A Much Needed and Feared Oracle Spirit or an Alternate Pre-Hispanic Perception of the Creator of the World
About the Oracle
As a rule, oracles were the announcements of otherworldly beings that could be consulted for advice or to foresee the future. As an extension, the structural and human agencies that facilitated the announcements of these beings were also called “oracles.” Some of the otherworldly entities allegedly materialized in an audible, tactile or visible form and some spoke through specialized priests or priestesses. The practice of obtaining advice through magical means such as this was very much widespread and vital across ancient America and, consequently, learning about this activity is essential to understand the soul and promise held within the secrets of this mysterious land.
Let’s go on a brief tour of a great pre-Hispanic, American oracle, located in the Peruvian archaeological complex universally known as “Pachacamac.” Even if other significant oracles existed concomitantly in pre-Hispanic Peru, (such as the popular Oracle of Rimac, now covered by Plaza Italia (Italy Square) in downtown Lima and the fateful Oracle of Huamachuco, dedicated to Catequil, a powerful lightning deity from the northern coast), Pachacamac was -in all likelihood and for many centuries before the arrival of the Spaniards - the most prominent oracle in South America (and possibly, all throughout North, Central and South America). Also, prior to Pachacamac’s hegemony, the prior seminal, culturally-influential temple and Oracle of Chavin de Huantar in the north-central Andes, held sway over much of ancient Peruvian territory.
Genuine oracles were places where people could crack the veils between forms of physical and non physical realities and attempted to obtain guidance from normally invisible spirits. In fact, due to my two brief, but objective, publicly witnessed, physically detectable experiences among Quechua shamans in Peru and Dakota Sioux medicine men in the U.S., I am certain that, under certain conditions, spirits can occasionally manifest in a clearly visible, objective or audible way. Generally speaking, oracles held an important influence in key places throughout Peru and, in some instances, these influences may have outlived their official demise in one way or another. Case in point, the place we now know as the “city of Lima” might have derived its current name from the aforesaid Oracle of Rimac. On January 18th, 1535, conquistador Francisco Pizarro officially named his new city “Ciudad de los Reyes” (City of the Kings) in honor of the biblical Kings of the Orient because the feasibility of its enclave had been explored by Spanish scouts on the Christian holiday of January 6th, a few days earlier. Interestingly, these scouts looking for a place to found a city, left from the sacred citadel of Pachacamac where (after the capture of Inca Atahualpa) Spanish associates of Francisco Pizarro had been received as guests. Due to popular use, the term “Lima” (a modified term possibly derived from the word “Rimac” (which means “speaking” or “the one who speaks,” referring to the speaking or audible oracle of said name and to the Rimac River associated to it), prevailed over the years.
The Oracle of Pachacamac and its cohorts spawned a rather large citadel and administrative center for many centuries and its fame lasted at least through four successive pre-Hispanic cultures. It became the crossroads of many local, regional and distant ethnic groups. Dignitaries and chiefs were willing to walk hundreds of miles, to bring offerings and to fast, as required, in order to deliver their pressing questions of political interest. Warring chiefdoms would temporarily set aside their differences and send peacefully coexisting emissaries into the sacred grounds. People with various physical ailments may have also come to the citadel in search of healing services as a large number of buried bones recovered from the site at the foot of the main temple bear witness. In all likelihood, knowledge about the oracle must have extended beyond Peru’s current borders since “mullu” (the red shell spondylus princes, found in warm waters close to the Equator) was offered to the deity and to adorn associated doorways, walls and temples. Today, that which remains is mostly buried and some monumental but ghostly bits and pieces of a once effervescent religious center facing the Pacific Ocean (some 26 miles south of Lima) have become a required tourist destiny. At present, the site flanks the old Pan-American Highway and still towers next to the still productive valley of the Lurin River.
The word “Pachacamac” seems to refer to three levels of deity. According to some researchers and shaman friends, the loftiest one is the Pachacamac as unmanifest potentiality. In the -so called- Inca “Quechua” language (actually referred by the Incas as “Runa Simi” or “the language of man”), the word “Pachacamac” basically means and “The one who animates the world.” It can also be interpreted as “the one who moves the world.” “Pacha” means “world” and “Camac” means “to animate” or “to move.” According to the well-respected Quechua-Spanish Dictionary of Jorge A. Lira it means “creator.” It may be related with the word “Camaqen” which refers to the vital force. This is why some archaeologists, anthropologists and linguists also take the name of “Pachacamac” to mean “creator of the world,” and this may be due to the influence of complementary and time-honored information that relates this name to a more inclusive, loftier (and less understood) aspect of spiritual existence. Within an Andean cosmovision in which practical living relations and duality were central, it was difficult to distance deity from life (in an abstract Indo-European-Mediterranean sense). At any rate, for all intents and purposes, the name “Pachacamac” (however it was understood) was, by and large, recognized by most regional and interregional pre- Hispanic inhabitants in ancient Peru as a real and magnificent living entity and as a true force to be reckoned with. In ancient Perú some people may have understood the more abstract meaning and most people (requiring a more physically accessible answer-giver) may have summoned a more wrathful particular entity. In the latter case the meaning of “he who animates (or moves) the world may have been distorted into the worship of a feared being and oracular source who shook the world through earthquakes.
