Priests and priestesses listened to confessions of carelessness in saying prayers, neglect of festivals, witchcraft, poisoning, and even murder. To hide anything during a confession was regarded as a sin. After confession the penitent fasted and bathed in a running stream to purify himself.

The emperor and his household did not have to confess to any priests. They confessed directly to the Sun and asked the Sun to speak for them to Viracocha. After such a confession, they bathed in a river, so the water would carry away their sins.

 Men and women prayed both silently and aloud. The common people did not memorize prayers, as the priests and some of the nobles did. The ceremonial prayers of the priests and the nobles were word perfect. Each person spoke directly to the gods with the same respect and careful choice of words he would use in speaking to an older and wiser person. Feasting, drinking chicha, and dancing usually followed each ceremony. 


Among the Inca there was good magic and evil magic. Men who practiced evil magic were hated and feared, and if a man accused of sorcery proved to be guilty, he and his family were killed. To bring sickness or death to an enemy the sorcerer made an image of him and spit on it or burned it. This, the sorcerer hoped, would harm the enemy or kill him. A sorcerer could plant a foreign object in a person's body, the Inca believed, and he could turn a person's insides upside down.

 Disease could be cured only by magic and by prayer, since it was caused by sorcery. The plants used in curing were numerous, and today many of them have been found to possess healing properties. The Indians, however, did not know about chemicals. They thought the plants had the magic with which to cure an illness.

A curer had to be a diviner. By praying he divined where the sickness lay and then proceeded to cure it by taking it out of the patient's body. Curing power sometimes came to a person who had been ill and recovered from the illness. To others the curing power came in a dream or a vision. Often, before treating a patient, a curer made a sacrifice to honor his vision and thus gain its cooperation.

With much practice many of the curers were able to diagnose an illness, and oftentimes they used the right herbs to cure it. Some even treated broken bones by putting them in casts, and some sawed off broken arms and legs and did it so skill-fully that the patient survived. Skulls were incised while the patient was drunk with chicha, and some of these patients survived.

Curers also used hypnosis. It is told that a special room was cleaned and sprinkled with corn flour. The sick person was brought into the room, hypnotized, his body cut open, and the object that was causing the pain removed. The curers were paid with gold, silver, clothing, ornaments, and gifts of produce. Occasionally, after a diviner had declared a disease incurable, a man attempted to cure himself by sacrificing his own child. This was the most precious offering a father could make. Since the god wanted a human life, perhaps he would take the child and spare the man, on whose sup-port the rest of the family depended. The Inca believed that when the emperor became ill, his sickness was due to the people's sin. The Inca prayed and confessed and purified themselves, so their emperor would get well.


The Inca also believed in the existence of evil spirits and supernatural beings. Evil spirits were feared but not worshiped. Some of these spirits, it was thought, had been witches in life, and in death they went abroad at night and did harm. Everyone avoided them. The supernatural beings, however, were friends of man and full of kindness. They punished transgressors with bad luck but never inflicted severe physical suffering.

The Inca nobles, the generals, and the emperor consulted the supernaturals before setting out on a journey. There were several famous supernaturals, or oracles, which the Inca consulted. The most powerful oracle lived at Pachacamac on the Pacific coast, south of what is now the town of Lima. 

Another, Apo-rimac, lived on the Apurimac River near Cuzco and gave the river its name. This oracle was a tree trunk. The Inca built a house around it and dressed the trunk in women's clothing, decorated with gold pendants and fine sashes. The oracle did not speak directly to the person who came for advice. It made a special noise, a nodding or a shaking of the leaves, and its reply was interpreted by a priest. 


There were sorcerers, too, who foretold the future. Some sorcerers drank themselves into unconsciousness with special concoctions they had prepared. When they recovered they told what they had dreamed and foreseen.

Fire was also used to foretell events. This divination by fire was a most impressive ceremony. The people of Huaro, near Cuzco, who were fire diviners, were highly respected and feared. Even the emperor fasted for three days to attend one of their fire-divining sessions.

At the ceremony a diviner placed two ceramic burners, or braziers, opposite each other. As he fed chips into the fires of the braziers, his assist-ants, hidden behind a wall, kept the flames under control by blowing into long copper tubes connected to the braziers. The fire diviner, weeping and chanting, invoked the spirits of living and dead people to come to his aid. Food and drink were placed on the floor near the fire, as offerings to them. The diviner questioned the spirits and, through ventriloquism, voiced their replies. In the meantime the assistants blew on the fires in the braziers, and the flames leaped high with each reply. This meant that a new spirit had appeared.

There were many other ways of foretelling the future. A priest might sacrifice a llama and study its markings to determine what the outcome of a battle would be. For less important questions a priest sacrificed and examined the lungs of a guinea pig, or even a bird. A man might scoop up a handful of pebbles and count them to see whether his plans would succeed or fail. If the number of pebbles was even, he would succeed; otherwise he would fail. Some men sought omens for the future in a wad of coca leaves. They spat the coca juice onto the palms of their hands. If the juice ran evenly down two extended fingers, the outcome of the plan would be favorable. If the juice ran down unevenly, it was a bad sign.


In addition to worshiping the deities, the Inca worshiped the numerous huacas—sacred places —which were everywhere throughout the Inca Empire. Mountaintops were huacas, because man could not penetrate them. The emperor's palace, with all his goods, was sealed after his death and became a huaca. Battlefields, caves, springs, quarries, and even the roots of trees were huacas.

There always seemed to be room for more huacas in the religion of the Andeans. When the Inca conquered a village and introduced new huacas, the villagers gladly accepted them. A man would sprinkle a few coca leaves as he passed a huaca. If he had no coca leaves, he placed a stone near it, as many had done before him. Thus huacas were distinguished by piles of stone.

