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Glossary of Terminology
of the Shamanic & Ceremonial Traditions
of the Inca Medicine Lineage

as Practiced in the United States

CAUTION: The inclusion of herbs, symptomatology and treatments for disease within this glossary
is not meant for diagnosis of, nor prescription for treatment of, any medical condition.
This information is included for anthropological and historical study only.


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Ch, Ch' & Chh
F & G
K' & Kh
N & Ñ
P', Ph
Q', Qh
T' & Th


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    A few of the pre-Inka and Inka-contemporary cultures of what became the Tawantinsuyu (note: the names of many of these cultures are not in Quechua) are here described to give a sense that the Inkas, rather than being innovators of social structure, simply picked up where their ancestors had left off and brought together extant social systems to great effect. The Inka in fact were more innovative when it came to spiritual concepts and practices, bringing together cultural centers based almost exclusively on mystical principles (such as Chavin and Tiwanaku) and tribes and cultures that were largely “barbarous” or “unenlightened” military outfits. These, then, are the origins of the Inka dynasty and success:


    1875 Wood Engraving Antis Indians South America
    Indigenous Tribe Ashaninka Peru.
    Original Engraving for sale thru

    A name given collectively to a large collection of diverse tribes from all over the region that was to become the Antisuyu, including mountain and jungle tribes.


    A drawing of a battle of the Chancas

    with the Inca (from a Peruvian comic book).

    A tribe of what was to become the Sacred Valley of the Inkas, the Chankas were one of many powerful chieftaincies that held dominance over the area surrounding and including the Qosqo valley. When Manqo Qhapaq, the first Sapa Inka, arrived at Qosqo, he was lucky to not be killed by one of their strong, militaristic tribal leaders or chieftains. (Indeed, it was a feat for the Inkas to unite the Qosqo valley, let alone the massive swath of South America that they eventually controlled.) The Chankas continued to pose a military threat to the budding Inka culture until Inka Yupanki (Pachakuteq) formed an alliance with these powerful neighbors, allowing for subsequent Inka expansion. The Chankas never fully integrated into the Inka Empire, however, and some accounts speak of a later battle outside the city of Qosqo in which Pachakuteq fought fiercely against his former allies, eventually defeating the Chankas amidst heavy bloodshed.


    A cabeza clava (which is a monolithic
    sculpted head representing a mythical
    being) from the Chavín culture found
    at Chavín de Huantar. WIKI

    From the Quechua word CHAUPIN or “center.” By many accounts, the Chavín culture, centered at the temple complex now known as Chavín de Huantar in the northern Andes of Peru, was the mother culture of the Andes. Some Peruvian archeologists have dated the primary temple back to 10,000 BC, a date that is obviously controversial for its antiquity. The main Chavín temple became a center of pilgrimage and initiation that drew in initiates from as far away as North America—or so goes the claim. Sometimes referred to as a “San Pedro cult,” the Chavín priesthood carried out initiatory rituals with the aide of two primary plant spirit medicines — Wachuma, the visionary cactus, and Willka, a highly potent entheogenic jungle seed that was ground into a powder and ingested as snuff. The Chavín mother-temple remains an architectural masterpiece, even after thousands of years and many powerful earthquakes. Primary features include star altars (to Orion and the Pleiades) and stone monoliths representing Wachuma and decapitator gods as well as the transformative processes of mystical death. The Chavín temple continued to operate (though with less cultural influence and prominence) well into Inka times.


    A Chimú rattle. WIKI

    The Chimú Empire (also called Chimor) arose near the completion of the first millennium, A.D. in the northern coastal region of what is now Peru. Picking up where their more ancient ancestors of the north coast—the Moche, Sipan, Lambayeque, etc.—had left off, the Chimú quickly developed a highly organized and effective empire uniting lands and trade routes that had once fallen under Moche dominion. Surely, the Chimú owed a great debt of gratitude to the previous desert forefathers, who had perfected adobe pyramid building techniques, advanced irrigation systems to water the barren desert valleys, and art including textiles, ceramics, and metal-working. Nevertheless, the Chimú made further advances in architecture, and their capital city of Chan Chan remains an awe-inspiring achievement—a dwelling and ceremonial space for tens of thousands of people. The Chimú Empire was in a slight decline upon the arrival of the Inkas in the 15th century but still proved to be the most challenging military adversary that the Inkas would face (at least, before the arrival of the Spanish.


    The salt beds at Maras

    The tribe or ayllu of the town bearing the same name, this tiny chieftaincy would have been irrelevant were it not for the fact that it lay in control of a massive salt mine (that produces to this day). The Maras, located between Qosqo, Chinchiyoq (modern Chinchero), and the Sacred Valley, gained disproportionate authority in the Inka political council based on their wealth of salt.


    The Moche are well known
    for their realistic ceramics.