For numerous years after the Spanish conquest, natives hanged on to the belief that a mild earthquake occurred when Pachacamac blinked, and that, when he moved his head, a devastating upheaval followed. The being can also be thought of as an ancient “Apu” or the tutelary spirit of a community, a spirit generally also associated to an outstanding geographical feature like a snow-capped mountain, a prominent hill, another kind of specially acknowledged or perhaps capricious geographical site or, even, to a particular object through which spiritual power manifests. The place or object through which spiritual power manifests is known as a “Huaca” and the Citadel of Pachacamac itself is of particularly prominence among scores of “huacas” widespread throughout Peru. At any rate, if we conceive of Pachacamac as a popular, prominent entity engaged in human-level political concerns, we must know that he was also perceived as masculine in nature and with a main wife. In fact, in Andean creation cosmologies, almost everything was understood as necessarily possessing a complimentary dual nature. Pachacamac’s wife, associated to ocean creatures, was known as the deity “Urpi Wachay,” whose name means “the one who gives birth to doves” and whose temple is also found buried under the desert sands of Pachacamac’s archaeological site, downhill or below the Inca-imposed “Pyramid of the Sun” and close to a place which was like a nunnery and also a school or place of learning and knowledge (Yachay) dedicated to the education of selected young women. Some of these women would become the wives of nobles; some would be prepared to conduct ceremonies and a few would be sacrificed during special needs.
Some anthropologists consider Pachacamac to have been a “CTONIC” deity, perhaps like a mischievous deity representative of natural earth forces, of the underworld and of the darkness and ambiguity of not being yet fully expressed. In the course of political shifts of power and other dramatic human events, Pachacamac may have replaced a previous and very popular southern Peruvian coastal and inland deity once prevalent in the Nazca and Paracas cultures as well as with ethnic groups associated to the region connected to Lake Titicaca. This ‘competing’ deity (which, according to indigenous legends, had created the first generation of men and had later on been defeated by Pachacamac) was called “Kon.” He was believed to be boneless, capable of flying and also a representative of the Sun. “Kon” presided over wind and rain. Interestingly enough, the Norwegian researcher and explorer Thor Heyerdahl used Kon’s name in combination with “Tiki” (a Polynesian god thought to be the “son of the Sun”) to baptize his first inter oceanic totora reed raft in 1947.
We must first establish that, for the Quechua people, Pachacamac (when perceived as a deity associated to human-level political concerns and foibles), was not as fundamental as their main creator deity that -in abridged terms- could just be called “Wiracocha.” Only perhaps the loftiest (perhaps more restricted and exclusive) understanding was equivalent in universality to that of “Wiracocha.” “Wiracocha” was understood as purveyor of light and wisdom and -approximating the Greek concept of “logos”- he was the intelligence needed to organize the world and its contents. Some legends refer of Wiracocha as the deity who created the conditions for civilization to take hold and others speak of Wiracocha as the deity that destroyed the “race of giants” that built the monuments of Tiwanacu (or Tiahuanaco). In fact, recognition of Wiracocha in one form or another predates the Quechua for many centuries. Indeed, the basic word “Wiracocha” is also a highly emblematic name formed of the fusion of the words “Wira” (fat or foam) and “Cocha” (lake, body of water). This name suggests that the deity was powerful enough to blend water and fat, or to be of such an essential (probably non dual) nature as to bring emblematic opposites together. According to some researchers, this most essential deity may have prevailed over time under different names and was already probably acknowledged 5000 years ago in Caral, the first known urban center in North, Central and South America. Many think that Wiracocha was also repeatedly depicted as holding a staff in each hand and that his representation under this motif is found not only in the iconography of Caral, but in that of Tiwanacu and of other important pre-Hispanic cultural sites.
Similarly, the well known Quechua deity, “Inti” (thought out to be the visible Sun that also represented an inward essence) had probably been recognized from time immemorial under different guises for being so essentially life giving and -according to the Quechua - a visible expression of Wiracocha. Besides, for many living, traditional Andean mystics and priests of today, “Inti” is also a symbol of the essential flame of life within the human soul.
When the Quechua (nowadays popularly known as the “Inca”) arrived to the central coast under the leadership of Inca Tupac Yupanqui, they dominated the people that were at the time in control of the oracle grounds. According to legend, this particular Inca is said to have been visited by Pachacamac who revealed himself as “creator of the world below” just as his brother, the Sun, was the creator of “the world above.” After assimilating the Ychma people living in the central coast (in and around today’s Lima), the Quechua incorporated Pachacamac into their mythical system but simultaneously built a magnificent vermillion and yellow-coated temple dedicated to the Daylight Sun. The temple was placed on a prominent position contiguous and higher than the temple that had been dedicated to Pachacamac under the previous Lima, Wari and Ychma cultures. Point of fact, this new temple (now popularly called the “Temple of the Sun” and the “Pyramid of the Sun”) was at that time called “Punchao Cancha,” meaning “the room where day dwells.” Here we notice that perhaps the Quechua intended to show that, although they recognized the human-related Pachacamac’s wily relevance for the politically concerned man, a higher principle of light and principle from the “Hanan Pacha” (higher world of principles) prevailed over darkness. It may also just be that they placed their favored deity “Inti” (the Sun as the visible expression of Wiracocha) on a dominant position in order to establish cultural pre-eminence.
In spite of being less fundamental overall, Pachacamac (if understood as a worldly, sacrifice-demanding, quick-to-anger and selfish entity) was, nevertheless, widely acknowledged and respected due to his ancient sway throughout the coastal and central Andean regions. He was indeed considered a real, intelligent entity giving practical advice on important political matters in exchange of offerings, deference, forms of sustenance and attention.
From now on, we will call the demanding entity that spoke to practical human concerns “Pachacamac II” in order to distinguish it from the loftier conception that had also been associated to the name “Pachacamac.” The Spanish chronicler Lopez de Gomara (1552) basically mentions that the entity used to appear to his devotees and that he physically spoke to them. Phenomena like these can still be experienced in traditional gatherings where beings called “awkis” are summoned and materialize as large, talking birds in Cuzco and other Andean places. These entities usually misrepresent themselves to parishioners (eager for advice and healing) as major Apus (important tutelary spirits identified with meaningful geographical sites). They offer assistance apparently in exchange of vital energies or of human recognition and reverence and they often have a proud and demanding demeanor. In a similar fashion, the ruling elites of many societies (contemporary, previous to and including that of the Quechua) also flocked to “Pachacamac II” that was –apparently- summoned and/or interpreted by specialized mediumistic priests, maybe through magical invocations with or without the influence of plants such as the mind-altering “San Pedro Cactus” (Echinopsis Pachanoi).
