THE CULT OF PACHAMAMA...Catholicism Unplugged

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February 26th 2016
Published: February 25th 2016
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THE CULT OF PACHAMAMA...Catholicism Unplugged.

Cusco in Peru was a stopover to kill some time. Some say "When in Peru, Cusco is the place to be". But when winging it, it was to us, only a maybe. So locked our gear at the bus station and to the Plaza de Armas for a look around.

Spanish cathedrals boasting of colonial excesses of the past...smiling like powerful masters built to last. Catholicism in all its splendour.

Yet that first look hid a spiritual under-belly that was there for all to see...but only if one is awake enough to reflect...and if like so see. An under-belly that threw our perceptions of Catholicism into disarray.

And so I present our findings.

But please...we beseech the faithful...I do NOT shine light on this to cause you to stray.



We stood in the Plaza de Armas with the Cathedral in front of us...La Compania de Jesus Church and the Museum of Natural History to our right...a pretty girl in traditional dress posing for a photographer circling her as she twirled. Where to start? First the girl then the Cathedral.

Tickets required...25
soles for just the Cathedral...30 soles for the Cathedral plus four other temples and a museum of Religious Art. Not one to pass up a bargain! So we started in the Cathedral.

Cusco Cathedral

Amazing inside. But it was what we discovered as we were leaving that really blew our minds.

The main altar is made of silver...seemed cold and out of place...surrounded by masses of exquisitely carved wood trimmed in gold. Side temples, alcoves, altars...the enormity of the place...towers...ornately carved corridors, walls, tall ceilings, gold railings, deities, massive paintings to astound.

Paintings of all it's bishops since Day 1 to the present in the sacristy. Another of the Last Supper Peruvian style...Jesus and the Apostles with a guinea pig on the table rather than the sacrificial lamb.

The altars were many...the Virgin Mary presiding over most of them.

But where was Jesus? Oh there he to the side in that one...not featuring in that one...nor that one.

The Virgin of Belen a.k.a Bethlehem...she's the Patroness saint of Cusco the signs say. Altars to the Virgin of the Falcon also one to La Linda the Pretty. The Virgin of Almudena...she's
the patron saint of Madrid...what's she doing here? All depicted by dolls...dressed in the most exotic dresses...I thought the Virgin Mary was always depicted in blue...not here. The Virgins with black shiny eyes...ruby cheeks...those eyes...they don't look real...they're doll eyes.

Which got us to thinking.

If the Virgins with different names are the Virgin Mary...why different names?

The Altar of the Black Christ...yep black. He's the male Patron saint of Cusco. They say he's The Lord of Tremors. In 1650 there was a massive earthquake and a statue of Jesus was carried around the city for protection. They say it is black from smoke and dust but it looks painted black to me.

Which got us to thinking.


Built in two stages...initially a small church over the Inca Suntar Wasi (House of God) in 1539. That church was too small for what the Spaniards wanted to achieve, so they built the Cathedral over the Inca Kiswa Kancha which was the Palace of Inca Wiracocha, completed in over-the-top splendour in Gothic-Renaissance style, in 1669. Now that's a long time to build a Cathedral...but read on...this was to be no ordinary church.

Cusco is reputedly the oldest living city in South America...continuous occupation for 3,000 years...the Incan capital from about 1,200 A.D.

Then came the darkness.

In 1533 the Spaniards came and on 23 March 1534 Francisco Pizzarro on behalf of the King of Spain claimed the Incan city of "Qosqo" and named it ..."Cusco."

The Spaniards built the cathedral on the Inca church and palace...even using the Incan stone blocks from the fortress on the hill, show the Andeans that the Christian God was greater than theirs!

And as we traveled it hit hard.

As you enter the churches and cathedrals in Peru then can picture the Andeans of old coming in ...wealth and riches leaping out of the stone, silver and wooden carved altars, ceilings, windows and walls.

Simple folk creeping in awe...must be thinking:

"This Christian god...must be the greatest god of all."

Just inside the exit doors in Cusco Cathedral there was info on the various religious ceremonies.

And as I was as if I was in the surf...a massive wave lifting me...throwing me...dumping me out of my traveling mediocrity...inspiring my intellect...swishing my conceptions...taunting my
concepts of Catholic faith.


Corpus Christi

The text was under glass and no photos allowed but it openly explained how the Spaniards to get the indigenous Andeans on side, incorporated Andean gods with Christian deities in the Festival of Corpus Christi.

The name “Corpus Christi” is a Latin phrase that refers to the body of Christ. This event commemorates the Last Supper on the day before Jesus’ crucifixion on Easter Friday, as described in the Bible. However for reasons beyond me, it is usually celebrated on the Thursday following Trinity Sunday, the latter being 8 weeks after Easter.