    A culture of the northern coastal deserts of what is now Peru, roughly contemporary to the Nasca in the south. The Moche were the first major civilization-builders of which we have evidence in this region, though it is likely that minor chieftaincies had existed there for millennia. The Moche were masters of irrigation, and brought glacial run-off waters from mountain streams and springs into canals leading to the desert valleys along the coast, an innovation which allowed for great agriculture in a barren land. With crop surpluses, the Moche grew and the arts flourished. We have a massive record of Moche life thanks to surviving ceramics, metallurgy, and architecture. The Moche were master builders of adobe step-pyramids and constructed many hundreds of famous temples that are still being discovered and excavated in the northern deserts. Their primary deities were decapitators, perhaps influenced by the Chavin culture across the mountains. Legend has it that the Moche culture was founded by a saint-prince called Naymlap who, along with a royal entourage of priests, arrived to the coast on reed boats. Eventually, Moche prominence faded out and led to the birth of the Chimu culture.


    The Condor of the Nasca lines.

    A culture of the southern coastal deserts that rose roughly contemporary to the Moche in the north (during the first millennium before Christ and into the first millennium after Christ). The Nasca were noted for an extraordinary rise in culture and the arts, achieving notable mastery in textiles, ceramics, and trade. Unlike many of their contemporaries, predecessors, and successors, the Nasca focused little on architecture of temples and buildings, and instead turned attention towards an unmatched and entirely unique system of earthworks now known as the Nasca Lines. These were a massive collection of enormous drawings and lines laid out on gigantic desert floors. The most famous “Lines” are pictures of animals—whales, ants, hummingbirds, monkeys, etc.—some of which (most notably, the Ant) achieved an eerie realism, even depicting organs that were later only discovered with the invention of the microscope. These drawings were unexplained shamanic-mystical tools perhaps used in initiation and “magical flight.” To this day, the sweeping of the lines is a ritualized practice. Some (such as van Daniken) have suggested that these Lines suggest extraterrestrial contact. The Nasca were also notable as plant spirit masters, most likely working with Wachuma and with Ayawaska; though the latter is a brew of jungle plants, some depictions in ceramics leave little doubt that the Nasca traded with distant jungle contemporaries for that plant spirit medicine. As with many other civilizations, the Nasca eventually faded out from a combination of socio-economic, political, and ecological reasons.


    Qollasuyu traditional ceremonial dancer of the Qhapaq Colla,

    which recreates an historic battle between the Aymara (Qollas)

    and the denizens of the rainforest, the Chunchus.

    A large tribe from the Lake Titcaca region (on what is now the Peruvian side) that gave birth to, and then competition to, the Inka Empire. The first Inkas were from the Qollas region, but the Inkas themselves were distinct — their features were decidedly non-Qolla.The Qollas were eventually subdued and amalgamated into the Inka Empire. Sometimes the term “Qollas” is also used to describe a large collection of distinct tribes from the same region.


    A Q'ero village.

    Legend has it that around the time of the Spanish arrival to Cusco, a group of Inka nobles and common folk foresaw the devastating consequences of European and Catholic influence and took to the hills. They went towards Apu Awsonqate and settled into the highest inhabitable valleys in the greater Qosqo region. Eventually, the Q'eros people flourished and became a small nation divided into several villages—Hatun Q'ero, Pawkartanpu, Qorimoqo, Qochamoqo, and many others. The Q'eros “Indians,” as they came to be known, maintained Inka traditions and lifestyles and kept alive Andean customs that were dying everywhere else due to Spanish pressure. It was only relatively recently that people from Q'eros began to have regular contact with the outside world.


    The tribe or Ayllu just to the east of the domain of the Chankas, controlling a swath of land from Apu Sawasiray (from which their name comes) to the edge of the Qosqo valley. Like the Chankas, the Sawasiras posed a military threat to the early Inkas, but were later absorbed effortlessly into the Inka Empire.


    The Spanish discover the Gate of the Sun at Tiwanaku. WIKI

    Similar to the Chavin culture, the Tiwanaku civilization was primarily spiritual in nature and only later became noteworthy as an empire (for the Tiwanaku, this was during the first millennium after Christ). Based in an extraordinary temple center on what is now the Bolivian side of Lake Titicaca, legend has it that Tiwanaku was founded by Wiraqocha himself (or herself, as Wiraqocha is androgynous). The main gate of the temple center provides the most renowned depiction of that deity. The Tiwanaku culture's main temples became major initiatory centers and rumors suggest that the first Sapa Inka, Manqo Qhapaq, was in fact an initiate of Tiwanaku. Eventually, the Tiwanaku cultural influence spanned across much of what is now southern Peru and northwestern Bolivia, leaving many archeologists to believe in a powerful Tiwanaku empire. It is possible, however, that the Tiwanaku artistic and spiritual influence reached these diverse regions without any administrative or political “empire” in the sense we are used to. The power of the Tiwanaku primary temple remained prominent into Inka times. It is also likely that Tiwanaku spiritual activity was extant well before the “empire” flourished, perhaps even for a millennia or two.


    Hand with figure of captive, Wari, 600-1100 A.D. WIKI

    A culture based in Ayacucho (modern central Peru) that flourished contemporary to the Tiwanaku “empire.” The Wari formed a true empire, uniting massive regions under a common administrative system. Possibly due to Tiwanaku influence, Wiraqocha seems to be a primary deity among the Wari, finding form in countless stone idols. The Wari controlled the Qosqo valley during their 500 years of highest prosperity from the temple/administrative center now called Pikillaqta.

    Reprinted with permission of the author (ANON1). The undesignated images are from other sources given in Image Sources list.]

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