The Gentle Art of Myth Management

In the introduction to the new edition of Fingerprints of the Gods (2001) Graham Hancock declares that:

…the strongholds of Fingerprints of the Gods lie in its analysis of mythology…

He goes on to conclude by stating proudly:

In none of these strongholds has the book ever been attacked, let alone proved wrong, and it is on these strongholds, ultimately, that I rest my case.

Yet as readers of this article will soon discover Hancock’s interpretation of mythology is not constructed on the firm foundations he leads his readers to believe it is. Indeed some will be surprised to discover that Hancock’s own sources on mythology often directly contradict his claims. It is perhaps for this reason that nobody has bothered to attack his analysis of mythology as when your own sources disprove the claims being made there seems little point in providing a rebuttal to them.

The orthodox conviction that the early Spanish chroniclers supplanted their Christian influences on the myths of the Inca has been well documented in Katherine Reece’s article The Spanish Imposition. However it is possible that Hancock may have been unaware of this vital information whilst writing Fingerprints of the Gods.

From Chapter 9 of Fingerprints of the Gods:

During my travels in the Andes I had several times re-read a curious variant of the mainstream tradition of Viracocha. In this variant, which was from the area around Lake Titicaca known as the Collao, the deity civilizing-hero had been named Thunupa: Thunupa appeared on the Altiplano in ancient times, coming from the north with five disciples. A white man of august presence, blue-eyed and bearded, he was sober, puritanical and preached against drunkenness, polygamy and war. [1]

On the same page of Fingerprints of the Gods Hancock also quotes:

They put his blessed body in a boat of totora rush and set it adrift on Lake Titicaca. There …he sailed away with such speed that those who had tried so cruelly to kill him were left behind in terror and astonishment – for this lake has no current … The boat came to the shore at Cochamarca, where today is the river Desguardero. Indian tradition asserts that the boat struck the land with such force it created the river Desguardero, which before then did not exist. And on the water so released the holy body was carried many leagues away to the sea coast at Arica…

Hancock’s referenced source in both cases is p. 87 of South American Mythology by Harold Osborne. [2] He also refers extensively to this book in support of his presentation of native Andean mythology in Chapters 5, 6, 7 and 9 of Fingerprints of the Gods. If we look at pages 86-87 of South American Mythology on the Thunupa legend we can compare what Hancock has chosen to quote in Fingerprints of the Gods (highlighted in bold) with what Osborne actually wrote.

From pages 86-87 of South American Mythology:

Thunupa The mythological cycle of the Collao also contains stories of a culture hero, the bringer of civilisation and an advanced social code. He is variously named Thunupa, Tonapa and Taapac. Although a fair amount is told about him, it is excessively difficult to disentangle for several reasons. First, many of his activities are elsewhere attributed to the creator-god Viracocha and no clear distinction of function is made between them. Second, the official Inca syncretistic mythology arrogated to the founders of the Inca dynasty the attributes of a culture hero and sought to heighten the prestige of the dynasty by connecting its origin with Titicaca and the Collao. Thus the Thunupa myth was conflated with the myth of Inca origins. Thirdly, much of our information about the myth comes from the researches of the Augustinian Fathers (themselves by no means lacking in credulity), and in particular Antonio de la Calancha’s Crónica moralizada del orden de San Augustín en el Perú, which was published in 1638.

Indian legend was still plastic and creative during the Colonial period and there is no doubt that many of the attributes ascribed to Thunupa in the stories preserved by Calancha were assimilated to the stories told by the Fathers to the Indians about the Apostles. Even Salcamayhua and Guamán Poma de Ayala were Christian converts. The former identifies Thunupa with St Thomas and the latter with St Bartholomew. So the persona of Thunupa acquires a twofold character in the stories. On the one hand he is the acme of loving kindness and invites martyrdom. On the other hand when he is angered or rejected he punishes the guilty ones by turning them to stone or drowning them in a flood. The myth runs as follows.

