Dragons in the landscape

Serpent Mound, Ohio

The world of prehistoric man was dominated by nature, the landscape he lived in and the skies at night. An awareness and understanding of the seasons, weather patterns and cycles of life were important for survival; knowing when trees and bushes would bear fruit; when bird colonies would be producing eggs; when fish would be swimming up river to spawn; and when and where water holes would be filled. 

Within the landscape were special places revered as sacred sites for their energy vortices, which acted as centres for the fusion of physical and spiritual energy; including mountains, prominent outcrops, volcanoes, springs, gorges and lakes. In many locations, both in the Northern and Southern Hemispheres, these sites were often enhanced by complex instruments made of earth and stone and were incorporated into the seasonal rituals around which earthly existence revolved. Structures such as pyramids, ziggurats (a pyramidal tower in ancient Mesopotamia, surmounted by a temple – Assyrian in origin), mounds, stone circles and obelisks, captured and amplified the energy that was created. Very often megaliths incorporated Phi or the ‘Golden Proportion/Mean’ into their structures to make them more conductive i.e. the spiral of energy flowing through it had a ratio of height to base of 5:8 ≡ the Phi proportion (Pinkham, 1997). As with the body of a living creature, these sacred places were linked by a web of flowing energies, like a nervous system. They acted as distributors and transformers, sending the life force out into the countryside through a matrix of arteries and veins. These energies were believed to be the earthly aspect of the divine creative power, or God force, and were directly responsible for the health and fertility of the land and its inhabitants. They were also available for healing and magical and spiritual transmutation. 

Map of world dragon legends (Hitching, 1978)

In many parts of the world, prehistoric man either painted or carved prominent landscape features that were deemed to be sacred and there are many examples of rock art and petroglyphs still visible today e.g. Uluru and Kakadu in the Northern Territory, Australia; Maloti-Drakensberg in South Africa; and the Serpent Petroglyphs at Mountainair, New Mexico, USA; to name just a few. I’m sure readers can and will think of many more, as they know their local areas far more intimately than I ever could. 

The Andean Cosmology example:

In Andean Cosmology, there are three levels of spirits that inhabit the world and guard it’s sacred places: UKU PACHA, the underground, represented by the serpent or snake (Amaru); KAY PACHA, the Earth’s surface, represented by the jaguar or puma; and HANAN PACHA the sky, represented by the Andean condor. 

These three levels are represented in the layout of the Inca capital city of Cuzco, Peru, which is known as the ‘navel of the world’, because it was at the confluence of most of the major dragon lines in the ancient Inca Empire.  Roads were constructed over these energy lines and converged on Intiwasi, later known as Q’oricancha (see below). The city itself was arranged in the shape of a giant puma, said to represent the fiery, explosive energy emanating from the Cuzco vortex. The sacred plaza Huacaypata, was located on the puma’s leg and Intiwasi along its tail. 

Cuzco Puma (taken from www.infoperu.com/peru/eng (accessed 27/09/2005) 

The spectacular site of Sacsayhuaman (also spelt Sacsaywaman) was its head; and, at the very top of Sacsayhuaman is a huge, stone-spoked medicine wheel, called Muyuqmarka, representing the sky or the condor. This complex summit is the puma’s eye and the stone circle is said to have once delineated a powerful vortex, surrounded by water channels, which conducted and amplified the power of the vortex. Some sources mention a tower built on this eye to further amplify the energies and reach higher into the heavens. The three rows of gigantic blocks of the main complex are in a zigzag pattern and represent both the puma’s teeth and the path taken by the dragon current as it travelled across the Sacsayhuaman vortex. Whilst beneath the city and stretching out far across the landscape to Bolivia, Ecuador and beyond, was a complex of hidden tunnels, called the Andean Tunnel System, that channelled the serpent energy underground. 

Muyuqmarka at Sacsayhuaman 
  the ‘Chukipampa Plain’ – and the Puma’s teeth

Auspicious ceremonies held both on the Chukipampa Plain and, at various locations in the city, would then amplify and send spiritual and healing energies out into the landscape.

