The Incas were an advanced civilization that flourished in South America around the 14th century. Although much of their technology and architecture is no longer extant, many aspects of their culture and religion still survive today; in this article, we will explore what makes the Inca gods important.

The Most Important Inca Gods and Religion

The Inca religion

Inca worshippers practiced polytheism by worshipping multiple gods simultaneously. While Inti was most revered as their sun god, other important divinities included Mama Killa (Moon goddess), Illapa (Thunder God), and Pachamama (Earth Goddess).

The Inca people believed that gods could influence their lives and communicate with them directly, so to keep the balance of nature in check, they offered sacrifices of animals and valuable items to glorify these gods.

The Inca religion stressed the significance of honoring their ancestors. The Inca believed their ancestors shared a special connection with their gods, helping to guide and direct their destiny by speaking on their behalf. With great reverence for elders, they wanted to ensure their happiness in the afterlife.

The Inca religion placed great emphasis on reciprocity as an essential principle, believing that by respecting and honoring their gods, their favor would come back in kind. Everything in their lives was centered around this idea of reciprocity.

History of the Inca Religion

The Inca religion evolved out of beliefs held by Andean civilizations. It was heavily influenced by Tiwanaku culture - one that existed long before the Inca Empire came into power - which dominated Lake Titicaca before they united under their empire.

The Inca religion venerated Viracocha as their chief god. They believed he created everything. Unfortunately, Spain's conquest of South America came to an end for both their Empire and religion; however, their beliefs and practices have since been preserved among indigenous communities living in the Andean mountains.

Rituals and ceremonies

The Inca religion featured an abundance of ceremonies and rituals designed to honor their gods and secure their support. People would gather for various types of ceremonies such as sacrifices, processions, feasts, dances, and music performances.

  • Capac Cocha (Human Sacrifice)

Capac Cocha was an ancient Inca practice of human sacrifice, only carried out during rare and significant events. During these rituals, the Incas believed that sacrificing those less attached to the world, such as infants or prisoners of war, would enhance the effectiveness of the offering due to their perceived purity and minimal earthly connections.

  • Inti Raymi Festival

The Inti Raymi Festival takes place each year in Cusco, Peru, as a combination of religious and cultural festivities. Held annually on June 21st--winter solstice--it honors Inti, Inca god of the sun. A fun-filled event featuring traditional dances and music performances makes this an attractive tourist destination.

  • Capac Raymi

This celebration marked the commencement of agricultural work during the summer solstice, when people would celebrate agricultural work by holding religious services and considering certain Llamas sacred, hoping that a successful season was ahead of them. 

Afterlife in the Inca religion

The Inca religion stressed the importance of an afterlife and reincarnation. Reincarnation allowed people's souls to return to another person or animal's body after they died; many people also held firm to the belief that loved ones would rejoin them eventually, making them feel part of an extended community and family unit.

Impact of Christianity on the Inca Religion

Spanish conquistadors spread Christianity across North and South America during the early 16th century, significantly altering the indigenous religious practices of America's native peoples.

The Spanish conquerors quickly converted the indigenous populations to Christianity through forceful conversion, sometimes through violence or intimidation. Additionally, they often destroyed temples and idols worshiped by native populations and forbade their traditional religious practices.

Indigenous people gradually converted to Christianity while maintaining many of their traditional religious practices and beliefs. Today, you can still witness this combination of Christianity and indigenous spiritual practices across much of North and South America.

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The most important Gods of the Incas

The Incas worshipped many gods. Polytheism was common among their beliefs. Their people believed in three main gods: Inti (sun god), Viracocha (creator god), and Pachamama (goddess of fertility).

  • The Sun God - Inti

Inti, or Inte, was an important deity in the Inca religion. People believed he was Viracocha's child and believed he gave life and light. Peruvians revered Inti as their Sun God/Fire God, and his cult was especially revered in Cusco.

People traditionally imagined Inti as a golden disk with rays emanating from it, sometimes depicted with human features. The colors red and yellow, symbolizing the sun's heat and light, were associated with him, along with offerings of gold, silver, or copper, metals highly valued by Inti. The Incas believed that Inti brought daylight every morning when he emerged from his cave in the east and that he returned there at nightfall, leaving darkness on Earth upon passing away.

The Inti Raymi festival was an important one among Inca people and still celebrated today by indigenous communities in Peru. People made offerings to Inti as part of this annual winter solstice ritual to ensure his rise each morning, providing light and life to our world. 