Case in point, people from the prosperous and sea-faring Chincha Culture (whose main “Huaca” and cultural hub was located some 124 miles further south), worshipped their supreme deity Chincha Camac, but honored volatile Pachacamac both out of fear and because he had (according to legend) also apparently saved their ancestors during a time of famine. Ambassadors from Chincha and high-ranking leaders arrived on pilgrimages with offerings and then they gathered at the Pilgrim’s Plaza ready to entreat with their pressing questions handing them over to the specialized priests. Also, to obtain a successful reading, they would have probably been required to fast and to abstain from sexual intercourse for some time. Moreover, according to recovered narratives from native survivors in colonial times, if anyone was allowed to enter the “Holy of Holies,” he probably had to wait for up to a year and then was told to enter backwards, without looking straight at Pachacamac’s effigy.
Circa 1460 C.E., the Quechua rather peacefully assimilated the highly religious YCHMA people that had by then controlled the oracle’s grounds and surrounding region for 350 years. The Ychma had been one of at least four successively associated cultures eager to recognize and to serve deity Pachacamac. It is generally thought by anthropologists that the Quechua respected the ongoing Ychma priesthood who, after being assimilated, were able to continue with their practices and probably remained in charge of receiving pilgrims. In this way, the Quechua encouraged a form of regional and inter regional political integration within their empire. In any case, the Quechua thereafter not only built a Temple to the solar deity, Inti; they possibly also built a Temple to the Moon (Killa), improved administrative quarters, foodstuff deposits and roads connected to the “Capac Ñan” (the “Inca road system”) that integrated many spiritually meaningful sites or “huacas,” towns, villages, shelters for travelers (called “tampus” or “tambos”) and military fortresses (“pucaras”). In fact, the meaning of “Capac Ñan” is akin to that of “the royal road” or “the lord’s way” and the name possesses political as well as spiritual implications. For some mystically-inclined Andean people today (such as the Puquina from the mountains of Arequipa in southern Peru), the Capac Ñan is conceived as a path of initiation capable of leading to an expansion of human awareness and capabilities.
Now, let’s diverge a bit from our story to get a more complete sense of the modern reaches of Pachacamac. Basically speaking, in the opinion of characteristically modern, Western, academically-biased researchers, a form of well established cultural syncretism took place in relation to Pachacamac between the original inhabitants of Peru and Catholic Europeans. For a few others (perhaps a bit more cognizant of genuine, interactive spiritual agencies) Pachacamac became supernaturally associated with the spiritual forces behind what is now known as “El Señor de los Milagros” (The Lord of Miracles). In fact, this particular association may have been different from the one which, for instance, developed between the African Yoruba and the Western Catholic traditions in the island of Cuba. In those traditions, African practitioners disguised their deities as Catholic saints to continue with their worshipping practices.
In fact, the “Lord of Miracles” (which can also be understood as the resurgence of a more popularly accessible version of Christ’s protean, socially adaptable nature) was possibly born with a courageous and vital act of faith in which a primitive or somewhat crude, colonial-era devotional mural depicting the crucified Christ was generated. At that point, supernatural events transpired, popular devotion grew fast and the painted scene on the wall was completed later on as society formalized the worshipful practice taking part in a unique saga amid scores of healing miracles and rapt enthusiasm. In the particular case related to “The Lord of Miracles,” instead of normal syncretism, there probably was a return to a fervent and massive feeling of devotion that reawakened but this time within a deeper and more benevolent expression.
According to time-honored traditions which have been well preserved in Lima, the mural was created by one or more black slaves who had been probably brought from Angola. These slaves apparently lived in one of the many estates granted to colonists by the Spanish kings. This particular estate had been purchased by a local governor called Hernan Gonzalez. It was known as “Pachacamilla” because many of the descendants of the remaining native inhabitants of Pachacamac had been forcibly transferred there in order to work and to pay tribute. According to historian Maria Rostworowski de Diez Canseco (perhaps Peru’s foremost living expert on Andean pre- Hispanic cultures), it is highly likely that these former inhabitants of the Citadel of Pachacamac, created a representation of their ancient deity, with the possible consent and cooperation of African slaves of Yoruban ethnic origin who had also been forced to live in the same estate. Rostworowski speculates that this might have occurred because their religious concepts and needs could have been sufficiently similar while being threatened by the larger dominant culture. Rostworowski’s books: Pachacamac y el Señor de los Milagros and History of the Inca Realm are highly recommended.
Pachacamilla had already been harboring the symbol of a cross (painted around 1624) as a measure of spiritual protection in a time when the people of Lima felt that an invasion from pirates was imminent. It was called “The Holy Cross” and it was created in the same site where the Church of the Nazarenas stands now. Apparently, perhaps in remembrance of this “Holy Cross” and, after a period of joint pagan worship between local natives and Africans, a cult to Christ particularly developed among the latter. At that juncture, one of them painted the essential part of the mural we’ve come to know as “El Señor de los Milagros.”
Now, I wish to iterate information that is little known outside of a few remote, native priestly circles. Most certainly, in pre-Hispanic times (as nowdays), there were two levels of understanding in relation to the name “Pachacamac:”
1. There was a rather wrathful, dark, gloomy, human-like, “ctonic” entity that exacted physical tributes, service and, possibly, human emotional energy in exchange of healing and political advice and 2. There was a universal, non-dual, quintessential spirit associated to the same name. The most transcendental kind of “Pachacamac” was so beyond average understanding that, it was said that even Wiracocha (the creator of the world, the giver of light and wisdom and the essence behind Inti, the Sun) was one of his first manifestations. In other understandings, the loftier Pachacamac and Wiracocha are equivalent or even one and the same. Also, this “higher” Pachacamac was said to be responsible of generating each manifestation of the world’s creation cycles. I learned this from contact with some Andean priests. It may be true or it may be “retro-romantic” but I’ve come to believe that a small percentage of Andean high initiate-priests (called “Alto Misayocs”) held advanced occult knowledge not available to the majority of the population.
