Who are the Huichol?

The Huichol world view

Man standing in traditional garb
Huichol shaman
Courtesy pereque

Living in remote villages, the Huichols maintain their traditional lifestyle and beliefs, largely uninfluenced by outside forces. They believe that everything is alive and has a soul, and thus is sacred. Their belief system affects every aspect of their lives. Religion is their life, not just a part of it, and they worship multiple gods through offerings and prayers.

The Huichol create symbolic artworks to strengthen the connection between humans and the universe. The artist explores that connection, making the invisible world of the gods visible and, in the process, preserving traditional beliefs.

Peyote and shamanism

bulbous green cactus in dirt
Peyote cactus
Courtesy _mm_

To reveal this invisible world, the Huichol use peyote, an hallucinogenic cactus. They believe it helps them understand the connections between humans and the universe, and lets them make meaning out of life’s mysteries.

After the annual harvest, artists make a pilgrimage to the desert, the land of the gods. They are accompanied by a holy man, or shaman. Ambassadors to the gods, shamans possess supernatural powers and link the people to the spirit world.

The shaman conducts an ancient, ritualized ceremony, in which he and the pilgrims eat the peyote. The people have visions, and the shaman helps them understand their experience in the context of their religious beliefs. Artists later record their visions in the yarn paintings.

Huichol yarn paintings first appeared in Guadalajara, Mexico in 1962. They evolved from an earlier art form—round yarn-covered tablets called "nierika" or god discs. Unlike yarn paintings, both sides of the disc are covered in beeswax and yarn.