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Pagan Christs, by John M. Robertson, [1911], at

§ 9. The Religion of Peru.

While in Mexico we see a society being ruined by religion, in Peru we find one suffering economically a similar ruin from the principle of empire. In Peru, the religious tendencies are seen at work in a much modified degree. There the rapid multiplication of the priesthood was hindered by the peculiar standing of the king and his family. In Mexico the king was elected by the nobles: in Peru he reigned by divine right of the strongest description; the doctrine being that the original Inca was the Sun-God, who married his sister; and that all succeeding Incas did the same, thus keeping the succession strictly divine. As they extended their dominions by conquest, they astutely provided that the religions of the conquered peoples should subsist, but in a state of recognised subjection to the Inca, the divine high-priest, as the priesthood generally ranked below the sacred caste of the Inca nobles; so that the old cults had not the chance of growing as those of Mexico did, though they remained popular and venerable. The two leading deities were Pachacamac and Viracocha, who in virtue of similarity were often identified. Each figured in myth as a Creator, and they were doubtless originally the Gods of different peoples or tribes, though their cults tended to unity under the politic despotism of the Incas. Pachacamac signifies "life-giver of the earth," 1 and Viracocha—who here assimilates to Aphroditê—"foam of the sea"; and they seem accordingly to have been respectively associated, to some extent, with the principles of heat and moisture; but, as so many other ancient systems show, these principles readily lend themselves to combination. Both belonged to the pre-Incarial civilisation, but were adopted and blended by the Incas, though their status as creators of all things, including the sun, was inconsistent with the Incarial religion, in which the sun was the Creator. 2 The omission to build new temples, however, 3 was probably undermining this cult; and the popular religion was becoming more and more one of worship of the minor deities, with the Inca figuring as the representative of the chief natural God, the Sun. The Thunder and Lightning were worshipped

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as the Sun's ministers; the Rainbow as his symbol or emanation; and the Moon and Stars, and in particular the planet Venus, as separate divinities; and Creator, Thunder, and Sun were sacrificed to as if very much on a level in dignity. 1

From such developments we may infer that the Peruvian popular culture was nearly stationary or decaying; and it becomes easy to understand how, after the Conquest, the Christian deities took the place of the old without any difficulty; these being so many religious conventions, while the real beliefs of the people remained attached, as they are now, to the genii or sprites of their own lore. For an unprogressing and unlettered people—as many of those in Europe have been at different times—religion is mostly a matter of festivals and hand-to-mouth superstitions; and the Peruvian common people are, under Christianity, what they were under their Incas. European life gives abundant evidence of how the usages of an ancient creed may survive the creed itself. In Peru, as in Mexico, there was a solemn religious ceremony of renewing at stated periods, by special generation, the fire used in the temples, and even in the households. In Mexico it was done over a human sacrifice, by means of the friction of two sticks, at the end of each cycle of fifty-two years. 2 In Peru it was done yearly by means of a concave mirror. 3 So did men do in ancient Rome, and similarly have northern European peasants done in Germany, in Scotland, in Ireland, at intervals till our own time, regarding the "need fire" or "forced fire" as a means of averting evil. 4 It is one of the oldest rites of the human race, and it has survived under all religions alike down to the other day, when perhaps it received its death-blow from the lucifer match. Equally universal is that ceremony of annually driving out the evil spirits, 5 which was undertaken in Peru by the Incas in person, and which is supposed to have survived in Scotland to this day in the burghal ceremony of "riding the marches." Customary usages and minor superstitions outlast faiths and philosophies; and in Peru they defy the Church. Sun-worship is gone; but the ideas of the Incarial times remain. And, indeed, there existed in some districts eighty years ago, and probably survives even to-day, a devout celebration of the memory of the ancient theocracy, in the shape of an annual dramatic representation, which the rulers vainly sought

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to suppress, of the death of the last Inca at the hands of the Spaniards. 1

