Some places attract fables, and even in a land of where folklore is so often garnished by the teller, this place excels in embellishment. The first time I came here a boy who sold me a piece of quartz told me that he knew of a couple of newly weds who had disappeared through the Gatewway, never to be seen again. I am just as guilty, my mind is compelled to enhance whatever may drift into my consciousness whenever I come here. I need only pass by Bosque de las Piedras on the bus for my imagination to draw me into a chthonic realm of shadowy gods.
It’s hardly surprising, the very shapes jutting from this sandstone outcrop near to the shore of Lake Titikaka declare their hoariness. The aeons have sculpted them into a phantasmagoria of forms, like the stuff of half-remembered dreams, or perhaps nightmares. I cannot help but think of Wiracocha’s first creation when I see this place; a world in which there was no sun, where its beings so angered their creator that he turned them to stone. Giants petrified in perpetuity.
Unless you have actually been here it is hard to imagine, but the Gateway of transition between worlds could not be what it is – whatever that is – if it were not part ofthis ancient City of Spirits. Its sandstone outcrops create a unique acoustic resonance. You can stand several hundred yards (metres) away from the Gateway and hear words spoken softly by those immediately in front of it. I am sure that those who constructed the Gateway knew this. They even may have added to the outcrops that face the Gateway so as to enhance its acoustics.
There is a curious ambiguity about the place, as if the spirits of nature, or perhaps humans, had conspired to breathe artifice into its genius loci. Most probably the entire outcrop was once considered a sacred place for reasons that we hardly understand today.
An ancient lakeside Gateway
The Gateway stands on the very edge of this arched sandstone outcrop. At some time in the distant past sediments from an ancient sea bed were compressed into stone here. Then they were up-ended by tectonic forces shifting in the Earth’s crust so that they stood upright, as the Andes rose above the South American Plate. Later, glaciers rasped at their surface, making the first icy cuts to create what became these curious formations.
Beyond the bluff in which the Gateway sits, the terrain flattens out into a hollow so shallow it is barely perceptible, until your eyes notice the waters of Titikaka glistening in the mountain sunlight more than a mile (1.6 km) away.
It does not take a great leap of the imagination to realise that the waters of a lake, or inland sea, once lapped against the very foot of the Gateway. Although the level of Lake Titikaka is known to fluctuate considerably over short periods, it has grown steadily smaller since it was formed from the dregs of the much larger stretches of water that once covered the Altiplano during the Pleistocene.
Today the Gateway now stands at least 45 feet (15 metres) above Titikaka’s present level – and that is my rather conservative estimate. Geologists have calculated that the lakes on the Altiplano during the late Ice Age were between 15 and 45 feet (5 and 15 metres) higher than Titikaka is today. This raises the interesting proposition that the Gateway could be far older than the Inca construction it so often is assumed to be. The local traditions I have been told confirm this to be so.
Fables of refugees from sunken lands across the sea?
Since the 1950s and 60s an association has grown up in South American popular culture between the Gateway and the lost continent(s) of Lemuria and/or Mu. This centres on the arrival of a priest from the aforesaid sunken continent(s) called Aramu Muru (another name for the Gateway), his founding of the Brotherhood of the Seven Rays and the loss, or hiding, of a golden solar disc.
Whilst most of this can be attributed to the writings of George Hunt Williamson, it is surprising the extent to which versions of this story have taken root amongst people living in the Andes today. Such is their prevalence, I consider that they were probably grafted on to an indigenous folk memory, rather than simply having been introduced in the last century. Indeed, I have heard the lost continent of Mu mentioned when people here speak of other megalithic sites and of their founders. Always these events take place in a past so distant that they are dismissed out of hand by the academics.
Folk memory may have a way of adapting to the times in order to preserve its essence. Instead of Mu, we might think of another sunken landmass called Sundaland, where the population fled as sea levels rose sharply at the very end of the Pleistocene, inundating its savannah. Is it so ridiculous to suppose that some of these people took to the oceans and reached the Pacific coast of South America? At least some of the inhabitants of this now submerged landmass were probably capable of crossing water in boats long before the end of the Ice Age. Others – the Denisovans and their hybrid descendants – seem to have possessed highly sophisticated technologies, including high-speed drilling.
Geometry in the landscape
When the Peruvian researcher Ricardo González visited the Gateway, equipped with map and compass, he made a surprising discovery. The Gateway’s threshold pointed directly towards the Island of the Sun on Lake Titikaka.
