David Tee - AncientPages.com - In a nutshell, the Chakana Cross is a simple 3-step cross that captivated the minds and imaginations of the ancient Inca people. As the Inca civilization developed, so did their religious life and their religious symbols.
Chakana Cross. Left: Credit: tourinperu.com - Right: Public Domain
The 3 steps represented the Inca view of life. There was the first step or upper world which represented the stars, the heavens, gods and other non-earthly beings and bodies. The second step was the middle world or life as the Incas knew it on earth. The third step represented death, the underworld and all the negatives that come with those characteristics.
The Southern Cross & Chakana
It is not rare for ancient and modern astronomers to find that the stars help life on earth. The Southern Cross is only a small astronomical constellation but its impact on life on earth is well-known.
Ancient sailors and their more modern counterparts used and use the cross to help navigate the oceans. They knew that if they found the south by using that cross, they would also find the north, the east and the west. The southern cross kept many a sailor from disappearing on their voyages.
Southern Cross Constellation. Credit: European Southern Observatory
For the Inca, not known for its ocean going ways, the southern cross was used to help them find the right time to plant their crops and when to harvest them. Then the Incas used the Southern Cross constellation to help them find the right time when the solstices and equinoxes would appear.
It is no wonder that the Incas enshrined the Southern cross in their religious iconography, ceremonies and celebrations.
Chakana Cross Is The Inca Tree Of Life
As with most ancient civilizations, the Incas turned an astronomical site into a very sacred religious symbol. The Chakana Cross is called the Inca tree of life. Because each side of the cross had 3 steps, the Incas placed their 12 rights of creation on the symbol. 1 right for 1 step.
These rights are going from #1 to 12- love, trust, connections, acknowledgement, protection, awareness, (on the left side of the cross. Then on the right side, happiness, passion, expression, responsibility, production and present or truth.
Another important application is the center hole. This represents the Inca capital, Cusco, and is the portal between the worlds. It is also referred to as the eye of God. The Incas also gave importance or status to the arms of the cross. It is said that they represent the 4 compass points, the 4 major elements found on this planet, dirt, air, water and fire and the 4 stars in the constellation.
The Incas also believed that the Southern Cross constellation was the center of the universe.
The Southern Cross Was Not The Monopoly Of The Incas
The use of the southern cross can be found in a variety of ancient places and civilizations. It has been found in Machu Picchu, Pisac and Ollantayambo, as well as in Tiwanaku. The use of the cross has been found throughout the world including the countries of India, Portugal, Australia and more. The oldest depiction so far has been found in Bolivia.
There are also some people who try to make a connection to the Christian cross. They use the numbers 3, 4, 12 and the circle to make their comparison. Starting with the circle, it is not seen as the eye of God but as a halo or glory. The number 3 coincides with the Trinity instead of 3 worlds. The number four is used to replace the compass points, etc., with 4 evangelists and the total 12 rights of creation with the 12 apostles.
It is a stretch to make this connection because the southern cross was in existence long before Christ died on his cross. This is so even though the Incas and other nations used the southern cross at least 1000 years or more after Christ died.
An Archaeological Controversy
One of the problems with archaeology is finding the rights dates for any artifact uncovered through their excavations. Brien Foerster has given a lecture detailing the archaeological controversy over the construction of the buildings the Chakana is placed.
Most of the buildings in South America have been attributed to different societies that existed like the Incas, the Aztecs, the Mayan and so on. These kingdoms are not pre- Christian, but their buildings may be a lot older than the societies given credit for building them.
In other words, and it has been stated by the Aztecs, etc., that the buildings holding the Chakana were already built before their ancestors arrived and occupied the land. Dr. Foerster has shown in his lecture that there is a vast difference between building styles and ability.
What this means is that the Incas may have seen the symbol already engraved in those very ancient buildings and simply adopted it along with the buildings as their own. It would not be the first time that a pre-modern nation has adopted symbols, buildings and other remains as their own and used them for their own purposes.
Against all most all Egyptologists’ conclusions, there are many archaeologists and scholars who say that the Pyramids and Sphinx in Egypt were built long before the Egyptian people took over the land.
Whatever the actual origin of the Chakana cross, it does not mean that the spiritual value placed on it by the Incas is diminished or lacking in any way. The Incas used that cross to help them survive physically as they sought the best times for planting and harvest.
They also used it to guide their people spiritually. Some may say that religion is harmful, but we do not see that in the Inca beliefs of the Chakana Cross or as they knew it, the tree of life.
This tree of life helped them be better people towards each other. How that belief translated to their enemies remains to be seen. The Chakana cross cannot be seen as a symbol of war or destruction.