Published on August 27, 2014 by Amy
The Huichol is an indigenous tribe in central-west Mexico. The Huichol tribe resides in Jalisco, Zacactecas, Nayarit and Durango. The climate is harsh, with deep ravines, sparse mountain trees and subtropic vegetation. Huichol grows corn in their divided, self-governed “comunidades,” with land communally owned and passed down through families. The extended family is the core of society, so farmsteads and ranchos sit grouped close together. Huichol traditions center around their religious beliefs and daily life.
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Huichol performs rituals and ceremonies heavily centered on using and consuming Peyote, which is the god of knowledge and the center of their religion. The plant allows a community member to communicate with the gods and induce visions that are later expressed in artwork. Children as young as 5 to 8 years of age consume peyote directly in ceremonies designed to guide them on a dream pilgrimage filled with traditional symbols. Elders guide children through these pilgrimages.
Huichol sees children as belonging to the entire community, rather than only their biological parents. The community holds them in high regard and the family’s shaman, the biological grandparent, names her grandchildren. The community and family members teach children informally through daily rituals and activities. Elders watch children and decide their future path, if they’ll be an artisan, for instance. Community members incorporate the child’s interests and gifts into activities and give him an increasing role in rituals as he grows older.
Huichols express their religious beliefs through their traditional art. Deities typically represent earth, water, fire, the sun, moon and other life forces. Traditional and prominent deities include the central god, Peyote. The Deer is Peyote’s brother and god of fertility and the eagle is the god of life. Traditional motifs include snakes, often used in prayers asking for rain, flowers that represent Peyote or corn flower and scorpions, small messengers from the gods.
The Huichol tribe maintains most of its original traditions, despite the effect Christianity has had on its culture. Celebrations like the catholic Holy Week are incorporated into contemporary Huichol tradition, but little emphasis is placed on the Catholic teaching associated with the tradition. The church ruins and lack of priests in the region evidence this rejection of the religion. However, Christian images like the Virgin of Guadalupe, Jesucristo and feast days for the five patron saints of “comunidades,” the self-governing Huichol states, show at least some incorporation of Christianity, if only as a technicality.