Machu Picchu Panoramaansicht

Taking a good look into the spiritual tradition of the high Andes

Inca shamanism or Inca religion?

Defined in general terms, shamanism describes the ideas and practices of a shaman who takes care of a small community, a tribe or a clan utilizing his spiritual powers. The shaman has the ability to call on supernatural (metaphysical) forces and use them for the benefit of his surroundings.

In shamanism, a shaman is also considered a traveler or mediator between the real world and the “otherworld.” Shamans are not only expected to address the spiritual questions of their followers, but usually also healers or people with healing powers.

The following explains why the term Inca shamanism could be misleading and the terms Inca religion, tradition or spiritual art of the high Andes seem to be more appropriate.


An important factor in the work of a shaman is the achievement of an altered state of consciousness to undertake a transcendent journey to the otherworld. In shamanism, the shaman enters a state of trance or ecstasy with the aid of drumming, rhythmic movements, singing, meditation or through the intake of psychedelic substances. Interaction with spirits or spirit guides is an important aspect, as are journeys of the soul, during which the shaman finds answers to questions or recognizes causes of problems and solves them.  

The shaman’s knowledge of spiritual relationships, healing, and initiations or ceremonies is often passed on by one member of the family or the tribe that holds the position to another candidate over an extended period of time.

Shamanism can therefore be said to mean the making available of a spiritual framework to a limited number of people and can be defined with the help of the following features:

  • an altered state of consciousness
  • journeys to the otherworld
  • communication and exchange with a spirit guide
  • personal transfer of knowledge from a shaman to his successor

Inca religion

A Paqo, a practitioner of the Andean tradition, behaves a bit differently as he does not seek a state of altered consciousness but a state to “see reality as reality is”. With the help of his intention he moves in a playful way between the three worlds: The world we we live in (kay pacha), the upper world (hanaq pacha oder higher self) and the uju pacha, the inner world or shadow world.

He does not seek an altered state of consciousness as he is always connected to these three worlds and is always in direct touch with pachamama, the apus and ñustas, his itu apupaqarina and his guiding star as well as his ancestors, teachers and helpers.

Besides the Inca tradition differs from shamanism in some more aspects. The civilization of the Incas began around 1,000 AD and developed from earlier cultures such as Chavín, Tiahuanaco, and Wari (see also The history of the Incas). At the height of the Incan empire around 1550, the Inca tradition was the source of spiritual nourishment for about 16 million people.

It was thus able to sustain a world empire in matters of faith, and not just a tribe or a clan. Furthermore, it had a structure and organizational form that was divided into hierarchies and tasks and kept this system alive.

Structure & training

The practitioners of the Inka tradition also refer to themselves as priests. These priests (or practitioners) of the Inca tradition are classified within a 4-level hierarchy. The levels are well defined and the criteria for each are very complex. On the one hand, the level is connected with the level of training of a Paqo as pampa mesayoq or alto mesayoq, because this in turn determines which living beings or powers he can communicate with (Ayllu Apus, Llaqta Apus, Suyu Apus or Tekse Apus) and how this communication takes place. Is energy merely addressed or sent to the Apu or does he answer (meaning there is an exchange between Paqo and Apu)?

In addition, the Inca religion includes 7 levels of consciousness development, with each level defined very precisely, including an explanation of the steps by which a person can graduate to the higher levels. Today (2013) the first four levels are already available and reveal or have revealed themselves in people like the Dalai Lama, Martin Luther King Jr., Mahatma Ghandi, Mother Teresa and Pope John Paul II. The New Age (Taripay Pacha) awaits people who reach the next level (the so-called “fifth level of consciousness”).

During the times of the Inca, the first six levels were available to ascend. The important thing is the view that all of these levels of consciousness development were (and still are) clearly and comprehensibly defined using explicit criteria and that the Inca religion provides exercises and initiations to show any person how he or she can ascend from one level to the next in an individual process.

Thus, the Inca tradition has a training program similar to those inherent in other world religions such as Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism and other respected traditions of the world.

Shamanic travel

If we consider the training within the Inca religion and work with Western teachers such as Juan Núñez del Prado, Elizabeth Jenkins, Americo Yabar or with respected and recognized elders such as Benito Qoriwaman, Andres Epinoza, Melchor Desa, Mariano Apaza, Manuel Qispe, Humberto Sonqo, Francisco Apaza Flores or Martin Qispe Machcca, we will find that neither trance nor ecstasy is needed to see the other reality, work with it and receive answers to all of life’s questions.

There are no drums, no rattles, no puffing and no substances involved; all of the work is performed internally, calmly, “invisibly” and fully consciously. The aim of the Inca tradition is to see reality for what it is – not only with the physical eyes but also with the Ñawis, the energetic eyes of a human’s energetic body. 

And reality is best recognized if we dispel our projections, because only then will things reveal themselves as they really are – and not as we often believe they are. The Inka tradition makes all this knowledge available, so that each person can develop to achieve precisely this goal.


For the Inca religion, the entire universe and all that is in it consists of living energy. People can move this energy using their intentions (i.e. their minds). Christianity does this with the aid of prayer and Buddhism through meditation.

The more spiritual power a person has, the more energy he or she can move.

Since diseases also consist of energy, humans can potentially cure diseases and bring healing. The extent to which and how often – sometimes or always – a person succeeds in doing so depends solely on how much energy he or she can drive. The Paqos in the Inca tradition or the priests of the Inca religion are also able to heal. They do so with the help of their Mesa or Misha or with the help of despachos (offerings in the form of a mandala).

If one looks at shamanism and compares it with the Inca tradition, it is easy to see why it is not quite correct to refer to this tradition as Inca shamanism – and at the same time, why it is so easy to do exactly that.

Extensive introductions to the Inca tradition in Europe, the United States and South America are offered through the courses and workshops of Juan Núñez del Prado,  Elizabeth Jenkins and Hans-Martin Beck.

An original initiation into this wonderful tradition can be obtained during a spiritual journey in Europe and Peru, called Magical Peru and Hatun Karpay.