Mythologies of South America

Muisca artefact

South Americans are natural storytellers no matter how far back you go. And they’ve told their stories in all kinds of ways. Through music and dance. Literature and film. Rock carvings and architecture. Even through the things left behind long ago. 
As part of our “Trip of a Lifetime Contest” we’re asking you to tell your story of a trip of a lifetime. The best story will win a trip to South America with Southern Explorations. You can find the full contest details here.
So as you prepare to tell your story, whichever way you want to tell it, we thought we would see if we could help spark some storytelling inspiration by gaining a better understanding of where some of South America and Central America’s oldest and richest stories come from; ancient Indigenous mythologies.  
While mythologies are different from religions, that’s not to say the two never intersect, because they often do. However, mythologies are usually a combination of real events, folklore, regional superstitions and legends that create a wider, but not necessarily interconnected, system of cultural beliefs. Religions, on the other hand, are considered to be more about a devotion to a faith or observance. Just something to keep in mind as we wade into just a few of the deep mythologies from South America.
Chiloté Mythology
A mix of elements from Indigenous religions and beliefs a well as superstitions brought by the Spanish Conquistadors, the Chiloté mythology shows just how important the sea is in the life of the people living in the Chiloté Archipelago. Isolated on the Archipelago, the Chiloté mythology developed independent of the other beliefs in Chile. Central to this mythology is the story of the sea serpents Caicai Vilu and Tenten Vilu, whose legendary battle was what led to the creation of the Archipelago itself. The vast majority of Chiloté mythological beings were said to live in the sea.
Mapuche Mythology
There are no written records of the Mapuche Mythology’s legends or stories prior to the arrival of the Spanish. Theirs is an oral tradition, passed down generation to generation, which means there are a number of variations and versions of their myths. It also incorporates several elements from Argentinian and Chilean folklore. This ancient belief system, common to the various groups that make up the indigenous Mapuche people of Argentina and Chile, tell of the creation of the world and the gods and spirits that inhabit it. Cosmology and the belief that spirits coexist with humans in the natural world are central to the Mapuche Mythology.
Muisca Mythology
Muisca Mythology includes a wide variety of legendary creatures. The legend El Dorado, for instance, has its origins in Muisca Mythology. When the Spanish arrived in Colombia, the Muisca told the story of a mythical tribal chief who covered himself with gold dust then submerged in Lake Guatavita. El Dorada was the term used by the Spanish Empire when they spoke of the legendary chief (it was originally El Hombre Dorado or, in English; the Golden Man). That legend has evolved over time as El Dorado was later said to be a city, then it was a country, and finally, a long lost golden empire, which really demonstrates how stories can take on a whole life of their own through time and tellings, so much so that they can come to have real influence in people’s lives.
Maya Mythology
A wide-ranging mythology that includes all the tales of the Maya packed with personified forces of nature, heroes and gods, Maya Mythology has been largely reconstructed through found iconography and variations of animal tales and folk tales, as well as fables and legends passed down through oral traditions. Some of the broad narratives of the Maya Mythology include stories like The Defeat of the Crocodile, which tells of a crocodile that caused a flood and created the cosmos, or The Monkey Brothers, who created mankind through writing books and sculpting.
Inca Mythology
The motions of the Milky Way as it moved above Cuzco, the Incan center of the world, played a key role in the Incan understanding of their existence. The many stories and legends that comprise the greater Inca Mythology are often quite contradictory to one another. This is because, like the Romans, the Inca permitted the cultures they conquered to keep their individual religions and through the centuries these have been integrated or served overlapping roles. Overall, the Inca Mythology was used to explain natural phenomena, provide moral instruction and convey cultural hierarchy to the people of the empire.