Incans

A Comprehensive Study of Incan Mythology

During the 1400s and early 1500s, the Inca civilization flourished in South America’s Andes highlands. The worship of the sun, thought to represent the Inca people’s ancient father, was central to Inca religion and mythology. As a result, sun worship was intimately related to ancestor worship, and many Incan tales revolved around their origins. In addition, the Incas crafted their mythology to promote their civilization and support the notion that they were a superior race destined to reign over others.

Origin of the Incas

The Incas, based in Cuzco, Peru, were one of the numerous tiny communities in the Andes highlands in the 1300s. The Incas gradually expanded and absorbed the neighbouring peoples, initially peacefully and subsequently by conquest. Pachacuti, a great leader, became their ruler in 1438. He and his descendants expanded the Inca Empire into a large empire that included southern Colombia, Chile, and parts of modern Bolivia and Argentina. Throughout their vast empire, the Incas constructed a network of roadways and temples, castles, and other public structures.

The Incas assimilated the myths and tales of the nations they conquered as their empire flourished. They frequently modified other people’s previous stories to give them a fresh, pro-Inca slant. Although they permitted their subjects to worship their gods, they intended everyone in the empire to follow the imperial religion and worship the Inca deities. As the Incas did not have a written language, they did not record their myths in writing. Instead, a group of professional storytellers and entertainers told the state’s official history, including reality and fiction.

Beliefs of the Incas

Scholarly study shows that Incan belief systems were intertwined with their universe vision. Their stories show the motions of constellations, planets, and planetary formations, all of which are linked to agricultural cycles.

It was especially significant for the Inca, who relied on cyclical agricultural seasons linked to annual cycles and a far larger temporal cycle (every 800 years at a time). This method of maintaining time assures the cultural transfer of critical information in the face of regime transition of societal disasters.

Following Francisco Pizarro’s conquest of Peru, colonial officials burnt the Inca documents. Gary Urton proposed that the Quipus might be a binary system capable of capturing phenological data. Until today, all that we know is dependent on what priests wrote—the iconography on Inca ceramics and architecture and the myths and stories among the Andean aboriginal peoples.

Legends of the Incas

Sun Festival
Credit: Goway Travel

Manco Cápac was the founder of Peru’s Incan Dynasty and Cusco’s Cusco Dynasty. The mythology and history surrounding him are quite conflicting, particularly those involving his reign in Cuzco and his origins. According to one account, he was Viracocha’s son. In another, the sun god Inti drew him up from the depths of Lake Titicaca. On the other hand, commoners were not permitted to utter the name Viracocha, which may explain why three founding tales were required rather than just one.

There were also numerous myths about Manco Cápac and his ascension to power. In one legend, Manco Cápac and brother Pacha Kamaq were the sun deity Inti’s offspring. Additionally, Manco Cápac was revered as the sun and fire god. In another tale, Manco Cápac was transported to Lake Titicaca with Mama Ocllo (and maybe other siblings), where they emerged and resided on the Isla Del Sol.

According to tradition, Manco Cápac and his siblings were brought to earth by the sun god. They came from the cave of Puma Orco carrying a golden stick known as the ‘tapac-yauri.’ They were told to build a Temple of the Sun where the staff had sunk into the soil to honour their father, the sun deity Inti. However, during the voyage, one of Manco’s brothers was misled into returning to Puma Urqu and was either locked within or turned to ice because his wild and ruthless behaviour enraged the tribes they sought to dominate.

Manco Cápac was Inca Viracocha’s son, according to the Inca Viracocha mythology. He and his brothers and sisters resided near Cusco at Paqariq Tampu, joining his people and the ten ayllu they met on their journeys to conquer the Cusco Valley tribes. The golden staff, which is said to have been presented to Manco Cápac by his father, also mentions it. According to some versions of the narrative, the youthful Manco betrayed his older brothers, murdered them, and became Cusco. Copacati is the lake Goddess whose devotion was concentrated on Tiahuanaco. Copacati is a Venom spitter, as opposed to Longwing acid.