Yet in Cusco it is celebrated on the Winter Solstice (about 21 June each year) which is the day of the Incan Inti Raymi or Festival of the Sun.

Inti Raymi was a pre-hispanic festival in honour of Tayta Inti (Inti)...the Andean god of the sun...processions carrying Andean deities followed by much feastings and dancing.

The article went on to describe how the Spaniards arrived in 1533 and immediately introduced the Corpus Christi festival. Then 40 years later they incorporated Corpus Christi into the Inti Raymi. Officially they changed "the pagan festival
of the indians" into the Corpus Christi and ordered the Incan leaders and their people to participate. It described how the Andeans would lead the procession with their deities, mummies and wearing masks that their Incan kings used...playing their musical instruments...followed by the Catholic Spaniards with statues of the Virgin Mary, Jesus and the saints.

And that's how it is to this present day.

And this definitely got us thinking!!!


Syncretism. Is the Virgin Mary also Pachamama?

We then visited the other sites on our ticket...Archbishop Palace, Museum of Religious Art and a few churches.

And there we saw painting after painting...16th Century, 17th Century...Andeans in their finery with their deities...leading processions of Spaniards with the Virgin Mary...mixtures of happy Andean and European faces smiling away. Paintings confirming what historical texts reported...pagans and Christians in synch.

But the Catholic Church's attempts to bring the Andean people to Catholicism went much further than incorporating Andean gods into Christian festivals and processions.

The Catholic Spaniards substituted the Virgin Mary for the Andean god Pachamama...Mother Earth...the god of fertility.

So much so that the Virgin Mary was depicted with a triangular Virgin Mary atop a Pachamama.

Savvy Christian priests placed crosses on top of sacred mountains so the indigenous worshiping Pachamama would equate the Christian cross with worshipping the Apu of the mountain.

Tayta Inti...Father Sun was interposed with Jesus with a sun around his head instead of an aureole.

Illapa...the god of Thunder and Lightning became Saint Santiago.

And as we traveled we saw Virgin Mary after Virgin Mary...presiding over Churches, altars and in paintings galore...wearing the triangular dress...of Pachamama.

The practice of adopting the Christian religion by indigenous people as well as practicing their own religions is known as Syncretism.

Many Andean indigenous gods worshiped through the Virgin Mary, Jesus and Christian saints.

The concept blew our minds.

Which got us to thinking.

We came to Peru to search for lost cities...but now we know our quest is so, so different.

What has happened to Roman Catholicism that the Virgin Mary can be identified as Pachamama...and Jesus as Tayti Inti???

The Roman Catholic Church claims to be the largest in the World...2 billion adherents of the World's largest religion Christianity...followed by Muslims at 1.6 billion and
Hindus at nearly 1 billion.

And 50%!o(MISSING)f those Catholics are in Central and South America.

How is it that the fusion of beliefs that is said to be characteristic of Latin American Catholicism today?

Our search is to see if we can find evidence that this is true.


The conquering Spaniards were so contemptuous of indigenous beliefs that they built Christian churches on the site of Incan temples...regarded the Incans "as ignorant and wild, without any ability of logical reasoning" such that the Spaniards considered the stone fortress of Sacsayhuaman with its "stones that a pin could not be pressed between them"...concluding it must have been built by demons.

There was a period of purge by the Spaniards in the anti-idolatry purge leading to imprisonment, loss of property and burning of homes. How to escape this? Complete conversion under the guidance of the Virgin Mary for indigenous people...that's how!

Yet in the rugged mountains and gullies it was impossible to prevent the Incans, Quechua and Amaya from also worshipping their own gods. The cross was the symbol of the new European religion so the Council of Lima ordered crosses be placed on all the ancient worship places. Yet the indigenous
continued to venerate their huacas (sacred objects that they believed were inhabited by spirits) below the Christian symbol...leading to the cross as the symbol of the syncretism of the Catholic and Andean religions.

And as we were to discover...the worship of Pachamama today... is alive and well.


Santo Domingo Cathedral & Coricancha

Evening approaching...our late night bus still hours away. Just enough time for one more church...the one built on the temple of Viracocha the Creator and Inti the Sun god with shrines to the Moon, Venus and various weather gods.

This is one of the magnetic sacred sites of the Amantari Island that we stayed on in Lake the magical Machu Picchu.

Coriancha reputably was covered in 700 sheets of pure gold...served by 400 priests...sculptures in pure gold of animals and corn...a giant sun in gold and emeralds.

So Pizzarro stole all the gold and melted it down and Santo Domingo Cathedral was built on Coriancha's foundations incorporating Incan walls into the structure.

