Incan Gods and Goddesses: 14 Ancient Deities of the Inca Pantheon

The Inca are among the most prominent ancient civilizations that have emerged from South America. Born from the spectacular Andean cultures of Peru, the Inca World stretched 2,500 miles and included more than 10 million subjects at its height. Then, about 500 years ago, the Inca vanished. However, remnants of their culture remain in this day and age.

What we know about the ancient Incan gods and goddesses and their religion is limited. Only few names of important Inca gods, key myths, and means of worship are known to us today.

How Many Gods Did the Incas Have?

The Incas had multiple gods. The Inca civilization was polytheistic in practice, which meant that the Inca pantheon was densely populated. Major deities were celebrated across Inca society. Some gods were isolated to specific regions and even lesser, more obscure household deities got their dues.

Despite being somewhat cramped, the pantheon reflected the richness of Incan religious and cultural beliefs. Unfortunately, after the Inca Empire disappeared hundreds of years ago. Much of what scholars could have gleaned about their gods disappeared with them.

Who Were the Main Gods of the Incas?

The main gods of the Inca religion were those whose worship was encouraged by the Inca state. As such, those ancient gods were revered across the Inca empire, with places of worship found commonly throughout. There are three deities generally thought to be the main gods of the Incas by scholars:

  • Inti
  • Mama Quilla
  • Viracocha

These deities reflected the importance of astronomy in Inca culture. The two deities, Inti and Mama Quilla are siblings that represent the sun and the moon. In Inca cosmology, these are the two celestial bodies that the creator god Viracocha made at the dawn of time. After them came Mother Earth, Pacha Mama.

Where Did the Incan Gods and Goddesses Live?

In Inca mythology, the Inca gods resided in Hanan Pacha, the Heavens. The exception is Supay, the god of death, whose realms included Uku Pacha, the Underworld. That would also generally include all the spirits of the dead. Meanwhile, mortals lived in the “earthly world,” Kay Pacha. Kay Pacha translates to “the World of the Living,” since it contained mankind and other creations of the gods.

READ MORE: 10 Gods of Death and the Underworld From Around the World

The best way to depict the universe from the perspective of the Inca religion is through the Andean Trilogy, alternatively known as the Inca Trilogy. The Andean Trilogy refers to the three major worlds of Inca cosmography: Hanan Pacha, Kay Pacha, and Uku Pacha. The Inca people believed that the harmony between the worlds was maintained through intermediaries and mutual care.

Viracocha: Humble Creator God of the Inca

Realms: Creation, the sun, and thunderstorms.

Family: Father of Inti and Mama Quilla; he created the first men.

Fun Fact: In one myth, Viracocha walked across the sea and never returned.

The great god Viracocha is the supreme creator deity of the Inca religion. He was attested in myths to have first emerged from beneath Lake Titicaca. Afterward, Viracocha made the sun, moon, and all the stars. He made giants (then unmade them) and then created mankind.

That isn’t where Viracocha’s legends end, however. Once all was said and done, Viracocha absconded across the sea, never to be seen again. At least, not knowingly. According to legend, Viracocha hid among mankind in humble garb to teach them the secrets of civilization. It was a hit and a miss, as man frequently warred.

In some myths, Viracocha wiped out humanity with a great flood over his displeasure. In others, he was so distraught over the constant conflicts between his creations in the earthly world that he could do nothing but weep.

Inti: The Real Sun God (and Son of Creation)

Realms: The sun and kings.

Family: He is the son of Viracocha; in Inca mythology, he is married to Mama Quilla; he has a handful of children, including Manco Capac.

Fun Fact: Inca emperors adorned themselves with feathers to show their reverence for Inti (and for the sake of social status, of course).

Inti is the Incan sun god and one of the most pivotal gods of the Inca Empire. In fact, Inti was the patron god of the Incas. The worship of Inti was the backbone of the Incan sun cult, which itself was deeply intertwined with state government and the rule of the Inca emperors.