Intrigued by González’s discovery, I decided to investigate further using Marble® mapping software. I found that the Gateway does not just point to anywhere on the Island of the Sun, which is nearly 6 miles (9,6 km) long. Rather, it points to what is arguably the most important sacred site in the whole of the Andes: the Foundation Stone, or Sacred Rock, known as Titi Q’ala. TheTiti Q’ala is the Pacarina, or point from which the whole of Andean civilisation unfolded. This is the place where Wiracocha is said to have created the Sun and Moon after the frozen age of darkness. The Titi Qala was also where the progenitors of the Incas, Manco Capac and Mama Ocllo, arose from the waters of Titikaka to restore civilisation to an Andes that had been reduced to barbarism.
I began to look for other ancient and sacred sites on and around this part of Lake Titikaka. There is, to be sure, no shortage of such places here, but one location on the map seemed to draw my attention more than any other.
In the centre of the peninsula that divides Titikaka’s Great Lake from its Little Lake, there sits an enormous volcano called Khapia. It is considered an apu (tutelary deity) by local people. Modern day shamans visit Khapia’s plateau to seek advice on the future and it is home a number of huacas, or sacred objects. One of these is a stone representation of a toad, which almost certainly dates back to the time when the Uru people occupied this part of the Altiplano.
When I joined these three sacred places together on the map using a spherical map projection, the result was an equilateral triangle:
This is not the only example of triangles that can be plotted between sacred mountains and other such places in the Andes. Perhaps the best known is the Pythagorean triangle that joins the peaks of Illimani, Illampu (both considered to be apus) and Tiwanaku in Bolivia. Anyone familiar with the work of British researcher Mark Vidler will know that triangles formed between the highest peaks of mountain ranges are surprisingly common throughout the world.
It seems that early people possessed an ability to recognise these geometries, which in the above example included an innate appreciation of spherical trigonometry. What was more, they incorporated this innate understanding within their sense of the sacred. There may be rather more to the concept of the apu, or the spirit teacher who is the mountain, than our modern world-view recognises.
The human factor
The Gateway goes by many names, including Wilka Uta, Aramu Muru, Amaru Muru and Amaru Punku amongst others. This alone is testimony to its great antiquity. One thing has struck me about the Gateway, having witnessed two shamanistic ceremonies there. It is the extent to which it interacts with the human presence. In particular, it seems to be energised by the human will and emotions. I have come to this conclusion with the help of photographs I have taken with an Oldfield Filter®. There is a marked difference between pictures taken before and after such ceremonies have occurred.
Admittedly, the sun was shining brightly when I took the second picture after a ceremony, but the camera was recording more here than simply glare of sunlight. The full spectrum has been captured through the lens. This is something I have found happens often when human emotions and intentions are being expressed at the time the shutter opens. What is different in this case though, is that I took this picture about half an hour after a ceremony had finished. It is as if a three dimensional arc of some sort surrounds the area immediately in front of the Gateway. Contrast this with the previous picture in which the orientation of the colours simply seems to mirror the diagonal strata of the sandstone in the bluff.
In far-off times, Huayamarca stood on the edge of a vast inland sea. Its Gateway welcomed visitors from across the water; from the Lion Cliff of Titi Q’ala, which itself had risen from those same waters. It welcomed the Wise Ones (amautas) who consulted the Apu of the volcano Khapia. More than all of this, the Gateway beckoned those who came to its shore to traverse its rocky portal and journey onwards and inwards – toward the innermost sanctum of the City of Spirits.
The Altiplano never ceases to surprise me. I thought I had it all worked out, ancient cataclysms and all. Then, one morning, I decided to visit Cutimbo. The micro picked up speed as we cleared the suburbs of Puno and headed towards the South-west. The road cut a straight line across the plateau, the only deviation being a slight vertical one, as it accommodated the banks of mud that had settled on its floor thousands of years ago. This was once the bed of Lake Tauca; a vast salt lake that had engulfed this part of the Altiplano, – as well as present-day Lake Titikaka – during the Ice Age.