In fact, I’ve learned that those who understand the loftiest aspects of Andean wisdom even try not to pronounce the name of “Pachacamac” when it is coupled to this most essential, non-dual level. As it also occurs today, it is likely that each level of understanding associated to the same name “Pachacamac” was experienced and emphasized differently by people and their leaders according to their level of awareness. Today, some of the Q’uero priests (surviving inheritors of much forgotten Quechua wisdom), also distinguish between lesser and higher levels of spirituality. These people and a few other advanced initiates from the Andes strive to transcend the conflict-related, dualistic, levels of spiritual and physical manifestation and seem to relate with a Transcendental, non-dual entity that harmonizes the dual or polar manifestations and principles also embedded in their cosmology. Some (very few) of these Andean priests are said to be able to establish contact with the highest levels of Life in the “Hanan Pacha” and also with the “Ruwal” or spirit-force that animates all of the masculine and feminine “Apus.”
In my view, the loftiest level I’m briefly referring to here is, generally speaking, compatible with the Perennial Philosophy, a set of essential mystical understandings behind Christianity and the world’s great spiritual traditions. Aldous Huxley, in his essay “The Perennial Philosophy” (1945) and Ken Wilber, in Sex, Ecology, Spirituality: The Spirit of Evolution (1995), are fine examples of the few probing pioneers of new conceptual pathways that are helping us to understand the further reaches of these issues. In addition, important complementary information on the aforementioned two basic levels of Andean traditions and much more can be found in Elizabeth B. Jenkins books: Initiation: A Woman’s Spiritual Adventure in the Heart of the Andes and Journey to Q’ueros: Golden Cradle of the Inka. Jenkins went through many in-depth initiations with Q’uero priests, under the guidance of the highly valued and knowledgeable Peruvian anthropologist, Professor Juan Nuñez del Prado.
Now, according to Spanish chronicles, not long before Francisco Pizarro captured Inca Atahualpa in the town of Caxamarca on November 16th 1532 (with the aid of his courageous and ruthless band of anti-moor, war-toughened, gold and glory ravenous, basically illiterate soldiers) the Oracle of Pachacamac had been consulted in relation to these strange bearded visitors and, according to the (1571) chronicles of Pedro Pizarro, cousin of Francisco, since the oracle had failed to warn the Inca adequately, the sovereign felt despondent about Pachacamac. Actually, Pedro Pizarro wrote that the Inca had said to his cousin that Pachacamac had lied and that, because of this, he was not a true deity.
During his captivity and, in order to secure his release, the Inca unsuccessfully attempted to obtain sufficient gold and silver objects from places all over the empire, including the famed Citadel of Pachacamac. Although loads of treasure arrived, that which came from Pachacamac proved to be less than expected by the Spaniards. This frustration prompted Francisco Pizarro to send his own brother Hernando on a 22-day southbound journey in order to see for himself what the truth about Pachacamac’s ‘metallic wealth’ was. Indeed, many myths of grandeur and invincibility would clash against the crude reality dawning in and, perhaps, after all, Atahualpa hadn’t been the right man to govern after all. For instance, not long before his capture, he had the priests of the Oracle of Huamachuco killed because of having straightforwardly warned him against the empire’s impending doom. Moreover, not long before the arrival of the Spaniards, Atahualpa had disobeyed his father’s wish that his brother Huascar should become the next Inca and a civil war had ensued.
We should understand that, when the Spaniards arrived to Peru, the erroneously called “Inca Empire” or “The Empire of the Sun” (actually originally known by the locals as “Tawantinsuyo,” that is, “The Land of the Four Regions” (or “The Land of the Four Regions united by Inti and/or by the relational principle “tin”) was in decadence. Besides the civil war it had recently undergone a long period of more aggressive and belligerent expansion. Thus, when the Spaniards got close to the scene, people’s allegiances were divided and two Incas vied for the throne as the rulers of several unhappy chiefdoms sought rebellion to gain ascendancy once more. This time they would naively seek the aid of the newcomers and also fall prey to their conquest, soon to be forgotten in historical memory by people thinking of the Incas as the only relevant culture which had existed in ancient Peru.
Interestingly enough, as explained in alleged extraterrestrial interactions within a well known (and more believable than most other such groups for its multiple witnesses) Hispanic extraterrestrial contact group called “Mision Rahma” the loftiest original, civilizing purposes behind the foundation of the “Tawantinsuyo” had been set aside in order to proceed with self-aggrandizing political ambitions. I make this brief mention about “Mision Rahma” because many of its participants also engage in serious and difficult expeditions trying to uncover part of the hidden and lost history of ancient America. For example, in their search for a lost city called “Paititi,” members of this group received poignant information from the Q’uero people and from some “Alto Misayocs” (important Andean initiates) and from others that are more knowledgeable of genuine philosophical, pre-Hispanic mysteries. Their interesting accounts might eventually complement those of academic research as the mysteries are revealed over time.
After the Spanish conquest, “Pachacamac II” (the wrathful one), continued being feared and venerated by many in the surviving indigenous population until, in my view, he was contained under the dominion of Christian-related spiritual forces representing (in spite of grave, inhumane mistakes within religion and doctrines) a higher or more inclusive spiritual expression of existence. Perhaps acknowledging and carefully integrating (in an experiential, yet analytical way) data from various forms of knowledge may be one of the steps required to develop a more complete (and hopefully wise) understanding of the nature of reality.
