The archeological dig site of the Sican people, with their pottery photoshopped in (pre temple burning, and post).

Today’s guest post is by Alice, who blogs at The Life I am Choosing. She is also an all-star commenter (alliegator) on FMH.

The Sican, or Lambayeque people lived in the area of Lambayeque Peru between 750 and 1375 AD. The artifacts left today paint a picture of a deeply religious culture, dominated by a deity represented by a masked face with upturned eyes. Sometimes the deity is depicted with avian features related to Naylamp, the key figure in Sican mythology. Naylamp was said to be the founder of the first dynasty of kings in the La Leche and Lambayeque valleys. When Naylamp died, he sprouted wings and flew to another world.

Lambayeque is a costal area of Peru, and the Sican deity was closely tied to the ocean and water. Around 1029 AD there was a drought which lasted 30 years. The drought was linked to a failure of the Sican deity to mediate nature for the people. From archeological evidence it appears that when their deity failed them, the people burned the temples and replaced the iconography with representations of their relationships with nature.


Jospeh Campbell described four fuctions of myth (and by myth, he’s not passing judgment on whether it’s true or false, after all, as he said, “Myth is what we call other people’s religion”… we should find what works for us, and “Follow [our] bliss”).

Here is the Cliffs notes version of the four functions of myth:

  • The Metaphysical Function: Myth reconciles waking consciousness and the mystery of being.
  • The Cosmological Function: Myth explains the shape of the universe.
  • The Sociological Function: Myth validates and supports the existing social order.
  • The Psychological Function: Myth guides us through the stages of life.


Campbell believed that to fulfill these functions, myth must continually evolve or it will be unable to address the realities and complexities of modern life, as the Sican people discovered the when their deity failed to protect them from severe drought.  In response, they abandoned their deity and replaced it with something new. I left the country just as the news articles about the current wave of members leaving the church, and the Why Mormons Leave survey results were made public, so I’m a bit late to the party. However, I think that it is important to learn from history if we can. From the survey, some of the big reasons people lose their faith are issues with Joseph Smith, church history, doctrine, prop 8, and womens’ issues.

These (among others) are issues where the church is failing to address the realities and complexities of modern life for many of its members.

  • Is it possible to address these issues without changing fundamental teachings of the gospel?
  • What do you think the church could do to avoid (at least symbolically) going the way of the Sican temple and Diety?

***Thanks to my dad, George Fisher, for his help with this post***