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Human Discourse about Nature;  Nature's Processes as Discourse:
The Pre-Columbian Peruvian Myth of Cavillaca

Claudette Kemper Columbus

Department of English and Comparative Literature
Hobart and William Smith Colleges
4129 The Scandling Center
Geneva, NY 14456

The Foucaultian (1980:49) sense of discourse as "tactical elements or blocks operating in the field of force relations" is the definition of discourse that applies herein. |1|

            Do the ancient myths herein referred to as "huarochirí" from the present-day province of Huarochirí, Peru, show nature's own discursive practices, relatively free of human cultural screening? |2|  Do these ancient myths reflect the forces of nature that Margot Norris (1985:37-38) argues "disperse their signatures of violence or desire among the past and future matter of the world"?  Or do human beings only think that nature's ontological processes and practices communicate themselves through myths?

        If people merely hallucinate nature's processes in their myths, then when the German Romantic philosopher, F. J. W. Schelling (1988:28), claims mythology represents "the repetition in the human spirit and consciousness of the processes of nature," when he claims that myths "disclose the ties uniting man with the primary processes of world-creation and formation," he argues only for a chimerical bridge between primordial processes of nature and human consciousness.  If myths do not communicate processes of nature, when Claude Lévi-Strauss in the "Overture" to The Raw and the Cooked says of myths that they think themselves in him and without his knowing it, he unknowingly thinks his own cultural discourse into the myths of others and into the processes of nature, despite his disclaimer to the contrary.  If these myths do not communicate force relations in nature, then communication of natural processes is left to the notoriously unstable narratives of the sciences and we know these are regularly forced to shift their premises.

        If nature interfaces hardly at all with a culture, human beings are sealed within cultural epistemes.  If nature hardly interfaces at all with a culture, what human beings in that culture term "natural" can only be projections of cultural epistemes.  But when nature continually affects a culture and the culture is oriented towards nature, how do we know nature's processes actually communicate?  Is Charles Sanders Peirce correct in assuming that thought exists throughout the purely physical world, that physical signs constitute semioses (general notions of causation), and that natural objects can be self-representative? |3|  "Peirce conceived iconic representation in such a way that it is possible for an object to be self- representative, meaning that it can appear in its own right, though nonetheless representatively, because it can appear as an icon of itself." (Ransdell 1989) |4|  Mountains, for example, dictate to their environs and signal their control of processes of climate, hence of water supply and fertility.  They self-represent mountain-ness and generate self-similar icons in the clouds, in reflections in the lakes, in similarities of shape in the surroundings.

        The Andean myth in question (huarochirí chapter two) represents contradictory processes of nature.  On the one hand, the myth shows one nature as generative of semiotic processes associated with reproduction. |5|  Wiracocha is a weather deity with fertilizing powers that extended throughout a number of pre-Columbian civilizations from Southern Bolivia to the coast of northern Ecuador.  huarochirí's Wiracocha, a vitalizing polytrope of unrestrainable energy, "floats" through images of mountain, flashing light, fruit, semen, and so on.  Moreover, Wiracocha manifests some "hot" aspects of extra-human prowess such as thermodynamic, hydraulic, and reproductive dispersion (Claudette Kemper Columbus 1990; 1994; 1996).

        In the same myth, a second nature deity, a local as well as a moon goddess, Cavillaca, opposes Wiracocha's project of sexual reproduction.  Cavillaca manifests in sexual coldness and, in the Huarochirí myth, opposes the cosmological project of sexual reproduction.  It is as if nature's processes--mind "out there"--offer diametrically opposed semioses.  It is as if nature has two minds.  It is as if material agencies in nature and their teleologies are at war with one another, and one of them is all but indifferent to matters cultural.

        Generally speaking, when Andean nature deities are benign, they serve as intermediaries between culture and themselves.  But the autopoetic moon deity, Cavillaca's indifference to cultural concerns raises a number of interesting issues about the relationship of discursive practices in nature to culture, of how nature's behaviors and self-representations work on culture.  What effect does her indifference to reproduction and other matters affecting a locale have?  Can a deity who seems indifferent to human concerns and who constrains bio-rhythmic processes be said to have a discourse?  Are the two "natural" discourses (Wiracocha's, Cavillaca's practices) equally powerful (overarching, meta-iconic)?  Or does the local deity Cavillaca's iconography and semiosis markedly distance her from the discourse of a deity whose project of reproduction affects and alters both nature and culture?  How does the myth manage discourses from such different natural projects, with such different physical locations, for one natural force, mutable Wiracocha's, is situated between the wild and the cultivated as a permeable boundary?  and the other, the islanded Cavillaca's, is an all but impermeable boundary, indifferent to matters that concern human welfare?

        This essay proposes that the myth of the deity, Cavillaca, rebellious female, rebellious earth, elusive moon, may provide insight into a discourse of nature in a non-anthropocentric world, precisely because the myth lacks culturally-reflexive content and lacks the drive for sexual reproduction.  The absence of cultural affect and other human interests on Cavillaca's part suggests a non-reproductive semiosis, a set of practices in nature inassimilable with culture.  It is the thesis of this essay that it is inassimilability that assures "cosmological authentication." |6|  When nature's energies communicate what human beings do not want to hear and when human beings experience the pressures of contradiction, they confront discursive practices from nature, not filterable through cultural screens.  What human beings cannot change or mediate in nature constitute grades of reality larger than human constructions of the real.  Cavillaca exemplifies what Peirce (CP 2:149) terms a "hard" idea, an idea that actualizes

first in the macrocosm; and the mind of man receives [such "hard" ideas] by submitting to the teachings of nature.

Thought is not confined to the individual or a culture.

