Andean Wisdom – The Chakana
The Chakana, (from the Quechua root Chakay, meaning ‘to bridge’) otherwise referred to as the Incan, Andean, or Southern Cross, is one of the most ancient surviving geometric symbols of the peoples of pre columbian America. The anthropologist and architect Carlos Milla has shown that the Chakana has been used continuously for over 4,000 years in the Andes Mountains of South America, while other scholars claim that it is even more ancient.
Its shape is that of a squared and stepped cross that typically has 12 points, with an empty circle in its center that is counted as the 13th point. The shape of the Chakana is also the base or foundation of a pyramid lying on the ground. The form of the Andean Cross is one of unity; of the 4 directions and of the realms of existence that are known to man. It is also perceived of as a bridge or staircase of self-knowledge that guides man to his highest potential.
At the ECA, we use an altar based on the Chakana to honor and work with the sacred ancestral Wachuma or Awakoya (San Pedro) Cactus during those ceremonies.
Before we get any further, here’s what a basic Chakana looks like:
Like the Mayans and Olmecs who preceded them in modern-day Mexico, the Incas of Peru were extremely advanced in the fields of mathematics, art, dance, architecture, astronomy, and engineering. They were also a profoundly spiritual people. The symbology of the Chakana has encoded within it the Incan people’s: connection with the earth and the elements of life, reverence for the divine, map of their empire, guardian spirits, concepts of harmonious communal living, perception of time, as well as hints about their views concerning man’s place in this cohesive and yet mysterious universe.
Books have been written about the Chakana. The objective of this article is to provide an informative overview of the symbol for individuals who have never heard of or studied the Chakana before. Sp, recognizing that there are numerous valid interpretations of the Chakana, let’s try to understand what we’re looking at.
Notice that if we count going around the outside of the Chakana clockwise, it has 12 points. Each point marks and symbolizes a concept of time, a guardian spirit animal, a dimension of existence, a personality attribute, or other conceptual and cultural framework, each of which would be worthy of an entire article.
From the most Northeast (top right) corner descending towards the East, the points or corners of the Chakana represent the times for planting, taking care of, and harvesting crops. They also represent the condor, the puma, and the snake. These animals are the guardian spirits of the corresponding points that descend from the Northwest towards the West; Hana Pacha, Kai Pacha, and Ukhu Pacha. These Pachas are the dimensions of existence that we refer to as the world above, the world here on Earth where we walk, crawl, and sleep, and the underworld. Our bodies exist on one plane of existence, but we recognize the instructions and honor the guardians of the other dimensions form which our spirits derive energy, wisdom and guidance.
It’s important to note here that the underworld is not associated with the Biblical, Judaeo-Christian, or Western concept of Hell as a realm of punishment for sins, but rather a realm where perhaps we give instead of receive, and where the lessons we learn are hard-earned. The teachings from this realm inform life in Kai Pacha and are respected and honored on the same level as those that are received from Hana Pacha.
From the most western point descending towards the South, we find the defining characteristics that a community member ought to demonstrate when walking the sacred path of life. The first point is Allin Ruray speaks to not being lazy, putting your best foot forward, and endeavoring with all of yourself for the good of a cause or your community. The second point in the Southwest is Allin Munay which is the concept and value of accessing the will power to do what needs to be done through love and care. This will power emerged when happiness that is generated internally and happiness from external stimuli are harmonized. The most southwestern point, Allin Yachay, teaches us to study and put to good use the ancestral wisdoms of our people. It instructs us that we are here in Kai Pacha to learn what we can in order to be effective in service. The instructions from this part of the Chakana are to work, to love, and to learn.
Just as we saw in the northern half of the Chakana, the southwestern quadrant has its corresponding points in the southeastern quadrant. Allin Ruray connects with the value of Ayni in the most southeastern corner. Ayni speaks to the need for reciprocity and balance in what we give and what we receive: ‘today you, tomorrow me’. This concept is on display when we help a neighbor in his or her garden with the heartfelt and mutual understanding that when we are in need, he or she will be there to lend a hand. Allin Munay aligns with the teaching of Minka (minca, minga), which is communal labor for communal good. Those who participated in the minka would receive coca, chicha, and other forms of offerings during the period of work. Finally, Allin Yachay corresponds with the values of the Mita, which was the division of work to be done is turns by the most able bodied men, for the benefit of the larger empire. These points can be summarized as: reciprocity, invitation, and responsibility.
I will only mention in passing here the 13th point on the Chakana, the circle or void in its center. It is the apex or highest point on the pyramid, and is the inter-dimensional bridge that leads to the Great Mystery, to the source or origin of all things. The other 12 steps of self-knowledge, value based action, and traditional wisdoms lead to the 13th step.
In the opinion of this writer and other members of the ECA Family, we reach the state of spirituality, vision, and understanding through service for others that is motivated and powered by love. Spirituality is only glimpsed and grasped at without persistent service for a greater cause.
The Incan Cross is also a calendar or sundial. The northern most side marks the Summer Equinox of June 21st ; the Autumn Solstice of Septmeber 21st on the Gregorian calendar is in the East; the Winter Equinox is in the South; and the Spring Solstice is in the West. Depending on where the first and last rays of sun fell on the Chakana on a given day, an Andean community would know which one of the 13 moons of the year they were in, what corresponding crops to plant, when to harvest those crops, and which rituals or ceremonies were to be executed at that time. 13 moons and 28 days in a moon gives us 364 days in a year. The 365th day, day 0 for the first peoples of the Andes, falls on May 3rd. This day is still celebrated as the day of the Chakana.
We’ll stop there, acknowledging the risk of including too much information in an introductory article. Not included here but present in the Chakana are truths and concepts relating to: the past, present, and future; the elements of earth, water, fire, and air; the unity of male and female (Tinku Ruay); the relationship between the sun and the moon; the communal rituals that sustain the peoples and land of the Andes; astral constellations; the map of the Incan empire, including the 4 suyos and Cusco; the Apus or sacred mountains that housed their guardian spirits; and the Qhapaq Ñan (Camino de los Justos or Camino de la Chakana).
There is no symbol from London or New York that has survived for as long as the Chakana, nor one that guides our culture towards well-being, communal living, and harmony between man and all his relations. The wisdom of the ancient peoples of the Andes as contained in the Chakana and the sacred medicine Wachuma lives on today, and it is part of the mission of the ECA to ensure that it continues to be a source of self-knowledge, healing, and spiritual guidance for generations to come.
Mitakuye Oyasin – We’re all one family