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According to New Age philosophies the chakana (or Inca Cross) symbolizes for Inca mythology what is known in other mythologies as the World Tree, Tree of Life and so on. The stepped cross is made up of an equal-armed cross indicating the cardinal points of the compass and a superimposed square. The square represents the other two levels of existence. The three levels of existence are Hana Pacha (the upper world inhabited by the superior gods), Kay Pacha, (the world of our everyday existence) and Ucu or Urin Pacha (the underworld inhabited by spirits of the dead, the ancestors, their overlords and various deities having close contact to the Earth plane). The hole through the centre of the cross is the Axis by means of which the shaman transits the cosmic vault to the other levels. It is also said to represent Cuzco, the center of the Incan empire, and the Southern Cross constellation.


The cross has 12 points and legend has it that these points represent the following sayings, affirmations and life points

Worlds Animals Affirmations Behavior
The Underworld The Snake I Live Don't Lie
The Current World The Puma I Work Don't Steal
The Upper World The Condor I Love Don't be Lazy

The four flat sides represent the elements[citation needed]

  • Water
  • Air
  • Earth
  • Fire

Historical evidence[edit]

Historical proof for the existence of chakana crosses is scanty (see below). The mestee historian Garcisalo de la Vega, el Ynga, reports about an holy cross of white and red marble or jasper, which was venerated in 16th-century Cusco. Apparently, the cross had been kept in a royal house, in a sacred place or huaca, but the Incas did not worship it. They simply admired it because of its beauty. The cross was square (quadrada), measuring about two by two feet, its branches three inch wide, the edges carefully squared and the surface brightly polished. There is no proof that it was a chakana cross.

As the story goes, the Incas began to venerate the holy cross, after they heard how Pedro de Candia had miraculously defied a lion and a tiger holding a cross. When the Spaniards captured the city, they transferred the cross to sacristy of the newly built cathedral, where De la Vega saw it in 1560. He was surprised that the clergy had not decorated it with gold or gems.[1] As we know from Middle America, this may have been part of a deliberate strategy by mendicant friars, trying to adapt to indigenous cultural codes. As a rule, the veneration of the holy cross was a carefully designed ecclesiastical enterprise, incorporating native symbols and reproducing them on sacral level. Most surviving Meso-American crosses do not predate the 16th century.[2] Ongoing stories about indigenous crosses contributed to the idea of a 'natural' religion that would have prepared the Indians for their inevitable conversion to Christianity.[3]


The Chakana as the 'Andean cross', presented as an Inca and pre-Inca symbol bearing cultural, spiritual, or mystical interpretations as expressed in this article, does not exist. It is a modern invention no older than the late 20th century. There is no basis for such claims among the Chroniclers,[4] those writers who witnessed Peru before the fall of the Incas, or who spoke to those who did, or to the first, second or third generations of those who did. Nor does the word chakana or chacana appear in their writings or in peer-reviewed studies by recognized authorities as the 'Andean cross'.

The twelve-cornered figure popularly called chakana today can occasionally be found in such pre-contact Andean artifacts as textiles and ceramics, though with no particular emphasis and no key or guide to any means of interpretation. We cannot know what it meant to the artisans who produced it. The motif appears on several hats. We do not know if these were symbolic hats, or, if so, what message they were intended by the wearers to impart. There is no artifactual or documentary evidence indicating that this design was named "chakana" by pre-contact peoples.

The current Chakana mythos as it impacts the New Age belief system and the Peruvian tourist-oriented economy initiates from the 2003 publication of the book Andean Awakening,[5] authored by Jorge Luis Delgado, a Bolivian tour guide-turned spiritualist and hotelier, and Mary Anne Male, PhD., who does not appear to be cited in established Andean scholarship. They are followed by such authors as Mark Torra and Roger Calverley (CHAKANA: Secret Teachings of an Ancient Andean Mystery School). [6]

The word chakana in Runasimi,[7] the language of the Incas (modern Quechua), is derived from chaka, 'bridge', and means 'to cross over', or 'a crossing'. It then applies to a group of stars, commonly identified as the Belt of Orion.[8][9] As such, the star Chacana is referred to in 1590 by the Jesuit missionary and naturalist José de Acosta.[10]

The photographs most often given as examples of Chakanas in Andean construction are two carved monoliths surviving in Ollantaytambo; one in the unfinished 'sun temple'[11] and the other in the 'bath of the ñustas';[12] both are instances of the step-design common in pre-contact South American architecture, which we are invited to take as half of a twelve-cornered cross; however, if welded to their mirror-images, none of them would show twelve-corners or become symmetrical crosses. Those found in the ruins of Tiwanaku have sixteen points,[13] and, as ever, no accompanying literature with which to interpret them.