        In the Andes, the spectacular processes of nature, the sublime scale and the raw consequences that "inadvertently" have devastating cultural impact, make clear that culture cannot change hard, macrocosmic ideas, practices out there more complex than human thought. |7|  And when components in nature are opposed to one another, palpable rebellion out there in the greater real that cannot be reduced to a single semiosis may give access to nature's real discourses relatively unentangled in human discourses.

        Not infrequently Andean mythic female deities, stand-ins for Mother Nature, oppose the way things go vis-a-vis the fertilizing male principle.  If myths and what make things go in nature do share an episteme (Certeau 1984:102), if the myth of Cavillaca is minimally culturally-reflexive and maximally a relation to the ontological energies of the ways things go out there, then it seems that two semantic systems, two natures, two tropologies from differing ontological energies, two apposite patterns in nature obtain.

        Gender construction is a component of the discourse of nature in this Andean context.  Elements are sexed by their processes and the myth reflects the sexualization of processes in the semasiographic drive to fertilize as being male;  and as being female, a near absolute resistance to the male energy. |8|  Although some Andean cultures sanctified virginity, Cavillaca signals indifference to sexuality.  As moon and as rocky, sterile, desert island, the undeniably natural Cavillaca represents a strong category in natural processes.  The real that she embodies "appears on the edges of systems of [cultural] intelligibility";  she "seeps through lapses where discourses from one period cannot be assimilated into those of others," (Tom Conley 1988:xvii).  As an ontology translated into geography, she signals a self-encapsulated space.  And the cultural fascination she exerts derives from her indifference to cultural concerns.

        The myth narrates how, having rejected all of numerous suitors, Cavillaca is, unknown to herself, impregnated by Wiracocha, who transforms his fertilizing energy into a bird and inserts his semen into a lucuma fruit that falls into Cavillaca's lap.  When she eats it, she is impregnated.  After their child is born and can crawl, Cavillaca finds out that Wiracocha, who has returned disguised as a beggar to the area, is the child's father.  Disgusted by him, either in rags or when he flashily manifests his splendors to win her, she runs from him and petrifies herself and their child as islands off the desert coast of Peru.  It is in the form of a rocky and infertile terrain in conflict with fertilizing projects that she becomes a symbol of authoritative ontological resistance in nature to the reproductive forces that Wiracocha represents.  Self-representative of island-hood, she speaks an island forever resistant.  That Cavillaca becomes an island is her signature of self-sufficient space, a self-sufficient process in nature, a truth system that refuses to circulate, that maintains its own discourse, un-translatable in cultural terms.

        If nature's discourses are communicated through rhythms and ruptures, the movements of the male principle are persistently invasive in terms of sign-relations and they are associated with conquest of terrain.  These sign-relations take the form of incipient metaphor obliquely visible in the myth's geographical and rhythmic dimensions.  But the movements of this female principle are persistently evasive in terms of sign-relations.  Her movements express geographical shifts in terrain, rhythmic movements away from cultural connection.  Although her movements raise some very old gender issues, she does not symbolize universal femaleness.

        Elements that appear in this myth include a dynamic, male, fertilizing principle symbolized by the "sun"-bird and fruit tree, the seminal figure (Wiracocha), opposing a relatively static, obdurate female force, a resistant earth deity (Cavillaca).  She could invidiously be referred to as frigid, but as it happens, the narration does not adorn her with adjectival tags, and this despite frigidity in this myth having its own divinity.  But, unlike the divinity of Athena or of Artemis, other instances of divine chastity, Cavillaca does not adopt a role that substitutes an alternative power in place of the female fertilizing principle.  She does not act as a protective guardian;  she does not possess extraordinary wisdom;  she is not a proficient huntress.  Her status is only of a principle of natural--i. e., ontological and real--resistance.

        The narrative shows the dislocation of a stable feature of the terrain, Cavillaca, who is fertile--for she bears a child in her "original" space--yet sterile in the sequence that unfolds.  Ultimately (and culturally), she is worshipped as a static, off-shore object, in contradistinction to the nomadic, male, mountain god.  Nomadic "weather" mountains serve as natural tropologies in huarochirí;  they are more or less constantly in motion, as is the wanderer deity Wiracocha, ever a passer-by.  The weather deity signals nature in transition; |9| Cavillaca, the nature that refuses to respond.

        Wiracocha's rape of Cavillaca by way of a fruit he fills with his semen and that Cavillaca eats ends in self-transformation into the famed sacred island landmark.  She thus represents a sort of ultimately inviolable geographical ontology beyond fertilization and conquest projects.  She removes herself from the catastrophe (from her point of view) of a sexual relation to a site off the limit, for nothing lies beyond her but ocean.  The breach of her impregnation rends and displaces but does not capture her geographical space, her original marginalization, her refusal to become a part of a fertilization project.  What seems like transformation (pregnancy) remains at base a monumentalization of her naturally a-sexual condition.  If myths show how things go in nature, if they partake of nature's discourse, the action of this myth resonates with our sense of the uncooperative, other-than-human cosmos.

        The question is whether and to what degree Cavillaca's psychological and natural condition was culturally inscribed.  The several cultural groups reflected in the myths of huarochirí empower a broad range of behaviors for "female" processes in nature.  These include the born spinster, the lascivious goddess, the seduced ingenue, the repentant wife, the supportive bride, the revengeful mother, and so on, all with the status of territories.  All of them, that is, are represented as equally natural components of specific terrain.  The cultural groups populating Huarochirí are not producing uniform models for human or sexual behavior nor are they generating a single, cultural ethos.  The situation is rather as if terrain gives accounts of its reproductive condition in narratives organized by different processes in nature, different thoughts out there (Gabriel Martínez 1983, 1989; Rosaleen Howard-Malverde 1989).  The general theme is the relationship of each area to the fertilizing project of the cosmos as well as cosmic (and natural) forces of resistance to that project.