The Witches Market, La Paz, Bolivia

In Andean culture, sacred places are referred to as Huaca (or Wakas) and are associated with spirit beings that local residents appease with offerings, which can be bought from the Witches Markets that exist in most Andean cities. The picture above shows a modern-day Witch’s stall in La Paz, Bolivia; note the Llama foetuses in the bottom right-hand corner. The Witch will make up an offering for any occasion, at any price. One notable example of a sacred place is La Huaca Arco Iris, or Rainbow Temple near Trujillo in the north of Peru, which is also known as Huaca del Dragón. 

The Inca believed that the Temple of the Sun at Intiwasi/Q’orikancha (Quechua for ‘golden courtyard’) in Cuzco, was the navel of the Universe. The temple walls were said to have been lined with some 700 solid gold sheets, each weighing around 2kg; along with other solid gold treasures, which were subsequently melted down, hidden in the labyrinth of underground tunnels said to be below the temple complex, or ‘lost’. When the Spanish invaded the city, as well as plundering its riches, they built the Iglesia de Santo Domingo on top of the main granite outcrop of Q’orikancha, to ostensibly ‘take on the power’ of the place. What the Spanish didn’t understand though, was the building methods of the Inca, which made their important power centres relatively earthquake-proof. Unlike the European style of churches and cathedrals the Spanish replaced them with, which often suffered catastrophic earthquake damage. The modern-day museum next door to the Iglesia de Santo Domingo, incorporates several smaller temples dedicated to the moon, the stars, thunder and rainbows.

The Inca Seqe System – Taken from information boards in Q’orikancha, Cusco. 

‘The Inca capital city and its immediate surroundings contained numerous shrines, temples and other sacred places: this included many rocks, caves, springs, etc., which were all venerated by the population of Cusco. All these places were called wakas. The wakas were connected with each other by imaginary lines that radiated from Qorikancha, known as seqes. In Quechua ‘seqe’ means ‘line’ and Q’orikancha was the centre from which the seqes spread. Around 16 important wakas were located within its walls or close to it. Among these wakas were buildings, squares, sacred stones and fountains. 

The most detailed and complete description of the seqe system is contained in the treatise ‘History of the New World (1653)’ written by the Jesuit Bernabe Cobo. Cobo, in his turn, copied the list of seqes from another manuscript, now lost, by Juan Polo de Ondegardo.

Bernabe Cobo lists and describes 328 wakas connected with each other by 41 or 42 seqes. Each seqe in turn, linked from three to fifteen wakas; and the seqes were distributed among the four provinces of the Inca Empire. The provinces Chinchaysuyu, Antisuyu and Qollasuyu had nine seqes each, while in the Kuntisuyu province, fourteen or fifteen seqes were concentrated.

Painting of the Seqes of Cuzco at Q’orikancha

The painting, made by the Cusco artist Miguel Araoz Cartagena, shows us a scheme of the seqes of Cuzco. Q’orikancha is at the centre of the radiating lines. The four background colours mark the four provinces of the Tiwantinsuyu Empire: the orange colour corresponds to Chinchaysuyu, the yellow colour to Antisuyu, the green one to Qollasuyu and the red one to Kuntisuyu. The lines represent the 41 seqes. The points on the lines symbolize the 328 wakas situated on the seqes. 

In the 1970s the anthropologist Tom Zuidema, developed a hypothesis, according to which the seqe system was closely related to the Inca calendar. The hypothesis suggested that each day of the year corresponded to one of the wakas. On that day, cult was rendered to it and offerings were made. In addition, Zuidema presumed that the wakas served as places for astronomical observations. 

Works Cited

Hitching, F. (1978). The World Atlas of Mysteries. London and Sydney: Pan Books.
Pinkham, M. (1997). The Return of the Serpents of Wisdom. Illinois, USA: Adventures Unlimited Press.
Salazar, F. E. (n.d.). Cusco and The Sacred Valley of the Incas. Lima: Ausonia S.A.


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