The pre-Incan Andean deity known as the Staff God, assimilated as Viracocha in Incan mythology, is the earliest depiction of a deity in the Americas, and representations have been found from Lake Titicaca to the northern Peruvian highlands:

Wall carving of the Staff God

The staffs themselves take the form of snakes or other creatures, cacti, lightning, or stacks of fearsome heads, but they are always shown thus, held to either side in outstretched arms. What I haven't come across is the signifigance of this: why two? why held to either side in this fashion? Are there any myths or stories that would explain such a specific depiction enduring for millennia?

1 Answer 1


The two staffs (or other objects held) generally represent the male and female, or other dualities. For example, there are depictions where in stead of staffs the deity is holding Spondylus and Strombus shells, known symbols for male and female.

The Inca prayer to Viracocha contains several of these dualities:

Viracocha, Lord of the Universe!

Whether male or female,

at any rate commander of heat and reproduction,

being one who,

even with His spittle, can work sorcery,

Where art Thou?

Would that Thou wert not hidden from this son of Thine!

He may be above;

He may be below;

or, perchance, abroad in space.

Where is his mighty judgment-seat?

Hear me!

He may be spread abroad among the upper waters;

or, among the lower waters and their sands

He may be dwelling.

Creator of the world,

Creator of man,

great among my ancestors,

before Thee my eyes fail me,

though I long to see Thee;

for, seeing Thee,

knowing Thee,

learning from Thee,

understanding Thee,

I shall be seen by Thee,

and Thou wilt know me.

The Sun--the Moon;

The Day--the Night;


not in vain,

in orderly succession,

do they march to their destined place,

to their goal.

They arrive


Thy royal staff

Thou bearest.

Oh! Harken to me,

listen to me,

let it not befall

that I grow weary

and die.

  • I did come across this reference to the two shells representing the sexes, but they seem distinct from the recurring form of twin staves, and I haven't seen anything about specific staves being male or female in form.
    – rek
    Commented Jan 26, 2022 at 19:58

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