        If myth signifies because it does connect with what make things go, with ontologies, and if nature is also defined as what makes things go in the non-human world, then, contrary to expectation that myths are fictive, myths communicate the ontological energies of nature in "true narratives."  I could cavil by saying that myths express human ontologies, except that the myth in question with its attraction/repulsion motif ostensibly resoantes with actions not in cultural but in natural terrain.

        Two gender issues in archaeotopography arise:  Why is it that petrification enhances Cavillaca's divinity in nature?  And why is it that both this female stone linked to attraction is also linked to repulsion?  A-sexuality and fertilization would not immediately appear to be nature's complementary agencies.

        Certeau (1992:45) sets myths within physical experience that goes beyond the explicable, beyond the rational, beyond human discourse:

A relation to the body makes possible practices of the infinite or, if one prefers, [practices of] the actual, a spatial bringing into play of the unanalyzable.  That relation acts as a limit.  It stops the fading away of the Other into simulacra that replace one another indefinitely.

Certeau presents the body's practices in three modalities, the first the masculine and the feminine that distinguish sexual difference (1992:45).  If there is in nature a desire for reproductive immobility, the energy of this resistance provides a sort of material discourse--one process in the material world.  If there is in nature a counter desire for dissemination, this formulates a sort of opposing material discourse.  If the only way nature's processes are apprehended are as discourses, and if we assume that not all discourses are human in origin, the myth of Cavillaca and Wiracocha is a myth of double discourse out there.  These ontological processes, far more powerful than human measures, are not assimilable by culture, if we define culture as behavior in considerable part regulated by or structured by cultural symbols and metaphors rather than attentive to and adapting to natural symbols and metaphors.  That these natural practices are not necessarily culturally assimilable does not, however, prevent human desire to participate in them, nor prevent human beings from engaging in ritual observance of Cavillaca.

        The huarochirí myth does not come to an end with the terrible power of Cavillaca's petrification.  A fertility and water cult deity of the coast and of the sky, the fish-and-dove mother, Urpayhuachac, is the second female deity to play a major role that asymmetrically repeats Cavillaca's in this two part plot.  The Urpayhuachac waka or culturally sacred site and power source is another heterotopia.  Located on the coast and in the sky, waka Urpayhuachac gives birth to fish and doves (urpay) and daughters.  Huacha, "birth giver," waka, "sacred site," and wakay, to cry, are narrative elements acoustically embedded in her name, Urpayhuachac.  Although Urpayhuachac's two daughters are guarded by a snake, nonetheless, while Urpayhuachac is off-shore visiting Cavillaca in her stone state, Wiracocha, tracking Cavillaca, sleeps with Urpayhuachac's older daughter.  But when he tries to sleep with the second daughter, she transforms herself into a dove and escapes.

         Urpayhuachac becomes enraged by what has happened to her daughters.  Wiracocha becomes as enraged as she and breaks her container (cochallapi: l. 54; note that cocha forms a part of his own name).  The breaking of her "pot"--cocha in this version of the myth, but the word paccha also means "vessel" and as an earth goddess she is pacha or earth-textile as well--makes the metabiosphere and its many levelled processes relatively visible.  This metabiosphere is not created by human beings, although human beings sense and interpret it by way of compound metaphors.  The myth communicates the processes of fertilization and of resistance to fertilization in terms of a multilocational and polytropic container being filled and broken.  The material reality implicit in the myth of Urpayhuachac is of woman as pot and container, breached in the sky and on the coast.  Another material reality implicit in the myth is that the earth is a pot and container that must be breached to make earth fertile.  When the container is broken, fluid (including semen and blood) is released;  the coast of the sky is breached;  the fertilizing and irresistibly transgressive liquid falls releasing doves--the fish of the air--and fishes.

        The double discourse of nature supports a universe of counterwoven "strange" attractors.  The "total" cosmological project of sexual reproduction that faces resistance from an Other attractor are entangled, one with the other, with the result that between the pair and within each component, both containment and proliferation occur.  In Andean thought and in seismic Andean terrain, stone is itself both stable and a transformational substance. |10|  In the earthly sphere, the container (pot) that Wiracocha breaks is probably a holding pond for fish.  The container suggests breaching the coastal goddess's womb as well as Wiracocha's own body;  Urpayhuachac's pot, cocha-llapi, is embedded in his name Wira-cocha, a name that polyvocally refers to lakes above (in the sky, Lake Titicaca, sometime known as Wiracocha) and lakes below the sea, as well as to seminal water generally.  Wiracocha breaches himself so that fertilization may occur.  The bit of container embedded in his name indicates that he is himself a constituent part of the apposite principle in a double, indeterminate, and inchoate energy flow.

