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Inca religion, a religion of many gods

Inca religion was one of the main concerns of the Spanish Conquerors since their arrival to the new world, understanding it was vital  to successfully convert the population into Catholicism. However, despite of their genuine interest they created an impartial view of Andean religion since they tried to understand it from the Catholic point of view. They identified Inca religion as heretic and as the work of the devil. Under these premises they embarked into the conversion of the Inca population to Christianity.

Through the study of Inca tradition, chroniclers were able to document the Inca view of the cosmos. The creation and design of the cosmos as well as of time, space and humankind was the works of the gods.

The Incas were a very religious people; their religious beliefs were deeply embedded in their lives, everything they did had a religious meaning. They were tolerant of the beliefs of the people they conquered as long as they venerated Inca deities above all their gods, they even incorporated gods from other cultures. As a result, the Inca religion was a large melting pot of beliefs. Since the Sapa Inca was a god, religion and government were in many ways intertwined.

 

 

The Inca population believed that each crop had a protective spirit named conopas. Conopas were the best proceeds of the crop which was set aside in order to offer it to the gods during a special ceremony. They believed that by offering it to the gods future crops would maximize their yields. For instance,  the conopa of maize would be called saramama (mother of the maize), of potato, papamama, of coca, cocamama and so on.  Domestic animals also had a protective spirit called illas. Illas were miniature representation of animals made of stone which were buried in pens or barn yarns with the hope of continued reproduction.

Inca Gods

The Incas had an immense amount of deities or gods. They lived in heaven and on earth and each of them had a purpose which determined its hierarchy. The Inca population believed that some gods specially the anthropomorphous gods had a human behavior pattern; they felt hatred, love, compassion or any other human feeling. Incas believed that natural phenomena were caused by gods so it was important to keep them happy or disasters could happen. Holy places or temples known as huacas were the places where Incas made their offerings to their gods. Garcilaso de la Vega, a Spanish chronicler, noted that the Peruvians seemed to worship a large number of animals and inanimate objects, from grasses, flowers, high hills, rocks to monkeys and dogs. The Incas and earlier civilizations believed in life after death so they mummified their bodies, they believed that they would protect them and made sacrifices in their honor.

Inti

Inti or Punchao, the sun, was the supreme god and the most important deity in the Inca Civilization. Inti was the father of the Sapa Inca who represented him on earth and shared its sacredness. One of the most important festivities celebrating the Sun was the Inti Raymi which took place on June 24th during the winter solstice. According to chroniclers, there is evidence that the cult to the god Inti was an elitist cult restricted to the high classes as he was the father of the Sapa Inca ethnic family.

To honor Inti the Incas built magnificent temples in major administrative centers. The most important was the Coricancha in the city of Cusco. This temple was restricted to the Cusco elite. Priests looked after these temples and made sacrifices to the gods. Young women called aclla served as priestesses, they wove the finest clothes for the Sapa Inca and prepared food for the gods, the most beautiful were sacrificed. They built other temples known as ushnu, the most important one is the Aucaypata located in what today is the central plaza in the city of Cusco. In the Aucaypata they celebrated massive ceremonies in honor of Inti where curacas from other regions were invited.

Mama Quilla

Mama Quilla, the moon, was the sun’s wife, sister and mother of the Incas, she was represented by the Coya. Mama Quilla was believed to protect women and was worshiped along with Inti in the Coricancha temple, there were four smaller chapels devoted to her.

Viracocha

The god Viracocha was the creator, most powerful god, he created the sun, moon, sea, earth and people. Viracocha emerged from the deep waters of Lake Titicaca to sort out the world. He placed the moon and the sun creating light and darkness, then he created the first human couple Manco Capac and Mama Ocllo. When his job was completed he walked away getting lost in the ocean. Unlike the other Inca gods Viracocha was abstract, he was not represented in nature and lived in the heavens.

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List of important Inca Gods:

ViracochaThe creator, he created the Sun and the Moon.
IntiThe Sun and most important god in Inca religion, he ruled above all others.
Mama QuillaMother Moon, wife of Inti
IllapaGod of Weather. Thunder and war
EkkekoGod of wealth
Imahmana ViracochaSon of Viracocha. Sent to the earth by his father to verify people follow his commands.
Apu Mountain God
Mama Cocha or CochamamaMother Sea
ChascaGoddess of the dawn and the dusk, protector of young girls
SupayGod of Death
Coco MamaGoddess of Health and Happiness
UrcaquaryGod of treasures and buried riches
PariacacaGod of Rain and Water.
Mama OelloThe mother goddess of the Incas, she taught the Incas spinning.
ZaramamaGoddess of Grain and Corn
Mama Pacha or PachamamaGoddess of the Earth

Shamans

Shamans were spiritual leaders who cured people and predicted natural disasters. They were very well respected individuals in Inca society. For centuries shamans had passed the knowledge of animals and plants healing attributes and applied it on the sick. By inhaling a powder from a cactus through a hollowed animal bone they were able to put themselves in altered states of consciousness, able to interact with the spirit world and make prophecies about natural disasters. They were considered messengers between the human and the spirit worlds. Shamans are still important healers in modern Andean society.

The following books were used as bibliographical sources:

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