Travelling through the lands where the Incas once lived, it’s hard not to marvel at their craftsmanship when it came to building fortresses and cities out of large blocks of stone. But what has intrigued me most about the Incas is the wonderful myths, legends, and beliefs that powered this captivating civilization.
My last book, Vestige, had a lot of Incan theology in it, and every time I did research, I would come across conflicting versions of gods, descriptions of their appearances, and purpose. Rarely were two descriptions ever the same, and this is to do with the Incas adapting their religion as their world expanded. Once the Spanish arrived, the Incas’ belief that they were the only people in existence had to change, and as a result, their beliefs were challenged.
The Triad Gods were among the Incas’ most revered and they were worshipped at places like Qoricancha, Cuzco’s main temple. These multi faceted celestial beings had overlapping powers, and even though they were worshipped at the same time, some received more attention than others.
Wiraqocha – The Creator:
Sometimes known as Viracocha, the Incas held this god in the highest esteem. The Incas didn’t make sacrifices or tributes to Wiraqocha, creator of all things, as he had everything he wanted in his possession and needed nothing from men other than their worship. Wiraqocha created the sun and moon, and the people who populated the earth.
When Wiraqocha appeared in human form, he had rays above his head, snakes entwined around his arms, and puma heads projecting from his body. An excellent example of his image is the central figure on the Gate of the Sun at Tiwanaku, in Bolivia.
Inti – The Sun:
The Incas held numerous ceremonies dedicated to Inti, the patron saint of their empire, to ensure the emperor’s welfare as well as encourage bountiful harvests. Every province had land and herds dedicated to the Sun God, and the church had its own storehouses that kept supplies for the priests and priestesses and also for sacrifices.
By 1532, Inti had risen in popularity and by that point, Inti beat all the other gods combined hands down in terms of dedicated worship and monuments. Inca rulers claimed direct genealogical links to the Creator through the Sun, as the Creator fathered Inti, who in turn sired the king.
Inti was represented in a golden statue, depicting a small boy sitting down. Called Punchao (day), this effigy had solar rays projecting from his head and shoulders, ear spools, a chest plate, and royal headband. Serpents and lions also grew from his body. To the Incas, Punchao bridged the gap between humanity and the sun, and when rulers died, their organs were placed in the hollow stomach of the statue, which they then housed in the main temple and brought out onto the patio during the day before returning indoors at night.
Inti-llapa – The Thunder God:
This god of thunder, lightning, rainbows, and every other meteorological phenomena was depicted as a human man who wielded a war club in one hand and a sling in the other. When the people heard thunder, they believed it was Inti-llapa cracking his sling, and the lightning was a glittering flash off his metal garments as he moved through the heavens. Lightning bolts were the sling stones that he cast, and the Milky Way was the heavenly river from which he drew the rainfall. His image, Chucuylla, was kept in a temple called Pukamarka, in the Chinchaysuyu quarter of Cuzco, which also held an image of the Creator God. When the Incas needed rain, they prayed to Inti-llapa.
The belief system of the Incas is wide and varied, and even though they couldn’t see their gods in the flesh, their faith in their gods’ existence helped grow an expansive and fascinating empire across South America.
Even though the great Incan civilization disappeared many, many years ago, the monuments they left behind and the writings of the Spanish Chronicles help us to understand what they believed in. Supernatural gods with amazing powers were the norm, and even though the Spanish conquerors tried to convert the Incas to Catholicism, they held on to their supernatural gods to help them through their changing world and challenging times.