        The stony Cavillaca appositively fertilizes, except that Cavillaca who "gives birth" also transforms birth to stone and she becomes an impregnable pot.  The "broken container" in the Cavillaca context shows transformation by way of water, by way of Wiracocha, weaver of the biosphere (in this case, water takes the form of semen).  The broken container of the Urpayhuachac incident also weaves a biosphere.  Yet, as telluric stone is also paradoxically a monument to fertility, Urpayhuachac's pot, although she is herself the goddess of fish, must be broken to have fish in the sea, cocha. |11|

        Variations on the theme of breakage present unresolvable contradictions in nature's processes.  For instance, this myth's fold-over of time is similar to Huatyacuri's who witnessed his father's birth, in that Urpayhuachac, mother of pigeons, seems to have been known as the mother of pigeons before her daughter became a pigeon.  There is even a possibility in the huarochirí myth that, by breaking "Pigeon Mother" Urpayhuachac's container, Wiracocha impregnates himself with fish--the word for "sea" cocha is embedded in his name and he sometimes takes the form of a she.  The word cocha, "lake" as well as "sea," subsumes the natural symbol of lake in the rhomboid ideogram in weaving called cocha. |12|  Weavers say that the design tawa inti cocha's umbilical cord connects weaving and world, including water and fields and sunlight, and in some cases, male and female principles. |13|

        The reversals in this compound "breach" myth are not like recognitions and revelations in plotted action rising to climax and resolution, a structure anthropocentrically framed and culturally informative.  The reversals are more like rhythmic  symmetries in those weavings that in the Andean world encode environmental data.  In the myth, there is inverse symmetry (Wiracocha is hot where Cavillaca is cold), and reverse symmetry (Wiracocha pursues "his" woman until he is pursued by a woman who is not his).  There are mirror, reflection, and rotation symmetries (Wiracocha's two successful and the one unsuccessful seductions).  There is slide symmetry (the action moves from Cavillaca to Urpayhuacac).

        Urpayhuachac, as multilocational and many folded as Wiracocha, as closely related to geographical and fertilization processes, "entangles" her position as the ocean goddess wife of Pachacamac on the coast with her sky nexus as the dark constellation, the Dove (yutu; Gary Urton 1982:242).  Although, unlike Cavillaca, Urpayhuachac has a cultural role--the struggle between Urpayhuachac and Wiracocha makes it seem probable that a power struggle over water rights is involved between highlanders and coastal dwellers--, her "natural" role indicates a power struggle between elements in nature, and along transversals of spheres, and within herself as natural process.  Also culturally implicated in the take-over of terrain, |14|   Wiracocha also transverses natural spheres.  When Wiracocha violates Urpayhuachac's daughter, the interaction ends in a pot-shattering that fertilizes the cosmos high and low and is profoundly metaphorical:

                Fish, doves of the sea,
                        Doves, fish of the air:
        Ai, mother Urpichay, Urpayhuachac, that wach'i arrow, |15|
                clove your starchild dove
                        your little fish.  Dove mother, weep!
                        it clove your pot.

The echo-effect of the transposition Urpayhuachac and wach'i acoustically links the female principle of the container and the male principle, the arrow.  Fittingly enough, the word urpachallay means to make vibrate.  Narrative elements embedded in words such as huacha-wach'i, paccha, and cocha vibrate with unsettling interconnections between pot-breaking sacrifice and pot-breaking fertility.  These interconnections are cultural, but their affiliation to nature's "discourse" is evident.  As in graves filled with shattered pots, culture accedes to nature.

        The outraged Urpayhuachac whose pot(s) is broken, chases  Wiracocha across the sky?  down the coast? and offers to delouse him, also a complex symbolic act and double discourse of nature.  The louse is a sign of fertility and of disease;  the louse is a natural sign in that culture does not impose perception of the fertility of lice onto the kingdom of lice (Marie-France Souffez 1985:171-202; Columbus 1989:77-83).  The de-lousing offer is an attempt to distract Wiracocha so that Urpayhuachac can push him into an abyss.  Excusing himself on the grounds that he needs to relieve himself, Wiracocha makes his escape.

        I have turned this myth over and over in an effort to detect moral, religious, and ritual principles, that is, cultural principles.  But the myth remains as resistant to a satisfactory culture-based interpretation as Cavillaca is resistant to Wiracocha's advances. |16|  The ambivalence in the semiosis is that a rebel female principle, uncooperative female processes, contribute to astral and earthly fertility and yet they play no specific social role.  No living offspring result from the actions of the myth's deities.  The agents of the release of fertilizing agents into the world are the lust and the bad temper of a thunder and lightning god, who is as if unaware of human concerns.  This absence of the anthropocentric and of a cultural ethos gives the myth an extraordinary, self-representative strangeness in human terms, as if it requires non-human powers to comprehend it.  The transitive relations among the actors rest on assumptions that, in overarching and underpinning conscious acts, hint at semantic fields in nature dwarfing conscious and cultural ones.  The relations among parts suggest "frames" or holographic processes (Roy Wagner) |17| that capture the sense of inexplicable, transhuman motives "out there."  These superhuman actions and powers that are beyond us affect us, only not primarily culturally, in terms of the myth of Wiracocha and Cavillaca.  The discursive practices of human beings, such as the making of the pot with the fish goddess represented on it is a discourse modelled on nature's discourse, on opaque and polytropic metaphors already out there, even beyond cultural holographs, although, of course, we may refuse to give up the primacy of our own discourse and our own solipsism, where we only see signs in relation to ourselves and do not see that the house-pot-body process with its inherent metaphoricity takes place with or without us. |18|

        If I make the claim that the tellers of this myth do not interpose cultural constructs between themselves and nature, can I believe it possible to know nature without interposing cultural constructs (language aside)? |19|  Loving an environment, studying physics, writing poetry, we may have experiences so sensual and intuitive that we mistake what is culture for nature.  Indeed, the difficulties are compounded when some symbols may be described as natural, as Mary Douglas does.  If, however, it is possible to incorporate the epistemic information of an ontological and natural narrative into culture, that incorporation involves living close to nature, so that nature self-representing itself in container metaphors (nature pots and nature houses as instances of natural metaphor) is authenticated by other than cultural artifacts.