Deities of the Incas

The Incas, like the Romans, allowed the nations they assimilated into their empire to practise their religions. The gods worshipped by the peoples of the Incan empire are listed below, with several of them having overlapping tasks and jurisdictions. Unless otherwise stated, it is fair to presume that these were worshipped by various ayllus or worshipped in certain past states.

Beliefs and Traditions

  • Mama Uqllu was Manqu Qhapaq’s sister and wife. She was said to have taught the Inca how to spin.
  • Mamaconas, who resided in temple sanctuaries, were akin to nuns. They devoted their life to Inti while also serving the Inca and priests. Young girls of aristocracy or outstanding beauty were taught as acllas for four years before becoming mamaconas or married Inca nobles. They are similar to the Roman Vestal Virgins, albeit Inca civilization did not esteem virginity as a virtue in the same manner that Western nations have throughout history.
  • According to one mythology, Unu Pachakuti was a massive flood sent by Viracocha to destroy the giants who built Tiwanaku.
  • A Wak’a was a holy item, such as a mummy or a mountain.

Significant Places of the Incas

Inca cosmology was divided into three spatiotemporal levels or Pachas.

  • Uku Pacha (“the lower world”) existed under the earth’s surface.
  • Kay Pacha represented the world in which we live.
  • Hanan Pacha (“upper world”) referred to the world above us, where the sun and moon resided.

Nature and landscape were also important aspects of Incan mythology. Many important natural elements of the Inca Empire were linked to key Inca mythology and tales. Lake Titicaca, for example, a significant body of water on the Altiplano, was included in Inca beliefs as the lake of beginnings from whence the world originated. Similarly, numerous famous Andean summits played important roles in Inca mythology. It is echoed in mythology around the Paxil mountain, where humankind was said to have been born from grain kernels strewn by the gods.

Terrestrial habitats were not the only ones that were significant in mythology. The stars were frequently interwoven into Inca folklore and beliefs. Many constellations, for example, were given names and integrated into legends. Examples are the star formations of the Great Llama and the Fox. While it may not be related to a specific physical element, the ambient sound was essential in Incan mythology. For example, in Viracocha’s creation story, the sound of the god’s voice is essential. Furthermore, because tales were passed down orally, the acoustics and sound of a site were crucial in Incan mythology. These examples highlight the importance of the environment in the creation and interpretation of Incan tales.

Significant Symbols of the Incas

Incan Symbols
Credit: iStock

According to some modern authors, Chakana (or Inca Cross, Chakana) is the three-stepped cross counterpart symbolic of what is known in various myths as the Tree of Life and World Tree. A shaman went in trance through a central axis to the lower plane or Underworld and the upper levels inhabited by the superior gods to investigate the reasons of misfortune on the Earth plane. Totemic representations of the three tiers are the snake, puma, and condor. However, scholarly research does not support the supposed significance of the chakana symbol.

Animals in Inca Mythology

Like other Native American societies, the Inca society was greatly affected by the local animal populations, which served as food, textile, transportation sources, and religious and cultural pillars. As a result, many Inca myths and legends involve or are completely about an animal or a group of animals. They are also about their connections with the gods, humans, and the natural environment.

Dogs

The Inca raised dogs for hunting and scavenging, but not for religious reasons. The Huanca people, on the other hand, had a far deeper religious reason for eating dog meat, since in Inca mythology, Paria Caca, their god, was represented as dining only on the dog after defeating another god, Huallallo Carhuincho, in a conflict. As a result, the Huanca is known as “the dog-eating Huanca” in some regions of South America. Other sections of the empire frowned upon this dog-eating behaviour.

There is also Alqollacta, or “Dog Town,” which has statues of dogs that represent the spirits of dogs that have died. People would frequently save up bones and leave them at the sculptures to get a higher position in the afterlife.

