Sixteenth century chroniclers taking the road from Cuzco to Puno, on the western shore of Lake Titicaca, were amazed by the plethora of unusual round, stone towers perched on the edge of a mesa in a rural location called Silustani. These chullpas were constructed from small, ill-fitted river rocks and contained the preserved bodies of Inka nobles.
But there were other towers nearby of a very, very different character — tall and tapering and built with massive curved stones, fitted together tongue-and-groove style without mortar, so tightly arranged that an alpaca hair could not be inserted between them. They looked as though designed by a cosmic mason. Even back then it was suspected that their origin was pre-Inka, and provided the inspiration for later funerary practices; by contrast, the earlier structures either contained no burials, or the few bodies found inside were at odds with the age of the buildings.
So, who were the architects? It was well known throughout the region that the Inka were not a dab hand at monolithic masonry, as proved when 20,000 men attempted to haul a gargantuan stone off the temple of Saqsayhuaman, only for 3000 of them to be crushed to death when the ropes failed. Indeed, wherever one travels in the Andes there is no shortage of proof that additions made by the Inka to existing structures pale in both quality and scale.
During a recent trip to the region I too was amazed by the chullpas, and equally found them at odds with funerary practices — that their original concept had become misunderstood by the time of the Inka. The situation has its parallel in Egypt. Not a grain of evidence exists to support the theory that pyramids were ever used as tombs; Herodotus himself recounts how pharaoh Khafra “built himself a subterranean tomb, on the hill where the pyramids stand.” And yet early archaeologists side-stepped this account (the subterranean chamber has since been found under the causeway leading to ‘Khafra’s pyramid’), then compounded the issue by misinterpreting Egyptian concepts of living and dying by taking them literally. To this day, by virtue of repetition, their erroneous theory remains deeply engrained.
To solve the riddle of the chullpas it is necessary to look at a similar situation elsewhere. As coincidences go, I had just written a book delving into the true meaning of resurrection and the temples where it was practiced, and thanks to this revelation I was now able to see the chullpas in a very different light. In erecting these unusual towers the unknown builders, like their Egyptian peers, were indulging in a ritual known only to adepts of Mysteries schools from China to Ancient Egypt: the ritual of raising the dead, also described by the apostle Philip as ‘living resurrection’.
In The Lost Art of Resurrection I make the case for how the Catholic Church gerrymandered the resurrection of Christ and used it to further a bogus religion, much of it at the expense of Gnostic Christians who, as history attests, regarded resurrection as a metaphorical concept: it was a secret ritual involving a voluntary near-death experience by a candidate inside a restricted chamber, whereby he or she accessed the Otherworld and returned fully aware of everything they had seen and experienced. It marked the highest level of initiation, and adepts such as Zoroaster, Socrates, Plato, and quite likely Isaac Newton, regarded the experience as the pinnacle of one’s spiritual development. And not forgetting, of course, Jesus. The suppressed Gospel of Philip makes it very clear that the concept of resurrection — as it has been popularized — was misinterpreted by the emerging Church for its own ends: “Those who say they will die first and then rise are in error. If they do not first receive the resurrection while they live, when they die they will receive nothing.” Philip even goes on to chastise this new religion as “the faith of fools,” for anyone who believes in the animation of a body after physical death is confusing a spiritual truth with an actual event.
There are numerous ‘tombs’ throughout Egypt, Greece and Asia Minor where this ritual was practiced. They are described by orthodox archaeology as burial places except no body was ever found inside them. Two of the most anomalous are the subterranean passage chambers of pharaohs Thutmosis III and Unas; the former had earlier built himself a funerary chamber a mile away (where his mummy was actually found) so why on earth should one man need two tombs? Each of these chambers is covered from floor to ceiling with unique texts describing the method for ascending into the Otherworld, but with one notable difference: the instructions are meant for a person who is alive: “It is good for the dead to have this knowledge, but also for the person on Earth…. Whoever understands these mysterious images is a well provided light being. Always this person can enter and leave the Otherworld. Always speaking to the living ones. Proven to be true a million times.”
