Huichol

Huichol – The Mara’akate (sing. mara’akame) of the Huichol (Wixárika, pl. Wixáritari), in the central Mexican Sierra Madre Occidental, make an annual pilgrimage of hundreds of miles into the Wirikùta Desert, the ancestral homeland, in order to harvest the peyote cactus. The shamans “hunt” the peyote in the form of a deer, firing prayer arrows at the cactus so that it may be safely harvested. The peyote is crucial to ritual life, allowing shamans to “see with our hearts,” and this dynamic maintains harmony between human and other-than-human persons. Peyote visions are recorded in vibrantly colored yarn paintings, which entered the art market in the 1970s and can fetch high prices. The creation myth about the first shaman describes how jealous male shamans dismembered Takutsi Nakawe in order to steal her power. Recalling this myth aids understanding of the gendered reality of Huichol shamanic work: today both men and women may become shamans, but men take public roles while women are more secretive for fear of sorcery. Dreams are crucial: for Huichol living in the sierra (rather than close to towns and cities), for instance, the governor and tribal authorities are chosen through the dreams of shamans. Shamans also preside over rituals marking the annual cycle of rainy and dry seasons. Shamans may be marked out from birth, chosen due to a prolonged illness, or their proclivity for smoking the sacred tobacco in childhood can be a sign of future shamanhood, while those who choose to become shamans are perceived to have the most difficult path. Over a five-year apprenticeship, the chaste initiate observes dreams and interprets these with the assistance of an elder shaman, often a family member.

Huichol ethnography, by which the Huichol themselves were exposed to a wider audience, was pioneered by Barbara Myerhoff and Peter Furst, who worked with the shaman Ramón Medina Silva. Jay Fikes draws attention to problematic areas of the “Delgado-FurstMyerhoff collaboration,” including uncanny resemblances between the exploits of Carlos Castaneda’s (fictional) Don Juan and their own informants. Fikes also examines the negative impact that popularization by “Castaneda partisans” of Huichol shamanism has had on the Indians. Their work, along with that of Castaneda, brought psychedelic-experience seekers from North America in the 1960s, who disrupted local lifeways. Following in the wake of Furst, Myerhoff, and Castaneda, such contemporary shamans as Brant Secunda and Prem Das are now offering teachings in Huichol shamanism across the world. One positive effect is financial remuneration to the Huichol via the profits of Secunda’s Dance of the Deer Center for Shamanic Studies. Secunda and Prem Das have nonetheless rewritten native practices for a global and New Age market: Secunda conducts vision quests and expensive pilgrimages (to Alaska, parts of Europe, and other “exotic” locations), while Prem Das, a disciple of Hari Das Baba, has blended yoga with the Huichol traditions he learned from Huichol shaman Don José.

SOURCE:

Historical Dictionary of Shamanism by Graham Harvey and Robert J. Wallis 2007

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