Follow Maren Elwood's Progress As She Prepares To Continue Her Anthropological Work in Peru
As we all enter the Holiday Season here in the United States, I thought I'd provide a little cultural perspective about the way the Virgin Mary has been portrayed in South America, specifically in Peru. The narrative of the Virgin in the Christian story about Jesus was used as a bridge between the two cultures in art, sculpture and ritual. 

When the Spanish entered Peru in 1532, they faced a rather daunting task in their conquest of the Inca.  The dilemma was:  How could the Spanish replace their Christian beliefs within an Inca culture that venerated Mother Earth (Pachamama) as the center of the Inca belief system. 

The Spanish realized that the Virgin Mary was a perfect image to use to transition Inca thought from honoring the natural world and the Andes, to venerating the Virgin Mary as the mother of Christ. 
European depictions of the Virgin Mary are usually of a woman in flowing robes, sometimes holding the baby Jesus.  (See photo to left above.)  This image was not consistent with the mother energy the Inca associated with Mother Earth, Pachamama. 

The Spanish realized that art was a visual narrative they could use to convey their own beliefs to the Inca, a culture that used visual media to convey their beliefs through their textiles and pottery.  Thus, the Spanish devised a clever way to morph the Virgin Mary with Pachamama.  

The Virgin Mary was depicted as part of the physical, mountainous landscape of the Andes.  The Virgin was embedded into mountains (as depicted to the right with her face at the top of the mountain) to show the hybrid of the Christian Virgin and the Inca belief in the sacred Andes mountain.  
The transition of the Christian imagery of the Virgin Mary to hybrid Andean image of the Pachamama was refined over many years. 

Today, Peruvians celebrate the morphed image of the Virgin as mountain Pachamama in many celebrations and depictions of her can be found in many churches, public places and homes in Peru. 

Her metamorphosis includes the rays of Sun above her head and the inclusion of the crescent moon at her feet.  Both symbols of her connection to the natural world that is still very much a part of Peruvian religious culture.

In this depiction (to the right) the sun and moon sit at her feet showing she is protecting her followers during the whole of the day. 

It's always interesting to me to see how my life has always contained elements of my passion for Peru and the Inca.  When writing this newsletter, I realized that I have had a hybrid Virgin Mary/Pachamama in my life since I was a child. 

The wooden sculpture of the Virgin Mary in the shape of a mountain with the sun rays at the top of her head and the crescent moon at her feet is shown here atop my grandmother's curio cabinet back in the 1980's.  And, I believe this sculpture was purchased by my parents on a trip to Mexico when I was a teen.  Now, I have this sculpture in my collection and realize it's Earth Mother energy has been with me all along. 

If you'd like to read a more academic perspective on the complex transition of the Virgin Mary narrative and depiction in Peru, you can read Mary, Mother & Warrior / The Virgin In Spain and The Americas on

THANKS to all who have donated to my efforts to get back to Peru to continue my work on the Saqsaywaman archaeological site.  

As of today, I have raised about 1/3rd of what I need to make the trip with a crew of two people.   I have postponed my trip to the Spring of 2017 to continue to raise funds and conduct additional research at the Getty Research Institute, which will most likely include a trip to Chaco Canyon in the early Spring of 2017.

If you'd like to help me continue my research, you can do so in three ways:

  • Make A Donation

  • Share this newsletter with friends and/or share my STONE & PEOPLE website too.

    Join me on social media (icons below)

  • Purchase some of my beaded jewelry on my new website BeadItForward, proceeds of which are helping me continue my preparations to go to Peru.  There's still time to buy a Christmas gift and I'll ship it out in time to be under the tree.  (Purchase must be made by December 20th.) 

Contact Maren Elwood    831.238 .5503