by Ashley Cowie
This fourth article in the Quest for the Golden Sun Disk series reveals a hitherto unknown solar alignment at the very heart of the Inca Empire, which unlocks the secret to understanding the Viracocha creation myth.
The first article in this series examined how the Inca’s legendary Golden Sun Disk was related to the greater Andean cosmovision, and also its function at the Temple of the Sun in Cuzco. Article two took us on a expedition into the remote Vilcabamba region where we explored the magical White Rock Oracle. The last article investigated and interpreted the sacred landscape surrounding Inca Wasi, a sun Temple located at the highest part of the Neo Inca Empire. And that is where we begin…
STANDING IN THE LOWER CHAMBER OF INCA WASI, THE HIGHEST SUN TEMPLE IN THE NEO-INCA EMPIRE, I BECAME VERY AWARE THAT I HAD A REALLY SEGMENTED VIEW OF THE INCA CIVILISATION.
I had been so impressed by the way in which the phallic Oracle rock opposite Inca Wasi had visually penetrating the pool of water, that I had failed to realise that this but a tiny part of a grand scale, highly theatrical, sacred geographic expression of the Inca’s creation myth of Virachocha (male entidy) emerging from Lake Titicaka (water).
THE VIRACOCHA CREATION MYTH
Viracocha, also known as Huiracocha, Wiraqoca and Wiro Qocha was the supreme god of the Incas, the father of all other gods. He was most often described as an old, fair-skinned, bearded man, wearing a long robe and supported by a staff. He was believed to have formed the earth, sun, moon, planets, heavens, stars and all living beings. When he had completed his cosmic design, he “journeyed far to the north west teaching humanity and the arts before he sailed west across the Pacific, promising one day to return to Lake Titicaca.”
HIS CENTRAL PLACE OF WORSHIP WAS MOVED FROM LAKE TITICACA IN BOLIVIA TO THE CORACANCHA TEMPLE OF THE SUN LOCATED IN THE INCA CAPITAL CITY OF CUZCO.
In the first article in this series we examined a 16th century diagram of the altar within the Temple of the Sun in Cuzco, in which Viracocha is represented as a golden oval, at the centre of the universe, in-between the sun and the moon – his first two creations.
Viracocha is represented by an oval, located centrally in-between his first two creations – the sun and the moon.
At the Temple of the Sun in Cuzco sacrifices of humans, but more often llamas, were made to Viracocha on very important occasions. However, the sun god Inti and the moon goddess Mamma Killa were more important in the day-to-day lives of common people and worship of Viracocha was generally reserved of the high-priests and ruling classes.
Inca myths maintain Viracocha first created “a race of brainless giants from stone”, but proving too “unruly” he caused a great flood which killed most the stone giants, except two, who returned to their original stone form. He then made men and women using clay and gave them language, emotions, agriculture and the arts and soon after he created all animals.
He crafted the sun, moon, planets and stars from islands in Lake Titicaca before setting off north-westwards, civilising the world with culture and sacred knowledge. He assumed the costume of a beggar and took the names Atun-Viracocha and Kon-Tiki-Viracocha. He was accompanied by two brothers Imaymana and Tocapo crossing the entirety of Peru and ending up at the Pacific Ocean and sailed in a raft westwards, promising to return one day to Lake Titicaca.
VIRACOCHA’S JOURNEY IS THE KEY
Viracocha is said to have created everything on the June solstice. This date had significance to most ancient cultures because at sunset on the June solstice all of the agricultural, civic and ceremonial calendars came to an annual close. But in Peru, being in the tropics, this date had a deeper meaning because at noon on this sublime day, shadows were almost non-existent, because the sun was directly overhead. At this time, the sun was believed to power up the national ceke line system of invisible energy flows that they believed united every created thing. The Inca’s entire cosmovision (models of time and space) was structured around this date.
The shadows created at the June and December solstice sun rise and set, were extended across the landscape by teams of specialists versed in the sacred crafts of measuring time and distance, and aligning and orientating structures to suit astronomical and ritual purposes, using no more than ropes and posts. Being masters of ratio, scale, proportion, weight, gravity, solstice shadow angles were incorporated into the walls, windows and most important ritual features within the Inca’s mountain-top, super-structures of worship.
In Peru, ceremonial, ritualistic and astronomical buildings most often aligned between 65 degrees east of north to where the solstice sun rises on the horizon, and 295 degrees towards where it sets. Local variations to these angles were made to account for differing altitudes and obstructions on the horizon.
