A colonial era building in Cusco that is adorned with two therianthropic sculptures. The building today is named ‘Casa de las Arpias’ (House of the Harpies), but was the indigenous sculptor actually recording a memory of Ayar Auca’s shamanistic transformation into a bird, when the first Inca family arrived in Cusco and ‘founded’ it? (© Dave Truman).
The Founding of Inca Cusco
The Incas did not originate in Cusco, but established it as the centre of what would become their extensive empire, or more correctly the Tawatinsuyo (Quechua for ‘four parts together’). At its height, the Tawantinsuyo stretched from present day Colombia through Ecuador in the north, through Peru, western Bolivia, North-West Argentina and as far south as Santiago de Chile.
There are several different traditional accounts of where the Incas originated, although most historians say that they inhabited the high grasslands of the Andes. One tradition tells of their origin at Lake Titikaka, whether or not this is historically true.
The Royal Measuring Rod
The mythos of Inca origins at Titikaka certainly serves to establish a degree of continuity between the cultures of Tiwanaku and their Inca successors. This may have been rather more than a matter of simple political expediency, as some commentators have suggested. The Incas saw themselves as re-establishing order and civil society after an era of bloodshed and warfare that had existed since the demise of Tiwanaku, which is said to have taken place at around 1000 AD. At Tiwanaku, according to the early seventeenth century chronicler Pachakuti Yamqui, Wiracocha (in his version of the story called Tunupa), gave the father of the first Inca a staff that was called Tupayauri (The word is said to derive, fittingly from a combination of the Quechua tupa, ‘royal’ and the Aymara yauri ‘copper’). Historically, the Inca Priest-King carried the Tupayauri as a symbol of his authority, power and invincibility, but it had many other connotations as well.
Interestingly, the Quechua word tupa (royal), shares its origin in the language with the verb tupay, which means ‘to measure with a staff’. Here we have the words for measure, measuring-rod and royal all closely associated with each other. This is, of course, not unique to South American languages. The English words: ‘rule’, ‘regal’, ‘royal’, ‘ruler’ and ‘regulate’ all derive from the Latin regula and rego, meaning to keep straight and to rule. (Equally, the English word real, comes from the closely related Latin regalis, meaning royal). Could it be that, from very ancient times, it was the responsibility of shaman priest-kings to establish and maintain the measure of the known universe? As we shall see, the first Inca Manco Cápac drove his Tupayauri into the ground, in what was to become Cusco, in order to establish the new axis mundi there.
There is yet more that we can say about the associations between measurement and royalty. The title of the first Inca, Manco Cápac, means ‘Royal Manco’ in Quechua. (I shall just focus on the meaning of Cápac here, for the sake simplicity). According to William Sullivan, the name Cápac originates in the Quechua verb capay, meaning to measure with the palms of the hand. Aymara also has the word capa, meaning palm and capatha, meaning to measure by palms. Measurement by means of the palms of the hands is said to have been an extremely ancient technique and examples of it are found in many cultures. It is possibly the basis for various units of measurement in ancient cultures around the world, including the Pacific Islands, where it may have contributed towards the Polynesians’ system of navigation across the vast tracts of the Pacific.
Cusco: the new stone in the centre
In several versions of the Inca foundation myth, Manco Cápac and his brothers and sisters left Tiwanaku and Titikaka to travel to the north to find a place to settle. In the version of the founding of Cusco told by the Spanish chronicler Pedro Sarmiento de Gamboa the story goes thus:
Let it be by one way or the other, for all agree that they went trying the land with a pole or staff until they arrived at this Huanay-pata, when they were satisfied. They were sure of its fertility, because after sowing perpetually, it always yielded abundantly, giving more the more it was sown. They determined to usurp that land by force, in spite of the natural owners, and to do with it as they chose. So they returned to Matahua.
From that place Manco Ccapac saw a heap of stones near the site of the present monastery of Santo Domingo at Cuzco. Pointing it out to his brother Ayar Auca, he said, “Brother! you remember how it was arranged between us, that you should go to take possession of the land where we are to settle. Well! look at that stone.” Pointing out the stone he continued, “Go thither flying,” for they say that Ayar Auca had developed some wings, “and seating yourself there, take possession of land seen from that heap of stones”.
