Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Creating a New World

The Sol de Mayo found on the first Argentine coin. Photo by Pruxo
Being the geeky gal that I am, this week’s topic sent me all aflutter. I’ve always been fascinated with legends from around the world, and I don’t think anyone would be astounded if I said some of my favorites are from South America. So much so, I wrote an entire book based around a particular civilization steeped in legend—the Incas.

It’s interesting to see how folklore hundreds of years old can influence today’s culture throughout South America. For example, the Argentine national flag features the Sun of May. Argentina printed the sun on its first coin, but the origins of this image are tied to the Inca Sun God, Inti. And it’s no surprise to see Uruguay, Argentina’s neighbor, has the Sun of May on its national flag also.

The Incas didn’t have a written system as we know it to record their legends. However, they used a Khipu, a bunch of cords, sometimes up to 2,000, that were knotted in a certain way. This complex system was how the Incas recorded information, including legends. Unfortunately, no one has been able to decipher the encoding system yet, so the only history we know is the recounts of the Spanish conquistadors. But of course, the Spanish colonizers wrote these from their point of view.

For me, one of the most appealing Inca legends is how their civilization was created. There are many variations of this story, but they all start at Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world. Standing on the shores, it’s impossible to see the other side, and it really does look like a sea (minus the toothy sharks). It’s no wonder Bolivia, a landlocked country, has its own navy to patrol the very choppy and chilly waters. And it’s from this body of water that Wiraqocha, the Creator God, shaped the race we refer to as the Incas.

Manco Capac and Inti
Back in the time before light existed, Wiraqocha formed a race of people bigger than himself. These giants turned into greedy beings full of pride and made him weep with sadness. Wiraqocha turned some of these disappointing creatures into stone and for those who remained, he summoned a giant flood that killed all but two. He created a new design of being from these leftover giants--humans.

The newly-fashioned creations were called Manco Capac (the son of the Sun God Inti), and Mama Occlo (fertility goddess and mother). These two summoned the sun and the moon, although the sun became jealous of the moon’s brilliance. In an act of jealousy, the sun threw ashes in the moon’s face, causing it to dim, and the waxing and waning moon we now see is a result of this act. If you ever travel to Lake Titicaca, be sure to visit the islands that pay homage to this legend—the islands of the Sun and Moon.

Wiraqocha needed a master plan for his new world, especially after the disaster with the giants, so on the shores of the lake, at a place called Tiwanaku, he carved out his ideas for the nations he wished to create. He sent two of his servants away, one to the coast and one to the mountains, and their job was to call the newly created humans out from rocky outcrops, valleys, lakes, forests and mountains. Along the way, the servants would place these people at the predetermined destinations Wiraqocha had designated for them. And new civilizations would spring up in each spot.

Travelling in the corridor between his servants, Wiraqocha dressed as a beggar and carried a staff and book in his hands. He taught the people the basics of how to survive and what behavior was expected of them, and along the way he worked the odd miracle.

He placed Manco Capac and Mama Occlo, in the place we call Cuzco (and which is also referred to as the Navel of the Incas), and their job was to make sure Cuzco became the capital of the Inca world. Wiraqocha continued on his way north, heading into what is now Ecuador, where he met up with his two servants. Their job of spreading civilization complete, the trio disappeared across the ocean (yes, they walked on it!), with the promise to one day return.

It’s interesting to note the parallels to legends and stories around the world. I can’t work out how this happens, and perhaps no one will ever know, but when I read about a myth like the one Heidi covered yesterday (here), and how similar it is to legends I’ve heard from other nations, it makes me wonder if there’s some sort of telepathic mystical thing going on or if humans have been born with the same imagination, no matter where they live in the world or in what era.

What myths do you know that have similarities between more than one civilization?

Artwork found by archaeologists of Wiraqocha--as he holds thunderbolts in his hands and has tears cascading down his cheeks (to represent rain)—associates him with the sun in his crown.


  1. I've always been fascinated with the Inca's culture. Unfortunately I don't have enough knowledge. This is really great information.

  2. Oh... I also picked you up in Twitter.

  3. Thank you so much, Orlando! I find the Inca's fascinating, too. I'm sure there is a lot we still don't know and I keep reading about new discoveries all the time. I wonder if we'll ever truly know everything about this captivating civilization.

  4. This was such a great educational post. Especially for me, with my very limited South American knowledge. Now, this is intended with a bit of humor – but didn’t the Christian God have to practice a bit too - before he got it right? He created Adam and a bunch of animals first, and only then he embarked on constructing his masterpiece – a woman.