In the most popular Incan creation story (there are several), the sun god Inti is Viracocha’s secondborn. He was preceded by Mama Quilla. Worship of Inti was centralized in the capital, Cusco, where there stood a sun temple, called “Intikancha,” and several shrines to the deity. What remains is now referred to as Coricancha. In the 17th century, the Convent of Santo Domingo was erected atop the temple’s ruins.

Mama Quilla: The Venerated Moon Goddess

Realms: The moon, marriage, and menstruation.

Family: Wife of Inti and daughter of Viracocha; she is the mother of Manco Capac and his sister-wife, Mama Uqllo.

Fun Fact: Mama Quilla is considered the guardian of women in Inca culture.

As far as Inca gods go, Mama Quilla (also spelled “Mama Killa”) is among the “Big Three” to have been worshiped. This Inca goddess was known as the sister-wife of Inti and the regulator of women’s menstrual cycles. Mama Quilla can be translated to “Mother Moon,” thus emphasizing the status given to her by the Inca people. She wasn’t just a lunar goddess, no, she was the moon mother!

The Inca would follow a lunar calendar associated with Mama Quilla to plan out festivals and religious celebrations. The solar calendar, related to Inti, was responsible for everything else, such as the seasonal harvests.

Pacha Mama: Mother Earth

Realms: Earth, fertility, the harvest, agriculture, and earthquakes.

Family: The second wife of Inti, suggested spouse of Pacha Kamaq.

Fun Fact: Pacha Mama became synonymous with the Virgin Mary after Spanish colonization.

An Inca goddess of the Earth and all things terrestrial, Pacha Mama is one of the more important Inca gods. She reigned over everything from devastating earthquakes to the harvest. Unlike Mama Sara, the goddess of grain, Pacha Mama is more closely related to costly Andean staples like coca leaves and potatoes. Both crops flourished naturally around Lake Titicaca thousands of years ago.

Mama Cocha: Patroness of Sailors

Realms: The Sea, fish, and seafaring.

Family: Possible mother of Inti and Mama Quilla; likely a wife of Viracocha.

Fun Fact: Mama Cocha is associated with one of three lunar phases. Mama Quilla and Pacha Mama cover the other two.

Mama Cocha is the goddess of the sea and sea-faring. She is most famous for birthing the Inca gods Inti and Mama Quilla. Given the vastness of the Inca Empire, some folks associated Mama Cocha with salt and freshwater. Thus, although the sea is her official territory, she could have just as much influence over lakes, rivers, and streams.

READ MORE: Water Gods and Sea Gods From Around the World

Worship of Mama Cocha was more popular among communities closer to the empire’s coast. They were the sailors and fishermen, after all. However, her veneration would also be found in any Incan region that was constructed near significant bodies of water.

READ MORE: Who Invented Water? History of the Water Molecule

Illapa: A God of Thunder and Rain

Realms: Storms, thunder, rain, war, and lightning.

Family: Illapa is the son of Inti, the sun god.

Fun Fact: Llama fetuses were among the most common sacrifices to Illapa, especially during times of drought.

Like other deities associated with a raging storm, Illapa was somewhat quarrelsome. He doubled as a war god and held great, divine influence over the weather. You can guess how that goes.

At Illapa’s worst, there was a drought and famine; or, there was torrential rain and floods. For a thunder god, go figure. However, at his best, Illapa nourished the earth and crucial farmland across the Inca Empire.

Mythologically, the Incas believed that the Milky Way was a divine river in Hanan Pacha, the sacred plane or “Upper World” where the gods lived. Here, at the Milky Way, Illapa’s sister had a jug of water. Rain was made after the crack of Illapa’s sling, which he would use to shatter his sister’s water jug. You know, standard sibling shenanigans.

Supay: Lord of Uku Pacha and Death

Realms: Death, the Underworld, spirits, and demons.

Family: Supay does not have any relatives listed in myths, but it is implied that Viracocha created him at some point.

Fun Fact: This god became equated with the Catholic devil after Spanish colonization. However, the Inca believed this deity was much more gray.

Looking up images of Supay, one will be met with a horned visage bearing rows of pointed fangs, bulging yellow-red eyes, and fiery red skin. He’s menacing, alright, which is probably why the worship of Supay included incantations against harm. Well, harm he could inflict, but harm nonetheless.