A geological conundrum
Geologists still really do not know where all of Tauca’s salt came from. Today, there is salt in profusion further south in the Andes. In Bolivia, Lakes Uru Uru and Poopo are all heavily saline. Then there are the salt flats at Uyuni and Coipasa, which are evaporated lakes. Even as far south as Argentina, the Salinas Grandes glisten blindingly in the Andean sun and there is the salty Mar Chiquita; a vast lake in the Province of Cordoba, thousands of miles (kilometres) from any ocean. How did all this salt get here? Was it just what was left from some very ancient ocean bed, or did it arrive here more recently from catastrophic earth changes?
Most of the salt was probably washed out of this part of the Altiplano, and from what became Titikaka, by the sudden melting of the glaciers at the very end of the last Ice Age – about eleven and a half thousand years ago. The ensuing freshwater floods would have swept it southwards into what is today Bolivia and Argentina.
A walk to the table mountain
Lost in my geological reverie, I barely noticed that the micro had pulled up and that the driver was calling out ‘Cutimbo’. I fumbled in my pocket for change, handed him the required two and a half soles and got out. Then, I looked up. Before me stood what seemed to be an immense citadel formed from the very Earth herself. From the plateau on which I was standing, there rose another one, perhaps a thousand feet (300m) higher. Just beneath its culmination was a sheer wall of of rock, a rampart fashioned by nature to defy all but the most earnest of seekers.
I glanced about me at the wider landscape. The daunting prospect before me did not stand alone. There were similar massive protrusions from the Altiplano all around me, suggesting that the plateau here had once been about 1,000 feet (300m) higher than it is today. I thought of the mesas of Arizona, except that where I was standing was already two and a half miles (4.5 km) above the sea. Was this extraordinary phenomenon really the result of tiny streams gently nibbling away at the rocks over millions of years, or had something far more sudden and dramatic happened here to create these curious formations? My mind drifted back to the immense floods that I believe took place when the Ice Age came to abrupt end – perhaps in a matter of days
I started to cross the road. A local man, who lived in Cutimbo – the modern village clustered around the foot of the meseta – had alighted at the same stop. He helpfully pointed me in the direction of the archaeological site, which was at the summit. We walked along the pathway chatting, until he reached his smallholding. I took the opportunity to ask him about any legends concerning the ruins. His rather evasive reply was along the lines of, ‘Oh yes, there are many legends concerning this place’, and then left it at that. Although intrigued, I did not press him on the matter. I’ve learned that trust has to be earned from the country peoples of the Andes. They guard their lore and customs ardently. I made a remark about the presence of the chullpas at the top of the meseta, but again he remained largely taciturn.
Towards the beckoning chullpas
We parted by shaking hands and I pressed on alone, up the ever increasing slope, towards the top of the meseta and the chullpas. I took my time during the ascent. At this altitude it is very easy to lose one’s breath, even when accustomed to the dearth of oxygen. At about a third of the way up, I was surprised that another chullpa came into view, because it was not visible from the road.
At first sight it appeared unremarkable, but it was only on closer inspection that I noticed some of its striking features. In my article on Sillustani, I described some of the Andean cosmology that underpinned the design of the chullpas there. The cosmology employed here at Cutimbo was essentially the same. Here was the familiar ‘doorway’ facing almost due east at the bottom of the tower; an orifice that would allow the first rays of the solstice sun into the chullpa during the ceremony in which the shaman sought guidance from the ancestors. Chullpas, however, have two entrances. Whilst shamans enter from the material world at the bottom of the tower, the souls of the ancestors enter at the top, as they complete their journeys from the celestial realm.
It was only when this rather obvious thought impressed itself upon me that some of the features of this chullpa started to make sense. I checked the stonework for magnetic anomalies. There were none, except for the lintel that supported the stones above the ‘doorway’ at the bottom of the tower. When I moved the compass towards this stone, the needle spun from magnetic north to west. Interestingly, the only photograph I took with the Oldfield Filter at the whole site that showed any colour variation was the one I took of the lintel in the wall of this chullpa. As at Tiwanaku, it seemed, the boundaries between different realms were deliberately marked with devices that changed the orientation of the magnetic field.
I turned my attention to the chullpa’s celestial entrance and was amazed to find several very worn carvings around the top of the tower. A little later, I will discuss the relief carvings in more detail, with respect to the two large chullpas at Cutimbo’s summit. For now, here are details of the carvings I noticed on this chullpa:
Keen to find out how this example compared to the massive chullpas sitting on the meseta’s summit, I returned to my slow climb upwards. More surprises were in store for me, however. I had climbed but a short way when I came across a sign that diverted me from my upward path towards some cave paintings. I scrambled along a rocky trail that jutted out over a sheer drop on one side to reach a covered recess set in from the craggy wall on the other.’ ‘Hardly a cave at all’, I thought. These places provided spartan refuges in the most difficult of times: when the skies went dark, when the floods laden with debris and boulders swept over the Altiplano and when flares from the sky seared into the flesh. They were shelters born of necessity, not primitivism.
