You might have noticed I don’t write mythology posts quite as much anymore, and it’s mostly because I’ve run out of deities and stories that I can think of offhand or have come across in reading. I still do occasionally see mention of a certain mythical figure in a book I’ve read, however, and even more occasionally there’s information about them beyond the very basic “this god was worshipped in [insert place here] until another religion was forced upon the inhabitants by conquerors, and all we really know now is the name.” Most recently, the relevant book was Tom Holt’s Odds and Gods. While mostly featuring gods well-known in modern society, like Osiris, Pan, Odin, and Thor, there were brief appearances by some more obscure ones. One of these was the South American creator deity Viracocha, worshipped in the Andes before the Inca tribe took power there, and later incorporated into the Inca pantheon. One Inca ruler in the fifteenth century took the name of Viracocha. Most of what we know about this god and his deeds comes from Spanish sources, and since the Spanish regarded it all as heathen blasphemy, their accounts might not have been entirely accurate. Still, it seems to be generally agreed upon that Viracocha emerged from Lake Titicaca, a mountain lake on the border between Bolivia and Peru that was named to induce snickers in English-speaking children centuries later.
He made giants out of stone and brought them to life, only for them to break his rules, so he killed all but a few with that old favorite of gods, a flood. Most of them were then turned back into stone, presumably an explanation for giant stone carvings in the area. Viracocha then tried again with clay, and decided that the new compact model of human was an improvement. It’s interesting that myths around the world say that the earliest people were giants. Was this a response to enormous bones from prehistoric animals, or did making them really big just make the stories more interesting? Anyway, Viracocha drew the Sun and Moon out of Lake Titicaca (the world was totally dark before that, another frequent theme in creation myths), and some accounts report that he carved the names of all the nations he created into stone at Tiwanaku, near the lake. Viracocha might or might not be the figure portrayed on the Gate of the Sun at Tiwanaku.
He wandered around the countryside for some time, educating the people and founding cities. Eventually, when he came to Ecuador, he walked off across the ocean, promising to return sometime later. While still worshipped, he was thought of as a somewhat distant god, while others in the pantheon were more responsive to human concerns. The Inca linked him with their legendary founder Manco Capac, said to be the deity’s grandson and a survivor of the flood.
I’m not sure if this was the flood that wiped out the giants or a different one.
Apparently Viracocha was often depicted with a beard, wearing a robe, and carrying a staff. There was a popular legend among the Spanish that the conquistadors led by Francisco Pizarro were hailed as gods because they were light-skinned like Viracocha, but I really don’t know how they would have determined skin color from statues.
I’ve heard much the same story about Hernando Cortez being seen by the Aztecs as Quetzalcoatl. I have to suspect that the Spaniards were flattering themselves, although I’m sure Megyn Kelly would say, “Viracocha is white. He just IS.” One of Viracocha’s names was apparently Con Ticci, which, when spelled “Kon-Tiki,” was what writer Thor Heyerdahl called the raft that he used to sail from South America to Polynesia. I’ve never read Heyerdahl’s book nor seen the movie based on it, but I HAVE seen the Tiny Toon Adventures episode that parodied it. Does that count for anything? Ah, mango juice.