Thunupa appeared on the Altiplano in ancient times, coming from the north with five disciples. He was a [white] man of august presence, blue eyed, bearded, without headgear and wearing a cusma, a jerkin or sleeveless shirt reaching to the knees. He was sober, puritanical and preached against drunkenness, polygamy and war. He first came carrying a large wooden cross on his back to Carapucu, the capital of the famous chief Makuri, and reproved the latter for his warlike deeds and his cruelty. Makuri took no account of him, but the priests and soothsayers set up an opposition to him. Thunupa then went to Sicasica, where his preaching annoyed the people and they set fire to the house where he was sleeping. Escaping from the fire, Thunupa returned to Carapucu. But during his absence one of his disciples had fallen in love with and converted the daughter of Makuri, and on his return Thunupa had her baptised. Angered at this Makuri martyred the disciples and left Thunupa for dead. Calancha then takes up the story:

They put his blessed body in a boat of totora rush and set it adrift on Lake Titicaca. [Totora is a strong rush which grows on the shores of Lake Titicaca. The Indians fashion it into bundles from which they still make their boats.] There the gentle waters served him for oars and the soft winds for pilot, and he sailed away with such speed that those who had tried so cruelly to kill him were left behind in terror and astonishment. For this lake has no current… The boat came to the shore at Cochamarca, where today is the river Desguardero. Indian tradition asserts that the boat struck the land with such force it created the river Desguardero, which before then did not exist. And on the water so released the holy body was carried many leagues away to the sea coast at Arica.

Hancock has selectively quoted specific words from Osborne’s text without indicating that he has omitted other parts of it. He has also introduced the word “white” to describe Thunupa – a word that does not even appear in Osborne’s version of the myth. However, these discrepancies are only minor ones when compared with what else Hancock has done here, as clearly the context of this myth has not been mentioned at all when it was used by him in Fingerprints of the Gods.

Hancock makes absolutely no mention of Osborne’s conviction that the Spanish missionaries that wrote down this myth introduced their own Catholic influences to it. By omitting text from Calancha’s version of the myth we are not told anything about Thunupas disciples, of his wooden cross or of his habit of practising baptism which are all certainly Christian influences added by the Spanish writers. As the Spanish authors of this myth associated Thunupa with the Catholic saints, St Thomas and St Bartholomew, it is also hardly surprising they described Thunupa as being characteristically European (blue-eyed and bearded).

It would seem that Hancock is unable to trust that his own readers are able to read the full version of the myth from Osborne’s book and come to the same conclusion that he himself reaches. He therefore suppresses the Christian elements clearly laid out in Osborne’s account, an account which Hancock states he had re-read “several times.” Only by doing this can he present Thunupa as an entirely native Andean myth about a foreign civilizer of extremely ancient times. In fact the myth, as Osborne stresses is clearly considered to be a product of the colonial period and of Spanish Christian beliefs. Hancock has therefore severely misrepresented what was in his referenced source.

It is conceivable that Hancock disagrees with Osborne and considers that the Thunupa myth was not deeply influenced by the Catholic missionaries who transcribed it. Yet he does not supply a single counter-argument to Osborne’s conviction that the myth was thus influenced. Indeed Hancock makes no mention whatsoever of Osborne’s comments on the myth of Thunupa in his presentation of it, even though he cites Osborne as his source. Hancock may have bizarrely come to his own conclusion having read Osborne’s version himself, but is it fair for him to make the decision to keep from his readers all aspects of the myth that contradict his own beliefs?

Furthermore many different myths about Viracocha are reproduced in South American Mythology which do not describe his physical features as being bearded, white or blue-eyed. It is only in the myths that originated from the Collao region that describe Thunupa (or Viracocha) like this and these claims can be attributed to the influence of the work of the Catholic missionaries. This is explained clearly by Osborne on p.37 of South American Mythology:

… there is no doubt that from the very early years of the Conquest the local mythology and legends were conflated with and coloured by the Christian teachings of the missionaries. This is particularly noticeable with the Thunupa legends which were gathered somewhat later by Spanish missionaries who had settled on the Altiplano.