The French researcher and writer Simone Waisbard spent many years collecting the oral traditions of Andean peoples. They told her of an epoch in which the people were forced to leave the Altiplano and take refuge in the caves of the cordilleras, when a succession of devastating floods plagued their homelands. As the waters started to recede, the amautas (wise ones) used to draw instructional diagrams on the walls of the caves in order to teach large bands of survivors strategies for hunting the remaining game. Was this, I wondered, what was depicted here?
Towards the table top
I resumed my slow climb to the flat summit of this mountain laden with secrets. As I rose, I could see further and further across the Altiplano towards the jagged grey peaks of the cordilleras beyond, highlighted with snow. Finally, the path levelled out and curved as I reached the plateau. I looked across the plane that now revealed itself in front of me. I was confronted by the prospect of an immense megalithic tower, rectangular in shape, that made the chullpa I had just inspected lower down seem miniature in comparison. It was not just that the tower itself dwarfed the one lower down the slope, but it was that the stones that comprised this immense chullpa’s walls were so much larger.
It was as if, like Gulliver, I had found myself washed up on the shore of a land of giants. All around the tower, strewn across the summit’s surface, lay large stone blocks, their straight cuts and regular angles jutting out from the tall grass of the pampa. My eyes wandered to the left and a second enormous tower confronted me. About as tall as its companion, this was round and it seemed to have suffered rather less structural damage. It was built from enormous interlocking blocks of stone.
In many ways, this tower resembled the ones I had seen at Sillustani, but I could not help thinking that it was much older. Its andesite blocks, although equally finely worked as those at Sillustani, seemed to have been much more weather-worn.
The sacred geometry of the chullpas
Both Cutimbo and Sillustani are sites where there are rectangular and circular chullpas. The combination of styles may not be because of invasions by different peoples, who brought with them distinct building technologies, as is often supposed. Rather, it could be an expression of complementary principles of geometry at work in the universe, which was reflected by the builders of the chullpas.
The Peruvian researcher, Javier Lajo has observed that the geometries of different pre-Columbian temples in the Andes varied according to whether a male or a female deity, or spiritual presence, was worshipped there. Put simply, those buildings intended for the worship of the male tend to be square or rectangular, whereas those intended for the female are circular.
Might it just be that this principle also accounts for the different geometries of the chullpas? In my article on Sillustani, I argued that these towers were where the shamans of the Kollas communed with the souls of their dead ancestors during the southern winter solstice. Could the rectangular chullpas have been built to house the souls of returning male ancestors and the circular towers those of female ancestors?
Enigmatic relief carvings
Curiously, only the large round chullpa at Cutimbo’s summit sports any relief carvings. Its rectangular companion possesses none. Whereas most of the carvings on the chullpa on the mountain’s slope are grouped around the ‘spirit entrance’ at the top of the tower, here they are grouped around the shaman’s ‘doorway’, which faces due east at the bottom. To say the least, they present a mystery:
In his book Magicians of the Gods, Graham Hancock draws certain parallels between these relief carvings and those at Golbekle Tepe in eastern Turkey. There are certainly stylistic similarities, but the Golbekle Tepe carvings have enjoyed the benefit of having been buried for many thousands of years before they were unearthed. These carvings have not been so fortunate. The extreme weathering of the hard andesite rock from which they have been formed is testimony that they may be as old as their Turkish counterparts.
There is another difference between these carvings and those at Golbekle Tepe. Several of those who have studied the Turkish carvings have been able to identify the animal figures depicted there. Here, the figures seem to defy any identification. When I first studied them, I searched the internet for pictures of South American mammals, both modern and from the Ice Age, both small and large. I could find nothing that matched the Cutimbo creatures. The carving of the two heads is equally puzzling. Are the heads human, or are they apes? Bearing in mind that the chullpas enabled contact with the spirits of ancestors, are they some sort of tacit acknowledgement of hominid ancestors, of which we are no longer aware? There are many questions to be asked.
