I believe in God, but not as one thing, not as an old man in the sky. I believe that what people call God is something in all of us. I believe that what Jesus and Mohammed and Buddha and all the rest said was right. It’s just that the translations have gone wrong.
― John Lennon
If you have read my book Masters of the Living Energy: The Mystical World of the Q’ero of Peru, you know that the paqos I interviewed declared themselves to be both mystics and Christians, without any contradiction. Their devotion to Christianity is not a relic of the Spanish Conquest of so long ago, when the Christian faith was forced upon much of the indigenous population. With the passage of time it has clearly become a choice. These paqos are not anomalies. Most paqos were able to quickly assimilate the message of Christianity. Some people take offense at that fact. I wonder why? Notwithstanding the brutal oppression imposed on indigenous Andeans by both the Spanish conquerors and the Catholic Church, if you delve into the mysticism of the Andes, you can quickly discern correspondences that would make aspects of Christianity amenable to the local population, especially the paqos.
Andeans called the metaphysical God by many names, most notably Wiraqocha (also spelled Viraqocha, and in both the “q” is sometimes a “c”), which means foam or fat of the sea. According to varying accounts in the anthropological record of Andean mythology, Wiraqocha arose from the sacred lake, Titicaca, and banished the darkness by bringing forth light. He then created the material world: the sun, moon, stars, etc. Wiraqocha had a son Inti (the sun) and two daughters (Mama Killa, the moon) and Pachamama (the material universe, sometimes also the name of the planet Earth).
He created human beings from stone, breathing life into them. There were other beings before humans, but because they defied or displeased Wiraqocha, he destroyed them through a great flood. After the flood, he created two new humans: Manco Qapac (which means “splendid foundation”) and Mama Ocllu (“mother fertility”), who founded the Inka civilization (and, according to the Q’ero, founded Q’ero). Then Wiraqocha walked across the waters of the ocean and disappeared. The prophecy is that a great white man, a god, would one day return to the Inkas.
If you know anything about Christianity, you don’t have to struggle to see the correlations to the creation of the world in Genesis, a book of the Old Testament. The God of The Bible and Wiraqocha share many similarities of action and intent, so it wouldn’t have been a stretch for the paqos and indigenous population to remain open to Christianity.
It is mostly aspects of the New Testament that bear resemblance to the beliefs of much of the Andes. I won’t report on all of them, but will highlight several significant correspondences.
In the New Testament, Jesus says to do unto others as you would have them do unto you. This, in the Andes, is ayni—the most fundamental construct of social and even cosmic law. Jesus also delivers three commandments. The first is to love God with all your mind, strength and heart. You can easily see how the three aspects of love equate with the Andean concept of the three human powers: yachay (mind, reason, intellect), llank’ay (the body, action, the ability to do work), and munay, (love grounded in will). The second and third commandments are to love others as you love yourself and to love your enemies. This requires not a sentimental love, but a love that depends on conscious choice. That is exactly what munay is: love under the power of your will. It is the willingness to love, even those who are very different from you. It is no wonder that the paqos and indigenous Andeans could see Jesus’s messages as aligned with the most fundamental of Andean beliefs. Today, Jesus, and Holy Mother Mary, are placed at that the top of the Andean hierarchy of teqse paqos (universal paqos). Jesus is seen as an apu, the Apu Jesucristo; and as Juan Nuñez del Prado writes, he is seen as the Apuyaya or Taytacha, the guardian of the universe. He is also seen as a sixth-level being, one who glows. It is said that the candidate for Inka who glowed was the one who was elected. Glowing is a hallmark of the sixth level of consciousness in the schema of the Andes, where there are seven levels that humans can evolve through, the seventh level being God in humans.
When Jesus was resurrected, the Father sent a new energy to humanity as his intermediary—the Holy Spirit. This is variously depicted as a tongue of fire or a dove. In the Andean tradition, the messenger between the upper world—the hanaq pacha—and this world—the kay pacha—is also a bird: q’enti, the hummingbird. The hummingbird also is the symbol of the Taripaypacha, the dawning of the age of the new humanity, when human beings will integrate their yachay, llank’ay and munay to birth a new human who lives in perfect ayni. Q’enti is also the carrier of the Mosoq Karpay, the karpay, as explained by Juan, that is given only “by God to those people he considers appropriate to be carriers of the new capacities.” (See “An Andean Transcendental Anthropology” at http://www.giurfa.com/inca_religion.pdf .)
Other Christian practices would have seemed familiar to the Inkas and paqos. These include the Catholic practice of honoring the saints, which would find its correlation in the Inka practice of the worship of the ancestors, most specifically the mummy bundles. One of the most obvious correspondences is the way Christians rely on priests as intermediaries between God and humans. Paqos take on this role in the Andean culture. In Christianity, there are sacred places and shrines, and holy icons and relics. In the Andean tradition, there are hundreds of wakas (huacas): natural sites and man-made objects that are the repositories of the sacred.
I could continue to list correspondences, but I trust that this sampling has helped you to see that although Christianity was forced upon the Andeans, often quite brutally, there are deep points of similarity that have allowed Andeans, especially paqos, to choose to remain Christian or to maintain their affiliation with those aspects of Christianity that correlate so well with the ancient indigenous belief system and mystical practice. Paqos are beyond the dogma of the organized Christian church, but they are in alignment with the spirit of the Christian message.
2 thoughts on “Andean Mysticism and Christianity”
I am always amazed how people assimilate to the religions of those who have enslaved them
I’ve always felt the same way, TwoSnakes! For a long time I felt indignant about the syncretization of Christianity and Andean mysticism. And after spending time with my teacher, a Q’ero paqo, I have come to the same conclusion as Joan so eloquently articulates here – they simply ARE this way. Whether it was forced upon the people hundreds of years ago or not, my teacher don Mariano practices his blend of the two worlds, as it was taught to him by his ancestors, with great joy. Touché, I guess.