The Incas were an ancient people who built a complex civilization in South America. The empire at the time of the explorations by the Spanish in the 15th and 16th centuries was vast. Peru was the political center of the Incan empire and included portions of what are now the countries of Ecuador, Bolivia, Chile and Argentina. The system of government they developed is still regarded as one of the political achievements of any American Indian people.
Like the Aztecs, the Incas worshipped the forces of nature as their gods. The sun-god was the main god of the Incan religion and he was superior to all other gods. He was known as Viracocha, which meant creator god. The Incas also believed that the spirits of the gods inhabited sacred objects and places, which they called huacas. This could be a manmade temple, a river or even a rock. It could also take the form of an amulet or charm. Every Incan family had a household god that they worshipped by placing an object related to that god in a place of importance in the home.
The Incas believed that when a person died, he/she went to an afterlife and therefore worshipped the spirits of the dead. When a person died, the body was embalmed and placed in a tomb that was shaped something like a beehive. They also placed vessels of food and useful objects in this tomb so that the spirit would have food and drink for the journey and tools to use in the afterlife. Funeral ceremonies lasted for eight days. Families of a deceased person wore black clothing for about a year and women cut their hair to show that they were in mourning.
Ceremonies were administered by the priests and the Incan religion had a large number of priests. In the ceremonies, sacrifices were offered to the gods. The victims of these sacrifices were usually llamas and guinea pigs, but on special occasions children became sacrificial victims. The people confessed their sins to the priests because sin was believed to be the cause of evil in the world. Priests were also believed to have the power to tell the future. The Incas believed that illness resulted from the ill will or a person or a god. The priest used magic formulas to treat these illnesses.
In the Incan religion, women played an important role. There were chosen women who were selected from the various villages as young girls and trained in the ways of honouring the sun-god. Some of these women took vows of chastity and were known as the Virgins of the Sun.