In my outlook, the balance of objective spiritual forces contending for people’s energy and attention, shifted decisively perhaps when (in spite of being subjugated by white Catholic masters) one or more strong-willed, spiritually-inspired, black slaves living in the Pachacamilla Estate, chose to create a tempera-based mural in the name of the crucified Christ instead of continuing to pay homage to a representation of Pachacamac II or to other deities linked to the African past.
Remarkably, four years after the basic crucifixion scene on the mural had been completed, there was a mighty earthquake in Lima. Everything fell around Lima except the wall with the painted Christ. Was it a delayed form of retaliation from Pachacamac II, the deity that also once had to be appeased so as not to produce earthquakes? Was it just a coincidence that generated a vague association between Christ and Pachacamac in the public imagination?
According to Vargas Ugarte (1966) who had access to a colonial era document kept inside the Iglesia de las Nazarenas (within where the Pachacamilla Estate had been), the central part of the mural (the crucified Christ) was completed in 1651. It was also probably painted inside a large shed within the confines of Pachacamilla. Sparse records show that it was probably painted by a religious guild of Catholic-prone, black slaves and runaways who -for some reason- felt driven to return to religion in order to counteract a dissolute life of crime affecting many members of the black community during those days. Four years later, the cataclysmic earthquake of 1655 ensued and destroyed all standing walls in the area. In spite of this and -as if defying natural forces- the wall on which the Christian image had been painted remained…intact. The news spread fast and a natural devotion to the image and to its crucified Christ arose among the masses, however much to the suspicion of local church authorities who detested unsupervised or “unruly” forms of worship. Later on, after the archbishop had ordered several failed attempts to erase the mural, almost everyone agreed that an awesome spiritual force protected it.
These days, the largest annual religious procession in the Catholic world takes place in downtown Lima in the month of October as, up to five hundred thousand pilgrims, follow (with much pomp, circumstance, incense, prayer, contrition heart-rending music and chants) a heavily garlanded copy of the original mural. The copy is solemnly carried on a massive handbarrow along Peruvian wood incense (“palo santo”)-smudged streets for a long week. It “visits” important colonial-era churches, until it finally returns for its annual sojourn inside the “Iglesia de las Nazarenas” (built in 1684). I surmise that today most Peruvians still feel deeply touched with awe and reverence by the meaning of Christ’s actual presence as this socially organic image “walks” among them carried on the distressed shoulders of (typically black and diffident) porters attired in traditional purple robes. Indeed, in Peru most people are emotionally stirred by the sheer force of this procession and I reckon that they feel that there are indubitable sacred spiritual truths summoned. Over the years, I’ve never failed to see tears in the faces of life-hardened people attending this transfixing procession.
In a way, we could say that the spiritual zeal affecting multitudes may have re-established itself yet under a Christian inspiration replacing that which in olden times took place since the Oracle of Pachacamac was for many centuries like a “Mecca” or place of dedicated pilgrimage and reverence for numerous ethnic groups.
An Archaeological Tour
Overall, there are 15 known pyramids in the archaeological site but, hitherto, after many decades under a dawdling research pace, only 3 have been excavated. The reasons: Lack of funds, traditional corruption among government officials and an almost inexistent political initiative. What's more, fairly recently and, due to a deterioration partially caused by hordes of unsupervised visitors and a few vandals, the magnificent “Acllawasi” or home of the “acllas” (the beautiful women selected for a life of ceremonial-religious duties, to serve as sacrificial victims, or to be given away by the Inca as concubines to noblemen or to laudable warriors) was intermittently closed to the public. It is generally thought that the “acllas” (with ages ranging between 8 and 17) were educated in the “Acllawasi” by older ladies known as “mamacunas” and, for this reason, the building is also identified as the “Temple of the Mamacunas” or simply (in popular Spanish-ized version) “Mamacona.”
Anyhow, some of the essential archaeological & historical facts concerning the oracle are as follows:
The first people to build in this ancient ceremonial powerhouse were, perhaps, those of the rather peaceful “LIMA CULTURE.” This took place approximately between 200 CE and 600+ CE. Archaeologists generally think that these people were fairly peaceful because their remnants show a negligible accent on instruments of war. Apparently, they were also very communal because their building method shows the need to cooperate on a large scale in order to craft millions of small adobe bricks. After the LIMA heyday, the expansionist “WARI EMPIRE” came to the fore expanding in an aggressive manner throughout more than half of ancient Peruvian territory. They operated under a policy of assimilating the technologies and art forms from all those conquered and they occupied the oracle’s site roughly between 700 CE and 900 CE. Afterwards, those of the “YCHMA (pronounced “eech mah”) CULTURE” (actually part of a group of people from the coast generally referred to as the “Yunga”), settled in the valleys of the Lurin, Chillon and Rimac rivers, forming a medium size polity between the years 1100 CE and 1450 CE. Although the “Ychma” were hierarchically organized under different chieftains, their hub was the citadel of Pachacamac, located next to the fertile Valley of the Lurin.
A number of archaeologists mention that this particular ethnic group made a point of emphasizing religiosity and rituals and that it built most of the pyramids in the citadel. Indeed, the Ychma expanded the main temple-pyramid (first built by the Wari) where the presence of Pachacamac is known to have dwelled until the Spaniards arrived (in their search for more gold and silver than they had already been given as ransom in Caxamarca for Inca Atahualpa). According to archaeologists like Muelle (1939), the crucial archaeological pioneer Max Uhle (1903) and Josef Juan (1793) (who actually drew a diagram), this temple-pyramid had an octagonal shape, showed layered terraces, was decorated with a multi colored technique, had light blue columns and was adorned with images of plants, people, fish and other sea creatures. Due to these descriptions, the (now ruinous) building is still referred to as the “Painted Temple.”
