Inca mythology was divided into three realms: Hanan Pacha, Kay Pacha and Uku Pacha. Inca religion, the cosmos and the Inca worldview in general were defined by these vertical realms, three distinct plains of existence that were interconnected and bridged by both physical and spiritual elements.
These realms shared a similar structure to European notions of heaven, hell and earth, helping the Incas to maintain their religious beliefs in the face of Spanish colonization (beliefs that remain a part of Andean myth and religion today).
Hanan Pacha of the Inca Gods
Hanan Pacha was the upper world and the home of the Inca gods (such as Viracocha, Pachacamac, Mamacocha and the Inca gods of the sun and moon). The Incas believed that those who led a good life would ultimately ascend to Hanan Pacha in the afterlife.
The upper realm of Hanan Pacha was connected to the lower realm of man by the gods and their physical representations. According to Juan M. Ossio in his essay “Contemporary Indigenous Religious Life in Peru”, some sky divinities may be identified as heavenly mediators with the earth, such as the planet Venus (the goddess Chasca) or lightning (Illapa). Others serve as earthly mediators with heaven, such as the Apu gods of the mountains (mountain tops were often the scene of Inca sacrifices to the gods).
Kay Pacha – Inca Middle World
Kay Pacha, literally “this world,” was the middle world of Inca mythology (variously written as Cay or Kai Pacha). This was the physical realm of living beings and the world of birth and decay, equivalent to our own inhabited world. The earthly world of Kay Pacha was envisaged as a flat area lying between the upper realm of Hanan Pacha and the realm of Uku Pacha below.
According to Laura Laurencich Minelli in The Inca World, the human realm had witnessed numerous phases or destruction and recreation. The Incas saw the gods as striving to create an ever more perfect form of mankind, a trait reflected in the cycles of destruction and rebirth dealt upon Kay Pacha.
Uku Pacha – Inca Underworld
Uku Pacha can be seen as the Inca underworld, although inner world or below world may be more appropriate. Uku Pacha lies beneath the human realm of Kay Pacha, and is, as one may expect, a place where those unfit for Hanan Pacha will go upon their deaths.
The sense of Uku Pacha as an underworld, a place of pain and suffering, was touched upon by Peruvian historian Garcilaso de la Vega (1539–1616) in First Part of the Royal Commentaries of the Yncas. In his chronicling of the Incas, Garcilaso wrote that Uku Pacha was the “lowest earth, where they said [the Inca] that the wicked were sent; and to describe it more clearly they gave it another name – supaypa-huasin. This word means “the house of the devil.”” Indeed, Uku Pacha was the dominion of Supay, the Inca god of death, ruler of the underground world and leader of a race of demons.
However, Uku Pacha should not necessarily be seen as an entirely negative concept. In Handbook of Inca Mythology, Paul Steele writes that Uku Pacha was associated “with the feminine earth mother and the bones of the ancestors.” Subterranean water was also a product of Uku Pacha, and life-sustaining springs were seen as a link from the human realm to the inner world (as were caves and other openings in the Earth’s crust). Therefore, the underground world of Inca mythology is not as bleak, for example, as the typical image of Hell in many religions.
- Juan M. Ossio – “Contemporary Indigenous Religious Life in Peru”; Native Religions and Cultures of Central and South America; ed. Lawrence Eugene Sullivan; Continuum International Publishing; 2002.
- Laura Laurencich Minelli – The Inca World; University of Oklahoma; 1999.
- Garcilaso de la Vega – First Part of the Royal Commentaries of the Yncas; Hakluyt Society; 2010 (first published 1869).
- Paul Steele – Handbook of Inca Mythology; ABC-CLIO; 2004.