Mapuche religion

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Mapuche machis Mapuche Machis.jpg
Mapuche machis

The mythology and religion of the indigenous Mapuche people of south-central Chile and southwestern Argentina is an extensive and ancient belief system. A series of unique legends and myths are common to the various groups that make up the Mapuche people. These myths tell of the creation of the world and the various deities and spirits that reside in it.

Mapuche Ethnic group in South America

The Mapuche are a group of indigenous inhabitants of south-central Chile and southwestern Argentina, including parts of present-day Patagonia. The collective term refers to a wide-ranging ethnicity composed of various groups who shared a common social, religious, and economic structure, as well as a common linguistic heritage as Mapudungun speakers. Their influence once extended from the Aconcagua River to the Chiloé Archipelago and spread later eastward to the Argentine pampa. Today the collective group makes up over 80% of the indigenous peoples in Chile, and about 9% of the total Chilean population. Mapuches are particularly concentrated in Araucanía. Many have migrated to the Santiago and Buenos Aires area for economic opportunities.



In order to describe the beliefs of the Mapuche people, it's important to note that there are no written records about their ancient legends and myths from before the Spanish arrival, since their religious beliefs were passed down orally. Because of this, their beliefs aren’t necessarily homogenous; among different ethnic groups, and the family, village, and territorial groups within those ethnic groups, there are variations and differences and discrepancies to these beliefs. Likewise, it's important to understand that many of the Mapuche beliefs have been integrated into the myths and legends of Chilean folklore, and on a smaller level, folklore in some areas of Argentina. Therefore, many of these beliefs, including medicinal practices, have been more or less altered and influenced by Christianity, due largely to the evangelization done by Spanish missionaries. [1] [2] [3] This happened chiefly through the syncretism of these beliefs and also through misinterpretation or adaptation within both Chilean and Argentine societies. This syncretism has brought about several variations and differences of these core beliefs as they have become assimilated within Chilean, Argentine and even Mapuche culture. Today, these cultural values, beliefs and practices are still taught in some places with an aim to preserve different aspects of this indigenous Mapuche culture. [4]

Spanish colonization of the Americas Overseas expansion under the Crown of Castile

The overseas expansion under the Crown of Castile was initiated under the royal authority and first accomplished by the Spanish conquistadors. The Americas were incorporated into the Spanish Empire, with the exception of Brazil, Canada, the eastern United States and several other small countries in South America and The Caribbean. The crown created civil and religious structures to administer the region. The motivations for colonial expansion were trade and the spread of the Catholic faith through indigenous conversions.

Ethnic groups in Latin America

The inhabitants of Latin America are from a variety of ancestries, ethnic groups and races, making the region one of the most diverse in the world. The specific composition of the group varies from country to country. Many have a predominance of European-Amerindian or Mestizo population; in others, Amerindians are a majority; some are dominated by inhabitants of European ancestry; and some countries' populations have large African or Mulatto populations.

Chilean mythology includes the mythology, beliefs and folklore of the Chilean people.

Above all the similarities between the common religion and mythology of South America and its indigenous people, the religious beliefs and myths of the Mapuche people stand out because of their unique characteristics that reflect the Mapuche moral, social, cosmological and religious idiosyncrasy.

Mythologies of the indigenous peoples of the Americas Wikimedia list article

The indigenous peoples of the Americas comprise numerous different cultures. Each has its own mythologies. Some are quite distinct, but certain themes are shared across the cultural boundaries.

An idiosyncrasy is an unusual feature of a person. It can also mean an odd habit. The term is often used to express eccentricity or peculiarity. A synonym may be "quirk".


Central to Mapuche cosmology is the idea of a creator called ngenechen, who is embodied in four components: an older man (fucha/futra/cha chau), an older woman (kude/kuse), a young man and a young woman. They believe in worlds known as the Wenu Mapu and Minche Mapu. Also, Mapuche cosmology is informed by complex notions of spirits that coexist with humans and animals in the natural world, and daily circumstances can dictate spiritual practices. [5]

The most well-known Mapuche ritual ceremony is the Ngillatun, which loosely translates "to pray" or "general prayer". These ceremonies are often major communal events that are of extreme spiritual and social importance. Many other ceremonies are practiced, and not all are for public or communal participation but are sometimes limited to family.

