Andean deities: what was the importance of the sun, the earth and the moon to the Inca culture?
27 November 2019
For the ancient Incas, religious worship was centered on the diverse natural phenomena that surrounded the great Andean civilization. Andean religions were pantheistic, and gods in the Incas cosmological vision were numerous.
In their animistic view, Inca myths attributed living qualities to mountains, waters, stars, rocks and caves, weather phenomena and the skies above. The dozens of deities in the Inca’s universe were filled with great significance and symbolic meaning, such as the power to bring luck or misfortune, prosperity or scarcity, life or death.
Even before the Incas, the pantheon of Andean gods was large, and based on the beliefs of each local pre-Inca culture. With the reign of the great Inca king Pachacutec, the sun or Inti, his sister and wife, the moon goddess Mama Killa, and Pachamama (or Mama Pacha), the earth mother, became most important gods of the Incas.
It seems quite logical that Inti would become the Inca’s most important god. In the cold Andean mornings, the rising sun was the vital source of warmth and comfort after each long dark night. The sun’s light provided not only heat; its movements also gave Andean life its yearly rhythms, by marking the changes of the seasons, and by signaling the best times to sow seeds and to harvest crops.
Andean Cosmology and Religion
In earlier Andean cosmology, Inti was believed to be the son of Viracocha, the god of everything and of civilization, but with the Incas, Inti became even more important. The first Inca king, Manco Capac, and his sister Mama Ocllo were thought to be the children of Inti and Mama Killa. Thus, all the later Inca kings were considered descendants of the sun, and therefore, sacred beings.
The Inca cult of the sun grew with the 15th-century Inca king Pachacutec. During his long rule, he greatly expanded the Empire and ordered the construction of its most impressive sites, including Machu Picchu and Cusco’s Temple of the Sun, the Coricancha, the most important Inca temple.
Still today, golden disks, symbols of the sun, are often seen in many Cusco traditions, such as at celebrations, on buildings, and in many other artifacts and handicrafts. Of course, the gold-colored “sol” is also the monetary currency of Peru.
In late June, at the winter solstice of the southern hemisphere, the Inti Raymi festival of the sun, the most important Inca celebration, was held in Cusco. The capital and central point of the Inca Empire, Cusco is still today is the site of the centuries-long Inti Raymi festival.
Mama Killa (or Quilla), was the Moon Mother, the main Inca feminine deity, and Inti’s sister/wife. Quilla also held great importance for many pre-Inca cultures, especially on the coast. The goddess represented menstruation and marriage, and was the protector of women.
She cried silver tears, and lunar eclipses were thought to happen when she was in danger of being attacked by an animal. She was considered a benevolent giver of gifts. For the sky-conscious Incas, her power was closely linked to the most important dates of the Inca lunar calendar.
Finally, the Mama Pacha or Mother Earth, was the goddess of fertility, of planting and harvest, of earthquakes and of the land. She was the origin of water, earth, sun and moon, and the creative power that sustained life.
Of all Inca deities, Pachamama has perhaps endured most deeply in the Andean imagination. Any trip or journey, even a walk, starts off with a blessing to the Pachamama, often an offering coca leaves. Devotees all across the Andes dedicate a day in early August to offer Pachamama a payment of coca leaves, chicha and food, known as the challaco.
Modern day traditions
To some extent, modern-day invocations of the Pachamama are related to New Age worship of the Mother Earth. In this world of increasing climate crisis and the ongoing destruction of nature, it is not at all surprising that people are seeking a deeper spiritual connection to this Earth that sustains us, as did the Incas did, and as the indigenous peoples of the Americas still do today.
This coming year just might be the best time to come to Cusco celebrate the sun and explore Andean culture. Different Andean celebrations happen at all times of the year. Contact us at andeanlodges.com or andeanexcursions.travel to find out more about experiencing the cultural wonders of Cusco and the Andes!