HUICHOLS OF MEXICO PART TWO: SHAMANISM AND ART
The Huichol (pronounced wē-ˈchōl in English) of Mexico are an indigenous tribe of people with a unique and fascinating culture. In PART ONE we were introduced to who the Huichol are, where they came from, and why their culture is so very special. In PART TWO we will learn more about this intriguing people with concentration on their practice of Shamanism and their amazing Art which sets them apart from many other indigenous cultures. I hope you enjoy this visit with the very interesting and unique Huichol people of Mexico.
SHAMANISM: Shamanism (/ˈʃɑːmən/ shah-mən or /ˈʃeɪmən/ shay-mən) is a practice that involves a practitioner reaching altered states of consciousness in order to encounter and interact with the spirit world and channel these transcendental energies into this world. A shaman is a person regarded as having access to, and influence in, the world of benevolent and malevolent spirits, who typically enters into a trance state during a ritual, and practices divination and healing.
Shamanism is an ancient healing tradition and most importantly, a way of life. It is a way to connect with nature and all of creation. It is thought the word "shaman" originates from the Tungus tribe in Siberia. Anthropologists coined this term and have used it to refer to the spiritual and ceremonial leaders among indigenous cultures worldwide. The word shamanism can be used to describe the ancient spiritual practices of these indigenous cultures.
The Huichol religion is intricate and elaborate and difficult to separate from social and political practices. The Huichol way of life is rich with ceremonial practices. There are specific ceremonies for the four seasons, which are intended to bring balance and harmony to each individual, the community and all of life. The ceremonies are a time for the people to come together and focus on the spirit world, this normally hidden universe that runs parallel to our world. The shamans work to bridge these two worlds in order to bring “kupuri” or life force into the bodies and souls of the people. They say that this in turn imparts good health and good luck to all.
The primary event in Huichol religious practice is the peyote hunt, an annual pilgrimage that acts out a desire to return to the source of all life and heal oneself. For the hunt, Huichol travel 300 miles to Wirikuta, a site sacred to the Huichol high in the mountains of central Mexico. In Huichol mythology it is believed the world was created in Wirikuta and the pilgrimage traces the journey of the original Ancient Ones of the tribe.
Like many indigenous American groups, Huichols have traditionally used the peyote (hikuri) cactus in religious rituals. Huichol practices seem to reflect pre-Colombian practices particularly accurately. These rituals involve singing, weeping, and contact with ancestor spirits.
Huichol rituals involve the hallucinogenic cactus known as peyote in both English and Spanish. Due to the desire for outsiders to use this traditional plant for personal recreational uses, the Mexican government with the help of international organizations, has input laws allowing for its use in religious practices only and any other use or possession can be a crime worthy of ten to twenty-five years in prison.
In Huichol art the Huichol express their deepest religious feelings and beliefs from a lifetime of participation in ceremonies and rituals. Huichol art also reflects shamanic tradition documenting age-old worship and wisdom surviving into modern times.
Through their artwork, the Huichol encode and document their spiritual knowledge. Their artwork expresses their deepest religious feelings and beliefs acquired through a lifetime of participation in ceremonies and rites. From the time they are children, Huichol learn how to communicate with the spirit world through symbols and rituals. Thus for the Huichol, yarn painting is much more than mere artistic expression. Like icons, they are documents of ancient wisdom.
The Nieli’ka (aka Nierika) was the predecessor and inspiration for the creation of Huichol yarn paintings which became offerings to their spirit gods. Over a period of time their yarn paintings became more than just simple creations. They became extraordinary works of art as the Huichol became more adept at expressing their religious beliefs and culture. Each individual Huichol artisan develops his or her own personal style with each yarn painting being truly unique and personal.
