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The Incan Map of the Universe as a Divination Template

by Craig Conley

Interrelationships at Play

The prehistoric Incan culture had a profound respect for nature, venerating the vital energies of the sun and moon, the stars, the earth mother, the high mountains, thunder and lightning, and the cycle of the seasons. The altar at the Incan Temple of Viracocha presented an elaborate map of the cosmos. This ancient chart is a rich array of symbols depicting various interrelationships at play in nature. It offers a useful and highly informative template for divination spreads, particularly to shed light on issues of progress, dealing with conflicts, finding balance, fostering growth, harmonizing with cycles, and understanding transitions.

The Map at a Glance

The five-sided chart can be divided horizontally, with the celestial world above (featuring the sun, moon, stars, clouds, and deity) and the terrestrial world below (populated by people, vegetation, and animals, and featuring the elements of earth and water).

The chart can also be split down the middle, as if divided by a central cosmic axis. The left side generally depicts masculine elements, and the right side feminine elements, all displayed as parallel, complementary pairs. The dominant figure is a golden oval, representing the creator of the “true sun,” the grand architect of the universe. Above the oval is the constellation of Orion, with the three horizontal stars forming the belt. Below the oval are the stars of the Southern Cross. To the left of the oval is the sun, and to the right is the moon. Below the sun is the brightly shining morning star (Venus), and below the moon is the dimmer evening star (also Venus). All of these celestial bodies clearly establish the cycle of the day. Below the morning star is the Pleiades cluster of stars, corresponding to the summer solstice, and below the evening star are the clouds of winter; this pairing of symbols indicates the cycle of the seasons. Below the Pleiades is Mother Earth surrounded by a rainbow. Below the winter clouds is Mother Sea being fed by a spring. To the left of Mother Earth is the cosmic serpent, and below is a spring of abundance. Flanking Mother Sea is a growing tree and a feline animal. Below the Southern Cross are the figures of a man (left) and a woman (right), representing the masculine and feminine polarities of nature. Below the couple is grid representing a storehouse.

It is interesting to consider various complementary relationships depicted in the map, and these connections can be useful when interpreting your spread. There is the obvious pairing of light and dark forces by the sun and moon, morning star and evening star. The feline dwells by night, the people by day. Also related to light and dark is the pairing of visibility and obscurity by the Pleiades cluster and the clouds. Those two symbols also pair the growth of summer and the dormancy of winter, as do the tree (planting) and the storehouse (harvest). The burrowing snake pairs with the sky-reaching tree, both of which shed (skin and leaves) and renew as they grow. The instinct of the feline pairs with the intellect of the people. There is also the pairing of the elements: earth and water. All of these dualities are unified by the ordered grid at the bottom of the map.

Using the Map for Divination

Because the Incan cosmogram is so rich in symbolism, there are many ways to use it for a divination template. You can modify your spread to suit your individual needs and intuition. Following is one suggested approach. We begin by shuffling or randomizing our preferred oracular tools (whether they be cards, stones, sticks, or whatnot). One at a time, a tool is selected and placed according to the various elements on the map. The “Significator” comes first, placed face-upward on the symbol of the human couple near the bottom of the map. This stands for the person or issue in question, the two genders representing the tension of opposites at play. Therefore, the tool placed on the significator may shed light on issues requiring balance. The remaining positions are dealt counter-clockwise, face upward, with the spot labeled “Storehouse” completing the layout. When reading the spread, no particular order is called for. In case of ambiguous meanings, a second oracular tool may be added to any spot to offer more insight into the matter.

The oval shape near the top of the map, labeled “Creation,” concerns the prime mover that sets things going and brings new creations to light. This is the source from which comes all possibility. It has no beginning and no end. It is the manifestation of energy, suggesting new life, the birth of new ideas, original thoughts and actions. Inside the oval is contained all one needs to create any desire or aspiration. This aspect announces that it is time to create one’s own reality. In other words, we can take charge and be the source of our own creation rather than having circumstance determine our outcomes. Ultimately, the “Creation” spot is about stepping into one’s own dominion. The optional spot above “Creation,” the constellation of Orion, may further illuminate one’s spiritual aspirations.

The optional sun spotlights a particular factor worthy of consideration.

The morning star, labeled “Beginnings,” symbolizes a fresh starting point. The divinatory tool placed here points to the rising of the self, as one comes from the darkness to the light, toward a new dawning of awareness. We say we “sleep” on things to get clarity. We wait for the morning star to signal our readiness to approach the start of a new day and a new awareness or understanding. This aspect calls upon one to look to what has been dormant in one’s spirit, ready to awaken and step into the radiance. This is an indicator of wide-sweeping change in many aspects of one’s life.

The spot labeled “Affirmation” is home to the cosmic serpent, who sheds its old skin in an affirmation of new life. This aspect signifies the querent’s readiness to begin moving from that which has been to that which will bring about a transformation of the self, as represented by the shedding of those things which are no longer useful or which one has outgrown. The cosmic serpent heralds the time to release and dissolve those outmoded parts of one’s being. The serpent represents the wisdom to step out into the unknown with a sense of well-being and confidence.

The optional earth represents aspects which are stable. The earth is our foundation, our human substance, and our groundedness. It is where we stand. Humankind is made of the earth, which contains all elements of our being, and so the earth symbolizes one’s physical body. The earth also represents one’s mother, protector and friend. It is the source of one’s very life, the playground of experience, and the school of instruction. This aspect calls for an examination of one’s literal standing in terms of our health, home, work, and relationships.