Dusk settling...time to get inside. Priests tapping their microphones...adherents streaming in. So we decided to shelter from the cold and stay for evening Spanish.

" Dios te salve, María, llena eres de gracia, el Señor es contigo. Bendita tu eres entre todas las mujeres, y bendito es el fruto de tu vientre, Jesus. Santa Maria, Madre de Dios, ruega por nosotros, pecadores, ahora y en la hora de nuestra muerte. Amen"

In English this is "Hail Mary, full of grace, The Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women, And blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, Pray for us sinners, Now and at the hour of our death. Amen!"

And as Mass progressed we couldn't help noticing...every prayer...every lamentation was to Santa Maria...the Virgin Mary.

Where was Jesus?

Better ask the Virgin Mary.


Copacabana, Bolivia...Apparitions and Appearances

On the eastern shores of Lake Titicaca we discovered how the Virgin Mary was introduced to the Andeans.

There is a massive white cathedral in Copacabana that dwarfs anything else in we entered and to our delight...reached enlightenment.


Down the back through a door behind the altar was a hallway lined with paintings...paintings of Andeans on mountainsides...sitting around small
fires. And appearing before them were apparitions...appearances of the Virgin Mary. Awe and reverence on their faces...the story of the conversion of the Andeans in colour and brush strokes. Painting after historical order...some of stories we had front of us...the proof of our quest...alas "NO PHOTOS."

Yet from my research I can find no record that any of these apparitions of the Virgin Mary in Peru or Bolivia have been accepted as genuine.

Of the 295 reported apparitions investigated by the Holy See over the centuries, only 12 have been approved. Examples are Guadalupe in Mexico, Lourdes in France & Fatima in Portugal...places of pilgrimage and claims of miraculous healings.

In a back room of the Copacabana cathedral we found a room full of Virgins...the Virgins of the World no less.

"NO PHOTOS" but the images will remain with me always.

The room was filled with dolls in glass cabinets on the floor or displayed on the walls...fancy triangular dresses...long flowing waves of hair...rosy cheeks...piercing shiny black eyes...dolls' eyes.

There are the Virgins of Guadalupe of Mexico, Belen of Cusco, Columbia, Equador, Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, Venezuela, Chile, Copacabana of Bolivia, Portugal, Spain,
various cities and countries of the Catholic world...each differently dressed...each with a write up of their significance.

Who needs to have apparitions or appearances confirmed by the Holy See if you can see what we saw in that room?


The faithful have no doubt that in the1580s the Virgin Mary appeared in Copacabana.

The area was in severe drought and the Andeans called on the Virgin Mary for relief. Two rival groups could not agree on a Patron saint for the area. One group wanted San Sebastian for Inta and the other the Virgin for Pachamama. A statue of the Virgin was made in Potosi, placed on an altar and there was praying and fasting. A second statue was made in 1582 by an indigenous artist and a further dispute arose. The Virgin herself intervened. The custodian of one of the statues saw fire coming from the Virgin's image and claimed a miraculous sign. Henceforth the populace of Copacabana were led by the Virgin's voice...out of error of their ways and into attending regular confession.

Legend says the Virgin of Copacabana performed miracles and brought nurturing, regeneration and goodness.


Prayers of the Pachamama

There was a mountain behind our funky digs. So I set out one morning, alone, to climb to the top.

About half way up I came to a rocky path...views across the town to my right and a scattered line of locals coming up. So I turned left and continued climbing. A line of women in colourful full dresses, black plaited hair...resting at the feet of a statue of Jesus. I continued climbing...a steep rocky track between boulders winding a colonnade of funerary icons topped with crosses leading to a shrine overlooking the town and lake.

The clouds were black and threatening...the colonnade of crosses beckoning...locals lighting fires at the base...I presume to honour the dead...a line of refreshment stalls on the cliff edge...I presume in honour of the living.

But most of my time was spent below the peak...behind the statue of Jesus where there was a line of tables...and at each one a shaman.

I met one of them on my way up the mountain...I near the cliff edge taking it all old man in a headpiece collecting sticks.

So I said "Hola" as you do and engaged in simple conversation in Spanish. He was collecting sticks for a fire...placing them with his meagre possessions by a rock.

"What is the fire for?" I asked.

"To pray, " he said raising his eyes and hands heavenward.

"To Pachamama."


One shaman was obviously popular as he was busy. A group would gather around him...placing items on the table.

He lit a fire in a bronze vessel on a chain...swirling the smoke so that all got a whiff or a nostril...praying for each with one hand on their head...praying over the items on the table...a set of car keys, piles of money, jewels, documents, even a statue of the Virgin Mary in a casket.