Almost one century, before the calamitous end brought by the Spaniards, the Quechua had established their supremacy over the Ychma around 1460 CE perhaps (as was customary) through tactical negotiations and without the need for outright war. The Quechua were soon to approach the height of their empire whose name was defined by the words “Tawa” “Inti” and “Suyo,” an empire that, at its height, embraced over 100 different ethnic groups and, perhaps, 12-14 million individuals. In fact, the name “Pachacamac” was given by the Quechua and it is not clear what the deity was actually called before them.
Now, before we move into the old, sacred citadel for our imaginary walking tour, let’s visualize a striking 2.2 meter tall by 30cm wide, wood-carved figure of lord Pachacamac as a feared and ‘wrathful’ being actually present. The idol, carved in a resistant “Lucumo Tree” (Pouteria Lucuma) wood, was found buried in 1938 by an eminent U.S. citizen. He, curiously enough, lived in Cuzco, became president of its most prestigious university at age 26, and aided Hiram Bingham in rediscovering “Macchu Picchu” (a name which means “old mountain”) by introducing him to Mr. Polo y la Borda, owner of the “Hacienda Echarati” were the ruins were located. This eminent U.S. citizen was Albert A. Giesecke (PhD in Economics, Cornell U).
As Giesecke was conducting excavations in the sacred citadel, he unexpectedly found the idol (either the one in the “holy of holies” or another relevant depiction) buried in the cemetery area, an esplanade just below the pyramid dedicated to Pachacamac. This deity (like to the Greek god Janus) displays two faces (and, in this case, also tiny carved bodies) looking in opposite directions. For this reason, some researchers of pre-Hispanic, Peruvian cosmologies assert that the idol represents how reality was dualistically understood as part of an expanding hierarchy of opposites. Others state that one of the faces portrays the deity looking into the past and the other into the future. Moreover, it is generally acknowledged by most archaeologists and anthropologists, that the prominent display of teeth typically represents (as in many other portrayals of deities in the Andean world) the deity’s raw power. Interpreting coastal “Yunga” myths compiled by the Spanish chronicler Antonio de la Calancha (circa 1638), a final, prominent (and not mutually excluding) explanation concerning the bi frontal idol is that he is depicted next to his counterpart, his nemesis and half brother, the deity of death, Vichama. The books: Myths and Legends of the World: The Complete Companion to all Traditions, (1996) by K. McCleish, and the Handbook of Inca Mythology (2004) by P. Steele et al. also give some good information on the deity.
Most likely than not, this meticulously carved wood pole wasn’t the central figure inside the holy of holies. It may, nevertheless, be the most outstanding copy of the main representation. Miguel Estete, the Spanish chronicler who went inside the main chamber accompanying conquistador Hernando Pizarro (Francisco Pizarro’s brother), basically tells verbatim (if he didn’t lie to suppress local religious beliefs) that the poorly lit, dismal, inner chamber housed a blood-stained idol along with some gold offerings and the putrid remnants of various bloody animal and human sacrifices. Estete mentions that Hernando Pizarro broke that idol apart and demolished its sheltering chamber much to the dismay of the natives who realized that their living entity and deity wasn’t capable of reasserting himself with a vengeance as expected.
The piece of wood found by Giesecke may have been a copy which was hastily buried just before or after the Spaniards angrily stormed into the temple obfuscated by not being able to locate huge heaps of gold and motivated by a self-righteous (adequate or bigoted?), religious intent of challenging and eradicating “demonic” worship. Whatever the case, I have a small anecdote on behalf of mystery and unexpected power. Not long ago, the idol was being kept inside a tiny site museum within the archaeological complex and I feeling that Pachacamac deserved ritual and homage, went in to convey spiritual recognition. I focused on my understanding of Pachacamac as a universal creative spirit but I also felt that the human-level deity (Pachacamac II) had been important to my ancestors and was starving for attention. At that time the idol was housed within four glass walls with an open top. I blessed him in the name of God and (in traditional Andean fashion) I threw in a “kintu” of coca leaves (three or more healthy looking, vertically aligned coca leaves, held between two fingers and offered with a prayer). At the precise instant the leaves hit the base of the idol’s reserved space, wham!!! There was a uproar like an explosion. Apparently, an uncanny rush of wind had come into the otherwise tranquil setting and slammed a side door with so much violence that it blasted like lightning striking a few meters away. Was it a grateful or an angry Pachacamac II? Was it perhaps a meaningless “coincidence” mythically re-interpreted reinterpreted as meaningful by my mind?
Now, let us imagine that we are in Peru. We were the first visitors arriving at the gate surrounded by a desert esplanade near busy shanty towns. We are about 3 miles from the deep blue and grey Pacific Ocean. The gate opened at 10 AM on this unusually sunny day during today’s June 21st Southern Hemisphere Winter Solstice. Soon we are greeted by a Peruvian hairless dog, an animal which belongs to the unique “Viringo” race (Viringo means “warning” in the “Quechua” or “Runa Simi” language). He may belong to a mutant breed which coexisted with ancient Peruvians even before the Quechua. You touched it and found that it runs a permanent high “fever” or body temperature of 40 degrees Celsius (104 F). It lacks pre-molars and other teeth, has a coarse but delicate skin (more adapted to the desert than to mountain life). It is said that this breed was used by Chinese immigrants suffering from arthritis in order to remain warm in winter. This is why it is also called “Perro Chino” (Chinese dog).