In Unas’ chamber, beneath his pyramid, the text even asserts the moment the pharaoh reaches the Otherworld: “Unas is not dead, Unas is not dead.” Indeed the Egyptians claimed that many of the pyramids and temples were places of rest but necessarily a person’s final resting place, leading to the conclusion that they must have originally served a ritual purpose. The term they coined for this unusual ritual is ‘raising’. The same term was still being used two thousand years later by the Essenes and the Jerusalem Church. At the conclusion of their initiation, adepts were declared 'risen from the dead'. The ritual survives today in the Third Degree of Freemasonry, in which the candidate is raised from a figurative grave and similarly pronounced ‘risen'.
Living resurrection refers to an out-of-body experience whereby the initiate returns to the living world with first-hand knowledge of celestial mechanics. His eyes opened to the bigger picture, he stands apart from the rest of the population who stumble through life as though asleep — 'the dead'. He or she is aware, awake — risen from the dead.
Suitably armed with this understanding of ancient Mysteries practices allows us to penetrate the riddle at Silustani: that the chullpas were a continuation of this ageless ritual.
Around 5000 BC the level of Lake Titicaca was much higher, making today’s peninsula of Silustani an island linked to the mainland by a very narrow isthmus. One of the prerequisites for the journey into the Otherworld is a voyage by the soul to an island in the West and, just like initiation sites along the Nile, Silustani originally stood on the western side of a major body of water.
The west was regarded as the symbolic entrance into the Otherworld because it follows the path of the descending Sun into the shadow world. Candidates would travel westwards, enter a restricted chamber, remain inside for a prescribed period, then exit towards the east to face the newly risen Sun, symbolically imitating the state of the purified soul just returned to the living body. Traditionally the entrance to such ritual chambers references the Equinox, since the moment defines the astronomical state of balance between light and dark, perfectly describing the candidate’s new-found spiritual state. As it happens, the entrance on every chullpa is perfectly aligned to the Equinox sunrise.
On the face of the main chullpa there is a carving of what many take to be a lizard. The creature may in fact represent a salamander, a traditional symbol in ancient Mysteries schools of the regenerative power of nature — again a perfect description of the benefit to the soul who undertakes a journey into the Otherworld.
Silustani’s position on a flat-top hill of iron-bearing andesite, packed with magnetite, and surrounded by water appears to have been deliberately chosen to assist the process. These elements by themselves generate a geomagnetic field, and when combined with a variation of adjacent soil and its accompanying fault line, produce what is known as a conductivity discontinuity. Most of the world’s sacred places, particularly those associated with rituals involving altered states, lie precisely at such junctions — Petroglyph Mesa in Albuquerque, New Mexico; Carnac in France; and Loughcrew in Ireland to name a few. Simply put, the harnessing of GMF inside a man-made structure amplifies the forces that facilitate a hallucinatory state. A dead person has no use for this, but a person lying in a state of meditation inside an artificially-constructed womb, does.
An hour’s drive south lies another group of chullpas, at Cutimbo, again atop an imposing mesa, this time made chiefly of limestone; it too was once an island in the west, and its choice was deliberate. Water percolating through limestone creates adsorption, a natural phenomenon that generates a low-lying electrical field. In ancient times the hill would have been charged, so to speak, very useful for activating the one essential component that induces shamanic journeying, the pineal gland. Lying inside the light-deprived environment of a chullpa offers a further advantage in that it promotes the chemicals melatonin and pinolene, which allow for the creation of the hallucinogen DMT. Precedents for this identical spiritual technology include the dense concentrations of sacred sites in Yucatan, Wiltshire (England), The Burren (Ireland), and the ritual chambers of the Tewa in New Mexico.
