April 28, 2013

Pachamama: Incan Earth Goddess

Posted in Goddess Project, Goddess Things tagged , , , , , , at 8:13 am by Babs

Though Peru is likely to be forever synonymous with the Incas, who built the spectacular city of Machu Picchu high in the Andes and countless other gret palaces and temples, the society was merely the last in a long line of pre-Columbian cultures.  The Inca Empire (1200-1532 CE) was relatively short-lived, but it remains the best documented of all Peruvian civilizations.  Though the height of its power lasted for little more than a century, the Inca Empire extended throughout the Andes, all the way from present-day Colombia down to Chile – a stretch of more than 3,500 miles.  At its apex, the Inca Empire’s reach was longer than even that of the Romans.

The Incas were a naturalistic and ritualistic people who worshipped the Sun God Inti and the Earth Goddess Pachamama (pronounced Pawch-mama), as well as the moon, thunder, lightning, and the rainbow, all regarded as deities.  The Inca emperors were believed to be direct descendants of the Sun God.  The bold Andes Mountains were at least as important in their system of beliefs: The dwelling places of respected spirits, the 22,960 ft. peaks were the sites of human sacrifices.  The Incas founded Cusco, the sacred city and capital of the Inca Empire (which they called Tahuantinsuyo, or Land of Four Quarters).  The ruling sovereign was properly called the Inca, but today the term also refers to the people and the empire.

In Inca mythology, Mama Pacha or Pachamama was a dragoness fertility goddess who presided over planting and harvesting.  The earth was seen as a dragon goddess (Pachamama) who lived beneath the mountains; occasionally she quivered, sending earthquakes through the world.  Pachamama, goddess of the earth or earth mother, wife of Pachacamac, is still the object of a cult all over the Andean mountains where people make her offerings of coca leaf and ‘chicha’ beer and pray to her on all major agricultural occasions to assure a sufficient food supply.  Pachamama has also been identified with the Virgin Mary by Indian Christians.

Incas used to offer llamas and other animals as sacrifices to the EArth Goddess.  According to an ancient legend, the first Incas had sacrificed a llama before entering their capital Cuzco.  They entered the city with the lungs of the llama and the golden wedge that symbolized the Sun God Inti.

Incas of ancient Peru believed that Pachamama personified the Earth.  Both Pachamama and her husband Inti, the Sun God were viewed as generous deities.

Inca Civilization

Inca can be spelled Inka and was known as Tiwantinsuya.  As ancient civilizations sprang up across the planet thousands of years ago, so too the Inca civilization evolved.  As with all ancient civilizations, its exact origins are unknown.  Their historic record, as with all other tribes evolving on the planet at that time, would be recorded through oral tradition, stone, pottery, gold and silver jewelry, and woven in the tapestry of the people.

The Inca of Peru have long-held a mystical fascination for people of the western world.  Four hundred years ago the fabulous wealth in gold and silver possessed by these people was discovered, then systematically pillaged and plundered by Spanish conquistadors.  The booty they carried home altered the whole European economic system.  And in their wake, they left a highly developed civilization in tatters.  That a single government could control many diverse tribes, many of which were secreted in the most obscure of mountain hideaway, was simply remarkable.  No one really knows where the Incas came from that historical record left in stone for archeologists to unravel through the centuries that followed.  The Inca Empire was quite short-lived.  It lasted just shy of 100 years, from ca. 1438 AD, when the Inca ruler Pachacuti and his army began conquering lands surrounding the Inca set out from their base in Cuzco on a career of conquest that, during the next 50 years, brought under their control the area, the Inca established a totalitarian state that enabled the tribal ruler and a small minority of nobles to dominate the population.

Most of the accounts agree on thirteen emperors.  The Inca emperors were known by various titles, including “Sapa Inca,” Capac Apu,” and “Inti Cori.”  Often, an emperor was simply referred to as The Inca.

The first seven were legendary, local, and of slight importance.  During this period the Inca were a small tribe, one of many, whose domain did not extend many miles around their capital city, Cuzco.  They were warriors, almost constantly at war with neighboring tribes.  Ritual sacrifices were common, evidence of which is found by archaeologists to this very day.

Cusco was the center of the Inca Empire, with its advanced hydraulic engineering, agricultural techniques, marvelous architecture, textiles, ceramics and ironworks.

Language and Religion

The Incan language was based on nature.  All of the elements of which they depended and even some they didn’t were given a divine character.  They believed that all deities were created by an ever-lasting, invisible, and all-powerful god named Wiraqocha, or Sun god.  The Kin Incan was seen as Sapan Intiq Churin, or the Only Son of the Sun.  The Inca were a deeply religious people.  They feared that evil would befall them at any time.  Sorcerers held high positions in society as protectors from the spirits.  They also believed in reincarnation, saving their nail clippings, hair cuttings and teeth in case the returning spirit needed them.

The religious and societal center of Inca life  was contained  in the middle of the sprawling fortress known as Sacsahuaman.  Here was located Cuzco, “The Naval of the World” [we call it the Solar Plexus] the home of the Inca Lord and site of the sacred Temple of the Sun.  At such a place the immense wealth of the Inca was clearly evident with gold and silver decorating every edifice.  The secret of Inca wealth was the mita.  This was a labor program imposed upon every Inca by the Inca ruler.  Since it only took about 65 days a year for a family to farm for its own needs, the rest of the time was devoted to working on Temple-owned fields, building bridges, roads, temples, and terraces, or extracting gold and silver from the mines.  The work was controlled through chiefs of thousands, hundreds and tens.