This would indeed seem to be a propitious place, given that the heap of stones must have reminded Manco Cápac of Tiwanaku, or taypicala, as ‘the stone in the centre’. There were also practical considerations in that Manco Cápac and his siblings used the staff (Tupayauri) to test the land in order to see if it was fertile. Doubtless such practical considerations also included the supply of fresh water and this location just happened to lie within two rivers, the Huatanay and Tullumayu, that join further south to form the river of the Sacred Valley, the Vilcamayu-Urubamba.
John Major-Jenkins has observed that this division of rivers at Cusco resembles the dark rift of the Milky Way, close to the constellation of Sagittarius:
The unusual geological bifurcation of rivers that surrounds Cuzco most closely conforms to the part of the Milky Way that is bifurcated by the dark rift north of Sagittarius. In that sense, if we map the sky onto Peru, Cuzco is in the dark rift.
To Manco Cápac and his party, this must have been a propitious place indeed. It is little wonder therefore that the name Cusco was chosen as the name for their new axis mundi. The name comes from the Quechua q’osqo, which means in English ‘navel’. The imagery should be familiar to anyone who has studied geomancy, as Cusco was indeed the navel of the world, or the physical centre in the new pacha (epoch) established by Manco Cápac and his family.
The geomantic plan of Cusco
Cusco eventually would become the political, economic and cultural axis of the Tawantinsuyo as the Incas expanded their territory to take in those of other South American tribes, either by conquest or negotiation. The tribes brought within the compass of the Tawantinsuyo sent certain numbers of their people to live at Cusco, where they were allocated particular quarters within the city’s boundaries, according to their ethnic and geographical origins. Cusco thus became a sort of ethnic microcosm of the whole Tawantinsuyo, with its geometric topography manifesting the unity in diversity of the entire realm.
The reader will recall that the Chakana became closely associated with Cusco in Inca times. One reason for this was the four-fold division of the City, which reflected that of the division of the whole Tawantinsuyo into four provinces. The Chakana, it should also be remembered, encompassed celestial correspondences, especially in relation to the Southern Cross.
Prior to its division into four, however, celestial space had been reflected in the two-fold division of Cusco’s terrain. The line that cut the City in half had been established by observing the sun’s rising over a mountain called Pachatusan during equinoxes. The mountain’s name in English is ‘support pillar of space-time’, or ‘support pillar of the world’. This line marked the division between upper and lower Cusco. Upper Cusco (Hanan Cusco) was the abode of those members of the City who were warriors or administrators, whereas the inhabitants of Lower Cusco (Hurin Cusco) worked in religion and agriculture.
The Temple of the Sun
The sheer sophistication of geomancy used at Cusco is best appreciated when we come to consider the use of huacas and cesques there. Again, the reader will remember that cesques consisted of straight alignments of huacas across the landscape. All of the cesques in the entire Tawantinsuyo originated in the Temple of the Sun in Cusco, which was built next to the very pile of stones where Manco Cápac had thrust his Tupayauri (staff).
From the Temple of the Sun, 40 (some say 42) cesques radiated in straight lines over the mountain tops to different points on the horizon. Positioned along each cesque were 8 or so huacas, making some 328 huacas in total. This complex arrangement worked on multiple levels. Each huaca was associated with its own day and certain rites were performed at particular huacas on particular days. As the Inca calendar consisted of 328 days, there was one huaca for each day of the year. The remaining 37 days were excluded from the calendar, because they were the days when the Pleiades were not visible above the horizon.
Stars and ancestors
The number 40 was highly important in the Inca world view for other reasons. The 40 cesques also signified the idealised number of tribes that had been brought together to form the Tawantinsuyo. Each cesque therefore formed a straight line that led towards the geographical origin of each tribe. Priests were amongst the members of the 40 tribes who had been brought to Cusco, and the responsibilities of each included the maintenance of the huacas along the tribal cesque and for conducting rituals on the appropriate days. Each cesque also pointed towards the rising of a significant star, or constellation. Each star or constellation that aligned in this way with a cesque was important because it was thought to be the ancestor of that tribe.
