Incan Spirituality 101
Throughout the year, I have learned and experienced different world religions, for example Judaism, Islam, and Buddhism. The final one we experienced was the Incan faith during our time in Peru. This faith really honours the Earth and offers a deep respect for nature. When the Spanish invaded South America in the 1500’s, they brought Christianity and forced the Incas to convert. Today, most people in Peru are Christian but still pay tribute to the Incan gods and combine the two faiths.
Most religions have a symbol to represent their beliefs. For example, the symbol for Christianity is the cross, the symbol for Judaism is the star of David, and in Islam the symbol is the moon. In Incan spirituality, the main symbol is the “Chakana” or the “Andean Cross”. It has 3 steps on each side and a circle in the middle.
The steps on the Chakana represent the three main animals in the Andes: the condor, the puma, and the snake. The condor represents Heaven, the puma represents the Earth, and the snake represents the Underworld. The steps also represent values such as hard work, honesty, and kindness. These values were some of the only laws at the time and were, and still are, taken very seriously.
The circle in the middle represents Cusco which was the centre of the Incan empire and also thought to be the centre of the universe. The four beginnings of the steps also represent the four directions: North, East, South, and West.
During our time in Peru, we attended blessing ceremonies for one of the most important Incan gods, “Pachimama”, also known as “Mother Earth”. She is very important to the Incan faith because she is the connection to growing crops, clean water, and nice weather. People today still worship her and leave offerings. These are usually tall piles of carefully chosen rocks with the best and most perfect coca leaves placed within the sculpture. Another ritual for Pachimama is to pour the first sip of a drink onto the earth and give her thanks. We participated in these types of offerings while in a local village and while hiking.
There are many different “creation stories” about the origins of the Incas. One story claims the first Incas rose out of Lake Titicaca, which is the highest lake in the world and is sacred to the Incas. Before the first king, the sun god Viracocha rose from this lake and created the sun and stars. Another story is the Incan kings came out of caves in the mountains, probably symbolizing they were the children of Pachimama.
Whichever is the accepted version, I see similarities between this faith and North American Native spirituality. Both focus on taking care of the Earth and have a deep respect and reverence for nature. The innukshuks of the North American Natives and the offerings to Pachimama are very similar. I wonder if some of the North American Natives moved down to South America and brought these ideas with them.
Learning about different world religions this year has been an incredible eye-opening experience. I think religions should focus on their similarities instead of differences. For example, they all promote kindness, honesty, and productivity. I just wish they could see how similar they are instead of fighting over their differences. This trip has given me so many things to think about and reflect on and I still have so much to learn about the world where we live.