Perhaps, as with the relief carvings at Tiwanaku, these may be representations of chimera, therianthropes and other shifting shamanistic spirit forms. If so, then they are stylistically very different from the Tiwanaku sculptures. Yet, conventional archaeology tells us that the builders of these stone chullpas were supposed to have been culturally linked to those who built Tiwanaku. Could it be that conventional archaeology’s map of South America’s past, before the arrival of the Spanish, is completely wrong?
As I turned to leave this most baffling of sites, my attention was drawn to one of the many megaliths lying on the ground close to the rectangular chullpa. There, carved on to one of the large stones that was probably shaken from the tower during an earthquake, was one of the most unfathomable figures I have ever set eyes on:
Was the head intended to be human, or had the thousands of years of wind, rain and hail deceptively worn its features that way? Why did it have no hind legs, or were millennia of rain and hail responsible for erasing those too? Why were the hands, which appeared to cling to the stone so desperately, that large? As I stated earlier, Cutimbo has left me with so many questions, but with hardly any answers.
Above, a colour-composite image of the Pleiades from the Digitised Sky Survey. (Image in the public domain courtesy of NASA).
The number 7
There are some other elements of the story of Amaru Muru that could equally derive from ancient Andean traditions. The Monastery of the Seven Rays is clearly indicative of the colours of the rainbow. Today, you will see rainbow flags in all of the Andean regions populated by the Aymara and Quechua speaking peoples, regardless of whether you happen to be in Argentina, Peru, Bolivia, or Chile. The number seven certainly held significance in ancient times, equally as much as today, and more widely across South America.
The eminent German mathematician Maria Reiche, who spent most of her life studying the Nazca Lines in Southern Peru, found that some of the lines and triangles marked onto the surface of the desert aligned with the rising and setting points of particular constellations, including the Pleiades, or Seven Sisters.
The Pleiades were observed also by the Incas as a way of determining the abundance or otherwise of forthcoming harvests. This was done by judging the clarity of the seven stars in the sky, at the point at which they first became visible above the horizon without being outshone by the brilliance of the Sun (in technical language this is known as their heliacal rising). The technique employed was, in fact, a very disciplined form of observation, since atmospheric conditions governed how clearly the Pleiades shone, they provided an indication of the optimum planting time for crops such as potatoes. It is hardly surprising then that the number 7 features so prominently and persistently in Andean lore, if for no other reasons than the security of the next harvest.
The mind of the paq’o is more all-encompassing than this though, and somehow I think that an Andean might agree with Philo of Alexandria when the latter wrote, “Nature delights in the number 7”. Andean lore is no stranger to sacred number, geometry and geomancy. The number 7 is indeed abundant in the Andean cosmovision, not least also because it is the sum of 3 and 4, which are the numbers of of the three pachas and the traditional quarterly division of Andean villages and cities. Settlements were crossed by four pathways that ran to the four rising and setting points of the solstice suns on the horizon. We shall explore this characteristic of dividing space into four in due course.
The Axis Mundi and the three vertical pachas of Andean cosmology
The word pacha is often loosely translated into English as ‘world’ of which there are three of the spatial variety, the Hanaq Pacha (the world above/land of the gods/condor), Kay Pacha (the earth/puma) and Ukhu Pacha (the world below/of the dead/serpent).
Here again we meet the limitation of the Western rational mind in grasping the concept of the pacha and one which likewise confused the Spanish, who frequently equated the three pachas with the heaven, earth and hell of Catholic theology. It is not my purpose to give a full account of the concept of pacha here, or to list the many variations in nomenclature and nuance that exist. Suffice it to say that a pacha incorporates what we conceive of as both time and space. Hence, a pacha can also be thought of as a particular era, or of time. Pachas could replace one another over time and each might have its own characteristics. The arrival of a new pacha was heralded by a pachakuti (turning of the world upside down) and would be marked by changes in heavenly configurations, perhaps earthquakes and the possible overturning of an existing social order. Again, it is perhaps better to think in terms of a holographic conception. Those who are familiar with fractals and holograms will come closer to an understanding of the pacha and other ‘parts’ of the Andean cosmovision than those who are accustomed to thinking in a linear fashion.
The serpent and the Ukhu Pacha
Let us now return briefly to Amaru Muru, which means the Gateway of Amaru in both the Quechua and Aymara languages. We know something of the Gateway, or doorway, but who, or what, then is Amaru? The Amaru is the mythical water serpent of the Andes, which is associated with great changes and upheavals at the end of one era, or cycle, to clear the way for the start of the next one.
