Huichol altar at Drum and Harvest Ceremony 2017

Drum & Harvest Ceremony • Autumn 2017

We arrived in the village just before sunset. After eating a light meal of beans and fresh handmade tortillas with salsa, we prepared ourselves for the ceremony. People from various villages had traveled to partake in the harvest ceremony. Elders, men, women, children, and newborn babies all coming together to celebrate, to give thanks, and to pray. Everyone gathered around the fire to offer prayers for a good ceremony. Then the leading elder shaman began to chant quietly, the sound slowly growing as the flames of the fire strengthened.

At one point, a heavy rainstorm had us all taking shelter in huts and under strung-up tarps for a few hours in the middle of the night, as thunder and lightning filled the sky. Once the rain passed, everyone gathered around the fire at the center of the village once again, and the ceremony continued.

At sunrise, an altar was constructed in front of the temple. Corn stalks were tied up, creating a goal post of sorts to set the trajectory of our spirits, as we journeyed to Wirikuta (the Land of the Gods) and Raunasha (The Mountain Where the Sun was Born). Between the goal posts, a god’s eye (Tsikuli) was secured like a target, helping to keep our aim centered and true with the protection of the ancient ones. Then a twisted piece of twine was tied to the god’s eye and stretched tight to an arrow in the earth about 10 meters away. Finally, small balls of cotton were placed along the twine; each one representing a place of power at which we stop during the spiritual journey to Wirikuta.

Once the altar was constructed, freshly picked husks of corn and squash were piled in front of the altar. The mothers laid out dishes with offerings of fresh fruit, blue corn tamales, and small thick tortillas. Beside each plate, arrows with small gods eyes were stuck into the earth. The number of gods eyes on each arrow representing the age of one of the young children in the circle.

 

As the sun broke free from the clouds and rose higher in the sky, the drumbeat continued to follow the call and return of the shamans’ chanting. The crisp sound of the tree gourd rattles being shaken by children unified the entire circle in focused intention around the dancing flames of the fire. The harmony of the male and female elders singing intricate verses, whispered into their ear by Kauyumari (Elder Brother Deer Spirit), is like the sound of a flowing river, with the stream of chants neither being pulled or pushed, but rather naturally circulating with a clear intention of reaching the ocean of energy within the Nierika (sacred doorway).

With small breaks for folk music and folk dancing, along with time for timeless jokes and laughter, the ceremony continued through the heat of the day. As the sun reached its zenith in the sky, food offerings were shared amongst everyone in the village. Replenished with this fresh nourishment, the chanting and drumming commenced once more as we approached the final stages of the ceremony, in which the shaman summons our spirits back from sky realm, through the Nierika, and into our hearts.

The wind began to wisp up the mountain slopes and through the village, carrying with it a cool breath from the river below. As the refreshing breeze broke through the heat of the day and as the sun starting caressing the lush plateau to the west, the ceremony drew to a close.

Our hearts content and souls empowered with the energy unified from the four directions, the circle slowly dispersed outward to shaded rocks under the carao and calabash trees. The ebb and flow of life in the Huichol village continued as dusk began to wash over the Sierra. With the night settling in, everyone found their place within the village, the fire still burning in the center of it all.

When the flames began to dwindle, someone awoke to add fresh food to the fire. Soon a few of the elders gathered around the fire, and the sound of chuckles gradually grew into laughter as they retold stories from the past and teased one another about things old and new. Eventually, the joy around the fire drew more and more people from the dream world back into the circle.

Eventually, the shaman started to chant, and the drumbeat followed once again. The other shamans chimed in, echoing the songs like sound bouncing through a valley. Then the song changed, indicating it was time to dance. The women and men created two lines, skipping around the fire with the rhythmic beat of the drum. This was the Dance of the Deer.

Honoring the birth of the sun, we danced until the sun burst forth from behind the distant mountain peaks, the golden light warming the village like the smile of a good friend.

Now it was time to bless the freshly harvested corn and squash that had been stacked in front of the altar. Together, all of us – women, children, and men – were given ears of corn and pieces of squash cooked on the fire. One by one, the leading shaman blessed each person and their individual bounty. Once blessed, we offered a small portion of our food to the fire before enjoying it ourselves.

That first bite of crisp corn and soft squash was truly delicious. We had been fasting from corn and squash since the fields were planted in early June, so everyone was especially thankful for this meal.

The shamans gathered for the one final song, to honor Mother Earth and give thanks to the spirits that had joined the ceremony. This marked the close of the ceremony and beginning of another season.

Following the ceremony, the various families gathered together as we dispersed the materials and supplies which we had brought with us on the long journey. With a deep sense of gratitude on both the giving and receiving end, each and every person exchanged positive energy, and through this process, we all became even closer, and even stronger family.

It was time for us to leave, to make the long journey from this home back to another. Before leaving the village, everyone gathered around the fire to make one final prayer to Tatewari (Grandfather Fire). Together we prayed out loud, calling out for ourselves, our loved ones, and all of creation.

We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience. If you continue using this website, we'll assume that you are happy about that.
Huichol Girl Laughing in hut window

Journey into the Huichol Sierra

Chronicles of the Spring Ceremony by Nico Secunda

We made it home! After a beautiful and empowering journey to the Huichol in Mexico, we arrived back to our home in Santa Cruz, California last night. My father and I, along with a small group of long-time students, partook in the spring ceremony to honor Tate-Urianaka (Mother Earth) as she awakens from her winter slumber.

