The question people most frequently ask is also the most important:
What does the Patecte mean?
Bird-serpent-feline: If you saw that combination of symbols in a dream, what would it signify?
A needed change in values? Good fortune? Impending disaster?
Our working assumption:
The Patecte welled up from the realm of archetypes, i.e., universal, archaic patterns and images in the collective unconscious of humanity. They are inherited potentials – the psychic equivalent of instincts. The serpent, bird and feline are classic examples of archetypes.
The psychoanalyst C.G. Jung was the foremost pioneer in the theory and research of archetypes. He concluded that they are fundamentally the same in all times and places; however, different cultures develop archetypes differently. We will return to this all-important point.
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To find the Patecte´s meaning, we start at the beginning:
What did the Patecte signify to the people who created it, the Pre-Columbian Cañaris?
Is it possible for us to know or appreciate what they thought and felt? Being an agricultural, local community-based society in which life was short and natural disaster long, their universe was a universe away from ours.
Nothing illustrates better the gulf between us than equinoxes.
I would venture to say that less than 1% of urbanized Westerners can tell you what an equinox is.
To the contrary, Pre-Columbian cultures attached vital importance to equinoxes. They worshiped them. Solstices, too.
Their lives were determined by them.
An equinox happens when the plane of the earth passes through the middle of the sun. In other words, during an equinox the sun´s east-west arc moves directly around the equator. It happens twice a year, roughly on March 20 and September 23.
Look again at those days. If you live in the northern hemisphere, March 20 tells you that warmer weather is coming. September 23 warns you winter is around the corner.
Those two days mean exactly the opposite in the southern hemisphere. The difference is due to the earth´s tilt on its axis. The attached graph sums it up: no tilt, no seasons.
In ancient agricultural societies, equinoxes were life-or-death events. if you plant too soon or too late, the results can be – and often were – calamitous for your people.
But how did the ancients know when an equinox was occurring?
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My ten-year-old neighbor has a potted plant that needs light but not direct sun. She noticed she had to keep moving the plant to keep it in the shade. The reason is the sun´s arc around the earth shifts as the earth travels around the sun.
Yes, the sun always rises in the east and sets in the west. However, no two successive sunrises/sunsets occur in exactly the same locations. As did my neighbor, Pre-Columbian peoples noticed changes in the sun´s position and associated them with other things -- warm weather, freezing, longer and shorter days, snow.
I have often wondered how many years – centuries? – how many famines, deaths, how much suffering it took them to figure out something which surely can be accounted among humanity´s greatest discoveries.
Given all their trials and tribulations, it should come as no surprise ancient societies worshiped the sun.
As noted, in equinoxes the sun is directly above the equator. That means on March 20 and September 23 the sun rises due east and sets due west. Also, days and nights have (roughly) the same length. So crucial were equinoxes that Pre-Columbian peoples laid out pathways and built monuments and other structures to tell them when an equinox was taking place.
El Castillo (Mayan) in Chichen Itzá is perhaps the most widely known and visited Pre-Columbian equinox edifice.
Cuenca, Ecuador has an excellent example of a Pre-Columbian construct to detect an equinox. I attached an image to show what happened to it. More on that shortly.
Cuenca was founded on the ruins of an Inca city, Tomebamba, which in turn was founded on the Cañari center, Guapdondelec. 1,500 years ago, long before the Incas or Spanish arrived, the Cañaris made a passageway running due east and due west. It told them when an equinox occurred because the sun rose and set exactly on the path´s opposite ends.
After defeating the Inca Empire, the Spaniards let Cañari leaders participate in the foundation of the city of Cuenca in 1557. The Spaniards were concerned only with the traditional Greco-Roman grid pattern of streets. They let the Cañaris dictate the direction of the grid which meant little or nothing to the Spaniards – but meant everything to the Cañaris...
Given the deadly implications of seasonal changes for ancient agricultural societies, it is to be expected that the Cañaris would attach mystical properties to equinoxes. It was also inevitable that their mythology and their hard-earned experiences with planetary alignments would come together. Astronomy and astrology met, shook hands.
The Cañaris associated equinoxes with a gigantic serpent, Pachamama. Their mother of all things, including the Cañaris, Pachamama disappeared into a lake.
That narrative no doubt seems bizarre to Western readers; however, there are similar myths in other cultures.
Chinese people, for example, see themselves as descendants of a dragon, a reptilian creature that they associate not with a fire-breathing monster but with good fortune, power, happiness. Dragons are said to live on the bottom of lakes, rivers, seas.
For the Mayan equivalent story of a great serpent, please watch a video on El Castillo here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q0kOyGZxKh4
In the founding of Cuenca, the Spanish made the ancient Cañari passageway into a street, Santa Ana.
Known locally as the oldest street in Cuenca, Santa Ana was closed off for 50 years. Local bickering was the cause. In 2016, it was reopened to the public; I attended the ceremony. What I saw shocked me; however, it should not have done so...
Today, with our GPS system telling us where we are and need to go, due east and due west have lost their place as a need-to-know element in the everyday world where we live and work. Nobody I know can tell you where those directions are.
Directions, equinoxes, solstices…Today in our heated homes and air-conditioned comfort and crops grown year-round in green-houses, at best we give only passing attention to what were decisive, magical points in the lives of our ancestors.
No wonder it is difficult for us to understand the ancient Cañaris and other Pre-Columbian civilizations.
No wonder the street of Santa Ana, which was once vital to the lives of thousands of people, today is an alley. Ignored. A faint curiosity.
No wonder the Patecte – the creation of an agrarian noncapitalist universe – seems inscrutable.
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Dr. Juan Chacón Zhapán, historian and member of our Patecte search team, analyzed in depth the Patecte in terms of the sun and equinoxes and their connection to Cañari myths. I read his book “Guacha Opari Pampa” twice. He has a lot more to say about the Patecte and will do so in our documentary.
We have stated elsewhere that the Patecte holds a key to economic development. I will save that discussion mostly for the documentary, but will note here that the Patecte was clearly, for the ancient agrarian world that created it, through and through an entity with an essential economic dimension. I can think of no better way to underline it than to note that the Patecte is frequently referred to The Cañari Calendar.
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Although it is extremely difficult today to understand the ancient Patecte, it is not impossible.
Something other than equinoxes is involved...
Serpent, bird, feline... Yes, on the one hand, Western European and Cañari cultures developed those archetypes differently.
On the other hand, the Patecte archetypes have not changed fundamentally in thousands of years.
At the end of the day, that Jungian premise leaves us with this question:
What does the Patecte mean to us here, now?