The serpent is associated with the underworld (Ukhu Pacha) and, not surprisingly therefore, also correlates to the occurrence of earthquakes, of which there are many in this corner of the globe. Celestially, the serpent corresponds to the shape of a particular ‘dark cloud’, within the band of the Milky Way, above the southern tropic (ie in the ‘lower’, or underworld). In nature, serpents live under the ground also. The cycles that end in a period of destruction may be social, political, architectural, celestial, climatic, or natural. Usually, they are some combination of some, or all of the same.
Amaru, the serpent of the underworld, has a mythological pedigree that stretches back a very long way indeed. However, you do not need agree with me about the extreme antiquity of some of the most intriguing Andean archaeology to appreciate the powerful connections that exist between the Andean underworld and the Amaru. The use of serpent imagery in association with earth energies has parallels in many other ancient cultures across the globe and should be familiar to anyone with even a passing knowledge of these subjects. Now it is time to leave the Bosque de las Piedras and return south, across Lake Titicaca, to the Isla del Sol (Island of the Sun), where we will discover another serpent connection.
Much has been written about the Isla del Sol, and much more will doubtless be written, but here I want simply to draw your attention to something that Paul Coon claims to have discovered, when he described the Rainbow Serpent and the Plumed Serpent as lines of male and female energy that weave their way around the Michael and Mary Lines as they encircle the globe. The imagery is, of course, very similar to what we have just been discussing and is part of his work on the Planetary Chakras, of which Lake Titikaka is one of the 52 Planetary Gateways to Immortal life. The masculine – feminine dynamic is a persistent theme in the mythology of Lake Titikaka and especially of the Isla del Sol and its close companion, the Isla de la Luna (Island of the Moon).
Tiwanaku: the Stone in the Centre
In his book Galactic Alignment, John Major Jenkins makes an interesting observation about the correspondence between the path of the Milky Way above and the topography of the Andes, as well as that of other mountain chains, on the Earth below.
Jenkins concludes that the Galactic Centre and solstice-galaxy alignments have played a significant part in Incan and pre-Incan traditions. Moreover, he singles out two locations that are the strongest candidates for the terrestrial counterpart to the Galactic Centre in South America: Tiwanaku, which at 16° south of the Equator passes directly underneath the Galactic Centre at its zenith, and Cusco, of which we shall learn more in due course.
Without a topographical globe in hand, it’s hard to picture this, but no one can deny that a circular chain of mountains runs crosswise around the globe, at roughly a 60°angle to the equator. If we imagine this mega-chain to be the terrestrial counterpart to the Milky Way, then two locations present themselves for being the Galactic Center on Earth: Tibet and Peru. This is the biggest mapping of sky onto Earth that we could imagine. This is “as above, so below” in a big way.
The complexes at Tiwanaku and Puma Punku lie in close proximity to each other at about 12 miles south of the current shoreline of Lake Titikaka. The dating of the sites is hotly disputed between academics and ‘alternative’ archaeologists, with the latter generally arguing for an earlier one and perhaps going back as far as 15,000 BC. Puma Punku has been said by many to pre-date Tiwanaku; but it is not just its dating that presents an enigma.
At Puma Punku collossal blocks of red sandstone and grey andesite are strewn across this corner of the altiplano as if they had been dashed to the ground in some titanic fit of pique. There have, thankfully, been no sustained attempts to reconstruct Puma Punku from this almost random array of blocks, but that is hardly surprising. The stones of Puma Punku defy any attempts to do so. The sheer size of some of the largest ones would make them difficult to manoeuvre. Above all, many of them have been worked with such precision and intricacy that it is more than conjecture to imagine that we are looking at the scattered fragments of some kind of colossal ancient machine. If so, what was its function? What was the technology?
We can imagine a little more easily what the neighbouring Tiwanaku site once looked like, although the ‘walls’ of the Kalasasaya complex are a modern reconstruction that give a false impression of how it must have been originally. Until comparatively recently here, you would have seen a series of megaliths arranged in a large rectangle.
