The Chakana or Inca Cross was the most important symbol of pre-Hispanic Andes, known way before the advent of the Incas, though assimilated by them in a very important sense. On this article, we will talk about this widespread symbol, the Inca Cross, that can be found in most of their places, including Machu Picchu.
To begin with, the Chakana is nothing less than the Southern Cross constellation as seen on the Southern Hemisphere, thus, its etymology derives from the Quechua -official language of the Incas- word chakay, which means “to cross” and “to bridge”; according to the Incas, it was the center of the universe, and the most visible on the night sky.
The Inca Cross possesses a complex symbology; one of the reasons for this is that the Incas didn’t have written language, no documents, no books and so on, therefore they used to leave many messages carved in stone or on the mountains, but in metaphorical, not written ways. It all points to the Chakana being some kind of summary of the entire Andean-Inca worldview and wisdom.
The Meaning of the Chakana-Inca Cross for the Incas
This Andean symbol has a complex structure, because it is the result of millenary cultural and mystical intuition and thinking. On this article we will do a general description in order to have our readers more acquainted with Inca civilization, so they can enjoy their Cusco experience to the fullest. And, who knows, perhaps even being benefitted by the Chakana wisdom!
We have already said that the Chakana represents the Southern Cross, but then the Incas also made it represent its political, territorial division of Tawantinsuyu or the Four Directions. Or, conversely, they may have based their territorial organization on the Inca Cross. An empire with the shape of a constellation. Now for the stair-steps in between the four cardinal points, and divided in four quadrants, each of them is a stage of emotional, cognitive, spiritual development:
- Upper Left Quadrant: Love, Trust, Connections
- Lower Left Quadrant: Acknowledgement, Protection, Awareness
- Lower right Quadrant: Happiness, Passion, Expression
- Upper Right Quadrant: Responsibility, Productivity, Present
The center of the Inca Cross or portal as it is also called, first represents the achievement of spiritual wisdom, the awakening of our Divine Self after the “climbing” of the personality evolution is completed, the integration of personality that fusions us with our highest consciousness, just exactly as the center of the Buddhist Mandala or the Atman on Hinduism; thus, the Chakana is a symbol of the collective unconscious which is mainly a map for complete spiritual development, that the Andean people were able to realize. Later, the Incas also gave the portal on the center of the Inca Cross the meaning of Cusco city, the capital of the empire.
Apart from being a map for our inner world improvement, the Inca Cross is also a map of the outer world, of the universe, it displays a cosmology:
- Hanan Pacha: the dimension of the higher spirits and God
- Kay Pacha: the ordinary, material world in which we currently live
- Uku Pacha: the underworld, spirits of the dead
Its twelve corners represent the 12 months of the year for the Incas, each with 30 days, and also each month with a particular festival, mostly related to agriculture, and even nowadays present in Cusco’s culture.
The Amazing Chakana at the Machu Picchu Sanctuary
As it was the rule in Inca empire, there were Chakanas in many places like Pisac, Ollantaytambo and even on the Titicaca Lake region -although these are prior to Inca times- which also became part of the Tawantinsuyu. Particularly special is the Inca Cross that can be found at the Machu Picchu sanctuary.
The citadel was the main mystical place of the Incas, the luxury retreat where all their leaders regularly went to get away from daily cares, to strengthen body and mind. It was a place of deep connection to natural energy and our spiritual dimension. In Machu Picchu, the Inca Cross will be found in the middle of the Temple of the Three Windows, but the kicker here is that visitors will find only the upper half of the Chakana… why? Because the Incas designed it in a way that, when the Sun shines over it, the lower half of the Chakana appears as a shadow, representing the spiritual world, thus making a whole Chakana, half material, half non-material. Inca special effects.