South American Mythology: Gods, Creatures & Stories

Instructor: Emily Teater

Emily currently is a substitute teacher, and has taught a variety of K-12 courses. She has a master's degree in Mythological Studies.

This lesson will explore the major gods and goddesses of the Inca culture, which was the primary mythical tradition in South America, spanning the Andes, Bolivia, Chile, Columbia, and Peru. Some of the most important stories in association with these deities will also be retold.

Inca Empire

The Inca Empire spanned a significant part of western South America. It reached its peak during the 13th century and lasted until 1572, when they were conquered by the Spanish, who would later record their oral myths. These are but a few of the more prominent deities in the Inca pantheon.

The four major quarters of the Inca Empire.
The Inca Empire

The Gods and Their Stories

Viracocha: He is the main creator god for the Inca. In the beginning, there was no sun or moon, and only giants roamed the earth. Viracocha made a rule which was never to be broken, what that rule was is unknown, but the giants disobeyed and were wiped out. Viracocha tried again, this time, first commanding the sun and the moon to rise from a lake, he created humans. He then went to the center of the earth and carved the names of all the tribes of the world, commanding his human creations to form them. He later retired to the sky, but every so often, he returns to earth disguised as a beggar. These visits however cause him to weep because of all humankind's failings. One day, his tears will be so great, it will drown the world.

A recreation of a carving of Viracocha.

Pachamama: Wife of Virachocha and mother of Inti and Mama Quilla, Pachamama is mother earth. However, her appearance is somewhat unique. She is the earth dragon, who crawls and slithers under the earth, causing plants to grow, and sometimes the earth to shake.

Inti: Perhaps the most popular and well-worshiped of the Inca gods is Inti, the god of the sun. He is the son of Viracocha and the father of Manco-Capac. He was represented as the sun-disk, and much like the Egyptian pharaohs who identified with Ra, many Inca emperors were believed to be the reincarnation of Inti.

Mama Quilla: Mama Quilla was goddess of the moon and wife to Inti. She often wears the moon disk on her head as a crown. Her name literally means 'mother moon.' She was the daughter of Viracocha, in some myths. She was a favored goddess among women as she was also the patron goddess of marriage. When lunar eclipses happened, people feared she was being attacked by an animal and tried to save her by throwing their weapons to the sky.

Ayar Cachi: Inti had four sons, one of whom was Ayar Cachi. In the myth about the four brothers, Ayar Cachi was incredibly powerful compared to his brothers. He could use his slingshot to shoot stones at the sky, creating rain and thunder. In fear of their brother's power, the other three convinced him to go into a cave to get food, only to seal him in. To this day, Ayar Cachi still shouts in anger, causing the sky and earth to shake. He is thus, the god of earthquakes. Two of the remaining three brothers were turned to stone. The remaining son, became the famous Manco-Capac.

Manco-Capac: In some versions of the myth, after having outlasted his three other brothers, Manco-Capac marries his sister, Mama Ocllo, and the two are given a golden staff by their father, Inti. They are instructed to go and find a perfect place for a civilization to begin. Where ever they stick the staff in the ground shall become a great nation. Manco-Capac finds this place, which will later become Cuzco, the center of the Inca empire. He also teaches the humans who gather there about civilization, including the use of weapons, language, and fire. Manc-Capac is hailed as the first emperor of the Incas, and later god of civilization and fire.

Painting of Manco Capac

Mama Ocllo: Her name means 'mother fertility.' Mama Ocllo was the only named daughter of Inti and Mama Quilla. She married her brother Manco-Capac, and with him helped found Cuzco, the center of the Inca civilization. Like her husband, she helped to teach humankind about civilized living. She taught women about spinning, and thus became the goddess of spinning and weaving. Also, as the name suggests, she is also the goddess of fertility.

Painting of Mama Ocllo

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