Of the references given in support of the chakana mythos here, one is a dead link, one is a nightclub in London, one, if you translate from the German, uses the word to mean bridge as transition not as graphic design, and one is the Dutch architect and 'archeoastronomer' Hilvert Timmer, who promotes intricate illustrations and fanciful speculation as fact and whose earliest reference goes back to 1983. That is Carlos Milla Villena, who seems to be the originator of the Chakana-as-Andean-Cross and whose theories have little basis in Andeanist scholarship and would not survive peer review. Another reference, Mejillones Acarapi, a self-styled Amauta (Incan philosopher-teacher) was arrested in 2010 with 350 kilograms of liquid cocaine.[14] His contention that he was framed is not supported by in-line citations.

Among those not referenced are the chroniclers of the highest authority on Inca religion, custom, and belief, Bernabe Cobo,[15][16] Juan de Santa Cruz Pachacuti Yamqui Salcamayhua,[17] Cristóbal de Molina,[18] and Pedro Sarmiento de Gamboa;[19] nor do any of the other surviving chroniclers' manuscripts contain supporting assertions.[20][21][22][23][24]

Likewise, modern scholars from the 19th century forward are silent on the issue, if not contradictory; the Father of Andeanism, John H. Rowe, does not refer to the Chakana-as-Andean-Cross,[25] nor does his respected colleague Maria Rostworowski de Diez Canseco;[26] the early authorities William H. Prescott[27] and Ephriam George Squier[28] leave it unmentioned, as do contemporary authorities Gary Urton,[29] Burr Brundage, Terrance D'Altroy, Sylvia von Hagen, Victor von Hagen, Craig Morris, Jean Pierre Protzen, Ann Kendall, Susan Niles, Gordan McKewan, and Irene Silverblatt.[30] Even William Sullivan, considered a “fringe” archaeoastronomer by many, gives “chacana” the meaning “ladder, or stairway” - and thus the three stars of Orion's Belt (The Secret of the Incas; Myth, Astronomy, and The War Against Time, pp. 69–70).[31]

In the article above, the author(s) make a series of claims regarding the Tree of Life, cardinal compass points, levels of existence, the cosmic vault, and that the meaning of the Chakana falls into four parallel components: Worlds (under, current, upper), Animals (snake, puma, condor), Affirmations (live, work, love), and Behavior (don't lie, steal, or be lazy). None of these contentions are rooted in recorded Andean culture or history, nor can they be supported by documentation, nor would they stand up under scrutiny by accredited scholars, none of whom have so far deigned to focus their gaze upon the question.

The final column of the 12-point interpretive table is taken from an authentic traditional greeting in Runasimi:[32] Ama suhua – I will not lie - Ama llulla – I will not steal - Ama Quella – I will not be lazy. The creators of the Chakana myth have broken all of these vows. The first two are clear; as for the third, if they had made the effort to research their thesis they would have found more convincing illustrations and references.

Overall, this misuse of a regional heritage is by definition and in essence cultural appropriation.[33]

The Peruvian author Tupaq Katari writes:

“When I hear you foreigners, with ease and lightness talking of the Andean themes, this surprises me, since we here in Peru continually try to find details about our own history, which is very complex and you argue so lightness without a historical or experiential support of what are the Andes and its diversity.”[34]

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]


  1. ^ Garcillago de la Vega, First part of the Royal Commentaries of the Yncas, 1869, repr. Cambridge 2010, vol. 1, p. 122
  2. ^ Mónica Domínguez Torres, Military Ethos and Visual Culture in Post-Conquest Mexico, Burlington 2013, pp. 61-110
  3. ^ Simon Ditchfield, ‘What Did Natural History Have to Do with Salvation? José de Acosta SJ (1540-1600) in the America's', in: Peter Clarke and Tony Claydon, God's Bounty? The Churches and the Natural World, Woodbridge, Suffolk and Rochester, NY 2010, pp. 144-168
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  10. ^ Joseph Acosta, Historia natural y moral de las Indias, Sevilla 1590, p. 310
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  24. ^ Yupanqui-Account-Conquest/dp/B00JIBBWHW/ref=sr_1_8?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1412191594&sr=1-8&keywords=titu+cusi+yupanqui
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