Thursday, November 26, 2015


A vibrant and impressive 4 x 6' yarn painting created by Huichol artist Martin Benitez has been donated to Vallarta Botanical Gardens by the family of Isabel Jordan. Thank you for sharing!

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 practises 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 practises of these indigenous cultures. 

Representation of the god Kauyumari (Blue Deer)
The religious faith of the Huichols is based on the veneration of the Blue Deer, Corn, Peyote and the Eagle, all descended from their Sun God, "Tao Jreeku." Most Huichols retain the traditional beliefs and are resistant to change. Peyote is ritually gathered each year on a long pilgrimage to the desert area of San Luis Potosí where the people are said to have originated and which is used by the shamans. The importance of this and the pantheon of gods is seen in their stylistic representations on just about everything that the Huichol decorate. They did not have a written language until recently and consequently these symbols were and are the primary form of preserving the ceremonies, myths and beliefs of their ancient Huichol religion.

The Huichol religion is intricate and elaborate and difficult to separate from social and political practises. The Huichol way of life is rich with ceremonies. 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.


One of the most important of the Huichol ceremonies is the “Dance of the Deer.” This ceremony offers the chance for people to dance their prayers into the altar of Mother Earth. It is also a way to connect with the Deer Spirit, probably the most important of the Huichol animal powers. Huichols have traditionally believed that in rituals they interact with the primal ancestor spirits of fire, deer, and other elements of the natural world.

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 ceremonies and rituals seem to reflect pre-Colombian practices particularly accurately. These rituals involve singing, weeping, and contact with ancestor spirits.

When the pilgrims arrive at Wirikuta they ritually cleanse themselves and then start the search for the sacred peyote. During the night the pilgrims each eat from the sacred peyote plant and experience visions. Because of the visions and effects of the plant, the shaman is able to speak to the gods and ensure the regeneration of the Huichols' souls. Peyote is central to their beliefs because it allows the shaman to contact the gods. They collect enough peyote for a year’s supply which is taken back to their village. The pilgrimage can be done several times in one’s life and is regarded as a privilege.

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 practice only and any other use or possession can be a crime worthy of ten to twenty-five years in prison.

It has gotten harder and harder for the indigenous to find their sacred plant and they have had to ask for intervention from the Mexican government to protect a section of their trail. As stated by Pedro Medellin, the head of a government study on peyote population in Huichol sacred areas, "If peyote disappears, then their whole culture disappears."

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 "Ojo de Dios or God's Eye" is the name commonly given to the Huichol artifact which is known as a Sikuli or Nieli’ka (aka Nierika) in Huichol culture and which means "the power to see and understand things unknown." The sikuli is actually a special type of nierika that is also called a Huichol cross. The nierika, in ritual use, is a face: of the sun, of the earth, of a deer, the wind, the peyote, and the face of the person making the offering. The nierika is also a "gate or portal" that facilitates entry into other states of consciousness or the "spiritual world." For the Huichol there are five directions, each of the cardinal points and the fifth, the central point or “eye” is the spiritual, source of visions, power and enlightenment.

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.

Image result for images huichol ojos de dios

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.

Acclaimed Huichol yarn painter José Benítez Sánchez

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

Huichol art includes the most traditional and the most recent innovations in the folk art and handcrafts produced by the Huichol people. The unifying factor of the work is the colorful decoration using symbols and designs which date back centuries. The most common and commercially successful Huichol folk art after “yarn paintings” are objects decorated with small colorful beads.

The Huichol have a long history of beading.  This tradition included the making of beads from clay, shells, corals, seeds and other material and using them to make jewelry, decorative bowls, and ceremonial objects. Now the Huichols have access to glass beads of many colors. "Modern” Huichol bead work includes masks and wood sculptures, including animals, which are covered in small, brightly colored commercial beads fastened with wax and resin. Like all Huichol art, the bead work depicts the prominent patterns and symbols featured in the Huichol religion.

What mostly links the yarn paintings and beaded objects made today is the continuance of the traditional patterns used for centuries to represent and communicate with the gods. The use of commercial materials has allowed for the production of more elaborate designs and brighter colors as well as more flexibility in how traditional concepts are rendered. It has also allowed the production of commercialized folk art along with the production of strictly religious items. The art produced for commercial purposes has provided an important and sustainable source of income for the Huichols. Even though new materials are being used, traditional symbols are maintained and transmitted to younger generations.

The following are examples of other forms of Huichol folk art which have become popular and successful on the commercial market:
Urus, or prayer arrows, are ceremonial arrows created to be shot into the air in order to petition the gods for special blessings.


A continuing tradition of the Huichol is that men, women and children all wear woven bags around their waist to carry personal objects. These bags are decorated for aesthetic reasons and to magically protect the wearer.  They have also become very popular in the commercial marketplace.


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!  


I would like to conclude my introduction to the Shamanism and Art of the Huichol by dedicating this posting to Santos de la Torre Santiago, the amazing Huichol artist whose life is the subject of the following award-winning documentary.

  Mural by Huichol shaman and artist Santos de la Torre Santiago - see description below:

     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." 

A Huichol family enjoying their visit to Puerto Vallarta - 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

Sir Elton with a guitar a la Huichol 

DISCLAIMER: Images taken from the Internet are assumed to be in the public domain. In the event that there is a problem or error with copyrighted material, the break of the copyright is unintentional and the material will be removed immediately upon request.


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