The Inca Thunder God
The Inca culture of the South American highlands worshipped many gods, including countless "huacas," local spirit-gods associated with places and objects. One of their more important gods was the Thunder God, responsible for rain, hail, thunder and lightning.
The Inca practiced an inclusive form of religion: whenever they conquered a new culture, they accepted its gods, although these new gods were considered inferior (because they had let their believers be conquered). The Inca had basically two sorts of gods: greater gods, who were individual, specific deities who ruled as a sort of pantheon, and lesser gods or huacas which were spirits tied to a place or object such as a cave, river or boulder. They also venerated the Inca royal family as semi-divine and had a complicated system of ancestor worship. Of the greater gods, only Viracocha (the all-powerful creator god) and the Sun God were considered more powerful than the Thunder God.
The Inca Thunder God
The Thunder God was known by many names. Father Bernabé Cobo, a Spanish priest who interviewed many surviving Inca noblemen not long after the conquest, gave three names: Chuqui Illa ("Radiance of Gold"), Catu Illa and Inti Illapa. As described by Cobo, the Thunder God
"…was a man who lived in the sky and that he was made up of stars, with a war club in his left hand and a sling in his right hand. He dressed in shining garments which gave off the flashiness of lightning when he whirled his sling and when he wanted it to rain." (Cobo 32)
Powers and Interpretation of the Will of the Thunder God
The Inca believed that the Milky Way was a river from which the Thunder God would draw water to make it rain. He was in charge of all of the weather and thunderbolts, lightning, rain, hail, rainbows and other weather-related phenomena were all taken as signs of his will. His will was constantly under scrutiny: if a rain shower appeared in one town before passing somewhere else, that town was considered blessed.
If an object was found to hold water when it rained - such as a stone or a piece of metal - it was said to have been specially blessed by the god and could be worshipped as a huaca.
On the other hand, when the Thunder God was angry he would cause disasters such as water shortages, floods or frosts. When this happened, priests would read their auguries to determine what sort of sacrifice (often animals) the god was demanding. The priests would then go into the highlands and make the sacrifice before returning to the people with their interpretation of the god's response.
Priesthood, temples and worship of the Thunder God
The Inca had many priests, as individual huacas were often tended to by them. The Thunder God selected his priests in a special way: any boy born during a thunderstorm had been specially selected by the god for his priesthood. When this person, known to his family and friends as a "Son of the Thunder," had grown old enough to no longer have to work, he joined the priesthood. This was a common practice: most of the Inca priests were older men who no longer did manual labor.
There were idols dedicated to the Thunder god in Cuzco. He had his own temple in the city and idols in the Temple of the sun. There was also a golden idol of the Thunder God and a small golden litter for it to be carried around upon during ceremonies. There were priests and attendants who venerated the idols and carried them during important rituals. During important religious ceremonies such as Inti Raymi, the Thunder God would get an equal share of sacrificed animals (usually llamas) along with Viracocha and the Sun.
Cobo, Bernabé. (translated by Roland Hamilton) Inca Religion and Customs. Austin: the University of Texas Press, 1990.
Julien, Catherine. Reading Inca History. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2000.