Inca Religion: ¿Qué Creen?

This weekend I was contemplating Inca Cosmology, in particular the gods and goddesses they worshiped in relation to the sacred landscape.  Understanding the Inca pantheon was inspired by what our guides explained to us while in Peru, augmented through research upon our return.  I thought I would share what I learned with you today 🙂


Viracocha is the great creator god originally worshiped by the pre-Inca inhabitants of Peru and later assimilated into Inca mythology. Viracocha was seen as the creator of the substance from which all things are created. Viracocha created the universe, sun, moon and stars, time by commanding the sun to move over the sky, and civilization itself. He is depicted wearing the sun for a crown, with thunderbolts in his hands, and tears descending from his eyes as rain.

According to Incan mythology, Viracocha rose from Lake Titicaca during the time of darkness to bring forth the  light. He created humans by breathing into stones, but his first creation were brainless giants that displeased him. He destroyed them with a flood and made a new, better group from smaller stones. Legend states that Viracocha walked across the water of the Pacific Ocean and disappeared, never to return.  He then wandered the earth disguised as a beggar, teaching his new humans the basics of civilization, as well as working numerous miracles. The Inca thought that Viracocha would re-appear in times of trouble.1

One version of the legend states Viracocha had one son, Inti, and two daughters, Mama Quilla and Pachamama. In this legend, he destroyed the people around Lake Titicaca with a Great Flood called Unu Pachakuti, save two individuals tasked with bringing civilization to the rest of the world.  These two beings were Manco Cápac, the son of Inti, which means “splendid foundation,” and Mama Ocllo, which means “mother fertility.” Manco Cápac and Mama Ocllo founded the Inca civilization.2

Tunupa at Ollantaytambo

According to our guide at Ollantaytambo, Al, a representation of the messenger of Viracocha named Tunupa is present in the side of Cerro Pinkuylluna mountain facing the ruins. The angry-looking depiction of his face is made up of indentations that shape his eyes and mouth and a protruding carved rock denoting his nose. Inca ruins built on top of the face are representing a crown on his head. Tunapa was the pilgrim preacher of knowledge, the master knower of time, and described as a person with superhuman power.


 Pachamama translates to Mother Earth or Mother  World  (In Quechua: mama = mother / pacha = world or land) and evolved into meaning the cosmos or the universe.  In Inca mythology, Pachamama is a fertility goddess who presides over planting and harvesting.   She was married to the Sun God Inti. After Spanish Conquest of the Andean region, which forced conversion to Roman Catholicism, the figure of the Virgin Mary became enmeshed with that of the Pachamama for many of the indigenous people.   

Pachamama is a thought of as a good mother, therefore, people toast to her honor before every meeting or festivity.  A small amount of chicha is poured out onto the floor as an offering before drinking the rest.   In Quechua this toast is called challa.  Pachamama also has a special worship day called Martes de challa (Challa’s Tuesday), when people bury food, throw candies, and burn incense.3


Inti is the ancient Incan Sun God.  Inti is depicted as a golden disk with a human face. The sun was an important aspect of ancient life because it provided warmth and light.  Because of this Inti was also thought of as the Giver of Life.  The sun was also important agriculturally.  Inti was worshiped by farmers who relied on the sun to receive good harvests.  The Sapa Inca, as ruler of the people, claimed divine heritage and direct descent from the Sun.  The Incas believed that the Sapa Inca was the living son of Inti the sun god.

The festival of Inti Raymi, which honors the sun-god, was held during the winter solstice, which was around June 24 in the Incan Empire.  The festival was held in Cuzco and was attended by the four sectors of Tahuantinsuyu. (Tahuantinsuyu  is what the Inca actually called themselves as a culture.  Inca was what they called the ruler.)  In Quechua, Inti Raimi, means “resurrection of the sun” or “the way/path of the sun.”  Military captains, government officials, and the vassals who attended were dressed in their best costumes, and carried their best weapons and instruments.  Preparation for the festival of Inti Raymi began with a fast of three days.  This festival itself would last nine days, and during this time the people consumed massive amounts of food and drink.4

 1 Juan de Batanzos, Narrative of the Incas, ed. Dana Buchanan, tr. Roland Hamilton, University of Texas   Press (1996)

 2 “Glossary, Inca Gods”. First People of America and Canada – Turtle Island. Retrieved 06-28-2012

 3Lira, Jorge A. Diccionario Kkechuwa – Español, Instituto de Historia, Lingüistica y Folklore,Tucumán, Argentina, (1944)

 4 William Leonard Fash, Mary E. Lyons The Ancient American World , Oxford University Press (2005)


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Liberal Arts & University Transfer
Craven Community College

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