Huichol Ritual — A Group Prayer for the Heart of the Earth
We rode on horseback in the early afternoon to the top of Cerro Quemado – the gigantic sacred mountain located in the state of San Luis Potosi. I took a laptop computer, cameras, tripods, microphones, audio recorders, lenses, batteries, hard drives, and camping equipment with me that I carried with the aid of a pack donkey. Our sombreros kept us shaded despite the strong sun. We passed ghost towns and ruins of abandoned villages during the relatively steep climb through ragged terrain that had once been the backdrop for a few well-known Hollywood movies. Thankfully, clouds moved in to cover the hot sun and a thunderstorm even came up that lit the area with lightning. It hailed on us when we finally arrived at the base camp to the final climb up the mountain. Thankfully, we found shelter just in time so the valuable equipment was safe and dry. A huge tent was set up for the arriving people to gather in. The Huicholes consider rain a great blessing in the desert area where precipitation is scarce. They had prayed for rain and their prayers were powerfully answered that day!
Wixáritari families came to the ceremony in clusters of men, women, and children. Even the elderly made the strenuous journey up the mountain, without the help of horses to carry them. Most of them proceeded directly to the main ceremonial site on top of the sacred peak that was only open to members of Wixáritari communities, with the sole exception of the vice president of the Native American Church of the United States who was traveling with us. Non-indigenous people, such as Jorge, myself, and a visiting group of Mestizos, all had to wait until permission was given for us to enter the ceremonial area.
All of the rain clouds had disappeared by the time the sun was setting. The evening breeze carried smells of herbs and a haloed moon was rising. The few crews that were allowed to film and participate in the event, including Jorge and I, had to wait for the marakames to signal that we had permission to enter. In the meantime, I conserved my energy. I was exhausted from the extremely long car ride and the intense mountain climb. I had been taking photographs and filmed most of the day. Therefore, I decided to take a nap. I rolled out my sleeping bag in the wild and slept like a baby for several hours. When I woke up around midnight, I could not see anyone and it was utterly silent around me. The temperature had dropped significantly and I swiftly stashed my camping gear under a plastic tarp. Then, I set off to climb to the peak.
I carried all filming gear myself. The last part of the journey was too steep for horses or donkeys. Jorge was already participating in the prayer ceremony and I had no assistant helping me to carry, or secure my personal film gear that I had donated to this cause. Since I was on the job, I refrained from eating the peyote I was offered. I knew from experience that filming during altered states does not tend to yield the best results. I could easily lose equipment or encounter technical difficulties that were easier to deal with while sober. Despite not partaking in the peyote, I was still having a great time at the ceremony, although it was a challenge to stay warm since I was not sitting close to the fires.
The ceremony took place far above the clouds that covered the entire Sierra de Catorce Mountain range, and Wirikuta. This gave us awesome views. I estimated five hundred people were huddled around thirty ceremonial fires that burned on the mountain. The moonlit cloudscape that we looked out upon really made me feel as if I was looking over a vast ocean. The magic of Wirikuta showed itself that night and it truly was a magnificent site. I could totally understand why all Wixáritari pueblos felt so strongly about preserving the mounts magnetic charge and came to unite for this cause. Throughout the long and ice-cold night, Huichol fiddle songs and praying in native tongues blended with heartfelt humming and weeping. Conch shells were blown repeatedly and the wind carried peyote songs from many traditions into the distance. Babies cried and people danced by the fire.
Despite the grim cause for this gathering, the vibration during the event seemed elated and positive, nothing like a funeral assembly of a dying culture. The experience of being there made me feel uplifted and hopeful for the future. It was stunning to observe what was going on during this ceremonial group prayer, but the invitation for film-crews to record did not come until the ceremony was complete and the sun had already risen. Nobody could take any footage of the spoken candle prayers, or the incredible hand stitched Huichol costumes that could only be seen in the flickering light of the fire. Huichol people perform a complex system of ceremonial magic. It could be a challenge for outsiders to grasp the beauty of their culture and be open to the galactic information they and their traditions carry. Their iconography and invocations are most remarkable. I had wished for contact with these people and their peyote medicine for more than a decade before I was invited to a ceremony and given their permission to pick my first psychoactive peyote cactus in that sacred desert. I had patiently waited for that moment and felt so blessed to have had the chance to earn a peak experience like that!
One especially powerful interview filmed there came from Sandor Iron Rope, an indigenous member of the Lakota tribe of the United States — the vice president of the Native American Church at the time. I wondered how what he shared from his perspective as an indigenous person could also be applied to non-indigenous cultures worldwide. Perhaps this knowledge could help create a spiritual revival by using psychoactive plants, like the peyote cactus, in a ceremonial manner. Sandor clearly believed this had helped his tribe restore their spiritual connection. The following is a transcript from his video interview that was taken on February 6th, 2012 on top of Cerro Quemado.