Although the sale of their folk art is now an important means of financial survival, Huichol art is deeply symbolic and these “votive paintings" are petitions to the gods. Huichol yarn painting is a traditional artistic technique that is used for recording dreams, visions, myths, and the innermost personal prayers of the artists. The most common motifs are related to the three most important elements in Huichol religion: the deer, corn, and peyote. The first two are important as primary sources of food and the last is valued for its hallucinogenic properties which give shamans visions.
A section of the amazing work created by the great Huichol artist Santos de la Torre Santiago
Yarn paintings originated from votive objects the Huichols create as ceremonial offerings. The small wax and yarn votive objects are made as prayers to depict the desires of the people and their families. After the ceremonies they are taken to far off sacred places and left for the gods and goddesses. Beginning approximately forty years ago the yarn painting evolved to its current well-developed state from the Nierika. The larger paintings, made by Huichol artists for sale, utilize the same technique for placing strands of yarn onto a thin surface of beeswax mixed with pine resin that has been spread onto a wooden board. It is a meticulous and time consuming art form that may be a successor to the feather working techniques of the Huichol ancestors, the Aztecs.
Perhaps the most recognizable type of Huichol art is the nieli’ka, or yarn painting (like the one shown here). In traditional Huichol communities nieli’kas are important ritual artifacts. They’re usually small square or round tablets covered on one or both sides with a mixture of beeswax and pine resin into which threads of yarn are pressed. Nieli’kas are found in most Huichol sacred places such as house shrines (xiriki), temples, springs, and caves.
Some Huichol shaman-artists have acquired fame and commercial success. Go to the following link for the work and life of the acclaimed Huichol yarn painter José Benítez Sánchez: JOSE BENITEZ SANCHEZ
Huichol yarn painting with traditional symbols and motifs by José Benítez Sánchez
Urus, or prayer arrows, are ceremonial arrows created to be shot into the air in order to petition the gods for special blessings.
A “kuka” is a three dimensional ceremonial mask which is decorated by beading. These masks evolved from small gourd bowls originally covered in seeds, bone, clay, coral and shell. Kuka masks are now covered by commercially produced beads. It is from these masks that the modern practice of covering wooden sculptures of snakes, dolls, small animals, jaguar heads and other forms is derived.
One of the most successful of the Huichol beading handicrafts is the very popular wrist bands or bracelets. Not only are they wonderfully colorful, but they most often include traditional Huichol motifs and symbols. The selection of designs with Huichol symbols and motifs seem endless and they are definitely fun to wear!
A documentary about a the great Huichol artist, Santos de la Torre Santiago, and the mythology, religion and ecology that form his art and life.
Detail of mural by Santos de la Torre Santiago - see information below:
"Shamanic art by the indigenous Huichol people in Mexico provides a gateway to the spirit world, right in the Paris metro. Leave Palais-Royal Musée du Louvre station and head towards the Carrousel du Louvre, where another world awaits you. The spirits do seem to be speaking in the 1997 mural created by shaman and artist Santos de la Torre Santiago. The work is composed of 80 panels, measuring 30 x 30 cm and covered in two million 2-millimeter beads.
It depicts major Huichol gods, ancestors, stars, and flora and fauna of Huichol lands in a horizontal triptych of the underground world, the earth and the sky. The artist and his family are Huichols, an indigenous community from Santa Catarina in the Mexican state of Jalisco. Life in this nearly inaccessible mountain region has enabled the Huichol people to protect their religious and social traditions, language, trades and customs." Source: http://metro.paris/en/place/palais-royal-musee-du-louvre-station
- wishing you well and safe travels!
I remember hearing many years ago that a picture is worth a thousand words. Those words definitely contributed to and inspired me in the creation of MEXICO AND BEYOND: LAURA'S PHOTO JOURNEY. Below you will find my WEB ALBUM which has additional photos for this posting. When you open the Web Album you will be able to view it as a SLIDE SHOW.
I sincerely appreciate hearing from my readers with their questions, comments, and suggestions. Until then, gracias and safe travels! Laura
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