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As part of the longstanding connection between humanity and divinity, two thousand years ago in the dry desert of what is now southern Peru, a group of people known as the Nazca developed a very interesting spiritual practice. Betwixt the Pacific Ocean and the Andes Mountains, they created a massive complex of images that were so enormous that they were only visible from the surrounding foothills and other high places. The thing is that the lines were not meant to be seen by people, but rather the gods. In all actuality, the lines and the geoglyphs were made to walk on, not really look at.

In one of the driest most inhospitable places on Earth, the arid plateau stretches more than 50 miles and can be difficult to navigate. So, the Nazca built immense walkways leading to all the significant sites. In this way, the devotees were all able to make the pilgrimage to the temple complex, many just took different ways to get there. For special occasions, worshipers would ritualistically dance along the trails and throughout the geoglyphs in a state of moving meditation. People would walk along forming a procession through the paths of sacred geometry. The parade of people contained pilgrims who sang, clapped, danced, played instruments, prayed, and much more on the pathways to the temples.

This required tremendous stamina and devotion because just one figure alone can be as big as 1,200 feet long. So, the Nazca had to drink a lot of water which was the most precious resource of all and a very scarce commodity. To make matters worse, sixteen centuries ago a cycle of droughts jeopardized their entire civilization. The climate grew more extreme over just a few generations time. Desperate times called for drastic measures, so they tried everything they could. They looked everywhere for water until they finally found some in subterranean wells. The Nazca then built stone-lined trenches to divert the underground resource.

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The Nazca built an entire series of irrigation networks to channel the little water they had to the few crops they could produce. They also formed trails that connected to aqueducts that tapped into aquifers to supply everyone with a sufficient supply of clean drinking water. So, about one-third of the lines correlate to astronomical alignments, while one-third are just essential features of the city itself, and a third correlate to water specifically. As part of this, the stairway of the grand pyramid led down to a tributary of the Rio Grande. The Nazca would even pray to the rivers to make them run stronger and to the clouds to make them rain more. It was all part of the same culture and infrastructure and the sacred streets were very much a part of that.

To build their consecrated pathways the Nazca used sophisticated survey equipment and techniques to form complex patterns across the desert. Then with primitive transits and marker ropes, they laid out intricate designs. After that workers began to remove the top layer of dark volcanic rock to reveal the light-colored clay beneath. They simply cleared away the pebbles and stones to form the religious imagery and interconnect the ancient cityscape. To do this, wooden poles and cotton twine were used to lay out the pattern and after the debris was all swept away the largest stones were then lined up along the edges of the trail.

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The vast designs are shallow lines made in the ground by brushing away all the darker pebbles to reveal the lighter ground underneath it. The incredibly simple, yet highly effective way they transformed the landscape is so unbelievably elegant and utterly remarkable. Although, the sacred streets of South America were easy enough to make. Several people working together could produce an entire geoglyph in as little as a day or two. Line builders toiled away at this for about forty generations constructing thousands of paths on the plateau where the desert meets the mountains. The entire canvas of the Nazca Pompa is covered by at least two thousand different geoglyphs altogether.

The images differ in complexity and changed in style over time from 500 BCE to 500 CE. Most of the figures are merely geometric, consisting of nothing more than lines and angles, although many are zoomorphic, and some are even phytomorphic. That is to say that there are a lot of different shapes, some of which form pictures including animals and plants. There are several dozen animals, such as sacred birds, fish, and mammals — including llamas, jaguars, monkeys, and humans. There are also certain flowers and trees. These were all totem creatures to the Nazca which held great spiritual significance.

Along with this, at certain places along the trails offerings were given. Pottery, seashells, animal sacrifices, and much more were brought long distances and placed there for the gods. So, the Nazca lines were nothing more than walkways and the geoglyphs were stages upon which rites were performed. This was far more than just art though. The vast network of lines turned the entire desert into a giant altar. Among the images, the trapezoids and other shapes were used as offering places. People would come from miles around carrying shells from the ocean, plates of food from home, and so much more. Over time huge piles were built up forming sacred mounds of spirit goods.

The Nazca engineered advanced infrastructure and raised enormous temples to venerate their deities as well as tombs for their deceased. As part of this, Cahuachi was the heart of the civilization to which all roads lead. There were a few dozen ceremonial buildings at that site. At the center of everything, the grand pyramid is more than a hundred feet tall. Plus, there are so many passageways, terraces, and plazas there too. Pilgrims would come from miles around to honor the dead and worship the gods there. They would move from the open space outside to the closed spaces inside, but all the while realizing that they were on hallowed ground.

The truth is that in South America there are networks of passageways that connect to interactive geoglyphs that used to serve as portals to the spirit world. This was the work of an entire spiritual community that spanned both space and time in an effort to build bridges from the land of the living to the land of the dead, and to connect them through a sacred system of labyrinthine walkways. Unfortunately, after surviving terrible droughts in the 5th century the Nazca were ultimately invaded in the 8th century by highland raiders. In the end, they thrived for a millennium but now only the lines remain.

An Autodidact Polymath

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