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Viracocha is the great creator deity in the pre-Inca and Inca mythology in the Andes region of South America. Full name and some spelling alternatives are Wiracocha,[1] Apu Qun Tiqsi Wiraqutra[citation needed], and Con-Tici[2] (also spelled Kon-Tiki, the source of the name of Thor Heyerdahl's raft). Viracocha was one of the most important deities in the Inca pantheon and seen as the creator of all things, or the substance from which all things are created, and intimately associated with the sea.[3]

Viracocha created the universe, sun, moon, and stars, time (by commanding the sun to move over the sky)[4] and civilization itself. Viracocha was worshipped as god of the sun and of storms. He was represented as wearing the sun for a crown, with thunderbolts in his hands, and tears descending from his eyes as rain. In accord with the Inca cosmogony, Viracocha may be assimilated to Saturn, the "old god", the maker of time or "deus faber" (god maker), corresponding to the visible planet with the longest revolution around the sun.[5]

Cosmogony according to Spanish accounts[edit]

According to a myth recorded by Juan de Betanzos,[6] Viracocha rose from Lake Titicaca (or sometimes the cave of Paqariq Tampu) during the time of darkness to bring forth light.[7] He made the sun, moon, and the stars. He made mankind by breathing into stones, but his first creation were brainless giants that displeased him. So, he destroyed them with a flood and made humans, beings who were better than the giants, from smaller stones. After creating them, they were scattered all over the world.[8]

Viracocha eventually disappeared across the Pacific Ocean (by walking on the water), and never returned. He wandered the earth disguised as a beggar, teaching his new creations the basics of civilization, as well as working numerous miracles. Many, however, refused to follow his teachings, devolving into warfare and delinquency; Viracocha wept when he saw the plight of the creatures he had created.[8] It was thought that Viracocha would re-appear in times of trouble. Pedro Sarmiento de Gamboa wrote that Viracocha was described as "a man of medium height, white and dressed in a white robe like an alb secured round the waist and that he carried a staff and a book in his hands."[9]

In one legend he had one son, Inti, and two daughters, Mama Killa and Pachamama. In this legend, he destroyed the people around Lake Titicaca with a Great Flood called Unu Pachakuti, lasting 60 days and 60 nights, saving two to bring civilization to the rest of the world. These two beings are Manco Cápac, the son of Inti (sometimes taken as the son of Viracocha), which name means "splendid foundation", and Mama Uqllu, which means "mother fertility". These two founded the Inca civilization carrying a golden staff, called 'tapac-yauri'. In another legend, he fathered the first eight civilized human beings. In some stories, he has a wife called Mama Qucha.

In another legend,[10] Viracocha had two sons, Imahmana Viracocha and Tocapo Viracocha. After the Great Flood and the Creation, Viracocha sent his sons to visit the tribes to the northeast and northwest to determine if they still obeyed his commandments. Viracocha traveled North. During their journey, Imaymana and Tocapo gave names to all the trees, flowers, fruits, and herbs. They also taught the tribes which of these were edible, which had medicinal properties, and which were poisonous. Eventually, Viracocha, Tocapo and Imahmana arrived at Cusco (in modern-day Peru) and the Pacific seacoast, where they walked away across the water until they disappeared. The word "Viracocha" literally means "Sea Foam."[10]


Tiqsi Huiracocha (spanisch Ticsi Viracocha) may have several meanings. In the Quechuan languages, tiqsi means "origin" or "beginning", wira means fat, and qucha means lake, sea, or reservoir.[11] Viracocha's many epithets include great, all knowing, powerful, etc. Some people state that Wiraqucha could mean "Fat (or foam) of the sea".[3][12] According to German archeologist Max Uhle, "foam lake" is an incomprehensible name. He points out that Vira (Huira) can also be derived from the Quechua word huyra ("the end of all things"), and that Ticsi Viracocha therefore could have the meaning "lake of origin and of the end of all things".[13]