Dogs were once thought to be capable of travelling between life and death and seeing the souls of the dead. Furthermore, the Incan thought that dissatisfied deceased spirits might appear to people as black dogs. According to reports, the Aymara people of Bolivia believed that dogs were related to death and incest. They thought that persons who died had to traverse an ocean to the afterlife in the ear or snout of a black dog. Furthermore, other accounts claim that women who sleep alone at night can be pregnant by ghosts, resulting in a kid with dog feet.

Bears

Although South America only has one bear species (the spectacled bear, Tremarctus ornatus), the narrative of The Bear’s Wife and Children is well-known among the Incan. The Andeans thought bears symbolized men’s and women’s sexual practices, and girls were warned of “bear-rape.” The storey is about a bear disguising as a man. The bear kidnaps a girl and brings her to his cave, where he feeds and cares for her. Soon later, she gives birth to two half-bear, half-human offspring.

The three can leave the cave and return to human civilization with the assistance of the children. The bear cubs are brought to the town’s priest, who kills them multiple times but can only kill the younger bear-child. The older bear triumphs over the trials and is assigned to combat a doomed soul, whom he defeats and saves from damnation.

The soul bestows the bear with his land and wealth, and the bear-man, now fully matured, departs human society as a white dove. This narrative might be understood as a Native American’s distress storey against the Hispanic civilization. They find themselves more credible as this folklore gets more popular following the Spanish Conquest.

In addition to this narrative, Ukuku, a half-bear, half-human entity, is said to be the only being capable of bringing ice from the tops of mountains because they had men’s brains but the power of bears. Ukuku clowns appear during Cuzco’s Corpus Christi celebrations, where they make a pilgrimage to a local glacier and retires the night on the ice as a symbol of masculinity.

Foxes

The fox had a bad reputation among the Inca and the inhabitants of the Andes and was seen as a bad omen. Sacrifices to the gods comprised a range of products and animals, including people, but no foxes were ever observed. There are references in Inca mythology to gods being duped by foxes. When the deity Cuniraya Viracocha was offended by a fox, he said, “As for you, even when you skulk around keeping your distance, people will loathe you and say, ‘That fox is a thief!'”

When they kill you, they’ll carelessly throw you away and your skin too”. In some stories, the fox is supposed to have tried to take the moon, but the moon held the fox tightly, resulting in the moon’s spots. Finally, the fox plays a part in contemporary Andean civilization, where the howling of a fox in August is seen as a harbinger of good fortune.

The Inca had indigenous names for constellations and interstellar clouds (black nebulae) observable from the Southern hemisphere. For example, the fox (Atoq in Quechua) is the name for one of the Milky Way’s black nebulae, and Andean legends, including Inca ones, may allude to the dark nebulae rather than the animal.

Legacy of the Incas

Machu Picchu
Credit: National Geographic

Although the Incan empire was destroyed by the Spanish, they did not exterminate them. Today, their descendants dwell in the Andean highlands. Many of them are fluent in Quechua, the Inca language. Andean peoples, like the Incas, believe that high mountain summits are holy and conduct pilgrimages to them to ensure bountiful crops and fertile herds. Similarly, people have carried on the Inca tradition of presenting sacrifices to local gods at shrines and sacred sites strewn over the territory that previously comprised the Inca empire.

The Incas also left larger stone monuments. The walls of their temples may still be seen in Cuzco. In addition, forts and temples can be seen across the ancient empire. The hilltop complex known as Machu Picchu, where the Incas once worshipped their sun deity, is one of the most well-known Inca structures. In 1912, American explorer Hiram Bingham uncovered the remnants of this massive temple and brought it to the outside world’s attention. As a result, Machu Picchu is becoming one of Peru’s most popular tourist destinations.

Conclusion

The Incans believed that high mountain summits were holy and conducted pilgrimages to them to ensure bountiful crops and fertile herds. Additionally, they presented sacrifices to local gods at shrines and sacred sites strewn over their territory. The Incans really believed in a lot of myths to keep their beliefs alive!

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