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Huichol Indians of Mexico
- by Charmayne McGee

The Huichol Indians are a small tribe of approximately 15,000 living in central Mexico near Ixtlan in the Sierra Madre Mountains. They are said to be the last tribe in North America to have maintained their pre-Columbian traditions. Huichol shamans and healers practice today as they have for generations. In part, their survival is due to the focus of their traditions.

They have no history of war. Rather than training for war, they train their hearts to open to the healing powers of love and to the celebrations of life through the seasons. Because of this, they are famous for their strong ceremonial tradition, rich mythology and incredible visionary artwork.

Primarily an agricultural people, the Huichols are dependent upon corn, planting their fields along the steep slopes of their mountain homeland. Corn is life for the Huichol Indians. The yearly cycle of preparing the fields, planting, growing, and harvesting the corn is surrounded by religious ceremony, as is all of Huichol life.

Huichol life is a continuous cycle of ritual and devotional exercises designed to help them stay connected to the Ancient Ones-Tate Wari (Grandfather Fire), Takutsi Nakawey (Grandmother Growth), Kauyumari (our brother, the Deer Spirit), and Tatei Yurianaka (Mother Earth), among others. The Huichols say that during ceremony, they are inviting these spirits to come into the circle of life to be with them- to help empower them and their families, and to help the universe stay in balance.


Shamanism is an ancient healing tradition and moreover, a way of life. Huichol shamanism honors all of creation, especially the spirit of nature- the power of the animals, the winged ones, the minerals, and plants. This shamanic tradition involves healing and empowerment through personal transformation and direct experience as well as the healing of our families, communities and our environment. By following the shaman's path, we can truly learn to inhabit the earth and our being with gentleness and respect.

The Huichol say we are created from the elements of the natural world- fire, air, water and earth. Because of this, each of us is a miniature universe, a mirror of both the natural and the spiritual worlds. All the knowledge and secrets of these two worlds are inside of us and everything is perfectly arranged. Shamanism teaches us to tap into that arrangement, to understand and to live in harmony with the natural and spiritual worlds.

Ceremony, sacred dance, vision quest, and pilgrimages to places of power in nature are all essential aspects of shamanism. Through these techniques, the shamanic circle embraces us unifying our lives with strength, healing and love.

The Huichol Indians of Mexico call themselves "the healers." For centuries, they have conducted ceremonial rituals they believe heal the Earth and keep nature balanced.

But now the Earth is sick and dying. The lands of the Huicholes are dying. The forests are shrinking, water is becoming scarce, the animals are disappearing. Illness and poverty are everywhere. The Huichol Wise Man, the Grand Shaman, knows why.

Key to their ceremonies is the love-offering of the white-tailed deer to the Huicholes' nature deities. Due to overhunting by outsiders and the encroachment of civilization, there are no deer left in the Sierra forests. The Huicholes cannot perform their ancient rituals. Their pact with the god-spirits has been broken.

"So Sings the Blue Deer" is a novel based upon a true experience of the Huichol Indians. It is the story of their 600 mile pilgrimage from the remote Sierra mountains into the heart of Mexico City--the world's most populous and polluted city--to obtain 20 white-tailed deer from the city zoo in an effort to save the Earth from environmental devastation. With these 20 deer, the Huicholes hoped to establish a deerbreeding project to repopulate the Sierra with the animals, thus allowing them and future generations to once again perform their ancient ceremonies.

Now the Huicholes themselves are as endangered as the deer they seek to protect. In the last few years, Mexican government development programs for indigenous peoples have been scaled back. As a result, the Indians are beset by poverty, disease and social ills. But more frightening, the Huicholes are battling a "modern day conquest." Outsiders are invading and seizing their land, the Mexican government has sought to reduce their autonomy and is now moving to negate community land ownership rights won in the Revolution of 1910. The Huicholes' traditions are under assault from missionaries, tourists, opportunists, and government agencies.

Recently Huichol pilgrims, returning from their annual pilgrimage to harvest peyote in the San Luis desert for use in their traditional ceremonies, were imprisoned by Mexican military units. Their religious artifacts and peyote harvest were confiscated. The Huicholes' right to practice indigenous religious rites is guaranteed by Mexico's constitution and United Nations' international law. Soon afterward, 15 Huicholes were arrested for hunting deer, a necesssity for completing their spiritual obligations to their nature-gods. 

For more details, see the WAKAN Huichol Support Page on the website.

On November 10, 1998 the United Nations General Assembly declared the year 2002 to be the "International Year of Mountains." Passed by a voice vote and supported by 130 UN members, this event will be a year-long celebration of mountain environments and mountain cultures. The goals will be to encourage the protection and preservation of these fragile systems, while finding ways to develop sustainable mountain economies. The Huichol Indians offer an excellent example of the thousands of years of tradition and knowledge which may be lost if efforts are not made now.

Please encourage the United Nations to use the Huicholes as a focus for the UN's, governments' and groups' 2002 projects. Perhaps the Huicholes could create a yarn painting as a logo for the "International Year of Mountains." The Mexican government did this for the 1968 Olympic Games. Contact the following people.
Ask them to present the idea to the appropriate authority:

Anne Rogers (DESA United Nations)
El Hadji Sene (FAO United Nations)
Tage Michaelsen (UNOG)
Barbara Pratt (AFSCM)
Delfi Roca (APAPMA)

Entering the new millenium, the Huicholes are guided by a religious belief system in place a thousand years ago, at the beginning of the present millenium. They recognize that a universal life force called "kupuri" flows through all nature's creations. All souls are linked. These gentle people, who teeter on the verge of cultural extinction, offer the world great wisdom as we approach the unknown future. They advise us to recognize the fragility of the Earth and be stewards for life that dwells upon it, to the seek the healing power in nature--to be of one heart with all things. Man must learn to share the tears of every living thing, to feel in his heart the pain of the wounded animal, the crushed blade of grass, they say, for:

"The earth is our flesh; the rocks, our bones;
The rivers are the blood of our veins." HUICHOL SHAMAN

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