Some think that linguistic, historical and archaeological evidence suggest that the name could be a borrowing of Aymara Wila Quta (wila "blood"; quta "lake"), due to the sacrifices of camelids that were celebrated at Lake Titiqaqa by pre-Incan Andean cultures that spoke Aymara.[14] Viracocha is often referred to a lord "Tunuupa", which in both Quechua and Aymara have a clear provenance from "Tunu"= mill or central support pillar of a roundhouse and "upa"= the bearer, the one who carries.[5] Thus, "Tunuupa" or "Tunupa" may be read as the "bearer of the mill", while in the Old World the mill or millstone symbolizes time and the making of time, or "the works that make civilization". This epithet of Viracocha is thus well in line with the assimilation of Viracocha as Saturn, in agreement with Inca cosmogony (see,[5] chapter 4).

Controversy over "White God"[edit]

The first Spanish chroniclers from the 16th century made no mention of any identification with Viracocha. The first to do so was Pedro Cieza de León in 1553.[15] Similar accounts by Spanish chroniclers (e.g. Juan de Betanzos) describe Viracocha as a "white god", often with a beard.[16] The whiteness of Viracocha is however not mentioned in the native authentic legends of the Incas and most modern scholars therefore had considered the "white god" story to be a post-conquest Spanish invention.[17]

Moche ceramic vessels depicting bearded men

Similarly to the Incan god Viracocha, the Aztec god Quetzalcoatl and several other deities from Central and South American pantheons, like the Muisca god Bochica are described in legends as being bearded.[18] The beard, once believed to be a mark of a prehistoric European influence and quickly fueled and embellished by spirits of the colonial era, had its single significance in the continentally insular culture of Mesoamerica. The Anales de Cuauhtitlan is a very important early source which is particularly valuable for having been originally written in Nahuatl. The Anales de Cuauhtitlan describes the attire of Quetzalcoatl at Tula:

Immediately he made him his green mask; he took red color with which he made the lips russet; he took yellow to make the facade; and he made the fangs; continuing, he made his beard of feathers...[19]

In this quote the beard is represented as a dressing of feathers, fitting comfortably with academic impressions of Mesoamerican art. The story, however, does not mention whether Quetzalcoatl had facial hair or not with the point of outfitting him with a mask and symbolic feathered beard being to cover his unsightly appearance because as Quetzalcoatl said "If ever my subjects were to see me, they would run away!"[20]

While descriptions of Viracocha's physical appearance are open to interpretation, men with beards were frequently depicted by the Peruvian Moche culture in its famous pottery, long before the arrival of the Spanish.[21] Modern advocates of theories such as a pre-Columbian European migration to Peru cite these bearded ceramics and Viracocha's beard as being evidence for an early presence of non-Amerindians in Peru.[22] Although most Indians do not have heavy beards, there are groups reported to have included bearded individuals, such as the Aché people of Paraguay, who also have light skin but who are not known to have any admixture with Europeans and Africans.[23] When the Southern Paiute were first contacted by Europeans in 1776, the report by fathers Silvestre Vélez de Escalante and Francisco Atanasio Domínguez noted that "Some of the men had thick beards and were thought to look more in appearance like Spanish men than native Americans".[24]

Representation of Wiracochan or Tunupa at Ollantaytambo[edit]

Face in stone of Wiracochan or Tunupa at Ollantaytambo

A representation of the messenger of Viracocha named Wiracochan or Tunupa is shown in the small village of Ollantaytambo, southern Peru. Ollantaytambo located in the Cusco Region makes up a chain of small villages along the Urubamba Valley. Known as the Sacred Valley, it was an important stronghold of the Inca Empire. Facing the ancient Inca ruins of Ollantaytambo in the rock face of Cerro Pinkuylluna is the 140-metre-high figure of Wiracochan. The angry-looking formation of his face is made up of indentations that form the eyes and mouth, whilst a protruding carved rock denotes the nose. Inca ruins built on top of the face are also considered to represent a crown on his head. Artists' impressions of the rock face also include a heavy beard and a large sack upon his shoulders.