THE INCA’S RITUAL AND ASTRONOMICAL BUILDINGS WERE ORIENTED SO THAT THE FIRST AND LAST SOLSTICE RAYS ENTER DOOR WAYS AND WINDOWS, LIGHTING UP NICHES HOLDING GOLDEN STATUES AND ARTEFACTS, AND SHINES AND ALTARS WHICH WERE ALL DEDICATED TO THE SUN GOD, INTI.
Wonderful examples of solar building dynamics can be seen at Machu Picchu where the Temple of the Sun receives a thin ray of sunlight on the June solstice sunrise.
Machu Picchu’s Temple of the Sun in aligned so that the rising solstice sun ray penetrates the largest window and lights up the centre of the room, at which location a golden statue or disc would have been positioned.
The Coracancha Temple of the Sun in Cuzco, in its entirety, was aligned to the June solstice sun rise and setting points on the horizon and a pair of massive stone towers were built on the hills above the city of Cuzco marking the June solstice sunrise and set. The same can be found on the Island of the Sun in Lake Titicaca, where an arrangement of stone pillars mark the June solstice.
EXPLORING VIRACOCHA’S NEST
It was from Lake Titicaca in southern Peru that creator God Viracocha assumed the costume of a beggar and crossed the entirety of Peru, ending up at the Pacific Ocean. The Tiwanaku Empire preceded the Inca Empire by almost 2,000 years and occupied the lands around the south shores of Lake Titicaca. The Inca claim themselves to be the inheritors of the Tiwanaku tradition and they revered the ancient capital city of Tiwanaku because it was there that Vircocha was said to have created the universe, and all things in it.
LAKE TITICACA’S SHORES AND ISLANDS ONCE SUPPORTED MONUMENTAL ARCHITECTURE, PLATFORM MOUNDS, PYRAMIDS AND SUN TEMPLES.
The best-known remaining solar structure is Tiwanaku’s Gate of the Sun, a monolith carved with deities and astronomical symbols of the Tiwanaku pantheon. It’s located near the southern shore of Lake Titicaca at about 3,825 m above sea level, in La Paz, Bolivia. The gate is approximately 9.8 ft (3.0 m) tall and 13 ft (4.0 m) wide and was originally constructed with a single piece of stone estimated to be about 10 tons in weight.
The sun-gate is part of a greater astronomical complex with massive stone pillars and ruined buildings, all aligned to the June and December solstice sun rise and set. The sun-gate features 48 carved squares surrounding a central figure. Each square contains a winged character, 32 of which have human faces and 16 have condors’ heads. The central figure is a man omitting 24 linear sun-rays and holding two styled staffs which are generally believed to symbolise thunder and lightning. It is debated whether this figure represents a Tiwanaku sun god, or Viracocha, the Inca creator god. It might be he case that one evolved into the other.
Personally, I find the stylised navel at the centre of the carved figure suggests this is Viracocha, who is regarded as, and resides in, the metaphorical ‘navel of the universe’. Also, he stands on three steps which represent the three levels of Andean cosmological reality: Hanan Pacha (upper realm), Kai Pacha (here and now) and Uku Pacha (lowers realm). All other life forms and created objects are bound within this system and only Viracocha, the creator, stands outside it.
ISLAND OF THE SUN HOLDS THE ANSWER
The chronicler Bernabé Cobo recorded two Inca origin myths and both took place on Lake Titicaca on the Island of the Sun. In the first myth the ancient people of the province were said to have been without light for many days and Inca Manco Cápac, son of Inti the sun god, emerged from a large sandstone outcrop known as Titi Qala which they believed to be the Sun’s dwelling place thereafter.
Titi Qala, on the Island of the Sun is one of the Inca’s most sacred sited.
In the second version a great flood hit the region and the sun was said to have hidden under Titi Qala. The Island of the Sun was the first land to appeared from the flood waters and the people watched the sun emerge from Titikaca to illuminate the sky once again.
With the conquest of the southern Titicaca region by the Inca, the Titi Qala area became one of the most important pilgrimage destinations in the Inca state, or par with the famous oracle at the Temple of the Sun at Pachacamac, about 25 miles south of Lima. The Inca’s built a vast Temple of the Sun on the western side of the Island of the Sun, so that the astronomers, priests and worshipers could watch the setting solstice sun across the lake.