Here, in Inca Cusco, we had the embodiment of order on the human, spiritual, geographic and cosmic scales. This was the counterpoint par excellence to the periodic cataclysms, or pachakutis, that had arrived during the many cycles of time that the Incas understood to be history. At the centre of the Tawantinsuyo was Cusco, and at the centre of Cusco was the Temple of the Sun. In writing of the ancient science, of which he believed Pythagoras and Plato to have been the inheritors, John Michell observed something that was equally true of the Inca conception of Cusco:
Thus human nature and the order of the universe were seen as products of the one archetype, the pattern that the Creator had in mind when he set about his work. On that perception rested the entire fabric of ancient philosophy and science. The Temple was placed between the two scales, human and cosmic, and the energies it transmitted were two-way; for it was believed not only that the heavens influenced affairs on earth, but that the order of human society affected the entire world of nature. Ceremonies throughout the year at the Temple were meant to initiate, and so procure, the fruitful union of all mutually corresponding elements, those above with those below.
The arrival of the conquistadores
Although it was geographically extensive, the Tawantinsuyo flourished for around only a hundred years before the Spanish, under the command of Francisco Pizarro, subjugated it in 1533. The fact that Pizarro, with only a small force of fewer than 200 Spaniards at his disposal, overcame this vast realm is one of the great riddles of history. Most historians attribute this to the effects of smallpox, which the Spanish inadvertently introduced into South America, and its devastating effect on the indigenous population. It was smallpox that claimed as its victim the Sapa Inca (King) immediately prior to Pizarro’s campaign in Peru. Huayana Capac died of the disease, leaving two of his sons, the half-brothers Huascar and Atahualpa, to conduct a bitter civil war for the Tawantinsuyo, which left it divided into a northern and southern portion. It was no longer ‘the four parts together’, a sign indeed of ill omen.
There were further signs that the pacha of the Incas was about to come to an end. Andean priest-astronomers knew about precession, and from this understanding, they realised that the current world pacha was about to be turned upside down in a pachakuti, after which a new pacha would come into existence. Furthermore, according to the chronicler Garcilaso de la Vega – who was Huayana Capac’s great nephew – the Sapa Inca had told of an ancient prophecy just before he had died of smallpox. This spoke of a future time when the Incas would lose their religion and the Tawantinsuyo would be no more.
The dying Sapa Inca was also said to have associated the coming of the Spaniards with the return of Wiracocha, heralding the advent of a new pacha. This information was said to have been kept as a secret amongst the Inca royalty for many years, according to Garcilaso.
Whilst many historians have explained the prophecy away as an excuse that the Inca royalty had made for not resisting the Spanish incursion more vigorously, it may have been that the Incas genuinely believed that their time had come to an end. To them, the signs were everywhere.
Whatever the causes, the Spanish soon established the new dispensation. The Temple of the Sun was stripped of its gold and a Dominican convent was built on the site. This was an act of no small significance to the conquered peoples of the Tawantinsuyo, as much as it was for the conquerors. There followed a period called the extirpation, in which the Catholic Church attempted to remove all signs of indigenous religious symbology from the landscape, and which especially included the deliberate destruction of huacas. Many of the menfolk were forced to work in silver and gold mines to feed the insatiable appetite of the Spanish Crown for precious metals. Others were simply slaughtered. Perhaps ironically, Inca resistance grew after the demise of Cusco and the death of Atahualpa.
Yet for all this, the history of geomancy in South America did not come to an end. Amongst the native population, some fragments of the ancient beliefs were kept alive clandestinely.
You will see them in the carvings made by indigenous craftsmen in the churches erected by the Conquistadores; you will find them if you look beneath surface of the many religious festivals celebrated in this part of the world. The Spanish too employed their own traditions of geomancy that came from esoteric European sources. It is said, for example, that families withTemplar and Hermetic connections provided many of the resources to build early colonial churches. Later, during the era of liberation from Spanish colonialism, Freemasonry was a major influence on the ideas of liberators, such as Simon Bolivar, Juan San Martin and Bernado O’Higgins to name but a few. That influence can also be seen in the architecture and layout of modern cities such as Buenos Aires, or Montevideo. In South America, it would seem that constructing an image of the cosmos across the landscape is something that is inextricably bound to establishing and maintaining political and social order.