The effigy of Viracocha/Tunupa at Ollantaytambo has been highlighted among others by Fernando and Edgar Elorrieta Salazar.[1] Wiracochan, the pilgrim preacher of knowledge, the master of time, is described as a person with superhuman power, a bearded tall man dressed as priest or astronomer.

Conversion to Christianity[edit]

Spanish scholars and chroniclers provide many insights regarding the identity of Viracocha.

  1. Bartolomé de las Casas states that viracocha means "creator of all things"[25]
  2. Juan de Betanzos confirms the above in saying that "We may say that Viracocha is God"[26]
  3. Polo, Sarmiento de Gamboa, Blas Valera and Acosta all reference Viracocha as a creator[25]
  4. Guamán Poma, an indigenous chronicler, considers the term "viracocha" to be equivalent to "creator"[27]

Other authors such as Garcilaso de la Vega,[18] Betanzos, and Pedro de Quiroga[28] hold that Viracocha wasn't the original name of "God" for the Incas.[25] According to Garcilaso, the name of God in the language of the Incas was "Pachamama", not Viracocha.[29] Nevertheless, Spanish interpreters generally attributed the identity of supreme creator to Viracocha during the initial years of colonization.[25]

According to Antoinette Molinié Fioravanti, Spanish clergymen began to equate the "God of creation" with Viracocha in an attempt to combat the polytheistic worship of the Incas, which in their view was idolatrous. The existence of a "supreme God" in the Incan view was used by the clergy to demonstrate that the revelation of a single, universal God was "natural" for the human condition.[30]

Christian scholars such as Augustine of Hippo and Thomas Aquinas held that philosophers of all nations had learned of the existence of a supreme God.[31] Nevertheless, medieval European philosophy believed that without the aid of revelation, no one could fully understand such great truths such as the nature of "The Trinity".[25]

