Test your Knowledge about these 3 Symbols of the Incas
Walking through the city of Cusco, the ancient centre of the Inca Empire, we can sometimes spot faded (and undiscovered?) shapes and symbols in the stone walls and paths. A lot of neighbourhoods in Cusco still contain the original stones from the high times of the Inca culture.
We can also still find plenty of impressive Inca remains around the city. Upon visiting these sites today, one cannot avoid noticing the symbols carved into the stone that have the shape of three reoccurring animals: the Condor, the Puma and the Snake. What did these animals mean to the Inca and what mysteries do they hold today?
The order of the world as seen by the Inca
The Inca mythology includes a series of mysterious stories and legends that explain and symbolize their faith. It all begins with the “Chakana”. This is the Quechua name of a three-stepped Andean cross, representing the three stages of Inca life.
The snake, puma and condor are symbolic representatives of the three levels. The snake, Uqhu Pacha, represents the lower or underworld. The middle world of humans, called Kay Pacha, is represented by the Puma. The upper world of the Gods, Hanan Pacha, is represented by the Condor. The hole in the middle of the Andean cross represents Cusco, the centre of the world (Qosqo: translated from Quechua, means “navel of the world”)
The Condor as the Messenger between Earth and Heaven
The condor, symbolizing righteousness, was considered the most sacred bird by the Incas. It was thought to be the messenger between the earth and the heavens. The Incas believed that the condor was in charge of taking the spirits or souls of the dead people to heaven on its wings. These South American birds actually travel long distances daily, overcoming huge differences in the altitude of the Andes peaks to the sea and back. It is therefore obvious that this animal was chosen to serve as a mediator between different spiritual worlds. The Condor is also the only bird strong enough to fly up to the heavens and deliver messages to God.
The Puma: patient guardian of the Earth
In the Inca´s belief system, the puma represented the central world: the earth. For the Inca, the puma represented the power and strength on the earth´s surface. The Incas even designed their capital Cusco in the shape of a puma! If you look at an old map of Cusco you will find that the cathedral in the main square is the heart, which was once the Palace of Wiracocha, the ninth Incan Emperor. Qoricancha, or the Temple of the Sun, was the centre of the puma and Saqsayhuaman was the head!
The wise Snake of the Underworld
In the Inca mythology, the Snake stands for wisdom and knowledge. The snake represented the beginning of new life, as the snake always comes out from its hiding place in the underground. The Andean tradition says that life always begins in the underworld. The snake travels to the underworld, where it sheds its skin and returns “newly born”. To the Inca, this transformation symbolized the fulfilment of the circle of life.