Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Mother Moon

One of our recent submissions just said the name "Mama Quilla", which we interpreted as a request for information about this bomb-ass lady from Inca mythology. So let's talk about her!

Mama Quilla (also spelled Mama Killa, which is pronounced the same - both versions of the name literally mean "mother moon") is the moon goddess of Inca legend, an ethereally beautiful woman who was beloved for bestowing her light on the world to keep it from falling into darkness at night, and whose silvery tears fell to the ground and could later be mined from the earth as precious metal. Like many other moon goddesses, she was considered the special protector of women and their young children, thanks to the moon's connection to the ideas of female fertility and menstrual cycles, and the secret healing powers that allowed women to give birth to new life. And because she was in control of the moon, Mama Quilla was also the power that regulated time itself, since it was she who set the borders of the lunar calendar the Inca people used and ensured that the phases of the moon, representing time, proceeded at the correct pace.

All this is pretty excellent all by itself, but Mama Quilla is also the wife of her brother Inti, the sun god and patron of the imperial rulers of the Inca empire, which also makes her a political powerhouse by extension. Where Inti was considered the power behind the emperor, endowing him with the divine right to rule and his own magical ability to judge laws and maintain order, Mama Quilla became the power behind the empress, making her the symbolic mother of the empire as Mama Quilla was the mother of many of the gods, and conferring on her the ability to be held up as a standard of perfection in female form and behavior to be emulated by all. Since she was believed to be the mother of Manco Capac, the divine hero who founded the Inca empire, she was also the very concrete ancestor and mother figure for the entire imperial line.

Like many other goddesses who mostly appear as complements to a male partner, Mama Quilla doesn't have a ton of myths that are about her own exploits alone, but there are a few, nevertheless!

In the first, Inti is, as many sun gods are, something of a jerk; because they were siblings, Mama Quilla and Inti were originally equally resplendent in their light as sun and moon, but because Mama Quilla was so beautiful, she outshone her brother. Inti was jealous (or possibly just wanted to make sure people noticed him first), and burned Mama Quilla's face with ashes, thus making the light of the moon dimmer and creating the dark patches that can be seen on the surface of the moon. A less distressing version of the origin of the dark spots on the moon claims that there was once a fox spirit that fell in love with Mama Quilla, and the spots are the patches of its shed fur left behind on her face after she lovingly embraced it.

Mama Quilla's most ongoing myth is that of the lunar eclipse - as with many other moon gods, her disappearance during eclipses was a cause for extreme concern and even fear among mortals below. The Inca believed that an eclipse meant that a great puma (possibly Ccoa, a celestial puma believed to cause intense thunderstorms and to roam the skies looking for sustenance) was attacking Mama Quilla, attempting to devour her, and that she was in great danger unless they helped her, since Inti could not venture into the night to come to her aid. The Inca therefore took matters into their own hands, and whenever a lunar eclipse began, they made a concerted effort to frighten the puma away by screaming, banging on drums and any other loud items at hand, and hurling weapons into the sky in the general direction of the encroaching darkness - which without fail successfully frightened the creature away, just when it looked like all must be lost. (The Spanish, when they arrived to start ruining everything in the sixteenth century, were intensely baffled by this performance, even once it was explained to them by translators, and eventually ended up just writing down "I don't know, these people are crazy" in their notes and giving up.)

The lunar lady of the Inca isn't one of the most active of mythological ladies, nor does she have the most well-known myths, but she was still among the most important deities of an entire civilization, and the heart of its survival, keeping its children healthy, its nights comforting and illuminated, and the very flow of time itself from going awry. Nothing to sneeze at!


  1. You interpreted correctly!

    I was tired when I submitted that question, hence the brevity. Also was using my iPhone so minimal keystrokes were preferable.

    Thanks for the reminder that Inti really needs couples counseling

    1. I think basically all sun gods do.