Colonial sketch of the Temple del Sol, on the Isle del Sol
Over several months I had been consumed with understanding Inca cosmovision. I had become conscious that within every Inca creation myth a common theme exists, a golden thread if you will. They are all structured around the creation event of the solstice sun rising from beneath the Island of the Sun, and setting far to the northwest.
THESE INCA CREATION MYTHS ARE METAPHORICAL FOR THE SOUTHEAST TO NORTHWEST PASSAGE OF THE SOLSTICE SUN.
From the Temple of the Sun, on the Island of the Sun, on Lake Titicaca, on the June Solstice, the rising sun is observed at 65 degrees east of north, and it sets at 295 degrees. I plotted the Temple of the Sun onto my map and drew in the 295 degree northwest solstice alignment. I was following the footsteps of Viracocha who from Lake Titicaca “journeyed northwest until he reached the Pacific Ocean”.
The result was crude as I was drawing freehand on a paper map at Inca Wasi, 14’00 ft in the Andes, but the primary result of my speculation was astounding. The 295 degree June solstice alignment precisely locates the sacred sun complex at Pachacamac (pronounced: pah cha kamak) 25 miles southeast of Lima.
THE MOST IMPORTANT ASPECT OF THE PACHACAMAC TEMPLE IS THE DIVERSITY OF COMPARTMENTS DEDICATED TO VARIOUS SEPTS WITHIN THE CULT OF THE SUN.
Was this 295 degree, June solstice alignment, seen as a solar spinal column supporting the Inca’s entire cosmovision? And as far as a ceke lines go, this alignment could be compared to a national highway.
There is no doubt that a physical Golden Sun Disk existed, but the Incas lived in an Imaginarium where metaphor and codes underlay every Temple, huaca, and shrine. Legends of the Golden Sun Disk describe an actual disk, but they also talk about its otherworldly secrets, which I believe are related to the discovery presented herein.
“THE WISDOM VIRACOCHA SPREAD FROM LAKE TITICAKA TO THE PACIFIC” IS SEEN MANIFESTED IN THIS 295 DEGREE SOUTHEAST – NORTHWEST SOLSTICE ALIGNMENT.
Had I discovered that the Viracocha creation myth, and his Golden Sun Disk, were metaphorical for the sun cycle as it scratched its southeast to northwest track in the summer sky?
Having turned the Inca’s golden key, a flow of subjective evidence presented itself, to support my discovery.
- Pachacámac means “Pacha” world, and “camac” to animate – “The One who Animates the World.” Therefore, at the northern and southern terminal points of the June solstice alignment, we have the ‘creator of the world‘ at one end, and the ‘animator of the world’ at the other.
- The image of Viracocha carved on the Tiwanaku’s Gate of the Sun shows him holding two staffs. Albeit these are most often interpreted as thunder and lightning, is it possible that they represent surveyors measuring staffs? Therefore Viracocha founded The Temple of the Sun on the Island of the Sun, travelled to the northwest and founded Pachacamac at the opposite end of the solstice alignment which defines the entire Inca Empire from north to south.
- Built centuries before the time of the Incas, Pachacamac was considered one of the most important religious centers of the indigenous peoples of the central Andes. Noted for its great pyramidal temples at the time of the Spanish conquest it was a major Inca religious centre of worship and learning. The Temple of the Sun is located on a rocky promontory overlooking the Pacific ocean and has four pyramidal bodies truncated to superimpose one another.
Believing I had cracked part of the mystery of the Golden Sun Disk, we filmed the rest of the scene for the documentary and the crew took some down time, before the descent back to the campsite at around 12’500 feet. I used this time to explore Inca Wasi further as it transpired that the longer I was there the more was being revealed to me.
I climbed around a crumbling north-east facing wall and entered a doorway into the lower chambers. The roof had fallen in and looking up I could see the doorway in which I had been sitting, from where this magical landscape had came into focus. I was standing directly beneath the doorway, which was the highest observational platform in the Neo-Inca Empire and when I looked down a chill sparked in my feet and stretched to the top of my head.
I was standing in a pit surrounded with fresh mud and rocks. It had been dug out very, very recently. What I found in that pit, is detailed not here, but in the next article in this series.
Copyright 2016 Ashley Cowie
Presented with author’s permission
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Exploring the world making films, writing books and blogging about lost cultures and kingdoms, ancient crafts and arts, the origins of legends and myths, architecture, symbols, artefacts and treasures.