The Incas were deeply spiritual people and their mythology not only gave them an understanding of life and taught them how to practice their spiritual beliefs but it was also a tool by which the difference between various social classes and the order of the day could be maintained.
The prevalence of these systems in Inca society sought to only allow their empire to expand but also helped in deciding administrative matters. The myths and legends which were orally disseminated amongst the population acted also to help the natives distinguish between themselves and the outside Andean non-Inca people.
People embarking on a Peru holiday will find these myths of particular interest as they are the heart and soul of the Inca ruins and indicate that they have an ancient story to tell.
Symbol For Three Stages Of Inca Life
Historians have often remarked on the special significance of a symbol called Chakana for the Inca people as for them it represented the three known stages of life which they had to pass through.
Strangely enough, this symbol was not only dear to Inca priests but to shamans of other world religions as well and over time it has been called ‘Tree of Life’ and a few other names.
The shape of the Chakana is like a three-point cross and the center of the symbol is believed to be a meeting point of the different planes (higher plane for the gods, lower for the underworld) and the mystics and shamans can traverse this point of communion.
The Incas applied this philosophy for finding out the reason for natural disasters or the wrath of the gods when famine hit and so on.
Three animals were deeply significant to the Incas who held them as representative of the three stages of life namely the condor, the puma and the snake.
- The Condor – this large bird with powerful wings was awe-inspiring to the Incas because it was strong and could easily traverse huge distances which for them meant it was connected to the gods and could be used to communicate with them.Its powerful wings were also thought to be the vehicle of the dead through which they could reach the afterlife.
- The Puma – the Puma stood for life which is why so many of the Inca sites have representations of it in stone and the entire city of Cuzco was designed to look like the shape of a Puma with Sacsayhuaman pictorially placed as the head.
- The Snake – snakes have throughout history been associated with evil or maliciousness but the Incas had a vastly different interpretation. While the snake did represent the underworld and the life after death; it was far from grim. Incas rejoiced at the beginning of this ‘new life’ and sought the snake for its wisdom and deep knowledge.
Many of the major myths that the Incas spread from one generation to another dealt with the origins of the race and the foundation of the empire. This played a part in the creation of a mindset amongst the populace that they were the intended rulers of the land and this divine right could not be challenged by the other races which resided in the region.
The Incas had little knowledge of the outside world (other countries) which is why their myths of creation revolve predominately around the Andean region and mainly Lake Titicaca. The Incas conceived that the creator god Viracocha first brought to life giants to inhabit a new and dark world that he had created.
When the giants proved unworthy of being his creation, he destroyed them by turning their bodies to stone and some myths say he drowned them in the waters of a gigantic flood.
After this the Inca people were created from clay and given their own language, songs, and crops to sustain themselves with.
When the first race spread over the world Viracocha had created, they became a part of it and remerged as hills, rocks, rivers, and mountains. This is why the Incas regarded certain sites as sacred and built temples and shrines on them.
Even in the present day, thousands of tourists visit these ancient sites if they are taking a spiritual Peru tour in the hope of experiencing the same spiritual energy that the natives speak of.
The bloodline of the Inca ruling class was believed back then to have originated from a man called Manco Capac who was the son of the sun god Inti himself. He was thought to have come to the land in order to civilize an otherwise ignorant and savage Inca race.
This was why Incas believed in the ‘divine right of kings’ for Inca royalty as they were considered as the offspring of a demi-god.
Manco Capac was the one according to legend who uplifted the Inca people and made them superior to the other races so they could rule and expand their empire. The god Inti gave his son directions about finding the perfect area for a holy city which would pay tribute to him and they found the location of modern-day Cuzco.
Cuzco also remained the capital of the empire till the near extinction of the Incas. Capac had a wife who legend says taught the local populace necessary skills such as weaving cloth, planting crops and making weapons.
The royals were bonded in a strict rule of incest to preserve the bloodline and this was a constant over the centuries with the Incas elevating the class to a status of worship and firmly establishing prevalent social inequalities.
The flood myth was particularly significant for the Incas because it directly signified the importance of the mountains in Inca culture. Many Incan structures were built at a considerable height because it meant being closer to the gods and also morally pure.
The Incas postulated that a period of time called Pachachama existed in which human beings were uninterested in serving the gods and were too busy fighting and trying to kill each other.
The people that lived high up in the Andes Mountains however remained uncorrupted. This is why Machu Picchu for example was built at a considerable height so it could be more sacred and usable for religious purposes.
The story begins with two shepherds who were also brothers that noticed their llamas had not eaten for days and were trapped in a stupor that caused them to look at the sky at all times. When the llamas were asked the reason for this behavior, they foretold that a great flood would come.
The settlement of people to which the brothers belonged retreated to the highest part of the mountains according to legend to escape the ravages of the flood. The water kept rising however until it reached the mountain caves which is when Inti appeared and caused it to disappear into thin air.
Even though the flood had passed and the shepherds and their people returned back to the mainlands, they were always wary of the displeasure of the gods and felt they could worship better on higher altitudes.
They remembered the destruction and death caused by the flood and instead sought out hills and mountains for their abode and shrines.