strong cultural and religious resistance; that is the reason why many gods, temples and ceremonies of the pre-Hispanic world have total force. Traditionally, theoretically or officially it is argued that religion in Peru is Catholicism, but in practice it is demonstrated that over here two blended religions are practiced, with a heroic continuity of the native Andean Religion and Culture. As Carmen Bernand says, " The Inkas are not fossilized people. Their image is still vivid in the minds of contemporary peasants who are excluded from all political power. Is this Inca image true to history, or does it serve a merely allegorical purpose? No matter. It lives in the hearts of those whom the modern world seems to have forgotten or rejected..."

The present day representatives of Andean Religion are the Paqo who have different hierarchies of priesthood and are represented by the Kuraq Tayta, Altomisayoq and Panpamisayoq. They perform different ceremonies to venerate the Apus (major spirits or deities), the Aukis (minor deities), the Pachamama (Mother Earth), etc. The Andean priests prepare the Despachos (dispatches) and Pagos (payments), that is, offerings for their deities, and they also offer them coca leaves selected among the best and formed as K'intu. The basic k'intu is made of three leaves; the largest and longest represents the Apus (male deities), the medium and rounded the Pachamama (female deity), and the smallest and longer represents humanity. Those leaves are placed one over the other facing to just one side and kept between the forefinger and thumb of the right hand while that the left one protects them. When a more solemn act is pursued then k'intus of 6 or 9 leaves are prepared. In the Qosqo region there are some divinities that stand out in importance: that is the case of Apu Ausangate (spirit of that snowcapped mountain) that is owner or ruler of cattle in general. The Apu Akhanaku in Paucartambo that rules over all the Andean tubers. The Apu Sawasiray between Calca and Paucartambo that is considered ruler of maize. The Apu Salkantay owner of jungle products. The Apu Willkamayu (Urubamba or Vilcanota river) that represents the male virility materialized in water that fecundates the Pachamama, because it drags from the glaciers the fertilizing semen that gives to the land special properties.

In these last decades the ancestral religion of the Andes is suffering considerable changes as consequence of commercialization induced by tourism. Nowadays it is possible to observe the appearance of numerous "altomisayoq", "panpamisayoq", "paqos" and "healers" that rinse their mouths with words like "mysticism", "esotericism", etc. Their main aim is to get money and goods from tourists when offering different ceremonies and courses of "initiation" or preparation in order to practice "Andean Priesthood", for almost astronomical amounts of money. They emulate to the true priests with solid vocation, conviction and belief, and obviously scoffing at the ancestral Andean Religion.



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