After finding our able tour guide Lilian Rioja Ambulodegui we walk westward toward the pyramids and the Pacific Ocean. The first structure we see on our left is a chieftain’s house from the very old Lima Culture. Its walls are made of tiny, vertically- placed adobe bricks, elements highly characteristic of this culture, as can be ascertained in several other archaeological remnants dispersed all over modern Lima. This dwelling and administrative center may also show what seem to be “Colcas” or storage rooms which, in this particular case, are not built below ground level. The discernible and hard, weather-resistant wood posts may be from a tree, whose pleasant cottony, edible fruit can still be found in today’s markets throughout Peru. Lilian, standing next to us, tells us that the Lima Culture spanned across 4 rivers: The Chancay and Chillon (north of Lima), the Rimac (in Lima) and the Lurin (south of Lima). She says that this particular administrative center was uncovered by Dr. Alberto Bueno Mendoza in 1968. We also learn that the Lima people built a different kind of pyramid-temples in the citadel. Their style didn’t display platform pyramids with ramps.
Most of what we survey in the vast area within the perimeter walls now looks sterile and covered with a generous coat of protective, beige-yellowish desert sand. This expanse displays an uneven ground, frequently interspersed by mounds and bulges hiding pyramids, other administrative buildings, courtyards, tombs, corridors, deposits minor facilities and God knows what.
We take off walking on a dirt road and after turning left on the first intersection and soon we meet a radiant pyramid with a ramp. It is from the Ichma period and Lilian tells us that archaeologists Peter Elliot and Izumi Shimada believe it used to function as an embassy.
Next to “the embassy” we find a long wall and a corridor. It’s the final portion of the main north-south road that connected Pachacamac to the Capac Ñan system. Moreover, it was the road used by Hernando Pizarro to arrive into the citadel. Lilian informs us that the top of the wide wall was also used as an “epimural” road. Yes, amazingly, people apparently walked along the ground and above it (perhaps ritualistically) as they moved about these sacred spaces in a ritual and practical manner.
Five more minutes into our walk, we encounter a small palace. These are the headquarters of Taurichumbi, the Quechua governor that received and housed in a respectful manner (according to the instructions given by his captured Inca) Hernando Pizarro and his retinue. According to Miguel Estete, (Pizarro’s chronicler) the facility boasted 20 rooms. Behind this structure we observe some of the current urban sprawl from the town of Lurin. The sprawl is unfortunately trampling over some of the citadel’s outskirts. The solidly protected area behind walls in today’s archaeological complex covers just 4 square kilometers, but 60% of the entire complex lies outside and, unfortunately, most of these outer sections are being illegally taken over by people in need of a place to live or land mediators making a buck with Lima’s urban expansion. There are about 495 endangered hectares and large sections of the ancient Inca road system along -with its magnificent huge walls- have already been leveled.
From where we stand we also have a good view of the valley Lurin, one of the 52 coastal valleys fashioned by rivers ending in the ocean. Lilian tells us that the word “Lurin” derives from “Urin”, meaning “lower” or “sunken” in “Runa Simi” (as already mentioned, the language of the Quechua People, commonly known as “Incas”).
Suddenly, we see a small shale rock quarry close at hand. Shale rock was occasionally used in this citadel. My mind associates this finding with the large, dense rock quarry located in the midst of Macchu Picchu and how some people tend to elaborate gratuitous falsehoods surrounding the feats of the ancients. One of these falsehoods states that the buildings and stone work in Macchu Picchu required moving rocks from far away places. Both the people in the high Andes and the coast were reasonably practical and they normally used the local materials within reach. By association, unfounded ideas such as these discredit genuine objective efforts to explain other genuine mysteries…
Soon the road veers to the right and, at about 100 feet are the remnants of the “Quipuwasi,” the house were the “Quipucamayoc” (record keepers) kept track of the logistical and accounting information needed to run a large, active and sacred citadel. Here, 25 “quipus” were found wrapped in deer skin. “Quipu” (pronounced “keepoo”) means “knot” and “quipus” were a series of knotted threads of various lengths all connected to a holding thread. It was used as an instrument to represent quantities of products and all kinds of things and, perhaps, their more complex relationships.
Then, suddenly, around the corner, we find a recently built path but our guide tells us that the Ichma pyramid it leads to (pyramid No 2) will be opened to the public in the future. As we continue for another five minutes, we finally see the remnants of the temple dedicated to Pachacamac himself. It used to glow with red paint and has been called “Templo Pintado” (the painted temple). It was the main attraction in this area and could have been dedicated to Pachacamac I and/or II, we just don’t know. What we are almost certain is that the Holy of Holies was close to the terraces. The wooden idol was found just outside and below this temple, in a section of its associated cemetery which is closest. Pachacamac’s temple itself is slightly distant from us and, since we cannot go in, I try to get a close up photo of the terraces on the side facing us. In order to make the image clearer, I’m adding contrast to the photo. We wink our eyes and soon notice the enduring, residual red pigment on the walls. Also, at a greater distance and to our left rises the “Templo Viejo,” a huge, old temple from the Lima Culture. It’s so indistinguishable that it almost looks like a hill.
Oh wow! There are a few human and animal bones sparsely distributed on the surface nearby and our guide (Lilian) tells us that the surrounding area is a cemetery because many pilgrims, inhabitants and dignitaries wanted to be buried right here in bygone times. I wonder whether walking and fasting for extended periods didn’t suit them well or what. Lilian informs us that some of the recovered bones showed that syphilis, osteoporosis and tuberculosis existed before the arrival of the Spaniards. Someone in a group mentions that, perhaps, the old practice of having sexual intercourse with llamas may have had something to do with the venereal illness.
Our group climbs a mildly steep road and we are standing by the entrance of the Temple to the Daylight Sun. Even without renovation work, it is large and looks stronger than the other buildings. It is an imposing Inca building indeed but predominantly made with dry mud rather than with rock. To the left of the main entrance (and relatively nearby) we see something that looks like a dump! Our guide tells us that, indeed, it is an Inca dump!
Then, as we take an alternate route to climb to the top of the temple, we become aware that Quechua mud bricks were huge. The size of these bricks shows a fondness for building on a monumental scale. The one we see up close even has finger markings. Soon we notice that there’s some color on the walls. The natural pigments (like iron oxide) used over an outer mud layer on the walls have outlasted more than five centuries. Lilian reminds us that this temple’s walls shone during its glory days with impressive bright red hues under the Sun.
