Inca Religion and Archaeoastronomy

Museo Machupicchu - Casa Concha

Inca religion tried to be in harmony with the surrounding nature. They believed that nature, man and the Pachamama (Mother Earth), lived in harmony and perpetual interrelation. 

Ritual Inca Pieces from Machu Picchu and other locations
The Inca state promoted the worship of a creator god (Wiracocha), the sun god (Inti), the Moon Goddess (Mamaquilla), the thunder god (Illapa), the earth monther (Pacha Mama), and a host of other supernaturals. Many of these were worshipped at Coricancha, the main Inca temple of Cusco, but hundreds of rocks, springs, and other sacred features known as huacas dotted the landscape of Cusco and beyond. From the Inca perspective, humans shared this world with gods, ancestors, and the spirits of the landscape. To ensure the health and prosperity of human communities, relationships had to be maintained with these supernatural forces through repeated gifts of food, corn beer, and other things of value.                                                              Many items now considered Inca art, such as the dressed gold and silver figurines, were fashioned as gifts to the deities. Other items include ritual tools such as the ceremonial knives (tumis) used to sacrifice animals or the carved stone llama or bird conopas used to hold offerings. Elaborate ceramic vessels (pacchas) were produced to make offerings of corn beer during religious rituals.                                       The myriad ceremonial activities seem to have been organized on two calendars, one based on the sun’s yearly cycle and the other based on the cycles of the moon and stars. So important were these calendars and the agricultural cycle that depended on them that the Incas has specialists devoted to making celestial observations. Their methods were poorly understood by the Spaniards; only recently have modern scholars, through the study of Archaeoastronomy, clarified some of these ancient practices and reconstructed the astronomical knowledge upon which they were based.

Tools to Communicate with the Supernatural World
The objects called "conopas" or "illas" were used in dedicated rituals to the gods in order to propitiate the fertility of the animals, particularly the herds of llamas and alpacas. The offerings included fats, coca leaves, and corn among other things that were placed in the "illas" or "conopas", and then buried with chica and prayers.

"Conopa" of an alpaca

Illa of black and grey stone sculpted in the form of a sitting or resting bird. The stylized sculpture features subtle modeling on the head, chest, and wings.

Anthropomorphic Stone Effigies
In addition to effigies representing creatures other than camelids, there are portable sculptures that combine anthropomorphic and other elements in distinctive ways.

Stone Architectural Effigy

Corn and Religious Inca Rituals
More than being a basic food staple, corn was considered a sacred plant and various rituals were associated to their cultivation and harvest. Representations of corn plants in natural size existed in the Coricancha, the principal temple of Cusco. There is no other crop as represented in the religious Inca art as the corn.

This realistic representation of an Inca cup (qero) held by a modeled hand, shows the importance of qero in Inca ceremonies.

This is an example of great realism, as we can see in the representation of the hand (typical treatment of Chimu Inca pottery from Peru's north coast). It seems that this piece was imported to Cusco from Peru's north coast, since this kind of representations were unusual in the Cusco area.

Effigy of maize cob

Carved Stone Boxes
The function of boxes is unknown, but given where they were found and the symbols carved on their sides, it is possible that they were used in elite activities associated with religious rituals.

According to some theories, they could have been used in ceremonies to catch the blood of sacrificial animals.

Black Stone Box

Metal Effigies
Precious metals had significant meaning for the Incas: gold was associated with the sun and silver with the moon. The noble Inca officials of high hierarchy and other individuals dressed with jewelry made of precious metals and used little cups and other gold and silver objects in their feasts. The special objects for religious rituals were also made from the same sacred materials.

Female Silver Figurine

Figurines of llamas (Illa) were produced with the same techniques used to make male and female figurines. As in the human figurines, the face was treated with more care than the body and lower limbs.

Silver Llama Effigy ("Illa")

Ceremonial Knives
Animals, including llamas and guinea pigs, were favored as sacrifices to the gods. The ceremonial knives were produced for these sacrifices. In many cases, the handle of the knives were punched in order to be worn around the neck like a pendant. The majority of the ceremonial knives from Cusco were in the form of a “T”, but knives with only one sharpened side were popular in northern coast of Peru.

Straight Knife with Modeled Fisherman

Machupicchu Museum - Casa Concha
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