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The Inca's Religion: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: David Wilson

David has taught college history and holds an MA in history.

The ancient Incan Empire ruled over the Andes Mountains of South America for centuries, creating beautiful works of art and architecture that survive to this day. This lesson will explain the Inca concepts of gods, rituals, sacrifices, and the world about them.

A Bright Idea

Anyone who has ever forgotten to put on sunscreen on a hot summer's day knows just how powerful the sun can be. The Incan Empire, a society that covered the territory of modern-day Peru, Bolivia, Argentina, Chile, and Ecuador some 500 years ago, believed that the sun's powerful heat came from a god which they named Inti. While the Inca worshiped a number of deities, Inti represented their most powerful god. The Inca not only worshiped the sun, but they believed all gold metal represented tears of the sun god, and used gold for holy ornaments rather than as coins. The Inca name for their emperor, Sapa Inca, meant Son of the Sun, due to the importance of both emperor and god. The term Inca itself comes from this title due to the importance of sun worship throughout this ancient South American civilization.

Ruins of Inca city Machu Picchu
Ruins of Inca city Machu Picchu

The God in Charge

The Incan emperor not only ran the show in his society but also got the added perk of being worshiped as a god himself. When a new emperor came to the throne, Incan priests sacrificed two hundred children in order to bless his reign. Unlike other Mesoamerican civilizations like the Maya and Aztecs, however, the Inca rarely sacrificed humans. More often, the Inca attempted to gain the favor of gods by sacrificing food or clothing or treasure. While the sun god received the most worship, the Inca sacrificed to a number of other gods, including the earth god, Pachamama; the god of storms and war, Illapa, and the death god Supay.

Searching for the Future

A central tenet of the Incan faith involved divination: the belief that the future can be understood and predicted by signs sent from the gods. Whenever a businessman desired a transaction or authorities solved a crime or priests planned a feast day, they would put their faith in divination. The Inca believed that gods sent signs of their will through a number of means, including the direction that a spider would travel when placed on a dish and how a llama's organs looked after it was sacrificed. When a person went to trial for committing a crime, divination practices often determined who would be found guilty and who would be innocent.

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