The Incas worshipped the Earth goddess Pachamama and the sung god, the Inti.  The Inca sovereign, lord of the Tahuantinsuyo, the Inca Empire, was held to be sacred and to be the descendant of the sun god.  Thus, the legend of the origin of the Incas tells how the sun god sent his children Manco Capac and Mama Ocllo (and in another version the four Ayar brothers and their wives) to found Cuzco, the sacred city and capital of the Inca empire.

Inti Raymi, the feast of the sun, The “Inti Raymi” or “Sun Festivity” was the biggest, most important, spectacular and magnificent festivity carried out in Inca times.  It was aimed to worship the “Apu Inti” (Sun God).  It was performed every year on June 21st, the winter solstice of the Southern Hemisphere, in the great Cuzco Main Plaza.

In the Andean mythology it was considered that the Incas were descendants of the Sun, therefore, they had to worship it annually with a sumptuous celebration.  More over, the festivity was carried out by the end of the potato and maize harvest in order to thank the Sun for the abundant crops or otherwise in order to ask for better crops during the next season.

Besides, it is during the solstices when the Sun is located in the farthest point from the earth or vice versa, on this date the Quechuas (native people of the Andes who speak “quechua” language) had to perform diverse rituals in order to ask the Sun not to abandon its children.

Preparations had to be carried out in the Koricancha (Sun Temple), in the Aqllawasi (House of Chosen Women), and in the Haukaypata or Wakaypata that was the northeastern sector of the great Main Square.  Some days before the ceremony, all the population had to practice fast and sexual abstinence.  Before dawn on June 21st the Cusquenian nobility, presided over by the Inca and the Willaq Uma (High Priest), were located on the Haukaypata (the Plaza’s ceremonial portion), the remaining noble population were placed on the Kasipata (southwestern portion).  Prior to this the “Mallki” (mummies of noble ancestors) were brought and they were located in the privileged sectors so that they could witness the ceremony.

At sunrise, the population had to greet the Sun God with the “much’ay” (“mocha” in its Spanish form) sending forth-resounding kisses offered symbolically with the fingertips.  After all that, people sang in tune solemn canticles in a low voice that later were transformed into their “wakay taky” (weepy songs), arriving like this to an emotional and religious climax.

Subsequently, the Son of the Sun (the Inca king), used to tak in his two hands tow golden ceremonial tumblers called “akilla” containing “Aqha” (chicha = maize beer) made inside the Aqllawasi.  The beverage of the tumbler in the right hand was offered to the Sun and then poured into a golden channel communicating the Plaza with the Sun Temple.  The Inca drank a sip of Chicha from the other tumbler; the remaining was then drunk in sips by the noblemen close to him.  Later, chicha was offered to every attendant.  Some historians suggest that this ceremony was started inside the Coricancha in presence of the Sun representation that was made of very polished gold that at the sunrise was reflected with a blinding brilliance.  Later the Inca, along with his retinue went toward the great Plaza through the “intik’iqllu” or “Street of the Sun” (present-day Loreto Street) in order to witness the llama sacrifice.

During this most important religious ceremony in Incan times, the High Priest had to perform the llama sacrifice offering a completely black or white llama.  With a sharp ceremonial golden knife called “Tmi” he had to open the animal’s chest and with his hands pulled out its throbbing heart, lungs and viscera, so that observing those elements he could foretell the future.  Later, the animal and its parts were completely incinerated.

After the sacrifice, the High Priest had to produce the Sacred Fire.  Staying in front of the Sun he had to get its rays in a concave gold medallion that contained some soft or oily material in order to produce the fire that had to be kept during next year in the Koricancha and Aqllawasi.

Subsequently the priests offered the Sanqhu that was something like “holy bread” prepared from maize flour and blood of the sacrificed llama; its consumption was entirely religious as a Christian host is.

Once all ritual stages of the Inti Raymi were finished, all the attendants were located in the southwestern Plaza’s sector named Kusipata (Cheer Secto” present-day Plaza del Regocijo) where after being nourished, people were entertained with music, dances and abundant chicha.

Nowadays, the Inti Taymi is staged annually in Saqsaywaman on June 24th with the participation of hundreds of actors wearing typical outfits.  It’s a great opportunity to imagine the life at the Incas time.

Pachamama was also the deity of agriculture; rituals in her honor had to be performed daily during planting and harvest, women wold travel tot he fields to talk softly to Pachamama, sometimes pouring a thankful offering of cornmeal on her surface.  She is a companion to women.  The mountain peaks are seen as her breasts, the flowing rivers, her life-giving milk, and the tilled fields, her fertile womb.

This full-bodied earth goddess is the primordial feminine image.  She is one with the earth, centered, calm, and content.  But she is also a dragon Goddess and when the people do not honor her, she sends them earthquakes as reminders.  This Earth Mother brings grounding and centering.

It is unusual to make images of the Inca fertility goddess Pachamama, or Mother Earth as she is called in the South American Quechua language.   Pachamama’s image was commonly replaced by the Virgin Mary by the conquistadors in South America.

1 Comment »

  1. […] In early literature, she was depicted as “a cruel goddess eager to collect her sacrifices,” which included elaborate miniature garments, as well as llamas. Today, Pachamama, revered by the indigenous people of the Andes is regarded as benevolent and giving, as nature itself; a “dragoness fertility goddess who presides over planting and harvesting” (BroomCloset). […]


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