        What interests me in this myth is that the metaphors indicate a semiology that interfuses facts in nature with human meanings related to culture.  But, maintaining autonomy, these metaphors are not related to a particular culture.  Their general application makes them exhibit "the infinitude of a local singularity" (Certeau 1992:9) and connects the local and the global.  These signs "dissociated from specific social contexts" act in many different contexts (Edward Sapir 1934:494).  Dissociable from specific cultural contents, they serve as heuristically useful, concrete generals.  Since willy-nilly we filter our understanding of nature through cultural conditioning, perhaps only through cross-cultural concrete universals can we be confident about what we speak, when we speak about the discourse of nature and the inferred, holoprocessual, multi-biospheric universe.

        Lévi-Strauss (1988:181) observes that the transformative motion in the potter's art is inherently metaphorical:

woman, the efficient cause of pottery, is transformed into her product;; she was physically exterior, she is now morally integrated with it.  The metonymy uniting woman and pot has been turned into a metaphor.

Lévi-Strauss's choice of the term "metaphor" in this passage doesn't sufficiently convey that dimension of nature's discourse in working with clay that is self-representational and not dependent on human agency. |20|  Elsewhere, Lévi-Strauss situates "bundles of relations" in myth "above the ordinary linguistic level" (1967:210).  The concept of "collective hypotheses" is also Lévi-Straussian (1963:210-211, although Durkheim also comes to mind).  But Lévi-Strauss stops just short of saying, potters (like weavers) first enter into a discourse with nature's processes directed by nature (the quality of the clay, for instance), and secondly enter this discourse directed by nature into a discourse with culture. |21|

        Is the absence of a cultural base a part of the power of the huarochirí myth of Cavillaca?  the absence of layers of cultural explanation?  of obligation to the culturally normative?  of cultural motivation?  Wiracocha seduces Cavillaca and no editorializing on the ethics of the situation appears either implicitly or explicitly.  As for Cavillaca, continuity seems to be her narrative constant, for, although she adopts stone form, she was lithic to begin with.  But, as with Wiracocha, the myth about her includes no editorializing.

        When the myth moves into the Urpayhuachac narrative, the concept of a "container for water" that holds the ocean in the sky has the interesting effect of representing the sky as material:  a clay-y, fiery, fluid-filled, and breakable pot.  To conceive of the sky in this fashion is not strictly metaphorical.  It is existential, phenomenological, as if the senses were thinking in prelinguistic, prefigurative, preindividualized modes.  It is as if prelinguistic and prefigurative affiliations exist implicitly between nature's processes and cultural practices that dynamically trope nature into culture.  The sky-pot behaves as if an actual if anatropic pot is out-there in the holosphere.  This pot is neither completely figurative nor obviously artifactual; it is primarily processual and therefore rhythmic.  Moreover, metaphor rarely possesses such a dense material component as does the sense of generalized affiliation to macro-pot processes that shape and break.  A lake is not primarily like a pot, but is a pot in this and other Andean myths.  The reverse is also true:  a pot is a lake bed in miniature.  A mountain is a pot.  The body is a pot, |22| whether the body be "male" or whether it be "female," whether it be animal or whether it be vegetable.  The house, a cognate natural symbol for a pot, is itself a pot.  Pot semiology unites aspects of "greater" nature and is communicated by greater nature through the syncopation of individual experiences of containership and of breakage.  The physical body created through a multitude of shapes passes universally through full, breached, empty, broken.

        This physical semiosis, based on functional processes, has implications for metaphor theory.  Shapes, forms, are secondary qualities.  Function, process, movement shape the shapes.  Of course, the process may be shown overtly as metaphoric, as in the instance of a pot from the Tiwanaku culture shaped like a house (Alan Kolata 1993: 154, Figure 5.38).  The house figure-concept is subsumed under nature.  A sun-head is painted above the entrance, with serpents exiting each side, and with two birds flying over them.  The house pot artifact proclaims its dependence on processes in nature.  A similar sensual ennestedness of culture within nature appears in other Andean house-pots, one for instance made by a potter in 20th century Ecuador (Whitten plate 16, 1976).  The ceramic house's roof and sides are shaped like a turtle shell and painted with turtle shell markings.  The turtle shell is nature's self-representing container house and within that discourse of nature, within those processes, appears the human house, as in the Tiwanaku pot.

        Clearly sky- and earth- pots are metaphorical and biospherical, but more, in the myth of Cavillaca and Wiracocha, the pot as process infuses the myth from the beginning, but more than figuratively.  Although the myth suggests nature's processes discursive in themselves, it does not at first suggest a holospheric pot and pot breaker, only a distancing lack of commitment to any given point of view.  Because so many levels of being and of space pertain, and so many aspects, its "natural" situations are not subject to resolution by human beings.  The general interfusion between the discourse of nature and human culture seems without any cultural or anthropocentric interference, although the myth obliquely shows the interfusion of nature and human nature.  The discourse, that is, is not human discourse of nature, does not have that dimension of the hunter's biosphere in the hunter's discourse of nature, or the farmer's biosphere in the farmer's discourse of nature, or an implied normative field of right and wrong behavior in a societal discourse.  Nature's discourse is about energies accessible to human senses, those very senses that are frequently discredited as subject to illusion.  Indeed, what is not subject to illusion?  In this case, however, we seem to have a natural and non-illusionistic discourse, possibly even a natural dialogue, a natural ideology from mineral, animal, and vegetable life.

        Juan de Santa Cruz Pachacuti Yamqui's famous house-cosmos drawing is populated by figures, including the sun and the moon. |23|  But, like the myth of Cavillaca-Wiracocha-Urpayhuachac, its aura is a-personal and pre-figurative, one of nature communicating the way things are through processes of transformations. |24|  Although Pachacuti's drawing is obviously a dynamic cosmogonic model, the modeler of the cosmogony is less a human than cosmic thought "out there."

