The Cosmology of the Incas

Whenever a civilization prospers and survives, they are bound to have designed their own cosmology. The Incas are no exception.

For the inhabitants of the Andean region to maintain some sort of peace, they had both to maintain a careful equilibrium between themselves and their environment and to establish a system of exchange among neighboring communities and cultures. This concern for equilibrium is carried over into the cosmology of the Incas. According to the Incas, the universe is held in balance by the opposing forces of existence and nonexistence. 'Existence' symbolizes the struggle for the stability of matter, while 'nonexistence' exists for the disintegration of that same matter.

A mere equilibrium of forces, however, causes only a static universe. The Incas also strived for an animated cosmos and they achieved this with a system of exchange. This combination of equilibrium and exchange is expressed by the Quechua word anyi , meaning balance and reciprocity. According to one Peruvian Andean, "the whole universe is anyi." (Classen p.11). Through religion, the Incas were able to define the basic divisions of the universe, maintain them in harmony, and establish a means of exchange among them.

Another aspect of the Inca's cosmology is that of the male and female relationship. In a drawing of the universe by a native Andean, the man and the woman standing in the middle constitute the focal point of the diagram, illustrating the centrality of humans to the cosmos and the essentiality of both sexes. A single human figure would not have adequately conveyed the dual nature of the cosmos. Moreover, the upright human figures symbolize a bridge between the hearty earth and the sky. The human body, according to the Inca, is an axis through which the power of life can flow.

From Josh Marcy's, Topher Wilkins' and Adam Tarnoff's ID1 paper.