“This holy divine medicine [peyote] that creator put here for the indigenous people came in a holy way and it helped our people and it still does today. The spiritual balance that needs to happen within ourselves and within the world — this medicine helps with that! It helped us realize who we are and where we come from, again, because the government, the system, and the atrocities that took place — suppressing us, trying to civilize us.
This medicine [peyote] supported our spiritual well-being — our identity! We were not even citizens in our own country until 1924, yet our grandmas and grandpas — the Lakota people — and five hundred plus tribes roamed the land, lived off the land. Pretty soon, they [the US government] established treaties that they broke and put us in camps called reservations, taking the land from us. So this medicine came and supported our spiritual life. We want our identity back. We want our culture, our children, our generation to live with our language and our teachings!
We all come together to unify and support the preservation of this medicine, so in 1994 Public Law 103/344, the United States government recognized peyote for the Indian people in the USA.”
Furthermore Sandor said:
“Different organizations are unifying all over to support the Wixáritari nations, because they use this medicine [peyote], and many other tribes are using this medicine. We are all connected. The Lakota say, “Mitakuye oyasin,” or “We are all related.
Medicine! So, we have to unify in our prayer and put our minds together for our generations.
What are you going to leave for future generations when the world is the way it is today? The greed of these corporations! Money, money, money! Money — you can’t live with this money! You need something to eat. Grow it from the earth in the old ways. Make it new again.
Everybody needs to go and understand the indigenous perspectives. The caretakers of this continent — Turtle Island — they have their way to bring harmonic balance. Each tribe has their own teachings about the way to keep their balance. The world needs to go back to the balance. The earth shakes, the earth knows. All the imbalance that happens — Mother Earth knows —drilling, always want, want, taking away the land from the people.
People — we don’t own the land. We belong to the land!”
Watch this message on video at www.transcendentaljourneys.com
The vision on top of that mountain was clear. We have got to protect our mother, our host planet, from further devastation. This ceremony was a powerful group effort to claim what belongs to the earth. Through the application of ceremonial, visionary magic we can peacefully weave our love with gentle kindness, and like this, change the course of history for future generations.
Wixáritari culture has previously not been so open for foreigners and non-Wixáritari to join in their ceremonies, but this event was unprecedented and special in many ways, both for the outsiders, but also for the Huicholes. They have never gathered in such large numbers as on this particular occasion. Members of all Wixáritari communities were present to pray together for a set of common goals: to preserve this sacred mountain, the surrounding desert that they view as sacred, their culture, and Mother Nature.
The Huichols were attracted like bees to honey when a bull was calmly sacrificed on the center altar and they dipped their feathers into the blood. Everyone carried sacred offerings around sunrise to a little stone house located a bit higher up from the ceremonial site. Permission to film was finally granted for all camera teams as the Wixáritari gave a press conference from on top of their sacred Cerro Quemado in their hope of broadcasting a crucial message for all humanity to hear. An English translation follows of a portion of the transcript of the marakames’ speech that was given on the morning of February 7th, 2012.
“Thanks to the Sun that gave us the energy to come up here, because we are the star’s children, as we are also the children of Mother Earth. Here we sincerely ask on behalf of our families that we may keep living in peace. We want for the whole world to be united so we can exist together, like brothers and sisters so that our culture continues to live on, our ceremonies, our work, our way of life.
We also ask for the help of the brothers and sisters from other cultures so that the government of the whole country [Mexico] hears our voice for our essence to be considered as being important. What lies at stake are our very lives. To our friends from around the world, we ask that you understand that we need to keep walking our path so that life on this planet does not end, so that the young ones that come after us can also understand how to maintain the world united as a weaving.
This reunion in the place where the sun was born is the first time that all the Wixáritari communities have gathered together and we are grateful for the union that this moment represents.
Long live the Spirit!”
Watch the full speech at: www.transcendentaljourneys.com
What started with a small group of twenty Wixáritari demonstrating in Mexico City eventually turned into a sixty-thousand people benefit concert within three years. This combined activism created enough pressure on the Mexican politicians, who halted the Canadian mining company’s plans for removing the silver from that sacred mountain. I learned from the accomplishment of this relatively small showcase success story that the power of people to organize against the greed of multinational corporations can make a difference when enough numbers are reached to create a tipping point. Unfortunately, sometimes people have to die before vital changes take place. The sad case of Native Americans and many indigenous populations worldwide is that they become extinct! The most important aspect of people succeeding to have their case heard is that everyone unites for their cause and does not move, no matter what, like the Great Wall of China!
Before I left Mexico, I engaged in a not so heavy and fun little film project with an amazing curandero from Peru who invited me to participate in another type of healing ceremony.
* This story has been published in Transcendental Journeys – A Visionary Quest for Freedom.
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