In Inca mythology, Supay ruled over Uku Pacha, the Underworld of the Inca trilogy. The lofty position gave him sway over evil spirits, demons, and death itself. As keeper of the dead and the patron of miners, Supay was an important deity throughout the Inca world despite his disturbing appearance. He has even been called “Tio Supay.”

Pacha Kamaq: The Earthshaker

Realms: The atmosphere, fire, precognition, and cataclysmic earthquakes.

Family: He could be a hot take of Viracocha, but most agree that Pacha Kamaq is a son of Inti. His half-brother is Vichaama.

Fun Fact: Pacha Kamaq is from a pre-Inca religious pantheon.

Pacha Kamaq is a creator god from the Ichma, a pre-Inca people that was later absorbed into the Inca Empire. Despite his later adoption, this deity held no less importance. He was thought to be able to cause the world to end by moving his body, so no one was eager to spur him into action.

Pacha Kamaq was not to be trifled with. No, really! Not even his highest priests could look at his visage. They entered temples backward to avoid disrespecting this deity – and to avoid evoking his wrath.

Honestly, when the god in question is responsible for some of the most devastating natural disasters known to early man, we don’t blame them.

Mama Sara: The Maiden Goddess of Grain

Realms: Grain (specifically maize) and prosperity.

Family: Unknown.

Fun Fact: “Mama Sara” translates to Maize Mother.

For being the goddess of grain, we have little to go on regarding Mama Sara. She was undoubtedly important, given that her realms included something as vital to ancient civilizations as grain, but no significant myths dealing with Mama Sara continue. However, we know that corn growing in multiples (or funky-looking corn in general) was a sign of the goddess’ influence.

Vichaama: A Vengeful Serpent

Realms: Revenge. Pretty straightforward. Sometimes death and war are involved.

Family: A son of Inti; half-brother of Pacha Kamaq and Mallko.

Fun Fact: Vichaama was made from Mallko’s umbilical cord.

This Inca god had a vendetta. According to a myth, his mother was killed by his half-brother Pacha Kamaq. His resulting revenge was swift. Vichaama turned the second generation of man – Pacha Kamaq’s beloved human creations – into stone.

Vichaama is frequently associated with a serpent. In Inca mythology, the serpent symbolizes Uku Pacha, Supay’s realm, and the Underworld. Though Vichaama is not necessarily linked to Uku Pacha, he was born from a piece of his deceased brother’s body. Thus, as a snake sheds its old skin, Vichaama is born from the remains of his brother.

Urcuchillay: Divine, Decorated Llama

Realms: Herds, herders, and domesticated animals.

Family: Unknown.

Fun Fact: Not only did this deity protect the herds – he also boosted their fertility.

There’s always that one god in the pantheon that just delights the audience. In the case of the Inca pantheon, that would be Urcuchillay.

Described as a brightly decorated man with the head of a llama, the Incas believed Urcuchillay was responsible for overseeing herds and herdsmen. He made sure the herds flourished in exchange for his continued reverence. In Inca astronomy, he is associated with the constellation Lyra.

Urcaguary: Precious Jewels, Anyone?

Realms: Precious jewels, metals, wealth, and rare ore.

Family: Unknown.

Fun Fact: He appears as a serpent with an Andean deer’s head.

Urcaguary is a deity that is associated with wealth and treasures found on the earth. Where most Inca gods lived in the heavens, Urcaguary slinked beneath mountains and hills, coveting and guarding treasure from the greedy. To be fair, when one has golden scales and a jewel-embedded tail, it would make sense to try and fend off treasure hunters. At that point, Urcaguary is just defending himself.

Manco Capac: The First Sapa Inca

Realms: Tutelary deity of Cusco, fire, and (sometimes) the sun.

Family: Husband of Mama Uqllo and the father of Sinchi Rocca. An Inca legend, the Ayar Brothers, suggests he is the son of Viracocha.

Fun Fact: In alternative myths, Manco Capac is instead the son of Inti and Mama Quilla, not Viracocha.

