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Inca Gods

PAGE [ 1 ] OF 4
BY CRISTÓBAL MAKOWSKI HANULA
The Andean gods have survived the Conquest. Neither the fury nor the zeal of those determined to stamp out idolatry, nor the patient and tolerant missionary work that followed were able to wipe the ancient deities from living memory. Countenances flashing fearsome feline fangs or falcon eyes stare out from museum glass cases. They are nameless figures, although the sinuous snake forms and bolts of lightning they emit suggest they wielded exceptional powers, worthy of a Pachacámac, Inti or Wiracocha. Even today, the crosses raised on top of the highest peaks in the highlands, the coast or cloud forest point to the favorite spots of the ancient gods. The offerings to the earth goddess, called pagapus (Quechua for payment to the gods) and various rites from patron saint festivals are often dedicated to them under the names of Christian saints.

Against this backdrop, then, it is surprising that the elemental questions about the identity and characteristics of the gods in pre-Hispanic Peru should be difficult to answer for all and sundry -from historians, anthropologists and archaeologists to students and tourists: how many supreme gods were there in the Andes; one or several? Was there or was there not an Andean creator? How were the pantheons ranked? Was the Chimu religion similar to that of the Incas?
THE MAKER, THE SUN AND WIRACOCHA
As opposed to Mexico and the area under Mayan influence, no relatively objective history or testimony of the indigenous religions in Peru has endured intact until today. The vast majority of surviving chronicles were written with a concrete political or religious purpose. The works of Indian or mixed-blood writers underscored the wish to revindicate the Andean society's place amongst Christian nations, while most of the Spanish writings from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries functioned as guidebooks, dictionaries or instructions for Catholic priests. In both cases, the search for Spanish substitutes for Andean concepts, or their approximate equivalents in Quechua, Aymara or Yunga for the central concepts of Christianity was much more important than the faithful and impartial documentation of the indigenous cosmic vision.

The stereotyped list of the temples of the Tawantinsuyo, copied down with few variations by several chroniclers, includes five names of supreme divinities with the Maker (Wiracocha Pachayachachi) at the head. Four of them are mate and just one, the moon (Pasarnoma Quilla), was female. Recently, researchers have agreed that the concept of the maker was added to the Cusco pantheon by the Catholic missionaries, who were driven on by the determination to prove that the belief in the True God and the Holy Trinity was present in Inca beliefs before the arrival of the Spaniards.

In any case, there is a common link between the four supreme beings in Inca mythology that offers a clue to rediscovering the original essence of Quechua religious thinking. The gods of the Sun (Apu Punchao), Water (Ticci Wiracocha), Thunder (Illapa) and the mountain god (Huanacauri) were portrayed on Earth in two incarnations with opposite natures.
THE COSMOS FROM CUZCOS POINT OF VIEW
Why these gods were doubled up stems from the way that the Incas imagined the animated cosmos was organized. We are so used to the image of a round planet that we do not even begin to suspect to what degree the conclusion of the Greek writers was completely abstract for the inhabitants of the Peruvian highlands at the time of the Spanish Conquest. The metaphor of the disc floating above the ocean, or that of a globe surrounded by heavenly bodies could convince a nation of seafarers and astronomers living on the plains, but would be hard to assimilate by farmers and Andean shepherds.

The world seen from Cusco's point of view is different: to the North and to the South, the highland landscape creates craggy horizons that unfold one after another into an unknown distance. To the East lies a green sea of jungle, and particularly in the rain season, a sea of clouds; to the West lies the infinite ocean, but it practically never rains there, and banks of fog shroud the coast during the dry sea-son. So to the Incas, the Earth appeared to be a square piece of land that floated between the sea and the sky. The Quechua-speaking peasants of Q'ero, in the upper reaches of Cusco, still use this metaphor and even craft the image into the decoration of their ceremonial weavings.

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