The mountains of the Sierra Madre Occidental, in the north of Jalisco, are inhabited by a mystic and beautiful culture in which enigmatic worlds are created whose recurrent protagonists are suns, moons, trees, labyrinths, spirals, mountains and cosmic oceans that endlessly appear in the art, religion, and customs of the Huicholes. A people whose traditions are kept untouched by external influences through centuries.
If the origin of this fascinating culture is uncertain, what results indisputable is that during the period of the Conquista ( Spanish Conquest), many survivors of diverse indigenous townships fled to the interior of the
Of course, the Huicholes have a very different version of the facts; when a Huichol is asked about his origin, he narrates fantastic stories about how the gods came out of the ocean to then march to the orient of the Sierra. The Huichol beliefs dictate that history is knit in the thread of their countless myths, which is why these are the guidelines that determine social and religious actions of their people.
MAGIC AND COLOR OF THE HUICHOL CULTURE
For the Huichol, the world possesses a sacred dimension, to which the mara'akame (Shaman) penetrates trough sleep, establishing a bond between the two worlds: of the gods and of the profane.
The Huicholes believe that when one of them is sick, it could be due to lack of responsibility towards the gods, then, offerings must be provided trough the Mara'akame (Shaman), to repair the mistake. Other causes of illness in which Huicholes believe are curses and the loss of their soul.
If a Huichol has fallen ill, the Mara'akame must cleanse the patient with a Mubieri which is a wand adorned with colorful string and feathers, while blowing tobacco smoke towards his body, and then suction out with his mouth the object that caused the disease.
When the patient has lost the kupúri (one part of the Huichol soul located on the top of the head) the Mara'akame must go search for it to place it back in its place, but when it has been stolen by a witch, the Mara'akame must face him to get it back.
Due to the importance of the sacred world and its intrinsic relation with the Huichol lifestyle, hundreds of stories are expressed in their art, stories that narrate the mythology and cosmogony of this fascinating culture.
All the Huichol crafts that are not oriented to commercial ends are created to narrate diverse religious experiences of their authors, becoming fantastic pieces of beautiful colors and unimaginable figures that can be conceived in the mind of the Huichol artist alone.
It is believed that the ancestors of the Huicholes never kept contact with the great empires of the times before the Conquista, and still nowadays penetrating their world is an almost impossible task
The Huichol people are still struggling to stay away of the external influence, blocking the settlement of mixed races in their communities and encouraging marriages between members of the group or with people belonging to other indigene towns; regardless of the difficult access, that has caused the construction of landing strips in diverse communities, once they get to them there is a collision with a world where wood is still the most important fuel, where water is still drawn from wells and the houses are built of adobe, stones covered in mud and thatched roofs; a world in which the three first years of school are taught by the same professor, or where education is provided by a Franciscan mission.
A world where agriculture, fishing and hunting are practiced for self consumption, where the land is still worked with stakes and oxen.
To penetrate the Huichol community is to stand before the doors of a fantastic world of ancestral traditions that have been preserved trough time.
The 22,000 inhabitants occupy the Sierra Madre Occidental in the states of Jalisco and Nayarit, and a minority the states of Zacatecas and Durango.
Their language is related to the Náhuatl, Pima, Yaqui, Cora and Tepehuano.
Formerly, the Huicholes wore only white and blue. Now their attire varies from one place to another, and their garments are often made in colorful fabrics.
The feminine attire is a short blouse in one color, to cover their head they wear a cloth with flowers, they wear an underskirt and bead necklaces.
Men wear canvas pants and the shirt is made of the same material, and the sleeves are open on the bottom.
These garments are elaborated in symmetric designs with colorful patterns. They also wear a palm hat with bead ornaments and worsted yarn, each man carries small rucksack; they wear sandals and the older children dress like their parents and the younger are usually semi naked.
They also wear a quadrangular cloak folded in half on their shoulders; sometimes they wear earrings and bead bracelets to tie their shirts to the waist.
The Huicholes have a cheerful, friendly and communicative nature, they are very proud of their cultural wealth.
During their festivities they paint their faces with drawings that are symbolic to them; it is the men who wear the most ornaments in their clothes.
The Tatohuani is the main traditional authority, who must have complete knowledge of the traditions and take care of the economic issues.
