Armed with Vince Lee's maps of the Peruvian highlands we had launched our expedition in search of the lost Inca Golden Sun Disc at the White Rock Oracle in the Vilcabamba region of Peru.
For over a week we had explored the two great river gorges of the Urubamba and Apurimac and we had navigated the cloud covered peaks, cold uplands and moist forests heading towards the Puncuyoc Mountain Range which marked the last barrier of the highland Inca Empire.
To the north and east were the hot jungle valleys of the upper Amazon Basin, and at its summit, known as "the jewel of Puncuyoc", is Inca Wasi, the highest and most sacred site in the Neo-Inca Empire. This highly challenging region is seldom visited and only a few primitive Inca roads penetrate its perimeter. We had travelled by horse using machetes to clear our path enduring treacherous mud slides and dangerous broken trails which descended thousands of feet into tropical steamy lowlands.
Escaping colonial Spanish rule, in 1536 Manco Inca, the leader of the Incas fled the capital city of Cuzco and took refuge in a remote, inaccessible wilderness, where he established a Neo-Inca state with two main cities - Vitcos and Vilcabamba. His prised sacred artefact, the Golden Sun Disk, which had been located centrally in the Coracancha Temple of the Sun in Cuzco, vanished in November 1536, a matter of days before the Spanish arrived in Cuzco.
The mystery and legends surrounding Manco Inca, Vilcabamba and the Golden Sun Disk are many. several modern researchers claim the disk is the God button, brought to Peru when the Island of Mu (Atlantis) sunk. It has been quested by several treasure hunters, explorers and adventurers over the last two centuries and in 1911, Hiram Bingham, discoverer of Machu Picchu, in an attempt to locate Manco's 'lost cities' and his treasures successfully located the lost city of Vitcos, near the head waters of the Vilcabamba, and explorers such as Vince Lee, Robert von Kaupp, Victor von Hagan, Stuart White and Gene Savoy all generated detailed maps with notes, all of which helped my own investigations.
The story of the Incas began on an island on Lake Titicaka about 300 miles south east of the Vilcabamba region, where Inca legends state that their creator God Viracocha appeared on The Isle of the Sun with the Golden Sun Disk. The legends differ from place to place and person to person, but they all agree that Viracocha "voyaged SE/NW, until he reached the Pacific Ocean."
crossing the SACRED LANDSCAPE
Located at about 4000 meters, high on a knife edge ridge, Inca Wasi's two stories and incredible level of preservation make it unique among Inca ruins. As we clambered up mountain streams hauling all our equipment by hand, the summit was right in front of us when we came across a large glacier formed basin filled with crystal clear water.
We explored the shores of the basin and discovered a series of raised viewing platforms and low walled structures surrounding it. We finally undertook the last 200 meter climb to the summit and finally arrived at Inca Wasi.
Stuart White's 1985 site survey described Inca Wasi as "A complex of a dozen or more structures...having a ceremonial character". If Stuart had been more archeologically minded, he would have noticed that the Inca Wasi is not just a structure with "ceremonial character", but that it is a dedicated Temple of the Sun, located and designed to suit the taking of astronomical observations and the practice of solar rituals. Among the key observations I made supporting this statement are:
In front of the main door is a grinding stone, possibly used for ceremonial preparations, and the internal roofline holds a complete set of inset eyebonders.
All of the stone doorjambs, windows, stairs and niches were designed specifically for ritualistic, not residential, purposes.
The lower chambers have large doorway sized niches with eye binders (ringed stones) set in the centre, identical to the ritual building 'puma ring' at Choquequirao.
A common sacred geographical format followed by the Incas, evident at Machu Picchu, Pisaq and Choquequirao, was to have a high mountain behind and a lesser peak to the front, and this is exactly what we found at Inca Wasi. It has been proposed that Inca Wasi was an important oracle and some specialists maintain that Sayri Tupac Inca consulted the Oracle at Inca Wasi, and not at White Rock which was featured in the last article.
There are a number of viewing platforms in the area alining with the highest snowy mountain peaks, which were believed to commit powerful male energy into the landscape and greater cosmos. Having searched the entire mountain top we couldn't find a water source, further establishing this as ritual site and not a place of dwelling.
PORTAL TO THE GOD DIMENsiON
Over the previous six months I had read of several explorers who had placed importance in the view from the main entrance, but nothing could prepare me for the reality. I knew that anything significant would happen around noon when the sun was at its highest place in the sky (when the sun God Inti was at his most powerful.)
I sat centred in the doorway and gazed westwards over a sea of muddy clouds with snow capped peaks jutting through. At about 3 minutes after noon a great rock tower to the west of Inca Wasi, known as the holy Oracle (Yurak Rumi), was being reflected in the small basin of water we had explored earlier. I moved slightly to the left and then to the right to find that being even two feet off centre the effect could not be experienced!
This was a staggering level of Inca 'Unancha Pacha Qellqa' - Sacred Geography.
The altitude was playing havoc with my diabetic blood control and I was running particularly high, having eaten so many pichuberries, which results in a lethargic, dreamy state of mind. After a couple of minutes considering the orientation, alignment and location determination skills required to have created this visual effect, something stirred within me, like a stranger was sitting beside me but I couldn't see him.
Only a few hours earlier I had endured a near death experience as a fixer had forgotten my stock of carbohydrates, which were required for me to make this climb in one piece. Incas had saved me with bags of Pichuberries, but I was suffering from extreme exhaustion. But rather than fighting these feelings I allowed myself to enter a state of meditation and sat speechless on the sacred observing platform letting the magical nature of this sacred landscape reveal itself to my creative imagination.