The main groups of deities and/or spirits in Mapuche mythology are the Pillan and Wangulen (ancestral spirits), the Ngen (spirits in nature), and the wekufe (evil spirits).

The Pillan is a powerful and respected male spirit in Mapuche mythology.

In Mapuche mythology, Ngen are spirits of nature of the Mapuche beliefs. In Mapudungun, the word ngen means "owner".

The wekufe, also known as huecufe, wekufü, watuku, huecufu, huecubo, huecubu, huecuvu, huecuve, huecovoe, giiecubu, güecubo, güecugu, uecuvu, güecufu; is an important type of harmful spirit or demon in Mapuche mythology. The word wekufe comes from the Mapudungun word wekufü meaning "demon, outside being".

Sun and moon worship among the Mapuche have parallels among the Central Andean peoples and the Inca religion. [6] Indeed in among Mapuches as well as Central Andean peoples the moon (Mama Killa, Cuyen in Mapudungun) and the sun (Inti, Antu in Mapudungun) are spouses. [6] Mapuche, Quechua and Aymara words for the sun and the moon appear to be a borrowing from Puquina language. [7] Thus the parallels in cosmology may be traced back to the days of the Tiwanaku Empire in which Puquina is thought to have been an important language. [7]


In the mythology and beliefs of the Mapuche people, the machi "shaman", a role usually played by older women, is an extremely important part of the Mapuche culture. The machi performs ceremonies for the warding off of evil, for rain, for the cure of diseases, and has an extensive knowledge of Chilean medicinal herbs, gained during an arduous apprenticeship. Chileans of all origins and classes make use of the many traditional herbs known to the Mapuche. The main healing ceremony performed by the machi is called the machitun.

Legends and mythical creatures

The most important myths are:

See also

Related Research Articles

Gualichu, or gualicho, in the Mapuche mythology and mainly in the Tehuelche culture, was an evil spirit or demon, comparable but not similar to the Devil.

Mapuche language Language isolate spoken in Chile and Argentina by the Mapuche people

Mapuche or Mapudungun is an Araucanian language related to Huilliche spoken in south-central Chile and west central Argentina by the Mapuche people. It is also spelled Mapuzugun and Mapudungu. It was formerly known as Araucanian, the name given to the Mapuche by the Spaniards; the Mapuche avoid it as a remnant of Spanish colonialism, and it is considered offensive.

Puquina language language

Puquina is a small, putative language family which consists of the extinct Puquina language and Kallawaya, although it is assumed that the latter is just a remnant of the former mixed with Quechuan. The Qhapaq language which was brought by the Incas with Quechua is thought to be related as well as the Leco isolate language. The are spoken by several native ethnic groups in the region surrounding Lake Titicaca and in the north of Chile. Puquina itself is often associated with the culture that built Tiwanaku.

Kalku or Calcu, in Mapuche mythology, is a sorcerer or witch who works with black magic and negative powers or forces. The essentially benevolent shamans are more often referred to as machi, to avoid confusion with the malevolent kalku. Its origins are in Mapuche tradition.

Machi (shaman) shaman

A machi is a traditional healer and religious leader in the Mapuche culture of Chile and Argentina. Machis play significant roles in Mapuche religion. In contemporary Mapuche culture women are more commonly machis than men.

Inti Incan sun god

Inti is the ancient Incan sun god. He is revered as the national patron of the Inca state. Although most consider Inti the sun god, he is more appropriately viewed as a cluster of solar aspects, since the Inca divided his identity according to the stages of the sun. Worshiped as a patron deity of the Inca Empire, Pachacuti is often linked to the origin and expansion of the Inca Sun Cult. The most common story says that he is the son of Viracocha, the god of civilization.

The Chilote mythology or Chilota mythology is formed by the myths, legends and beliefs of the people who live in the Chiloé Archipelago, in the south of Chile. This mythology reflects the importance of the sea in the life of Chilotes.