The Akapana Pyramid
As you walk away from Puma Punku, you will see today, on your right, a large rather nondescript mound with a flattened top. This is the Akapana Pyramid and fortunately we do know something rather more reliable about how it may have looked originally. What appears to today’s modern visitor as a rather large – almost amorphous – earth work, was once a stepped and truncated pyramid. For reasons that are far from clear, at some point in the Akapana’s history, it became covered in soil and mud. Beneath the accumulated dirt, excavations have revealed the remains of precisely worked masonry. The ravages of time and treasure hunters have made it impossible to obtain the Pyramid’s exact dimensions, but it has been estimated to have been about 780 feet (257 metres) at its widest point and over 50 feet (16.5 metres) tall.
The Akapana once would have appeared as a series of seven large steps, or tiers, that taper towards the platform on the top. I have previously discussed the significance of the number seven in ancient Andean cosmology, so I shall not labour the point here.
Suffice it to say that seven tiers were built here for a particular reason. We know from elsewhere that the numbers of tiers of the Mayan Pyramids all had numerological, celestial and calendrical significance. Perhaps this is just a coincidence? On the other hand, there is good evidence that there were trade and cultural contacts between Central and South America in ancient times. It is not beyond the bounds of possibility therefore to consider that both Central and South American cultures shared the habit of including numbers that were significant to them in their architecture. Above all at Tiwanaku, you are left with the distinct impression that every angle and every number are there to convey a meaning.
There was once a sunken court on the top of the Akapana that was originally, before being covered in earth and vandalised, in the the shape of a Chakana that faced upwards towards the heavens. The symbolism and geometry of the Chakana are highly significant, especially at this location. Even today, you will see Chakanas throughout South America, not just in the Andean region. I have even seen Chakanas adorning the belt buckles of mate drinking gauchos in the Rio Sul in Brazil. In the Andes you will see the Chakana everywhere: from rainbow coloured flags fluttering in the Plazas de Armas, to painted signs advertising restaurants and hotels.
In most literature it is referred to as an Inca Cross, but its provenance as a symbol is much more ancient. As with other symbols of great antiquity, the multiple meanings associated with Chakana are the result of accretions over time. Its etymology seems to stem from the Quechua and Aymara word(s) chaka, meaning bridge and it may have been associated, in some astronomical contexts, with the three stars of Orion’s belt. (The three were thought to have been “linked” in some way, rather like a ladder, or rope bridge). However, the overriding sense of the concept of chaka (bridge), and therefore of the Chakana, is rather more generic, as William Sullivan points out:
In Andean culture……the concept of a “bridge’ (or stairway) had uses as a cosmological metaphor: in myth it stood for a point of contact between this world and the supernatural worlds, while in purely astronomical uses it referred to abstract “junctions’ on the celestial sphere, that is, to locations whose significance lay in marking areas of the sky critical for grasping the essential geometry of the fixed sphere of stars.
Now, we all already know that the significance of Tiwanaku’s location is that it lies beneath the path of the Galactic Centre when it is at its zenith as it seems to move along the band of the Milky Way. This then, would be an entirely fitting and congruent location for a terrestrial axis point, since it is indeed a place “critical for grasping the geometry of the fixed sphere of stars.”
Did the ancient builders of the Akapana have a sense of ‘As above, so below’ that they expressed in the physical world about them? Several writers have noted that the name Tiwanaku may derive from the Aymara term taypicala ‘the stone in the centre’. Pedro Sarmiento de Gamboa’s account of the founding of myth of Tiwanaku by the Andean creator god Wiracocha seems to confirm this tradition:
He [Wiracocha] went to a place now called Tiahuanacu in the province of Collasuyu, and in this place he sculptured and designed on a great piece of stone, all the nations that he intended to create. This done, he ordered his two servants to charge their memories with the names of all tribes that he had depicted, and of the valleys and provinces where they were to come forth, which were those of thewhole land.
Earlier in this version of the Wiracocha creation myth, the sun, moon and stars all originate at place called Titikaka (literally ‘Lion Cliff’), a name that anciently referred to a black cliff that cascaded water, rather than to the whole of the Lake now called Titikaka. Significantly, the sunken courtyard on top of the Akapana included a particular drainage feature. Thanks to the ample seasonal Altiplano rainfall, and to the ingenious design of the drainage feature, the pyramid did indeed cascade water in what must have have been a spectacular fashion.