I admit that this was all very unscientific, but I didn't give a flying fuck. I reasoned that there was ABSOLUTELY no place for western logic 4000 meters high at a sacred site in the Andes.
I figured, 'when in Rome' and continued to invoke and relish in this period of highly creative thinking where I was experiencing the microcosm of the Inca Empire more intimately than if I was to read 1000 academic books on the subject. I encouraged myself to consider the trees, mountains, rivers and sky as living entities and to speculate on how each one of these things influenced the next. I started to perceive how the landscape might change over a year, where streams would become rivers, and I could guess which snowy peaks would melt into multi-coloured patches of wild flowers. After about an hour in this alternate state of realty I make a pivotal observation which turned the key in the entire Golden Sun Disk mystery.
The mountain top beside Inca Wasi, Cerro Idma and its towering rock pinnacle, Idma Qoya, the vast rock, holy Oracle (Yurak Rumi), had been carefully shaped to enhance its phallic form. And looking from the centre of the doorway to the right, the mountain top has been enhanced with three flat horizontal platforms, which were most probably fashioned to create fixed, flat horizons for taking consistently accurate astronomical observations. Now that Inca Wasi had begun to reveal its secrets I unfolded my map and began to consider the greater environment and how it was all threaded together to reflect the precepts found within Inca cosmovion.
I thought of Father Bernabe Cobo and his book The History of the New World (1653), in which he wrote extensively about ceque/ceke lines (sacred pathways) radiating outwards from the Temple of the Sun in Cuzco across the entire empire. The Huacas (shrines) which were placed upon ceke lines to focus the perceived energy, mostly took the form of stones, springs or hills, and I sat there in the doorway joining the dots across the landscape manifesting the localised ceke lines on my map.
By now, you are no doubt expecting me to tell you that I had some form of divine, cosmic or magical experience or insight. Right? But on the contrary, by tuning into Andean cosmic thought the underlying simplicity of their culture became so clear to me, the astronomical, astrological and geographical complexities dissipated.
CEKE LINE DYNAMICS TURN THE KEY
I could see beyond the Sacred Path. Albeit I was sitting in Manco Inca's Royal throne gazing across his empire, in my minds eye I could see simple, hard-working farm folk. I saw fields 20 miles to the south and pictured Andean people busy working on their farms, raising crops and rearing animals.
Inca agriculture was a sacred process led by priests called Tarpuntay, who were responsible for the maintenance and manipulation of ceqe alignments. Their knowledge of the sun, the moon, the Earth, water, plants and animals, were all synchronised to create cosmic order, and the Sacred Geography defined by the huacas was a magical expression of divine order.
In our world we eat from cans, bags and boxes but to Incas, food production was everything and it was completely dependant on nature. Success in these matters was a matter of life and death and it is no wonder farmers honoured the guardian spirits which were believed to reside in the huacas, located along the ceke lines. I let myself spiral into the detailing of day-to-day Inca culture. I imagined Manco Inca sitting precisely were I sat wondering on what to spend his gold wealth on next, but I was equally as conscious of groups of farmers standing in fields comparing their local experiences and discussing the optimal dates for plating seeds and breeding animals.
Testimony to the importance of agriculture to the Inca's, approximately 50 kilometres (31 mi) northwest of Cuzco on a high plateau at about 3,500 metres (11,500 ft), is Quechua (Muray) a vast site of concentric circular terraced depressions with a complicated irrigation system. This device for used to experiment with domestication, acclimatization, and hybridization of wild vegetable species that were modified or adapted for human consumption.
Key agricultural dates were indicated by natural signs like the sun and moon rising and setting from and into mountains, rivers and huacas. We had passed several huacas on the expedition getting to Inca Wasi and now, looking back over them from above, I had a richer understanding of their leading role in the management of these terrestrial and astronomical cycles, upon which the Inca's very survival depended.
Categorised by their importance in the landscape, orientation with the stars and their shape and size, ceke lines and huacas were associated with sacred animals or characters that defined their functional role in the mythological landscape.
The hills and high peaks, being suppliers of water, were known as Apus and regarded as powerful males entities. Rounded mountains, receiving the blessing of rivers and rainfall, were thought of as female and known as Willkas. These generally had a huaca at their peak, to which ritualistic liquid offerings were made, representative of a milk producing, life sustaining, female nipple.
Towering behind Inca Wasi is Cerro Idma and its towering rock pinnacle, Idma Qoya. Because Inca Wasi was such an important sacred location this powerful male entity was thought of by locals as the stone embodiment of the Creator god, Viracocha. And because it is believed to be charged with such great power and influence on the environment, it still receives ritual attention today.
Having sat in the throne of Manco Inca I had gained a rich insight into the local lives of the Inca farmers across their magical, ritualised landscape. I consciously let myself roam outwards, travelling along cekes to great snowy mountain peaks on the horizon, some 80 miles distant. And it was then that the inner secrets of the Golden Sun Disk began whispering.
Although I thought I was thinking big, I became very aware that I actually had a really segmented view of the Inca civilisation. I was so impressed with the visual aspect of the geo-ritualistic occurrence of the phallic sun shadow penetrating the pool of water, that I had failed to realise that this occurence was a grand scale, highly theatrical, expression of the Inca's creation myth of Virachocha (male entidy) emerging from Lake Titicaka (water). The Golden Sun Disk was under my nose, but I had a few more keys to turn before it for it presented itself. And that is the focus of the next article in this series.