Higher Cultures Of The Preinca Area

3. MOChe

the eyes of the common folk he was a remote and incomprehensible god. That is why we find so few temples dedicated to this god. Most of them gave way to all sorts of idolatry as the familiar processes of fusion and substitution took place.

There is a tendency for the sacred to undergo a gradual "fall" into the concrete. Various divinities become more dynamic, accessible, and concretely effective. A process of specialization takes place, so that a deus otiosus, a god with nothing to do, turns into a deus pluviosus, a god of rain or thunder. And thus we get a cult of the sun.

lnti-the holy Sun-represents the solarization of the creator. He becomes a fecundating god in a world of stunning and dramatic vegetation. He is also the god of hunters and warriors. Vestiges of theism and animism are intermingled with the political role and funtion of hunter-warriors. The solar ruler becomes the monarchical incarnation of the masculine ideal which dominates a hierarchically ordered civilization.

We are presented with a whole new world when we meet Quilla (the moon) and Pachamama ("Mother Earth"). Here we find a real counterpart to the theism described above. Sedentary agricultural peoples of a more feminine or matriarchal cast organize their theology around chthonic structures. Here we find animism, manism, and totemism. There is a link among woman, the earth, the moon, fertility, and the rhythmic cycles of biological and cosmic life.

Whereas uranic religions tend to discover the transcendent god, chthonic religions tend to interpret immanent life in sacral terms. The moon itself is a symbol of this immanent movement of death and rebirth. It "grows" and goes into a "death agony." It "dies" for three days and then is "reborn" to carry out its twenty-eight-day cycle anew. In like manner, the earth and the soil are interpreted as a god or goddess.

The Incas, like the Aztecs, were a higher culture in which there was a great deal of amalgamation or syncretism. Gods from the uranic religions of hunting peoples intermingled with gods or goddesses from the chthonic religions of agricultural peoples. Alongside the sun god of the Inca empire we find the totemic deities of Ayllu.

The idea of rhythm is discovered quite early by primitive peoples with a chthonic religion. Rituals and cultic ceremonies enable the community to relive the sacred happenings which the gods live out in an exemplary manner .

The feast of the sun was celebrated on June 22, when the days began to get longer. It was the people's invocation for the gift of a new year. Representatives of the people and the Inca himself gathered in the great plaza of Cuzco. There, in silence, they watched the sun rising above the mountain ranges to the east. The Incas believed that one day the sun would refuse to rise, and that this would mark the end of our world. So when the Sun did rise on that date, the Inca himself offered a juice prepared by consecrated virgins from sacred fruits.

The feast of the moon was celebrated at the start of spring, on September 22. It bears witness to the close relationship among the rebirth of life, the seeded earth as a "mother ," and the moon which guides this process of rebirth. For total rebirth, however, pardon was necessary. (In Hebrew the term ispurim.) The people waited for the moon to appear in the nighttime sky. Then they raised a cry, pleading for the removal of their faults and for the elimination of all threats and dangers. Soldiers set out in pursuit of "evil spirits" while the people proceeded to undergo ablutions for the sake of ritual purification. The gods responded by renewing and purifying the life of the people in town and countryside.

I cannot make a thorough analysis of Inca religion here. I simply want to point out its general features: a complex cultural base; ritual and cultic syncretism; intermingling of uranic and chthonic religious elements; a highly developed religious awareness which brought sacral unity to human life on every level, from the most private acts of the Inca and the elite to the most secular manifestations of community life. Anything unforeseen or unexpected, which might leave room for "the profane" to steal into the picture, was immediately sacralized upon its appearance. Thus sick people and premature infants were declared divine and given special protection-quite in contrast to the sacral attitude of the Spartans, for example.

Socio-cultural dualism was an indisputable fact in the Inca empire. The Inca nobility did not adore the sun as a supreme being; they adored Huiracocha or Pachacamac with rites and liturgies of their own. The Great Priest (amauta or Uillac Umu) was the head of the most important priestly institution in the empire. Once a province was conquered, the cult of the sun was established and a temple was set up in the most important localities. A local clergy was formed from among the aristocracy of the conquered people. All the lands of the empire were divided into various sectors for administrative purposes; one sector, the sector "of the sun," was set aside for temples and the clergy. But priests were never very numerous.

Among the Aztecs, by contrast, cultic worship utilized a far greater number of priests. There were more than 5,000 priests in the capital. Two Great Priests were in charge of the cultic life of the empire. The priestly school, noted for its strict asceticism, was located in Calmecac.

In Yucatan there was a Great Priest called Ahaukan Mai; his function was hereditary. In the Mayan empire the members of the priestly class came from the nobility and performed military functions; they were the Nacon. They must have been behind all the great construction work of his culture, for the products are temples and cities of pilgrimage, i.e., religious centers. The name Ahkin, which was given to the common Mayan priest, is now given to the Catholic priest.

Throughout the major American civilizations, the priesthood was an imperial one. Thus it opposed or restricted the local priesthood (sorcerers, diviners, shamans, and so forth). Given enough time, the imperial priesthood would probably have suppressed the local priesthood almost completely, but it had not imposed its supremacy on the local priesthood when the Spaniards arrived. The disappearance of the Indian empires inevitably led to the rebirth of local idolatry. The Spanish Church, recently organized itself, did not realize exactly what was taking place.

For its part, the indigenous civilization was unable to dialogue with the new invaders. It had not reached the stage where it could rationalize or justify its "mythical world" adequately. We now know that philosophy did not originate in psychological "wonder." (Perhaps we should say "theology" rather than "philosophy," since the latter, as a rational science reduced to the study ofnon-divine things, is of recent vintage.) Its origin is to be sought in a historical fact which is easily verifiable, namely, the incomprehension of the hellenic elite when faced with the conflict or contradiction between the primitive mythical tradition of Crete and the Mediterranean on the one hand and the Indo-European mythical tradition imported by the Acheans and Dorians.

The process of rationalization had only begun among the Incas, the Aztecs, and the Mayans. The Mexican priests, for example, were trying to bring a little order into the chaotic welter of myths which stemmed from different sources. Thus they reduced the chief gods to four, corresponding to the four cardinal points and deriving their descent directly from the primordial pair. But such rationalizations were scarcely accepted by everyone, and they even contradicted other myths that were still very much alive-such as the various myths about mother goddesses. Religion was pre dominantly a local, folk affair, as Toynbee suggests, and theological rationalization played a minimal role.

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