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Andean Cosmovision

Andean Philosophy

Whether it is your first or second time visiting Peru, you must have heard the quechua word Pachamama (mother earth) and probably the three pachas (worlds) in the Andean Cosmovision on your trips to Machu Picchu, Rainbow Mountain or Sacred Valley. The three worlds are known phonetically in English as Hanan Pacha (the upper world), Kay Pacha (the living world) and Ukhu Pacha (the lower world), which serve as the fundamentals in the ancient Andean philosophy, demonstrating the relationship between the nature and the universe. The Andean Cosmovision differs from most of the Western philosophies in a way that emphasizes the experience of the consciousness and the spirit, rather than insisting the fact that consciousness is a result of human sensory system and is separated from the unconsciousness (the spirit).

The Andes in South America is one of the six oldest pristine civilizations (indigenous and independent from other cultures) in the ancient worlds, the rest include the earliest known Mesopotamia, ancient Egypt, Indus River Valley, ancient China, and Mesoamerica. The Norte Chico Civilization in Peru is identified as the oldest in the Americas dating back to 3200 BCE, exisiting roughly one millennium after the Sumer Civilization (Mesopotamia) and nearly two millenniums before the Olmec (Mesoamerica). The Peruvian pyramids of Caral was constructed around the same period as the Egyptian pyramids of the fourth dynasty. Nonetheless, the Andes faced four major disadvantages in comparison with the other five pristine cultures—the lack of writing system, transportation and paper money along with natural disasters. These downsides are like a fly of the ointment in the Andean society, which help establish the uniqueness of their beliefs behind the three worlds and the Pachamama, marking a stage of simplicity and duality in the Andean Civilization (3200 to 1534BCE).

The Quechua word Pacha means world in contemporary understanding. In the meantime, Pacha also encompasses space, time and consciousness. The Andean people believe that there is a flow of energy between the nature and the Cosmos, the form of energy exists differently across all source of things in nature such as animals, lands, stars, rivers, so on and so forth. These energies help to connect everything together between the nature and the universe, thereby reducing the differences across subjects (such as human beings) and objects (such as artefacts), making people be more connected and interpreting the universe as a whole. Of all the existing forms of energy, Pachamama can be understood as the most significant spiritual being of the Andes. Pachamama connects and provides everything for them, and therefore, represents a respectful and spiritual symbol.

In the Andean Cosmovision, the universe is undifferentiated and unified. The world (Pacha) is divided into three levels: the upper world (Hanan Pacha), the living world (Kay Pacha), and the lower world (Ukhu Pacha). The upper world consists of the things in the milky way such as the stars and the sky, where the energy is the strongest and is also the upper realm one could reach in his life. The living world is the place in which we live, existing in between the upper and lower worlds, where the energy is moderate and is flowing among the living beings. The lower world is the inner world, which is linked to the dead and the pathway of the new life. In relation to the dead, the lower world is inhabited by supay—a group of demons that torment the human beings. As the realm of the new life, the inner world is deeply connected to Pachamama—the respected mother earth who offers life to every living beings inside the Cosmos.

Even though the universe is divided into three levels, these three worlds are all interconnected both temporally and spatially. As previously mentioned, the Andean people view the Cosmos as a unified entity with three well-divided levels. The energy travels spatially across the three worlds to establish communication and connection among different subjects and objects. The Andean perspective of philosophy is featured by Yanatin (Dualism), which explains the opposite of existence such as male and female or dark and light, similar to the Chinese Taoism. Because of the flow of energy, Yanatin dedicates to build connection in opposite forces instead of enlarging the difference between contrasting existences like what most Dualists do. This connection can also be understood as one’s different stages of life among the three worlds.

Temporally, the upper world represents the future, the middle world is the present, and the lower world is the past. One goes through each stage of life from the moment of birth towards the last second of death. Spatially, the upper world is the upper realm, the middle world is the living world, and the lower world is below the inhabited land and is occupied by the supay (demons). Consciousness is like a form of energy, existing in all three worlds and is separated from our minds. It never goes away and will always be there regardless of the time or the space. After one dies, his spirit will not disappear; rather, he could choose where he wants to go. If he has things unfinished in the middle world (Kay Pacha), his spirit can stay longer than his body until he completes all his businesses. Then he could decide to reach the upper world (Hanan Pacha) or the lower world (Ukhu Pacha), the former represents the highest realm one could obtain while the latter has a double meaning— a world of supay (demons) as a punishment or a connecting world between the lower and middle levels as a new life offered by Pachamama.

Andean Philosophy


In the Andean tradition, there are different symbols that represent the three pachas. Condor is the animal in the sky and represents a high level of energy. It connects the middle world with the upper world, from the present to the future. Puma is the animal in the living world, representing power and the energy of people. Serpent inhabits in the lower world and represents knowledge, like the past. The patapata (stairways) connects the three worlds together: serpent carries the knowledge from the past to the present, puma symbolizes the power in the present, and condor connects people with the highest power to the upper world—the future. A pathway of life thus, is created and is being repeated across centuries for the Andeans.

The Andean Cosmovision remains a mythology and much of what has been left after the Spanish Conquest changed significantly across time, particularly in religion and architecture. It is important to appreciate and respect the simplicity and duality behind the Andean views of the world. The Pachamama and the three Pachas are the essences of the Andean philosophy, which are embedded in the ways of life, the culture, and the festivals of the Andean descendants.

By Renata Ma