The towers at Cutimbo differ inasmuch as they are fitted to the same precision yet are carved like billowing pillows. If you happen to be at the main chullpa around midday, with the Sun at its zenith, something wondrous occurs: the light cast upon the façade reveals relief carvings above the doorway of what appear to be a male and a female figure. One of the recurring themes of living resurrection ceremonies, particularly among surviving accounts from Greece, is the description of the initiate who crosses the threshold into the Otherworld to couple with the celestial bride, hence why rooms used for raising the dead were called bridal chambers. This sacred marriage is immortalized in the myth of Osiris, the god-man who is reassembled and resurrected by his bride Isis following a ritual death. The story would be refashioned for a different audience during the Dark Ages in Europe as King Arthur and his perilous journey to an island in the West to find a Grail.
Either side of the entrance there also come into view the reliefs of two large dogs, which at first seems an unusual choice of creature to etch on a ritual chamber. But not to the Aymara, whose religious system taught that a soul experiencing resurrection undergoes an ordeal while finding its way to the Otherworld. The Andean account of this afterlife journey uses the symbol of a bridge across a raging river. As the soul crosses this river into darkness it is assisted by black guide dogs capable of seeing in the dark. It is an identical motif used in the Greek and Egyptian resurrection rituals, namely the Hounds of Hades, and Anubis and Upauat.
Chullpas are referred to by Andean people as uta amaya, ‘houses of the soul’. Notice ‘of the soul’ and not ‘for the soul’, a seemingly innocuous difference yet a major one: it defines the chambers not as final repositories but places of facilitation. The only one way in is through a tiny rectangular hole, forcing even the smallest of people to scramble on all fours as though forcing the ego to be humbled — one of the pre-requisites in ritual initiation.
The entrances still have their stone plugs. Which made me wonder: if these were graves, why add an entrance, and a bloody inconvenient one at that? One only has to be reminded of the stone that rolled away from the sepulchre holding Jesus during his own living resurrection ritual, for this stone plug was meant to seal the candidate inside, only to be removed by officiating priests at sunrise, when the light of the rising Equinox sun casts a beam directly into the chullpa.
Even after acclimating to the dark it is hard to make out the shape of the interior. When one of the towers partially collapsed it thankfully revealed how the core masonry is fitted in the shape of a beehive, and in doing so offers another indication these places were designed with ritual resurrection in mind.
The use of the beehive chamber in ritual initiation follows a world tradition of association with the bee. Since the bee and the honeycomb effortlessly characterize the manifestation of divine harmony in nature, bees were considered a link between life and afterlife. Regenerative nature gods such as Vishnu, Pan and Aphrodite are depicted as honey bees on a flower. More tellingly, priestesses honouring the cults of fertility, such as those of Ceres and Demeter, were nicknamed bees, as were the women who assisted candidates undergoing initiation in secret chambers. The honeycomb was also linked with personal insight and divine wisdom, and the concept is immortalized in the Bible: “Jonathan...put forth the end of the rod that was in his hand, and dipped it in a honeycomb, and put his hand to his mouth; and his eyes were enlightened.”
Such characteristics shaped the architectural blueprint of ritual chambers around the world, from the beehive domes of the Cuchama of southern California, to those of the Celts in Britain, specifically at Newgrange, Achnacree, and the stone huts on the summit of that classic island in the west Skellig Michael. The beehive was reintroduced two-dimensionally throughout Europe in the shape of the Gothic arch by a group who also conducted raising the dead rituals in bridal chambers, the Knights Templar.
The ancient architects of the chullpas may have left no record of their practices except what remains etched in local tradition, yet by comparing their remaining artefacts to similar cultural practices elsewhere we begin to understand the function these structures originally served. As the Egyptians themselves knew so well, in this case, the funerary connection was not the deceased, but a living candidate who, via a voluntary near-death experience, sought an experience of the Otherworld.
The chullpas of Silustani and Cutimbo are by no means the only sites used by the ancient Andeans to reach the Otherworld. Next we’ll examine some other famous places.
continue to part II
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