        In Quechua, paronomasic wordplay connects near homophones: pacha (earth, epoch), p'acha (woven clothing; Roswith Hartmann 1991) |25| and paccha (pot, vessel ((Columbus 1993));  in the huarochirí text, the container is referred to as cochallapi;  small drinking bowls that evoke little lakes with the figures of birds and animals sipping from the sides are called cocha). |26|  Wordplay that connects nature's self-representations (earth shapes, colors, and textures) with cultural representations (houses, pots, and weavings infused by representations of earth and in earth colors, etc.) indicates a single, entangled and chiastic nature-and-culture.  The physically shaped concepts referred to by the words paccha and cocha incorporate male, female, and androgynous as practices in nature.

        Like pacha, the cocha word-and-pre-figure holograph is a nexus where beings of different orders interact, a nexus where many threads work as one to pull relationships from the stream of connections into bundles of connection with multiple borders.  An ocean of water contained in a vessel, paccha, could only have come from the sky, hanac pacha, for only the sky would be large enough to contain oceans.  Indeed, Andeans call great geological changes with their historical consequences pacha-cuti;  a time when everything changes, a time when nature smashes the cultural container and alters the environment.

        Too few documents are available in the original languages to prove to categorists connections out there among the words for "earth," "epoch," "woven clothing," "pot," and "lake," and so on.  Nevertheless, the same associative pattern that appears in a study of any one of these words appears repeatedly over a vast physical area and with a life span of at least 2,200 years (since Chavín, if Julio Tello among others is correct in supposing one of their deities represents Wiracocha).  Moreover, the area of influence may have been as extensive as it was long lasting.  And Hartmann (1991:174) has shown where earth and textile are more than homophones;  textile represents earth, earth textile.

        This huarochirí myth represents the ocean as "originally" having been contained in a paccha, a container, but the participants of a Huarochirí ritual carry water in vessels and scallop shells (mullu) from the sea back to the heights (where one of the lakes is named Mullucocha).  huarochirí states Lake Mullo was created by volcanic fire (Chapter 8, 104).  Volcanic fire is mountain blood.  Reddish shells could have been thought of as ocean fire, as ocean blood.  Reddish stones called mullu, probably fertility amulets, were considered sacred blood (Otero 1951:212).  A ritual weaving found in many places in the Andes is used to keep the ritual implements and often contains also a miniature rock house, including the corral and the animals, called misa-mullu. |27|  Once again, the solid and the seminal (mountain and house and pot and weaving) evidence themselves as components of a single process composed of intricately interconnected systems. |28|  The earth-pot-pattern presences itself in several dimensions, connects a number of semantic fields, provides graphic embodiment of eponymous thought.  But it is also as if near homonyms that refer to aspects of nature components of the project of sexual reproduction (including elements opposing sexual reproduction) also indicate how nature organizes, how nature means.  It isn't so much a question of nature thought to speak, although sounds such as the roar of the feline are significant.  It is rather that words that organize worship are words that invoke nature as weaver of terrain.  Hence these cross-over terms.  Nature weaves a lake cocha;  human beings weave textile cocha.  Nature weaves a shell mullu;  human beings weave mullu.  Key words indicate such participation of the cultural world in the natural world.

        Carefully woven Andean textiles contain interpretational codes that interconnect nature and culture.  A weaving can encode and express kinship, terrain, celestial and terrestrial information, flora, fauna, weather, agriculture, political events, all without boundary despite the symmetries necessary in weaving.  The absence of boundary shows in the weaving's beginning with a "mouth" and not actually coming to an "end." For the weaving is a part of a synergetic, kinetic, and haptic cycle that flows through nature and culture.  The tying off of the weaving does not indicate that its "excrement" ceases to flow as a fertilizing or germinal energy.  The weaving expresses and reenters the body of the environment, social, magical, and celestial.  A weaving's end opens out into nature, its pattern carried through and visible in other sign systems--ritual dance patterns, songs, pottery.  The languages of weaving interconnect a number of encoded systems.  Arnold and Yapita notice that "the colours of the weaving designs are compared to the coloured flowers of the food products growing in the fields.  The furrows where the rain, running down from the hills, irrigates the plants, are also mentioned in the songs, as if to irrigate the verses and give them a great power of fertility," (Arnold 1992:30).  The layering of natural and cultural texts is evident.  The word "analogy" does not, however, convey the reciprocity and interactivity among the layers, nor their motility, which can only be seen through anaphora, can only be glimpsed sidelong, as it were.

  Apsu is a weaving term to describe the most complex salta designs, those with many threads, with three warp threads and up to 11 pairs of heddles.  The verb apsuña--"to pull out" is the term used for taking out the images of salta designs from your heart, to sing them in the wayñu songs....  Their verses mention the individual salta designs within these belt-fasteners:  such as siyana, a wild flower which "goes from side to side", aywiskitu, a meandering path, such as the paths in the hillsides where the animals walk, or layra aywi, a "pathway of eyes." (Arnold 1992:41)

The pathway of eyes--a concept I reached independently (1992), a concept arrived at also by Silverman (1990),--is the power of seeing and hearing the connections out there among things as well as seeing the connections among seemingly dissimilar artifacts in culture, such as pots and weavings, and having the eyes and ears to sift nature's processes into cultural products.