The ruler must have a good personality, be a good listener and also be articulate.
He does not receive any payment or salary and while ruling he will neglect his personal affairs.
The major or Arkariti by general rule must sit to the right of the Tatohuani to assist him in arguments.
They use peyote as a source of energy and a connection with the supernatural, it is also used to heal and in festivities. The Shamans eat it before diagnosing or healing.
They are aware of the healing properties of some plants, which they use to make medicinal infusions.
The handcrafts of the Huichol or Wixaritari people, established mostly in the states of Nayarit, Jalisco and Zacatecas, are known by the force of their bright colors and their exotic shapes, most of them related to the sun, the stars, the deer (their sacred animal) and peyote, their magical plant.
Few people know that when they acquire a Huichol piece or a picture designed with bright threads, “Eyes of God”, bracelets, necklaces, blouses, shirts, underwear or knapsacks they are acquiring objects with a magical and religious contents for their physical and spiritual protection.
One “Eye of God” is equivalent to one year in the life of a child, and every year after their initiation in the Festivity of the Drum, the father must elaborate one more, so the child will always be protected, until age five.
These amulets come together to integrate a cosmic tree, that must be thrown into the ocean in a sacred place that the Wixaritari have in San Blas.
The Huicholes identify the peyote with a deer, and they go out on an annual quest for hikuri. These journeys end in Wirikuta, a region close to Real de Catorce in San Luis Potosí. In the Huichol geography Wirikuta is the center of the world, the place of the ancestor gods, the place where the life of the tribe is originated.
Not long ago their ancestors used to walk about 300 kilometers to get there. Although at present most of the journey is by car, the trip is still long and tedious.
An experienced Mara'kame or Shaman, that is in contact with Tatewari (Our Grandfather the Fire) is who leads the journey.
Tatewari, also known as Hikuri, the peyote god, is the Huichol deity with the most antiquity.
Tatewari lead the first peyote pilgrimage to Wikiruta and the participants followed his steps so they could find their life.
The preparation to undertake the hunt includes ritual confession, fasting and purification.
When they arive at the sacred mountains of the Wikiruta the pilgrims receive a ritual bath
and then pray for fertility and rain; afterwards the Shaman initiates a series of ceremonial practices, he tells stories about the ancient tradition of the peyote, he also invokes protection for future events and leads the participants to the cosmic gates where only he can see the prints of the deer.
When he finds the peyote, he throws a spear into the cactus. Then they make an offering and everybody goes looking for more peyote which is placed in baskets in order to be shared with the ones that stayed home or to be sold to the Coras and Tarahumaras that, although they use peyote, they do not search for it.
At nightfall, the ritual in which the peyote hunters make contact with the First People takes place.
They place four arrows pointing towards the four cardinal points and at midnight a fire is lit.
The Shaman blesses the tobacco touching it with feathers before distributing it among the participants. After smoking the tobacco, each one of them eats between eight and thirteen wedges of hikuri.
They all light candles and mutter prayers while the Shaman communicates with the elements and manages the kupuri (life energy). The “dangerous transit to the other world begins”
This step has two stages: “the first one is the bridge leading towards the clouds and the second one, the separation of the clouds. This does not represent a place on Earth, it belongs to the geography of the mind, for the participants, going from one stage to another is an event filled with emotion…the peyote hunt is the return to Wikiruta, heaven, the archetypical beginning and ending of a mythological past”.
A Huichol Shaman seeks contact with divinity in order to obtain visions from the past that allow him to acquire knowledge to lead his life and help others.
Their ultímate goal is a clear example of wisdom: to stop contacting the divine trough peyote, as long as it lives inside him.
The consumption of peyote was harshly punished by the Holy Inquisition in 1617.
In 1720 it is forbidden in México and in 1997, representatives of 22 ethnic groups request the legalization of the use of plants and ritual animals and demand the end of their pursuit, being accused of drug trafficking.
Peyote has many uses in traditional medicine: to treat influenza, arthritis, diabetes, intestinal disorders, snake bites, scorpion bites, and Datura poisoning.
The Tarahumaras consume small amounts of peyote to fight hunger, thirst and fatigue when hunting or when they pursue a deer for days without food, water or any rest, for it is believed to relieve the pain.