Was the Akapana Pyramid then some kind or reproduction, or perhaps more accurately some kind of fractal, of the creation point of the cosmos? Was it the point at which that which is above translates into that which is below? It is certainly true that Tiwanaku, at least in terms of the accepted academic chronology, was the centre of an extensive empire covering what is today western Bolivia, southern Peru and northern Chile. Moreover, its cultural and economic influence spread further still. In this very corporeal sense, the Tiwanaku culture became the centre of trade, ritual, power and influence in South America between about 600 AD and 1000 AD.
Today, the Chakana is most frequently associated with the Southern Cross in the popular mind. This may be because the azimuth rise of the Southern Cross was used by the later Incas to mark out the four quarters of the Tawanstinsuyu, or the extent and bounds of the Inca dominion, from its location in Cusco. For this reason, the Chakana was said by the Incas to ‘reside’ in Cusco. In addition, a Cusco foundation myth tells us that the ‘rock in the centre’ was deliberately re-located in some way from Tiwanaku to Cusco. We shall find out why and how later.
The Chakana and sacred number
The Chakana contains multiple levels of symbolism and meaning. The three rectangular blocks in each quarter of the cross are said to represent the three vertical ‘worlds’ of the Hanaq Pacha, Kay Pacha and Ukhu Pacha (see above). At the same time, the Chakana has four arms, which represent the four cardinal directions and the four seasons. In this respect, it is used today to mark the cycle of festivals throughout the Andean year, with the upright of the cross denoting the solstice points and its horizontal arm marking the equinoxes. It also has 12 rectangular corners, which are said to represent each month of the year. At this point in the description, I shall ask you to take note of some simple numerology:
3 pachas + 4 directions = 7 steps on the Akapana
3 pachas x 4 directions = 12 corners on the Chakana, 12 months in the year
The circle in the centre of the Chakana is actually considered to be a hole and is commonly referred to as the axis point. The central axis of the Chakana is the means through which the shaman moves between the three different pachas, on earth, above and below.
Chakana as Axis Mundi
Here we find some of the most striking parallels between the imagery employed by shamans in Pre-Columbian South America and those in numerous other cultures and mythologies. You will find similar allusions to the central axis in the myths of the Scandinavian Yggdrasil, (or World Tree), and in the Hindu, Jain and Buddhist accounts of Mount Meru, to name but two. Perhaps some of the most notable parallels are found in the Finnish Kalevala, a collection of verses that tell of the theft of the Sampo. This was a magical mill that scholars have shown was connected with imagery for the North Pole.
Yet another significant feature the symbolism associated with the central axis is that it is often also the connecting point between the male and female principles. Frequently this manifests as the masculine sky touching the feminine earth, expressed in some or other way. The mythology of the Andes shares this characteristic, as we shall see further in due course. Comparative mythology is a vast and fascinating area for study, which involves understanding the technical language of myth, precession and ethnography amongst many other things. It is too vast and intricate a subject to do anything other than to touch on here.
Before we leave the Chakana, it is worth making a couple of more comparisons with other cultural traditions around the world. Little research has been done to date on the relationship between the geometry of the Chakana and that of sacred symbols in the Old World. While eloquently describing the the qualities of certain Canonical Numbers. in The Dimensions of Paradise, John Michell writes:
The Earth Spirit, 1080, corresponds to the Chinese ch’i or life-breath of nature, which accumulates in the folds and cavities of the earth……….It  is the number of magic, imagination and madness and, above all, of that Mystery that lies at the heart of things and is not to be comprehended by any system of morality or rationalism.
Squaring the circle of Andean sacred geometry
Interestingly, Michell goes on to note that the number 1080 was sacred to the Gnostics and was associated by them with the Serpent of Wisdom. In the ancient tradition of Sacred Geometry, the Earth Spirit (number 1080) was represented as a circle and the squaring of the circle in this tradition expressed the joining of masculine and feminine. (The square being the geometric representation of the masculine principle). Each of the corners of the Chakana is a 90° right-angle and there are 12 of them, so 12 x 90 = 1080: the number of the feminine Earth Spirit. Right-angles are, by their inherent quality “squares”, in that you need to use only right-angles and nothing else to make a square, and the geometry of the square is masculine. Are we seeing here the Andean version of the squared circle? The numerology and geometry of the Chakana would seem to be woven together in an intricate and sophisticated way to describe just that.
Of course, this would require the Pre-Columbians of South America to divide the circle into 360° for the arithmetic to work. Is that such a preposterous idea? Not if you can accept that there was, perhaps in very ancient times, some kind of contact between cultures, or a common heritage.