›› Read more about Inti Raymi - The Festival of the Sun

  • The Moon - Mama Killa

Mama Killa was an integral goddess in the Inca religion and was worshiped as their patron deity by both royalty and commoners. Her temple could be found in Cusco. Mama Quilla represented the fertility of land and people alike, helping ensure crops grew well and children were healthy births.

  • Viracocha - Wiracocha

Viracocha, also known as Wiracocha, was worshiped as the supreme god by the Inca people throughout their empire. They showed him as an elderly male with long hair and wearing an elaborate llama skin cloak; these people believed he created everything in existence as well as brought light and brightness to the world. Additionally, the Incas believed he would return and bring peace and prosperity back onto earth one day.

People built temples and shrines to honor Viracocha, offering sacrifices to gain his favor and secure his blessing. Many communities throughout the Andes still revere Viracocha as an important figure whose image can be seen everywhere, from artwork to statues in public places across Peru, Bolivia, and Chile.

  • Mother Earth - Pachamama

Pachamama, or Mother Earth, was revered by the Incas as the source of all life on Earth. They believed she existed within mountains, rivers, and lakes around them as an all-powerful female figure who connected all living things and provided nourishment and sustenance for survival.

The Incas believed that by treating Pachamama well, she would provide them with everything they needed. They celebrated her with grand events and constructed places dedicated to her worship. People still revere her today throughout South America and offer sacrifices as an offering.

  • Mother of the sea - Mama Cocha

Mama Cocha is the Inca goddess or spirit of the sea. This figure assists marine life to remain healthy and fertile, as well as safeguarding sailors and fishermen.

  • God of tremors - Pachacamac

People living along the coastal region and Andean mountains revered Pachacamac as the creator god, often confusing him with Viracocha (see above). His home was located atop a hill overlooking Lima; this region often experienced earthquakes and other natural calamities that called out for his worship.

  • God of Thunder - Illapa

Illapa was the god who controlled weather events such as lightning, rain, and hailstorms. People would offer sacrifices to Illapa in order to make him happy and prevent adverse conditions - such as Llama fetuses believed to please this deity.

  • The Rainbow - Kuychi

Kuychi was revered as the god who brought rain and fertility to Peruvian earth. Many offered gifts such as llamas or other animals as a tribute to him—sometimes, children were even sacrificed as symbols of respect. His festival usually took place during December, when rainstorms typically hit Peru.

  • The Stars - Chaska

Chaska is an Inca song dedicated to the stars. The Inca believed they had immense power and would often offer gifts in return.

  • God of the death - Supay

According to Andean cosmovision, death is closely connected with life - we come into this world and go through various stages, only to die and be reborn again at some point. Supay, the god of death in Andean mythology, is considered an important deity as she leads dead souls into their afterlife.

Sacred Animals in the Inca Religion

The Inca religion revered many animals. Pumas, condors, and serpents were of particular significance. Additionally, this tradition assigned special meanings to various other creatures within its fold.

The Inca people believed that the world could be divided into three realms, known as the Inca Trilogy. Gods resided in Hanan Pacha—this was also where the sun rose each morning—humans resided in Kay Pacha (where the moon set each night), and Ukju Pacha represented what happened after death. Three animals represented this theory: Condor, Puma, and Snakes.

  • The Condor

People of ancient societies regarded the Condor as a messenger from their gods, often using it in religious ceremonies and gatherings. Incas believed it could fly higher than any other bird and could predict what was to come in future events.

  • The Puma

The Inca considered the puma an important religious symbol and believed it could help them on their journey through life. They believed it protected homes and families while symbolizing our world, commonly referred to as Kay Pacha.

  • The Snake

The Inca believed snakes possessed special powers and could help them communicate with Ukju Pacha (underworld).

  • The Llama

The Inca people revered Llamas and held them in high regard; these creatures played an integral part in their religion as people used llamas for transport and meat/wool production, plus many believed llamas were gifts from gods to aid with religious rituals.

  • The Fox

The Inca people admired the fox for its cunning, always finding ways to win. They saw its intelligence and cleverness as indicators of Wiracocha, their god of creation.

  • The Dog

The Incas believed that dogs were sacred animals that could assist the soul on its journey into the afterlife. As an act of respect, people buried their dogs alongside their loved ones, believing they would keep away any unwanted spirits that may enter gravesites.

  • The Bear

People believed the bear to be a symbol of strength, power, and courage. They often considered it a rebirth from ancient warriors who protected them. Many saw its symbolic nature as strength of mind over matter—an effective protector.

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