The Religion of the Incas

By Emily, Eunice, and MeLena

    The Incas worshiped a pantheon of nature gods and goddesses.  The most important were: Inti (the sun god), Viracocha (the creator),  Illapa (the weather/thunder god), Pachamama (the earth goddess), Mamacocha (the sea goddess), and Mamaquilla (the moon goddess).  Inti was considered to be omnipotent and the highest god.  The Incas believed that the members of the royal family were direct descendants of first emperor, Manco Capac and his sister-wife, Mama Occlo Huaco, children of Inti.  (The emperor always married his sister as his official wife, therefore his heir was a pure-blood descendent of Inti and ruled with divine authority.)  Viracocha was a culture hero for the Incas. 
Incas Praise the Sun God

Incan Temple
    The emperor and the spirits of his predecessor’s mummies were the most significant religious leaders.  They were assisted by a power structure of priests headed by the high priest of Coricancha, the most important temple of the Inca state religion.  The high priest was called Villac-umu, “the sorcerer who speaks,” and was also related to the first Inca and was greatly respected. His powers included appointing and removing priests, and controlling temples and shrines.  Priests practiced elaborate forms of divination and also cared for the sick since illness was thought to have come from the malevolent wishes of a human or god. 


     Furthermore, priests presided over sacrifices, an essential part of many rituals and ceremonies.  The majority of the sacrifices involved animals, such as llamas or guinea pigs.  However, in times of disaster or at very sacred ceremonies, a woman or a child might be sacrificed to the gods.  These people would be given chicha, a thick beer made from fermented corn to drink in golden goblets while the priest sang songs of their virtue before they were strangled.  The bodies of the sacrificed were then buried in a cocoon of fine textiles and surrounded by gold and silver statues, bags of corn and other  offerings.

   Sacrificial Knife 

Inti-raymi Festival
     Every winter the Incas celebrated the feast of Inti-raymi on the shortest day of the year.  The emperor was carried on a golden thrown into the Temple of the Sun, which was filled with sculptures of golden llamas and cornstalks.  White llamas were sacrificed to the sun.  Priests threw kisses to the sun and tried to capture their God by tying him to a stone pillar called the Intihuatana, or the “Hitching Post of the Sun”.  Rural Incas also considered the changing of the seasons a miracle, Inti’s answer to their prayers.
   The Incas also venerated huacas, or sacred objects, places, or people.  Huacas could be man-made or natural.  The mummies of dead rulers were considered to be especially sacred huacas.  Families would often have a sacred amulet or some other huaca in their home, which they sacrificed to in order to sustain the balance between nature and society.
     The Incas believed that the earth consisted of four different regions and that their dividing
lines intersected in Cuzco, the capital of the
empire and the "naval" of the world.  Within 
these four regions were 41 lines called ceques, 
begining at Coricancha.  Along these lines were over three hundred huacas.
     Moreover, the heavens were divided into four quarters by the cross the Milky Way makes as it passes through its zenith. The dead who had led virtuous lives were allowed to join the sun in heaven where there was plenty to eat and drink and they could participate in the lives of their descendents.  These spirits lived much as they had before their death.  Conversely, evil spirits were forced to live in the underworld a desolate and cold expanse.  The souls of the underworld had nothing to dine on but rocks for all of eternity.
     Ancestor worship was a central part of Incan theology.  The souls of the dead played a protective role in the lives of their descendents.  The bodies of ancestors were mummified and entombed.  Often they were buried with their most prized possessions, women, servants, weapons, and ornaments in addition to an abundance of food and chicha. Some groups of Incas placed the deceased on a large carved stone where they were mourned before burial. In some areas, the dead were sewn into fresh llama-hide and kept at their family’s home.  Descendents of the deceased would regularly visit the tombs of their loved ones in order to bring them food and precious goods.  Mummies of dead rulers were the holiest huacas in the empire.  They were treated as if they were still alive: continuing to own the property they had when alive, “eating” with their descendents and each other, and enjoying important ceremonies.  They were also considered to be oracles and were therefore consulted on a regular basis.
Face of a Mummy
Back to Projects Page
Back to Enloe Main Page