The bountiful spring, labeled “Abundance,” symbolizes an inexhaustible natural resource. The spring provides personal sustenance if one allows it to flow, and in its overflowing it spills over onto others as well. The spring represents eternal hope in its constant renewal. It is an unending source of refreshing comfort. It tells one to be open to the flow of love in one’s family, a new relationship, or new-found success. It is a reminder that abundance is an energy that can be tapped.

Unlike the endless spring of “Abundance,” the spot labeled “Storehouse” represents limited personal resources that one has accumulated over time. The storehouse directs one to be mindful of setting aside things that can sustain and support during lean times. What strengths or riches are already stored or accumulated? Powers or attributes which have been forgotten may be ripe to be reclaimed.

The optional sea or lake represents a place for stillness and reflection. Reflection implies both thoughtful introspection and looking at one’s own image. In studying a reflection in the lake, one sees a superficial and somewhat distorted image. It is important to consider what lies beneath the surface, in the quieter depths. There is much to be learned by looking beneath the surface of our own feelings and that which we perceive in others.

The spot labeled “Growth” symbolizes reaching new heights. The tree growing on this spot is rooted in the mother earth, from whence it receives its strength, security, and sustenance through its deep connection. The tree reveals a knowledge of the systems of the earth which nourish it. The tree reaches for the light of the sun while staying firmly in the earth, balancing the mundane and the metaphysical. Its shedding and renewing of leaves demonstrates reincarnation, as the tree recovers itself in a dormant period and then blossoms again with new growth.

The optional feline animal, a nocturnal creature, stands as a symbol of night. It is also representative of the instinct, as opposed to human intellect. The feline warns against too much emphasis upon the intellect and neglect of the instinct.

The evening star marks an “Ending.” Night cloaks, but the evening star is a beacon signaling that there is still light in the sky. The evening star appears at the end of the day, representing the end of a cycle. A time of life, an endeavor, or a relationship has come to an end, but there is the promise of a new day. The optional clouds threaten to cover the evening star and prevent clarity of vision. However, they merely symbolize the illusion that there is no star and no light. In fact, the evening star is there, and when that illusion of darkness is allowed to dissipate, the star will guide the querent to the benefits of the day to come.

The optional moon indicates an aspect that has a changeable nature. The current phase of the moon may help to indicate whether this aspect is waxing or waning.

Sample Reading for “C,” a High Court Justice

This reading is on behalf of “C” and his tenure as a judge. It uses cartomancy on the Incan cosmos map. In this system of divination, the four suits of the playing cards are associated with the four elements: Hearts/Water, Clubs/Fire, Diamonds/Earth, Spades/Air.

We will examine the cards separately in their respective places on the map as well as in relation to one another. The card interpretations are colored by traditional associations.

The 8 of Diamonds indicates a hectic life, the need to get away from it all and settle down, yet the inability to change one’s job situation. This card makes perfect sense as the Significator, since C was appointed to a lifetime position. His only means of settling down is to take early retirement, and this option is highly unlikely. People in his powerful position traditionally choose retirement very begrudgingly, typicially waiting until they are too old or too ill to adequately fulfill their duties.

Besides the heavy weight of job responsibilities, why the desire to escape? The Queen of Diamonds in the Creation spot of the map is highly suspect. The Queen of Diamonds symbolizes a flirtatious, gossipy woman who tries to insinuate herself into situations and interfere with people’s plans. It would appear that C has somehow helped to “create” or establish this person, likely by lowering his defenses and inadvertently providing her with material worthy of gossip. Can C hope to overcome the negative influence of this woman? We will look to the rest of the map for clues.

Right off the bat, we see three Spade cards on the map, illuminating various troubles that C would like to get away from.

On the positive side, the 4 of Spades marks the happy end of a minor misfortune, whether involving a short-term illness or a temporary setback. However, a new growth of misfortune is indicated in the 3 of Spades, this time concerning matters of love or marriage, likely to result in a loss of pride and feelings of hopelessness. Yet this card in this position promises the resources to grow beyond those negativities.

The 8 of Spades in the Storehouse points to a traitor in C’s circle of friends. By closely examining his relationships, he can very likely sidestep betrayal and avoid a heap of trouble.

Note that the Significator is caught right between the gossipy Queen of Diamonds (immediately above him) and the traitorous 8 of Spades (immediately below). Little wonder the urge to escape.

Luckily, an important helpmate is indicated by the Jack of Clubs. Positioned in the Abundance spot on the map, this friend’s cheerful approach and flattering words will help C to overcome his difficulties.

In addition, the 10 of Hearts makes a wonderful Affirmation, as it symbolizes good fortune following difficulties. And the 6 of Hearts marks the Beginning of a wave of good luck. It represents a special caretaker who will demonstrate a warm interest in C.

About the Author

Craig Conley is a magic enthusiast and scholar.  Recognized by Encarta as “America’s most creative and diligent scholar of letters, words and punctuation,” his intensive and eccentric research has led him to compile a true masterwork entitled Magic Words: A Dictionary.  He has also authored One-Letter Words: A Dictionary, among other strange and unusual lexicons, and is a regular columnist for Pentacle magazine.  Conley’s ideas are often decades ahead of their time.  He invented the concept of the “virtual pet” in 1980, fifteen years before the debut of the popular “Tamagotchi” in Japan.  His virtual pet, actually a rare flower, still thrives and has reached an incomprehensible size.

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