        The weaving is not inert, it matures.  It represents mother-father complementarity and complementarity with other forms of life. |29|  A skilled weaving generates babies, babyishness, children (colors). |30|  Finally--and most interesting to me in the context of overlaid spheres--, planes are inter-related, so that, like Urpayhuacac's broken container, the action on the plane of a sacred seaside site occurs simultaneously in several domains, including the political. |31|  Possibly the Constellation of the Storehouse is the source of Peru's name, making the area doubly above and below (Peru may have been derived from the Quechua word, piura, meaning storehouse;  Fray Martín de Murúa ((1922[1613]:217)) ).  The multi-spherical typifies Andean archaeotopological space.  Reduced to being merely a national toponym, "Peru" becomes marked as a particular, cultural discourse that displaces nature.  The discourse of nationhood disrupts nature.

          The polytropic space of a fine weaving, like the polytropic space in the myth of Urpayhuachac, conveys an extraordinary sense of individual enfoldedness within into the world around ("collective wills"), the entirety a spatio-temporal program of places where geographical space is perceived as able to move from one place to another as living creatures do.  If we don't sense the pot in the natural world, if our house and our body are not sensed as inter-fused with nature's and intersemiotically communicative, to that extent may we be said to be unnatural.

        What happens to water happens to culture.  What happens in most spheres of water's activity is only intermittently visible, only intermittently interpretable.  Deleuze (1994[1968]:28) describes lightning as distinguishing itself from the black sky that it also trails behind it,

as though it were distinguishing itself from that which does not distinguish itself from it.  It is as if the ground rose to the surface, without ceasing to be ground.  There is cruelty, even monstrosity, on both sides of this struggle against an elusive adversary, in which the distinguished opposed something which cannot distinguish itself from it....

          The cryptic and monstrous dimensions of the myth of Wiracocha, Cavillaca, and Urpayhuachac are as if we have the shards of broken, cosmic containers but only indirect access to the contents.  Its opacity like nature's preserves incompletion.  To return for a moment to the generative, system-diffused design of thermodynamic water:  the semiopheres of water include reflections in crystal.  Water's semiosphere is reflected in the lights that are the blood and fat of rocks.  It is reflected in the "lights" in weaving with its complementary sides.  And it is reflected in culture, rather than vice a versa.


Click on note number to return to the text above

1. Michel Foucault (1972:49) relates the terms discourse and practices by "treating discourse [not] as groups of signs...but as practices that systematically form the objects of which they speak.

      I would like to thank the attentive help of my colleagues, Betty Bayer, Elena Ciletti, and Lee Quinby, for the evolution of this essay.

2. Carl R. Hausman (1989:87) argues that metaphors cannot provide insight into reality unless reality includes the extralinguist and the extraconceptual.

3. Charles Sanders Peirce (1963:47, CP:4.551; hereafter cited as CP) argues thought exists "in the work of bees, of crystals, and throughout the purely physical world" and "The lower organisms, as well as the physical world, ... are in one form or another different manifestations of mind."

4. "Peirce conceived iconic representation in such a way that it is possible for an object to be self- representative, meaning that it can appear in its own right, though nonetheless representatively, because it can appear as an icon of itself. ... Second, he conceived the relationship of iconic to symbolic representation in such a way that the latter is essentially in service to the former, as it were; that is, symbolic representation is not itself complete until it has introduced the object as it is in itself through an associated iconization. ... the object does not disappear into the impenetrable domain of Dinge an sich but is as immediately available as common sense supposes it to be, provided symbolism is doing the job it is supposed to be doing." Joseph Ransdell 1989, par. 18.

5. Of Polynesian myths, Marshall Sahlins (1985:13) remarks "a total cosmological project of sexual reproduction" as a general truth.

6. Annette B. Weiner (1992:45) so terms this phenomenon: "The traditional dichotomy between cosmology or superstructure and the material resources of production and consumption leaves little space to explore the cultural constructions by which the reproduction of the authority vested in ancestors, gods, myths, and magical properties plays a fundamental role in how production, exchange, and kinship are organized. To emphasize and overcome this problem, I use the term cosmological authentication to amplify how material resources and social practices link individuals and groups with an authority that transcends present social and political action."

7. Tom Conley (1988:xvii), succinctly paraphrases Michel de Certeau's "réel" as "a primary world of forms resisting intelligible practices which would strive to make them recognizable or reduce them to rational systems... a 'nature' always in dynamic relation with 'culture,' glimpsed in its points of strain or heard in its silences"; see Certeau (1988:213).

8. This is not an essentialist argument, since numerous variations on the masculine and the feminine in nature are in evidence.

9. The route of Wiracocha follows a trajectory from the south of and through Oruro, Tiwanaku, Carabuco, Pucara, Cuzco, Vitcos, and up into Ecuador. Another angle crosses or triangulates Mt. Tunapa with Tiwanaku. He is also in the motion of the Milky Way. Wiracocha is a motherfather; also a babe; s/he implicates the entire thermohydraulic system, from tempests in the heights to the outflow into the great ocean, as well as all the loci between: water droplets, rising mist (smoke, incense), dishes of water, etc. (Columbus 1995:55-79).

10. Norman E. Whitten (1976:42) writes of rocks as domain-spanning, transformational substances.

11. Rebeca Carrión Cachot (1959:51-52) reproduces what may be an illustration of Cavillaca.

12. The same design is sometimes called inti as in sun-bird; a chiasmic cross-over from nature to culture, however, remains.

13. See, for instance, Gail P. Silverman-Proust (1988:7-42).

14. Wiracocha repeatedly "weds" local women, such as the Huanca who subsequently turned herself to stone. At that site, the temple Huarivilca was built to honor Wiracocha. On this occasion, clearly a historical conquest by the Wari is being represented mythhistorically. See Waldemar Espinoza Soriano (1974:20).