The decision to use the term "God" in place of "Viracocha" is seen as the first step in the evangelization of the Incas.[25] The reasoning behind this strategy includes the fact that it was likely difficult to explain the Christian idea of "God" to the Incas, who failed to understand the concept. In addition, replacing reference to Viracocha with "God" facilitated the substitution of the local concept of divinity with Christian theology.[25]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Fernando E. Elorrieta Salazar & Edgar Elorrieta Salazar (2005) Cusco and the Sacred Valley of the Incas, pages 83–91 ISBN 978-603-45-0911-5
  2. ^ Paul Richard Steele, Catherine J. Allen,Handbook of Incan mythology,2004
  3. ^ a b Dover, Robert V. H.; Katharine E. Seibold; John Holmes McDowell (1992). Andean cosmologies through time: persistence and emergence. Caribbean and Latin American studies. Indiana University Press. p. 274. ISBN 0-253-31815-7. Retrieved 22 November 2009.:56
  4. ^ Young-Sánchez, Margaret (2009). Tiwanaku: Papers from the 2005 Mayer Center Symposium at the Denver Art Museum. Denver Art Museum. ISBN 978-0-8061-9972-6.
  5. ^ a b c Sullivan, William (1997). The Secret of the Incas. Penguin Random House.
  6. ^ Alan Kolata, Valley of the Spirits: a Journey into the Lost Realm of the Aymara (1996), pages 65–72
  7. ^ Andrews, Tamra (2000). Dictionary of Nature Myths. Oxford University Press. p. 216. ISBN 0-19-513677-2.
  8. ^ a b "Viracocha". Bloomsbury Dictionary of Myth. Bloomsbury Publishing Ltd., London. 1996. Retrieved 10 February 2009.
  9. ^ "Viracocha and the Coming of the Incas" from History of the Incas, by Pedro Sarmiento De Gamboa, translated by Clements Markham, Cambridge: The Hakluyt Society 1907, pp. 28–58.
  10. ^ a b "Glossary, Inca Gods". First People of America and Canada – Turtle Island. Retrieved 10 February 2009.
  11. ^ Teofilo Laime Acopa, Diccionario Bilingüe, Iskay simipi yuyay k'ancha, Quechua – Castellano, Castellano – Quechua
  12. ^ Damian, Carol; Steve Stein; Nicario Jiménez Quispe (2004). Popular art and social change in the retablos of Nicario Jiménez Quispe. Edwin Mellen Press. ISBN 0-7734-6217-1. Retrieved 22 November 2009.
  13. ^ Alfons Stübel, Max Uhle: Die Ruinenstätte von Tiahuanaco im Hochlande des alten Perú: Eine kulturgeschichtliche Studie auf Grund selbständiger Aufnahmen. Hiersemann, Leipzig 1892, Zweiter Teil, p. 55 (
  14. ^ Rodolfo Cerrón-Palomino, Las lenguas de los incas: el puquina, el aimara y el quechua
  15. ^ Colonial Spanish America: a documentary history, Kenneth R. Mills, Rowman & Littlefield, 1998, p. 39.
  16. ^ Pre-Columbian America: Myths and Legends, Donald. A. Mackenzie, Senate, 1996, p.268-270
  17. ^ Mills, 1998, p. 40.
  18. ^ a b Siemens, William L. "Viracocha as God and Hero in the Comentarios Reales." Hispanic Review 47, no. 3 (1979): 327–38. doi:10.2307/472790.
  19. ^ Anales de Cuauhtitlan., 1975, 9.)
  20. ^ "Readings in Classical Nahuatl: The Death of Quetzalcoatl".
  21. ^ Portrait Vase of Bearded Figure, Brooklyn Museum
  22. ^ In Quest of the Great White Gods, Robert F. Marx, Crown Publishers, 1992 pp. 7–15.
  23. ^ Hill, Kim; A. Magdalena Hurtado (1996). Aché life history: the ecology and demography of a foraging people. Aldine Transaction. p. 58. ISBN 978-0-202-02036-5. Retrieved 31 May 2011.
  24. ^ "Dominquez and Escalante Expedition, 1776". Retrieved 16 November 2010. cites: Chavez, A; Waner, T (1995), The Dominguez and Escalante Journal, Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press|pages=187–193
  25. ^ a b c d e f g Itier, César. Viracocha o El Océano: Naturaleza y Funciones De Una Divinidad Inca. Lima: IFEA; IEP, 2012. Print.
  26. ^ Betanzos, Juan de, María del Carmen Martín Rubio, and Digitalia (Firm). Suma y narración De Los Incas [Electronic Resource] Archived 3 May 2016 at the Wayback Machine.Web.
  27. ^ Guamán Poma de Ayala, Felipe, and Franklin Pease G. Y. Nueva crónica y Buen Gobierno;. Lima,: Casa de la Cultura del Perú, 1969. Web.
  28. ^ Pedro de Quiroga, El indio dividido. Fracturas de conciencia en el Perú colonial. Ana Vian Herrero (ed.). – Madrid/Frankfurt, Iberoamericana/Vervuert, 2009. 572 p. (colección : Parecos y australes 2) – ISBN 978-84-8489-393-6 (Iberoamericana); 978386527 4137 (Vervuert)
  29. ^ Vega, Garcilaso de la, and Ana Gerzenstein. Comentarios Reales. [Buenos Aires]: Plus Ultra, [1967]. Coleccion Clasicoshispanoamericanos, 10–11 Web.
  30. ^ Molinié-Fioravanti, Antoinette. "El Regreso De Viracocha." Bulletin de l'Institut francais d'études Andins 16.3–4 (1987)Web.
  31. ^ Pope John Paul II, Catechism of the Catholic Church. Bloomingdale, OH: Apostolate for Family Consecration John Paul II Holy Family Center, 1994. Catechism of the Catholic Church – The Revelation of God. Web.