It was about as ill-founded a devotion as any ever shown to a royal line in our own hemisphere; for under the Incas the people were heavily oppressed by minutely tyrannous laws and by taxes, they alone bearing all burdens, and the priests and nobles going free. 2 But were it not for the mistake of the last Inca before Pizarro in recognising one of his sons by a foreign queen, and dividing the empire between him and the heir apparent, the Inca empire, despite the disaffection of some of its subjects by conquest, might have subsisted long. As its priesthood was necessarily less powerful, so its sacrificial system was less burdensome and less terrible. Human sacrifices also were much less general than in Mexico; but they existed; 3 and there is reason to reject the claim of Garcilasso, who was biassed by his Incarial descent, that the Incas had wholly abolished them. Peoples at that culture-stage could not readily be forced to give up their ancient rites. It is in fact on record that when an Inca was dangerously ill, one of his sons was sacrificed for him to the Sun-God in the immemorial fashion; 4 and it was in keeping with such a usage that at least one tribe in Quito should regularly sacrifice its first-born. 5 If it be a sheer fable that at the accession of a new Inca there were sacrificed some hundreds of children, 6 no trust can be put in any of the Spanish testimonies. It is however established by the "Fables and Rites of the Yncas" 7 that the great festival of Capacocha or Cachalmaca, instituted by one Inca at the beginning of his reign, was celebrated with sacrifices of boys and girls, one from each tribe or lineage, both at Cuzco and at the chief town of each province. Further, after every victory certain captives were sent to the capital to be sacrificed to the sun. It is thus only too likely that among some of the coast peoples children were sacrificed to the Gods every month. 8 What seems to be certain is that, save perhaps among some of the more savage tribes, the Peruvians under the later Incas had abolished cannibal sacraments—a proof of the natural movement

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of humanity in that direction where the direct interest of a powerful priesthood did not too potently conserve religious savagery.

For the rest, they sacrificed their llamas, small birds, rabbits, sheep, and dogs; and while they alone of the American races had burnt-offerings of animals, 1 they ate their unburnt sacrifices raw, 2 here again showing the tendency of religion to preserve, wherever possible, the most ancient usages of all. They had, indeed, the custom of Suttee, like the Hindus and the Mexican Chichimecs; good widows, especially those of the Incas, being at one time expected to bury themselves alive when their husbands died, 3 so as to be wives to them in the spirit world; but this custom was dying out, being replaced by the symbolism of placing statuettes in a man's tomb to represent his wives and servants. 4 In the same way, human sacrifice was being replaced by the surrogate of blood-letting. 5 Above all, the blood sacrament had become conventionalised in a quasi-Christian form. The Peruvians had the institution of a Holy Communion, in which they ate of a sacred bread, sancu, sprinkled with the blood of a sacrificed sheep, the priest pronouncing this formula: "Take heed how ye eat this sancu; for he who eats it in sin, and with a double will and heart, is seen by our Father, the Sun, who will punish him with grievous troubles. But he who, with a single heart, partakes of it, to him the Sun and the Thunderer will show favour, and will grant children and happy years, and abundance of all that he requires." All then made a solemn vow of piety and loyalty before eating. 6

To say, as some do, that there was nothing essentially "moral" in such rites, because they had in view temporal well-being, 7 is merely to set up one more one-sided discrimination between Christianity and Paganism; for it is certain that the early Christians regarded their eucharist as possessing miraculous medicinal virtues. Equally unjudicial is the comment on the rites of infant baptism and confession of sins (which the Peruvians also practised) that "even where the Peruvian religion seems to undertake the