He would then open a bottle of beer...thrust its neck into the inside base of a glass so it was sealed to not spill...pouring glasses of beer for everyone...eyeing me suspiciously from time to time.

Praying with them...all taking a draught...then throwing the remaining beer forward...for Pachamama.

Relax & Enjoy,

Dancing Dave

Additional photos below
Photos: 91, Displayed: 33


25th February 2016

Thanks for this insightful blog...
syncretism is not true Christianity or Catholicism.
26th February 2016

Thanks for this insightful blog...
Thanks for reading and commenting Bob.Not sure if 50% of the world's Catholics are from Central and South America that they would agree with you. Thus I posed the question- "How is it that the fusion of beliefs that is said to be characteristic of Latin American Catholicism today?" I have presented my findings. Certainly got me thinking.
25th February 2016

Pachamama and all that.
A very different take on travel in South America! That's the least of Spain's attempt at colonialism. Travel safely. David
26th February 2016

Pachamama and all that.
We didn't come to South America with any hint of what we'd ultimately find...but that's why we love travelling. Coming with eyes, ears and mind open...serendipity yet again leads our paths. Fascinating.
26th February 2016

Excellent blog!
Dave, the article (yes, it is beyond blogging), is well observed, well researched and well written. I knew the Spanish invasion and destruction of Inca civilization, but the fusion of Christianity with Andean Pachamama, Syncretism was unknown to me. You should consider publishing the article to some kind of journal.
26th February 2016

Excellent blog!
Thank you Tab. This is probably the blog I have thought about longest and researched the most but findings to me are significant. I have no idea where else I could publish it so suggestions would be welcome.
26th February 2016

All things deep & meaningful or is it just greed
Wow David, I very much enjoyed reading this blog. I have always found the religions of the world so fascinating & your research has shed much light on many questions I have had buzzing in my head regarding Roman Catholic theology & Paganism since my travels to Sudamerica. The use of religion to control the masses is a fascinating area. To me history shows control lies firstly in the desire of man (read people) to gain control over others with whatever means available which of course is often the use of/interpretation of religion. Again well done David for such an erudite blog.
26th February 2016

All things deep & meaningful or is it just greed
Inciteful comments Denise. Thank you. Must be wild to see how our amazing discoveries in Peru and Bolivia that led to our journey of discovery of Pachamama and Latin American Catholicism can come together in a single blog. I remember vividly the places where the pieces of the jigsaw started coming together...and our amazement as they did so.
26th February 2016

Your research on Pachamama
Dave, The first thing that came to my mind is posting this article in "National geography". However, I was not so sure whether that is the right place. I believe, it will be more appropriate to the journal of Latin American Studies published by Cambridge Press. Below is the link. Why don't you submit the article as a 'paper' in the journal. You will find there is a button that suggests, 'Submit the Paper'. I realize, there are heavyweight pundits in Cambridge Press as it is a renowned history journal. But worth a shot. More we could share such findings to the external world, our own human race will be benefitted. Let's discuss it further off-line. Here you go! Tab
26th February 2016

Your research on Pachamama
Wow. I am very grateful Tab that you have spent the time to give me the info to maybe further the impact of my blog beyond the TB community. It's one of the things I like about TB that makes this site so many great minds and generous spirits out there. Thanks again. I'll look into it and happy to further discuss with you.
29th February 2016

It's not the first time
That pagan festivals were turned into Christian ones... It started in Roman times, once Constantine decided that Christianity was the faith to be... 25th and 26th of December were huge celebrations in the pagan Roman world, it was called Saturnalia, it was turned into Christmas, but even before that those dates correspond with the celebrations of the birth of the Sun God who incidentally was commonly pictured with a hallow (the sun) around his head... Sounds familiar? Most religions use older festivals (and often Gods) and just incorporate them (or you could say recycle them) into the new religion. It is the smart thing to do, the transition is less big and people will convert more easily in this way.
29th February 2016

Its not the first time
Very true and interesting observations Ralf. Yet do Catholic scholars admit or do they avoid the points you raise (which are well documented) to avoid potential questions of credibility? I also found when doing my research that the Encyclopedia of Catholicism and various texts of Catholic scholarship did not mention syncretism, substitution of Pachamama with the Virgin, or appearances of the Virgin to Andeans leading to conversion, yet texts I read and historical paintings in Peru and Bolivia were quite open about it. Also from my research the concept of pagan and Christian practices hand in hand such as I describe in relation to Corpus Christi in Cusco is not acceptable yet was openly admitted in the texts I read in Cusco Cathedral. Seeing first hand shamans praying to Pachamama also praying over icons of the Cross and the Virgin certainly got me thinking. Thanks for commenting.

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