The legend of Trentren Vilu and Caicai Vilu is a Mapuche flood myth that tells the story of a fierce battle between two mythical snakes, Trentren Vilu and Caicai Vilu. It explains how the south of Chile came to have its accidented geography.

Ten Ten-Vilu or Trentren-Vilu is the Mapuche god of Earth and Fertility ; he has a generous spirit and is the protector of all life on Earth, and the flora and fauna and according to some Mapuche myths. This snake was a central figure in the Origin Of The Chiloean Archipelago. In Mapuche mythology, Ten Ten-Vilu is son of Antü.

Coi Coi-Vilu or Caicai-Vilu is the Mapuche god of water and of all that inhabits it and is who rules the seas; according to Mapuche myths. This snake was a central figure in the Origin Of The Chiloean Archipelago. In Mapuche mythology, Coi Coi-Vilu is son of Peripillan.

Rehue Sacred altar of the Mapuche people

A rehue or kemukemu is a type of pillar-like sacred altar used by the Mapuche of Chile in many of their ceremonies.

Antu is the name given to the principal Pillan spirit in Mapuche mythology. Antü is the most powerful Pillán, who governs the other Pillans. In Mapuche mythology, Antu represents the Sun, as well as light, wisdom and spirit, and is opposite to darkness and the physical world, and is married to Kueyen, a Wangulén spirit that represents the moon.

Ngenechen is one of the most important Ngen spirits within traditional mapuche religion; and is the most important deity in the present beliefs of the Mapuche people.

Wiñoy Tripantu is the Mapuche celebration of the return of the sun and is sometimes called the Mapuche New Year. It takes place on the June solstice, the shortest day of the year in the indigenous home of the Mapuche people. Frequently, We Tripantu is used as a synonym for Wiñoy Tripantu, but some speakers of the Mapuche language Mapudungun use We Tripantu to refer to the New Year of the Gregorian calendar and Wiñoy Tripantu for the celebration of the June solstice.

Mama Quilla, in Inca mythology and religion, was the third power and goddess of the moon. She was the sister and wife of Inti, daughter of Viracocha and mother of Manco Cápac and Mama Uqllu (Mama Ocllo), mythical founders of the Inca empire and culture. She was the goddess of marriage and the menstrual cycle, and considered a defender of women. She was also important for the Inca calendar.


  1. Costanza Torri, Maria (2011). "The Influence of Christian Conversion in Mapuche Traditional Medicine in Temuco, Chile: Toward a Cultural Syncretism or a form of Ideological Assimilation?". Journal of Religion and Health. 52 (4): 1228–1239. doi:10.1007/s10943-011-9561-x. PMID   22203378.
  2. Gumucio, Christian Parker (2002). "Religion and the Awakening of Indigenous People in Latin America". Social Compass. 49 (1): 67–81. doi:10.1177/0037768602049001006.
  3. Bendel, Maria (2002). "Intercultural health and ethnic community relations among the Mapuche people in Chile" (PDF).
  4. Ortiz, Patricio R. (2009). "Indigenous Knowledge and Language: Decolonizing Culturally Relevant Pedagogy in a Mapuche Intercultural Bilingual Education Program in Chile". Canadian Journal of Native Education. 32 (1): 93–114, 130 via ProQuest.
  5. Ngenechen, and Don Armando Marileo
  6. 1 2 Moulian, Rodrigo; Catrileo, María; Hasler, Felipe (2018). "Correlatos en las constelaciones semióticas del sol y de la luna en las áreas centro y sur andinas" [Correspondence of semiotic sun and moon constellations in the central and southern andes]. Boletín del Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino (in Spanish). 23 (2). doi:10.4067/S0718-68942018000300121.
  7. 1 2 Moulian, Rodrígo; Catrileo, María; Landeo, Pablo (2015). "Afines quechua en el vocabulario mapuche de Luis de Valdivia" [Akins Quechua words in the Mapuche vocabulary of Luis de Valdivia]. Revista de lingüística teórica y aplicada (in Spanish). 53 (2). doi:10.4067/S0718-48832015000200004 . Retrieved January 13, 2019.