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elevation and protection of morals, it does so rather with a utilitarian and selfish view than with any real purpose of sanctifying the heart and will." 1 It is hardly necessary to reply that the Mexicans and Peruvians had just the same kind of moral feeling in any given stage of civilisation as Christians have had in a similar culture-stage, and that the desire for future salvation, appealed to in all Christian evangelical teaching, is only utilitarianism and selfishness sub specie æternitatis. The Spaniards themselves recognised that the Mexicans ate the mystical body of the God with every sign of devotion and contrition; 2 and they were so far from depreciating the Peruvian communion that they supposed St. Bartholomew had established it. 3 The Mexican wise-woman who prayed the Merciful Goddess to cleanse the babe from the sin of its parents will compare fairly well with the practisers of infant baptism among ourselves; and it cannot be shown that the Mexican and Peruvian confessors stood as a rule any lower morally than those of Christendom at the same culture-stage. The casting of horoscopes for infants was practised in Europe just as in Mexico at the time of the Conquest. The Mexican priests gave indulgences; but they never went to the lengths of the Renaissance Papacy in that direction.


376:1 Müller, p. 318.

376:2 Id. pp. 314-319.

376:3 See Mr. Kirk's note in his ed. of Prescott, p. 44.

377:1 Rites and Laws of the Yncas, trans. by C. R. Markham, Hakluyt Society, 1873, p. 27.

377:2 Prescott, Mexico, c. iv, end; J. G. Müller, p. 520.

377:3 Prescott, Conquest of Peru, Kirk's ed. in 1 vol. c. iii, p. 51. "In cloudy weather they had recourse to the means of friction." Réville, p. 196.

377:4 Max Müller, Physical Religion, pp. 286-9.

377:5 On this usage, see Dr. Frazer's Golden Bough, vol. iii, c. iii, § 14-15.

378:1 Stevenson, Twenty Years’ Residence in South America, 1825, i, 401; ii, 70-3.

378:2 Prescott, Peru, B. i, c. 2, citing Garcilasso.

378:3 See Kirk's note to Prescott, p. 51, in reply to the claim of Sir C. Markham on behalf of the Incas. Cp. Müller, pp. 377-8. Sir C. Markham's case is stated by him in Winsor's Narrative History, as above cited, i, 238-9. He does not appear to recognise the bearing of his own assertion that the Incas made a law prohibiting human sacrifice. Such a law is evidence of the practice. The conflict of Spanish authorities is at once solved by allowing that the survivals were local, not general.

378:4 Müller, p. 378, citing Montesimos.

378:5 Id. p. 377, citing Velasco.

378:6 Id. p. 378, citing five authorities.

378:7 Translated from the MS. of Molina by Sir C. Markham, who had denied the occurrence of human sacrifices in Incarial Peru.

378:8 Müller, pp. 378-9, citing Xeres and Rottencamp.

379:1 Prescott, p. 44, citing McCulloch.

379:2 Réville, p. 220. Sir C. Markham's assertion, that the Peruvian sacrifices were with one exception thank-offerings and not expiations, omits to define the sacramental species.

379:3 In this usage we probably have the origin of the practice of burying alive the unfaithful "Virgins of the Sun" in Peru, and Vestals in Rome. Dr. Wyllie explains the practice in both cases by the idea of devoting to darkness the unfaithful spouse of the Sun (Lectures cited, p. 207). But the Roman Vestal was dedicated to the Goddess Vesta, who is identified with the earth, as hearth-fire and as female principle. To the same d ancient practice of burying wives alive may be ascribed the long retained practice of putting some female criminals to death in that fashion. Michelet (Guerres de religion, 1856. p. 88) gives the absurd explanation that burying alive was resorted to as being more decent than burning alive, because in the latter case the flames soon left the victim naked.

379:4 Still, it survived the Conquest. Prescott, p. 43, n. citing Ondegardo.

379:5 Müller, p. 379.

379:6 Rites and Laws of the Incas, p. 27.

379:7 Réville, pp. 227, 233-5.

380:1 Ib. p. 233.

380:2 Prescott, Mexico, app. p. 641.

380:3 Prescott, Peru, p. 52.

Next: § 10. Conclusion