 If he had nothing at all to offer, he pulled a few hairs from his eyebrows and lashes and blew them toward the shrine. Many huacas had shelters nearby. A priest lived in the shelter, caring for the shrine and cultivating a small field beside it in honor of the huaca. 


Inca ceremonies followed the Inca calendar. The seasons of the year were very important to the Inca, because they lived off the land. Their calendar was divided into twelve lunar months, named for important agricultural and religious events. Since the seasons south of the equator are reversed, the January of the Inca calendar was the equivalent of June in North America. The calendar year began with December, which is like May in the north.

Here is a brief account of the outstanding national ceremonies and festivals. There were many, many local festivals too. People who could not get to a big town or to the capital for a celebration observed the holiday at the nearest huaca. It goes without saying that whoever could get to Cuzco did so for the joy and satisfaction a religious people have in attending important ceremonies. December, Kapac Raymi, was the month of the Magnificent Festival. During this month the Inca held initiation ceremonies for the sons of the nobility. January, Kamay, was the month of the Small Ripening. February, Hatun Poky, was the month of the Great Ripening. March, Pakar Waray, was the month of the Flowers and Earth Ripening.

In April, Auriwa, the month of the Dance of the Young Maize, a white llama, brushed and groomed and covered with fine cloths and gold ornaments, was paraded in the plaza before a large gathering. The Inca, like many other Indian groups, had a myth about a Great Flood which had almost wiped out mankind and all living creatures from the earth. A white llama had survived this flood, and the llamas that paraded in the plaza each year were descendants of this first llama. In May, Aymuray, festivals were held all over the Empire to celebrate the month of the Harvest. June, Intl Raymi, was the month of the Festival of the Sun—the most important Inca ceremony. The people believed that the Sun was holding the celebration and that the nobility were his guests at the festival. The emperor himself presided over this ceremony, and every nobleman, dressed in his best and displaying all the ornaments he possessed, came to Cuzco for it.

Professional clowns entertained the gathering and made the people laugh. They wore masks and carried musical instruments—drums, rattles, bells, trumpets, whistles, and flutes. These musical instruments were made of wood, bone, reeds, shell, and metal. The clowns pranced about, pulling in people from the audience to dance with them. Some of the dances were dignified, however. To the sound of a great drum, which a servant carried on his back (the drummer was usually a woman), men and women formed a single line and joined hands. In their bright shirts, dresses, and headdresses they moved slowly across the plaza two steps forward, one step back. Sometimes the men formed one line and the women another, and danced together with great dignity from one end of the plaza to the other. The emperor, of course, did not dance. He sat on a low gold seat high up on the stone steps of the Temple of the Sun, and looked down on his people below.

The Festival of the Sun lasted for nine days. At dawn on the fourth day, all the Inca came out into the great plaza in front of the Temple, stretched their arms in front of their faces, and made kissing noises as a greeting to the Sun. Llamas and alpacas were sacrificed, and then the emperor stood up, holding two golden goblets filled with chicha. The goblet in his right hand he offered to the Sun, his father. The emperor poured it into a gold jar which was connected by tubes to the Temple. The chicha flowed through the tubes into the Temple, giving the impression that the Sun was drinking it.
From the goblet in his left hand the emperor took a sip of the chicha and then handed the goblet down for the nobles to sip and pass around among themselves. This royal gesture of friendship, of drinking with his noblemen as equals, meant a great deal to every nobleman present. Not for another year would any of them share a drink with their emperor.

The emperor, the priests, and others of royal blood now entered the Temple to offer gifts of silver and gold to the Sun. People of lesser rank "-brought gifts too, but they were not permitted to enter the Temple of the Sun. After walking up its two hundred steps, they remained outside, and the priests carried in their offerings.

Next there were more sacrifices of black llamas and alpacas, and then a priest cut open the first animal and examined its heart and lungs. If these proved healthy and unmarred, and if the lungs were still full of air, everything in the Kingdom of the Sun would be successful. If the animal was unhealthy, the people knew that there was misfortune ahead, for somehow they had displeased the Sun.

July, Chawa Warkis, was the month of Earth Purification. During this month priests made sacrifices to the huaca which presided over the irrigation system of the Cuzco valley, and similar festivals were held to honor the huacas at the irrigation canals all over the Empire. August, Yapakis, was the month of Everyone's Purification. Sacrifices, brought to Cuzco from the four provinces of the Empire, honored Water, Frost, the Air, and the Sun. September, Koya Raymi, was a dry month, and the Queen's Festival honored the change in weather. In October, Uma Raymi, the Inca held the Festival of the Water. The people prayed for rain, because the crops that had been sown in August and September would fail without it.

In November, Ayamarka Raymi, there was the Festival of the Dead. During this festival people made offerings to their dead ancestors. It is possible that this worship of ancestors was based on a fear of the dead. The Inca may have believed that unless they treated the shades of the dead with respect, the shades might molest the living.

In addition to these monthly ceremonies there were many others, which were held on special occasions, such as drought, an earthquake, or a war. During these ceremonies everyone who was not of noble rank had to leave Cuzco. Men and boys marched in procession through the streets, wearing red shirts with long fringes and ornaments, great feathered headdresses, and shell necklaces. They carried small dried green birds and white drums. At these ceremonies the only sound was the sound of the drums; the people were silent.

Human sacrifices were offered only on these solemn occasions, or at the coronation of a new emperor. It is said that at one emperor's coronation two hundred children were sacrificed—boys of ten and girls between ten and fifteen. The children were feasted before the ritual, so they would not appear hungry before Viracocha. After two days of fasting the special ceremony ended. There was feasting and dancing and people were gay again, confident that Viracocha, through the intervention of the Sun, would grant them their prayers.