If Hancock has read Osborne’s book (and considering how much of South American Mythology Hancock references [3] he must have) then he certainly should have been aware of this and drawn his own reader’s attention to it. Instead Hancock has chosen to quote selectively from this one particular description of Thunupa, itself clearly the result of Spanish influence, and to use it as suggestive of a mysterious foreign influence on Andean culture in very ancient times. Given what Osborne actually wrote about it, the myth cannot support any such notion.

In Chapter 5 of Fingerprints of the Gods Hancock states:

Other accounts of Viracocha likened his appearance to that of the Saint Thomas. [4]

Hancock once again refers to Osborne’s book (p.81) as his source for this information. But on this page Osborne doesn’t state that Viracocha resembled St Thomas at all. Instead the text clearly states that he was St Thomas. Osborne is quoting from Juan de Santa Cruz Pachacuti-Yamqui Salcamayhua: An account of the Antiquities of Peru which states:

He was called Thunupa Viracochanipachan, but surely he was the glorious apostle St Thomas.

Hancock may well believe that the Spanish chroniclers attributed the legends of Thunupa to their own saints (St Thomas and St Bartholomew) because the descriptions given to them by the Indians were similar but Osborne doesn’t suggest or infer this at all. Instead Osborne indicates that the influence of these missionaries on the transcribed myths would suggest that they could not be used as a reliable source. Certainly these myths should not be used to reach the bold conclusions that Hancock arrives at as they are clearly contradicted by the source that he is quoting from.

In Chapter 15 of Heavens Mirror Hancock again refers the reader to quotes from South American Mythology:

In this aspect, exactly like the Mexican civilizing deity Quetzalcoatl, he was emphatically described as: ’a white man …. blue-eyed and bearded …. of large stature and authoritative demeanour … In many places he gave men instructions how they should live …’ [5]

In this instance the reference is to p.74 of South American Mythology. But again Hancock has made errors in quoting from his source as there is absolutely no mention of anybody being “blue-eyed and bearded” on this page although Osborne does quote from Cieza de León:

After this had happened they say that there suddenly appeared, coming from the south, a white man of large stature and authoritative demeanour.

And later on the same page and still from Cieza de León:

They say that in many places he gave men instructions how they should live, speaking to them with great love and kindness and admonishing them to be good and to do no damage or injury one to another, but to love one another and show charity to all.

Again Hancock omits the parts of the myth that suggest the influence of Catholicism in its transcription when he quotes it in his own book. Also he fails to inform his readers that it is accepted that the Spanish writers influenced these myths when they translated and recorded them from the Andean indians.

This misrepresentation of mythology in Hancock’s books does not come as any great surprise to this author. After all, Hancock has also managed to misinterpret Jane Sellers’ work on the introduction of precessional numbers into the Osiris myth. Despite Sellers’ having concluded that the number 72 was introduced into this myth by the Ancient Greeks, Hancock had managed to use Sellers’ work to oddly conclude that this was introduced by the Ancient Egyptians!

Trusting readers rightly assume that authors do not mislead them deliberately. In acting as he has done, Hancock has severely breached that relationship of trust. It would seem that Graham Hancock is at liberty to quote selectively from any source he chooses, even if what he writes in his own books contradicts the very source he is quoting from. Readers of this article are asked to consider whether they should accept this standard of research.


[1] G.Hancock, Fingerprints of the Gods, Arrow 1998 (1995)

[2] Hamlyn Publishing Group Ltd, 1968.

[3] Hancock quotes from pages 44, 61, 72, 74, 76, 78, 79, 81, 82 and 87 of South American Mythology in Fingerprints of the Gods and pages 61 and 74 in Heaven’s Mirror.

[4] G.Hancock, op cit, p 48

[5] G.Hancock and S.Faiia, Heaven’s Mirror, Penguin, 1999 (1998), p 275

Graham Hancock here.