A journey into a Huichol Indian village

The Huichol Sierra

The Huichol Indian Sierra is a window into the past.  This place is a mirror of the modern world.  It is a peaceful and harmonious reflection of the stressful world in which I often find myself.  And when I become overwhelmed by life, I look to this reflection in search of tranquility and a sense of serenity.  It is this place that puts everything else into perspective.

To come to this place, I must journey into the past.  Leaving the modern world behind, I cross over into the depths of an ancient region filled with a hidden culture.  Each time I journey to the Huichol land it is mirroring my father’s first 5-day trek into this uncharted territory.  It is only because of his arduous journey, almost 40 years ago, that I find myself there.

Canoes sloshing onto the shore under the cover of night marks ones arrival into Huichol Indian territory.  We have crossed the river that separates the Cowboys from the Indians.  Hiking up the steep slopes towards the guiding light quiets the mind and creates a sense of intense awareness.  Soon enough we arrive at the burning fire, the blood red heart of the village.  Greeting faces lit dimly by the jumping flames with eyes shining brightly with the reflection of this central light creates a mysterious sensation.  Keiyaku (hello), we say to one another.

Then the ceremony begins and carries everyone through the night and into the sunrise.  As the darkness fades and slowly the surrounding mountains appear to the chorus of cock-a-doodle-do-ing roosters and chirping songbirds, the sun is pulled higher in to the now glowing sky.  And as the bright ball of fire rolls over the distant peaks, the corn silk lining the vivacious green hillsides sparkles and the stalks stretch as they welcome a new day.

Throughout the day everything else I may do in the village is interspersed with people watching.  Watching the archaic lifestyle unfold in front of me is incredibly impressive and impacting.  From the children playing with dragonflies to the elders sitting in the dirt, with the sound of a completely foreign tongue echoing from their lips.  Each one of these simple, everyday occurrences gives birth to complex thoughts of human nature within the depths of my mind.  The men climb the nearby slopes in search of firewood, while the women gather water from life-giving springs.  Another day passes.

In this place, this day could have been yesterday, a year ago, a decade ago or even a lifetime ago.  The fast paced changes that so drastically alter my life in the modern world have little affect on this distant land.  Many would jump to the conclusion to call such a lifestyle “disconnected.”  I, however; see it as far more “connected.”  Connected to the life sustaining land, both spiritually, as well as physically.

As the day continues, the western mountains above the village reach into the sky and thus shade the villagers from the sweltering heat.  The slow gentle breeze is a welcomed relief to the heat of the day and as day turns to dusk, the wafting air carries heavy clouds swiftly inland toward to the surrounding mountains.  No sooner than I get comfortable and begin to drift to sleep under the starry sky, the clouds begin to test the land.  I awaken to beads of water running down my face.  And just as I find refuge in one of the small thatched roofed huts, the clouds release their torrential cargo onto the land.  And whereas in many places around the world, people would be complaining of the “nasty” weather, here in this “disconnected” land, everyone is grateful for the blessings of this rain.  The people are content and rejoice at the prospect of the fertility, which the precipitation brings to the land.

As the rain subsides, the primordial cycle begins once again.  Darkness gives way to light and the rising sun leaves less and less place for the shadows to hide.  Now I must leave one home for another and begin my journey back the place that I left and shall leave again.

It is this village that is usually so far from me, which stays close to my heart.  The village is a home and the villagers are family.  Having known the place and it’s people since I was born, I have grown to cherish the importance of it’s meaning.  It is the symbolic place of both power and peace in my soul – the reflection, the mirror, the guiding light.

I have traveled to this Huichol village many times and each and every time I go there, my view is from a slightly different perspective.  People reveal a new side of themselves and the landscape offers a new fruit with which to quench my thirst for understanding.  It is impossible for me to imagine my life without my deeply rooted connection to this place.  My life revolves around this very connection and to sever those binding roots would be like stealing the rain from fertile land.

Many people hunt for such a place all their life and others are haunted by the mere thought of such an isolated setting.  In reality, in a Huichol village it is near impossible to find isolation.  There is no privacy.  Every aspect of life revolves around community.  A family of five or ten sleeps in one overly modest hut and the teenagers watch over the ten years olds, who take care of the three year olds.  It is partially this deep sense of kinship, which resonates in me.  When I look around in the modern world, I often see that this communal support system is missing.  I hope that as the ancient cultures of the past inevitably learn from us, that we also can find the humbleness to learn from them.

Huichol girl with a ceremonial rattle

Huichol Pilgrimage and Ceremony

How do you celebrate your life? How do you honor this radiantly beautiful Mother Earth that we call home?

For the Huichol Indians — a small tribe of around 15,000 who live in the Sierra Madre Mountains of central-western Mexico, these are easy questions to answer. For them, shamanism is a way of being — the practice of honoring all life and remembering how we relate to the world around us through ceremony, prayer and pilgrimage.

The Huichols go on pilgrimage to sacred places of power in nature. They go to pray and honor the earth, and to honor the spirit of those places of power. As humans, it is our responsibility to pray and make pilgrimages. We can help to heal Mother Earth and ourselves through this ancient tradition of pilgrimage. The Huichols say that we are surrounded by the Ancient Ones, and that it is our responsibility to stay connected with them. All places of power – kakuyari – are dreaming gods, dreaming goddesses. By connecting to the spirit of a mountain or a lake for example, we open ourselves to the power and energy (the kupuri) of that place, bringing unity and harmony into our own lives and that of our communities. And, with our prayer offerings, we in turn give love and respect back to the earth. This reciprocal interaction creates a sacred circle, what the Huichols call a nierikaThis helps us to develop more fully the connection between our hearts and the natural world, and gives our lives meaning filled with strength, healing, and love.

As the Huichols believe it is important for people to go to sacred places of power, I have led many people on spiritual journeys all over the world. Every year we go to Mt. Shasta, one of the most spectacular places of power in North America.
We go to Alaska, where our ceremonial chanting and dancing is answered by the calls of whales and eagles circling. We go to Grandmother Ocean, to various hot springs and other special places. In Europe we travel to Mt. Blanc, the tallest mountain on the European continent, and to Crete, the birthplace of Western civilization, and a place filled with power. While there, we always make ceremonies to honor the spirit of the place and tap into the life force Mother Earth has to offer at each one of these special locations.

Huichol life is a continuous cycle of ritual and ceremony designed to help them stay in touch with the Ancient Ones. In making these ceremonies, they are celebrating their lives and the life of all nature. During ceremony, with their drumming and chanting, the Huichols invite the spirits to come into the circle to be with them. The shamans guide the people through the doorway between the worlds, once again helping to empower them and their families to achieve lives of balance and integrity, and to help the universe stay in balance as well.

The Huichols say that human beings are in the middle, between the earth and the sky, and that we are mirrors of the gods. You don’t necessarily have to make special ceremonies like the Huichol do in order to connect your heart, your spirit with the natural world. But you can celebrate your lives with humbleness; celebrate the life of nature all around you. Remember and honor the sacredness within you, within each living thing. Go out and honor the sunrise and the sunset. Pray to the four directions. Honor each one of the seasons. Doing these things helps us to become one with the spirit. When we open our hearts to the beauty all around us, when we stay aware and present in the moment, we can truly connect to the spirit of all creation; we have the possibility of transforming ourselves.