15. A bit of the breaking agent is encoded in her name, as a bit of the container element is encoded in Wiracocha.

16. This effort attempts to understand why Andean myth is characterized by "non-narrativity," Rosaleen Howard-Malverde (1997:13).

17. His title, Symbols that Stand for Themselves (1986), shows an understanding of metaphor in indigenous New Guinea unlike the usual understanding of metaphor as overlap of images.

18. A Peircean approach would have involved a totally different treatment; nonetheless, Alfred Lang's e-mail (15 May 1996) on being in thought pertains: "...thoughts (here in the traditional sense of cognitions and the like) are also signs, and this in the literal sense, namely entities formed of stuff and energy and having a potential to combine selectively with other such entities and have effects that you would not expect from these matter-energy-formations as such, i.e. in non-selective interaction. I like to call them "Semions" in their structural aspect; of course they are the semeioses of Peirce in their process aspect. What is called perceiving or thinking or musing etc. is identical with forming signs or generating or activating semions within organisms; what is called acting etc. amounts to forming semions around and among organisms by processes combining semions from the organismic subsystems the entities, mostly semions, from the environment." Lang adds, "But nothing speaks against the idea that there are semion complexes with an inner differentiation that have such complex internal interchanges in addition to their commerce with their surrounds that phenomena we are used to refer to as awareness, self, I, subject of knowledge or action, etc. emerge. This is probably true for most members of the human species and to different degrees to members of other biotic kind. ... While when you assume such to emerge in an evolutionary process you can observe manifestations of their existence and effectance and have a chance to identify them as the real generals they probably are. Though we are not well prepared to get at them because we are so taken in by our historical Western anthropocentric presumptions."

19. Marshall Sahlins (1976:101) maintains that culture always modifies the natural order, that culture is instrumental: "This is because nature is to culture as the constituted is to the constituting. Culture is not merely nature expressed in another form. Rather the reverse: the action of nature unfolds in the terms of culture; that is, in a form no longer its own but embodied as meaning."

20. This work is indebted to Pierre Bourdieu (1977:117): "terms like displacement and rotation are given their practical senses as movement of the body, such as going forwards or backwards, or turning round. Just as, in the time of Lévy-Bruhl, there would have been less amazement at the oddities of the 'primitive mentality' if it had been possible to conceive that the logic of magic and 'participation' might have had some connection with the experience of emotion, so nowadays there would be less astonishment at the 'logical' feats of the Australian aborigines if the 'savage mind' had not been unconsciously credited, by a sort of inverted ethnocentrism, with the relation to the world that intellectualism attributes to every 'consciousness' and if anthropologists had not remained silent about the transformation leading from operations mastered in their practical state to the formal operations isomorphic with them, failing by the same token to inquire into the social conditions of production of that transformation."

21. Paul Friedrich (1979:482) and Robert Randall (1993:73-112) offer excellent observations on pots addressed as local pheno-mena that nonetheless exhibit global characteristics.

22. See also Denise Arnold (1988) and Joseph Bastien (1978:56).

23. Pachacuti Yamqui Salcamaygua's diagram is too frequently reproduced to give references.

24. Such seems the case with Wordsworth, as in The Prelude, 2:326-30:
               I would stand,
      Beneath some rock, listening to sounds that are
      The ghostly language of the ancient earth,
      Or make their dim abode in distant winds.
      Thence did I drink the visionary power.

25. Hartmann (1991:174) cites the work of Ibarro Grasso, 1953: "thus, use is made of homophones, or near homophones, with different semantic values. ... One example consists of the words p'acha (clothing) and pacha (earth or world)."

26. The Brooklyn Museum owns several of these cochas. One of the features these drinking containers share with the pacchas in the collection at the Anthropological Museum in Cusco are that, as the drinker drinks, another figure emerges from the waters. Although obviously a cultural artifact, the paccha performs a discourse of nature in which as the drinkers drink, they partake in nature's processes whereby they themselves are "consumed" by the flow of forces beyond them.

27. For instance, Elayne Zorn (1987:489-526 496).

28. Peter Gose (1994:88) sums up his study of the thatched Andean house as existing "in a state of permanent contradiction. It is only by bringing in straw from the wild puna, through a process marked by the scarcely controllable disruptiveness of affinity, that a contained domestic space can be created. Abundance requires this influx of the wild and the avoidance of incest, yet abundance and the wild are themselves incestuous in nature. Thus the thatched roof is like the crops in that it is the object of cooperative action, and like the adobe walls of the house below it, in that it is obstinately private and resists renewal."

29. Thomas Abercrombie (1986:205), Verónica Cereceda (1976); Lynn Meisch (1984-5:243-274) all discuss textiles woven by women and constructed of two mirror image halves sewn together, of which Abercrombie writes that they were "models of moieties as well as cosmic zones," "of like but opposed entities. They also, however, are bilaterally symmetrical bodies: The central design strips are the chullma ('heart'), the single-color central area of each half the puraka, 'stomach' (it is also pampa), and the outermost design strips the mouths. In fact, ponchos and awayus are kinds of transformed animal bodies, into which the social diacritics, which are lacking in the pampa and animals from which the wool comes, are woven," (1986 205).

30. Great ability in a tender culture, Zorn (1987:512-516) says, preserves childlike virtues in its talented adult weavers; her Macusani, Bolivia findings in large part coincide with Verónica Cereceda's in Isluga, Chile, already cited.

31. See particularly Silverman-Proust (1988:7-42).


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END OF:  Columbus, "Human Discourse about Nature; Nature's Processes as Discourse: The Pre-Columbian Peruvian Myth of Cavillaca"

CONTRIBUTED BY: Claudette Columbus
Posted to Arisbe website on November 14, 1998


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