We go inside through a passageway between think walls turn left and climb upstairs and after some huffing and puffing reach the top. The ocean breeze and its aroma becomes stronger and we have a vast view that reaches due west into the ocean. The top of the temple shows niches where the “mallkis” (preserved ancestor corpses and idols) are supposed to have been placed. Now we realize that we are not observing comfortable seats but niches and worn out or partially demolished segments that held a thatched roof.
Nowadays, some mystically inclined people conduct rituals in this area and at times place offerings inside a square hole located in the ground. The ancient practice of praying while simultaneously offering nutritional elements (“Pagos”) back into the Earth from which they came from is a form of thankfulness, relation, reciprocity and payment and is still fairly widespread throughout Peru. Unfortunately, ignorance and disrespect are also quite widespread and we also notice that someone’s sacred link to the spiritual world can be someone else’s garbage bin.
There’s a beautiful view from above. We innocently sit in the niches but then hear a security guard’s whistle and stand up. Toward the West, we are inspired by the magnificently bio diverse South Pacific Ocean and by the San Pedro Islands which look like a giant whale from our vantage point. However, a less inspiring fact is that we are told that the corpses of about 100 sacrificed women were found buried under the western, descending side of the temple, in fact close to where some modern-day people have been depositing food and flowers for the living world (our “Pachamama”). These human sacrifices were committed during the Quechua period and, even as we are being told that it was generally considered an honor to become a chosen sacrificial victim, we are also told that pain, fear and unpleasant deaths may have sometimes accompanied the sacrifices. Here many people were strangled to death and, oftentimes, some animals like llamas and the highly nutritious Andean rodent called “cuy” (pronounced “cooee”) were also slaughtered.
A bit shaken out of our romantic notions of the past, we begin our return and soon Lilian shows us the area where the temple dedicate to Pachacamac’s “favorite” wife (Urpi Wachay) awaits excavation under the sand. This site is adjacent to a small forest and to the splendid home of the young “Accllas,” some of whom –we now know- became the sacrificial victims in the Temple to the Daylight Sun. The “Acllawasi” (“wasi” means “home”) is located in lower grounds and, as we first get a sweeping glimpse, we observe the springs near the entrance of this dwelling place which could have served as a convent, a school and, perhaps, even a temple dedicated to “Killa” (the Moon). Lilian tells us that -perhaps to avoid stomach problems- the Quechua preferred to drink “Chicha” (fermented or non fermented drinks primarily made from different kinds of corn) all day long. Apparently they preferred the fermented kind of “chicha” to water because alchohol killed the bacteria. We also learn that this female energy-filled site had been originally restored by the famous father of Peruvian archaeology Julio C. Tello in the beginning of the Twentieth Century. Our eyes see its sophisticated, beautiful design in which large niches where one can stand up seem to have been important.
Between the pyramid dedicated to the Daylight Sun and the “Acllawasi” runs the east-west road. This road was the one used by most pilgrims as it lead to the main plaza and rest area where they gathered -probably in throngs- anxiously waiting for days their turn to confer with the oracle or with its priests after a time of abstinence and fasting.
As already mentioned, the citadel of Pachacamac keeps attracting some unique spiritual seekers and some of them may still perceive a higher aspect behind the mystery. Many others arrive to feel a basic emotional connection with the intricate history of their ancestors although, perhaps, most just do it because the citadel is part of a well treaded “must see” tourist route.
We walk back to the area where we met our tour guide and pay her dues with a tip, ran to the bathrooms, get a souvenir at the gift shop and have a drink at the cafeteria. Before leaving we visit the site museum and take a closer and somewhat cautious look at the two-faced idol, held within a square plastic enclosure. Upon leaving we see relaxing near the exit door that warm, hairless, Peruvian dog. While we drive back to Lima in order to catch a plane flight to Cuzco my mind wonders as follows:
The feelings which “El Señor de los Milagros (The Lord of Miracles)” elicit are intense. Many Peruvians (and Latin Americans in general) feel emotionally stirred by representations of ultimate, benevolent, spiritual powers, before which they intend to surrender their beings and prostrate their souls. Perhaps, in an evolutionary sense, people can collectively and individually be assisted move from give-and-take forms of worship and understanding of spiritual agencies into more inclusive and universally ethical ones. This may have happened when Pachacamac II (which could be called “the lord of earthquakes) could not destroy that wall the remained standing in the Pachacamilla Estate. In this sense, the quieter but more universally pervasive “lord” Pachacamac, who had also accompanied the pre-Hispanics all along as the Creator of the World, the one who animates and moves the world spiritually with Universal Life prevailed through his own miracle as the Christ Spirit.
I think that, on the whole, Native Americans and their descendants are still more intuitively prone to recognize the existence of non-material realities. Under the unspoken premise that “feeling is perception,” they may be more spiritually alive in a primal yet integrally-necessary sense, yet maybe to the detriment of a more objectifying and structural form of understanding that is called for today’s modern world. They have a natural openness to miracles and to the supernatural through what could be called their “gateway of sentiment.” This may be a relational “gateway” that could serve to spiritualize modern man’s relation with much of what escapes his exterior- manipulating linear reasoning.
Even if we should rescue from oblivion ancient wisdom we shouldn’t over-idealize life in pre-Hispanic times and accept that everything that went before went well. I’m certain that there were many serious errors along the way. I’m also glad that the collective psychological and spiritual dependence that existed in pre-Hispanic times in relation to a wrathful entity like “Pachacamac II” was replaced by today’s devotion to “The Lord of Miracles,” a symbolic representation of the good Master who taught us to be inclusive and selfless in order to live anew by the path of Love.