We can thank Manco Capac and the myths about his kin for linking the reigning Sapa Inca to the sun god, Inti. Manco Capac was the first Sapa Inca of the kingdom of Cusco. Depending on the myth, Manco Capac may have been born from the creator god, Viracocha, or from Inti. The Incas believed that Manco Capac and Mama Uqllo (along with their ayllu) were directed to wander by the gods until they found the city of Cusco.

Mama Uqllo: A Deified Queen, Turned Fertility Goddess

Realms: Motherhood, fertility, and women’s domestic work.

Family: She is the older sister of Manco Capac and the mother of Sinchi Rocca.

Fun Fact: Mama Uqllo can be found in all myths Manco Capac is in; in each, she is listed as his elder sister.

Mama Uqllo is the deified wife and sister of Manco Capac, the very first ever Sapa Inca. In Inca mythology, she and her siblings are considered the founders of the great Inca kingdom of Cusco and are the offspring of the gods. Some speculate that they were born from Viracocha and Mama Qucha, while others contest that Inti and Mama Quilla are their parents. It really just boils down to whoever was considered the current lead sun god and their respective partner.

Though there are no historical records of Mama Uqllo ever really existing, her acclaimed son did. He lived between 1230 and 1260 CE, acting as the fledgling empire’s second Sapa Inca. With his influence, he helped strengthen the famous Inca sun cult. We can only guess his lineage came in handy there.

Who Were the Four Elemental Mothers?

The Four Elemental Mothers are also known as the Four Divine Mothers by scholars. These goddesses represented the four elements most valued in early Andean societies.

  • Mama Cocha (Water)
  • Mama Nina (Fire)
  • Pacha Mama (Earth)
  • Mama Wyra (Air)

Who Were the Apu Gods?

The Apu gods were deities (or spirits) that resided in certain mountains. Apus gods were particularly influential over Andean civilizations, such as the Inca and pre-Inca peoples like the Norte Chico and Chavin. Most of the time, these spiritual mountains were sacred and held significance during religious rituals.

  • Ausangate
  • Salkantay
  • Machu Picchu
  • Huayana Picchu

Of the above, Ausangate is considered the most sacred. It is scenically breathtaking, and its snow caps fertilize the land surrounding Cusco in warmer seasons. Most local pastoral communities continue to hold reverence for the Apu Ausangate.

What Were Huacas?

In the Inca religion, a Huaca (or wak’a) was a sacred location, monument, or object. “Huaca” could alternatively refer to sacred rites and rituals, especially those associated with spirits and death. Individuals would have prayed at and left offerings before a huaca. All in all, Huacas had immense religious significance to the Inca people and were a cornerstone of Inca life.

Many towns of today were constructed around Huacas, which were revered via their significance in Inca religion, ritual, and society. As with any ancient landmark, they act as a constant reminder of the distant past. In Cusco alone, one can have easy access to numerous Huacas within the city.

Some of the more iconic Huacas are those from the pre-Inca Moche Civilization of Peru. These include Huaca del Sol and Huaca de la Luna in the Moche Valley. Shared on their grounds are a series of burial chambers, which have been extensively studied and offer insight into pre-Inca funerary practices and the significance the Huacas played.

Capacocha ceremonies (alternatively, Qhapaq hucha) were staged at Huacas, which largely included the material sacrifice of precious stones and worldly goods and the human sacrifice of children. The Plomo Mummy is just one of the victims of this sacrifice to the gods. Their body was discovered in 1954 at the peak of El Plomo mountain in the Andes. Several other Incan “ice mummies” have been found at Huacas located on high mountain peaks.

The Inca Gods Today

The Inca gods were, without a question, one of the most influential aspects of the Inca religion. Fascinating and powerful, the Inca gods enforced social contracts, natural phenomena, and the laws of the universe. Without them, there would be no empire. At least not one that generates as much buzz as the Inca!

Nowadays, most of the Andes region is Catholic. The religion was brought to South America in 1493, around the start of Spanish colonization. However, pockets of Andean communities still practice Andean traditional religion, except with a Catholic flair. Andean-Catholicism can be found throughout the Andes, where the Incan Empire was centered.

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