Hopefully you received my previous message about the ceremony, which I was able to send out from the road just in the nick of time before losing our link to the modern world through cellular reception. Thank you to all of you, for keeping us in your thoughts and prayers. Your support means a lot and could be felt throughout our journey.

I always look forward to crossing that invisible boundary between the modern world and the ancient Huichol landscape. Watching the bars on the cell phone disappear brings a wonderful feeling. A weight is lifted. The obligations of modern life, which can at times steal our time and distract us from the more meaningful endeavors of the spirit, are switched off.

Crossing that invisible border we enter into the Huichol territory. We continue through rolling hills of mango and papaya trees, then up the incline of switchbacks into the mountains of the Sierra Madre, eventually reaching the end of the road. Here, we must transition from roadway to waterway, in order to press on deeper into the Huichol territory.

We made it home! After a beautiful and empowering journey to the Huichol in Mexico, we arrived back to our home in Santa Cruz, California last night. My fat

One of Don José’s sons is awaiting our arrival at the river. He greets us and along with a few other Huichol men, we load into three boats and push off to make our way upriver. The moist air kisses our cheeks as the boats head against the current.

As the sun sets behind us, we reach a familiar bend in the river and finally the village comes into view. This is a sight I have seen countless times and once again I am filled with a sense of returning home. I grew up coming here time after time and have a deep gratitude for the connection to this place that is now strongly rooted within me. The boats scrape onto the banks and the young Huichol men on the bow jump onto the moist soil to tie up to large rocks half submerged in the water. One by one, we all step ashore.

Now, the last leg of the journey to reach the village. In single file, we follow the steep winding trail to the uppermost plateau perched on the hillside overlooking the river and rugged peaks that reach skyward in the distance. “Keiaku!” (Hello) and “Buenas Tardes,” young children greet us as they run down the trail to help carry our mountain of bags filled with gifts. When we reach the upper village, we walk through the gate at the village entrance and see the fire in the center burning like a beacon to which we have been summoned.

We make our way around the fire, greeting our Huichol family and the elder shaman who, at over ninety years old, will be leading the ceremony. People from numerous villages have come to take part. The firewood has been gathered. The food offerings are prepared. Candles in the temple are lit, and the altar in front of the fire laid out. Chairs are placed for the shamans, and now we are ready for the ceremony to begin… (end of part 1 – check back soon for the second installment of this chronicle)

We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience. If you continue using this website, we'll assume that you are happy about that.
Huichol Woman Cooking Tortilla

The Best Tortillas in the World!

When asked what the Huichols eat, Brant will reply, “ beans and tortillas, tortillas and beans, and a little hot sauce.”

I have been lucky to have been down to the Huichol village in Mexico with Brant for ceremony with many times. We usually arrive around sunset. Soon after settling in, we are called over to eat by Virginia, one of Don José’s and Doña Josefa’s daughters and a very good friend of Brant’s, as well as a friend to all of us “gringos” who come down to visit. She feeds us several times a day and makes sure we have what we need. Waiting for us by the outdoor kitchen fire when we arrive is a big bowl of fresh, hot, thick papayari (corn tortillas), bowls of beans, and maybe some fideo, soup made with very tiny noodles, and, of course, a dish of kukuri (spicy salsa). Muy chiloso! Too hot for me to have more than a tiny taste, but I can’t help going back for more.

I wish I could accurately describe those tortillas.The Huichols grow 5 colors of corn – white, yellow, red, blue/black, and mixed (representing the 5 colors of people). The tortillas we get are usually white or yellow, occasionally the blue. The Huichol women soak and grind the corn, roll and pat them by hand, then flatten them in a well used tortilla press. They use the top of an old metal barrel to cook them over the fire.

Ohhh! That first bite of the first tortilla of the visit! So deeply satisfying; so deeply nourishing. From a pure nutritional perspective, their corn has a massively higher percentage of protein from ours so that is part of the satisfaction. As a cook, I know that using such fresh ingredients is part of the satisfaction. What I also know is that they are made with deep love, lots of laughter, and great care.

From the beginning to the  end, the corn is treated delicately and sacredly. It is blessed and prayed over every step of the way from seed to tortillas. The whole village prays and dances in the Spring ceremony for the blessing of the seeds and the coming crop. The seeds are stored in a special way in the community temple. Prayers are said for a good corn crop, and the men are honored and blessed before the planting. The seeds are planted and the crops are tended in centuries old traditions. When the corn is ready to be harvested, again the whole village prays and makes ceremony. The first corn is blessed and shared. When dried and ready, the crop carefully picked. Nothing is wasted. The women share the tradition of soaking and grinding the corn, teaching their daughters the way they themselves were taught. They make tortillas together, sharing them with love. Everyone participates and everyone gets fed. These are the things that make these tortillas so good!

You can taste the love. You can taste the tradition and the history. You can taste the Gods.

In the course of eating, Virginia asks several times, “ Quien quiere mas?” Who wants more? Because of how nourishing the tortillas are, it might only take a few bites to fill me up or I might want to keep eating just because they taste so good and we all need that deep Soul nourishment that comes from those bites. Who wants more? I do. I wait throughout  the year until the next visit for that beautiful gift from Mother Earth, from the Corn Goddess, from Virginia and the rest of my Huichol family. It’s a good way to learn the power of food – the nutrition, the nourishment, the love and the joy of community and family. I’ve gotten pretty good at taking that feeling home. We can honor our food and ourselves in similar ways – blessing the food’s journey from seed to belly and back to the earth. We can let our souls be nourished by food created with love and thoughtful care. We can make sure we all have enough.

Quien quiere mas?

We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience. If you continue using this website, we'll assume that you are happy about that.