Glossary of Huichol Symbols – The Huichol Center for Cultural Survival and the Traditional Arts-
SHAMANS – The spiritual leaders who are ambassadors to the gods, shamans preside over ceremonies, recite the divine passages, cure the sick, interpret dreams, etc. They are believed to have supernatural powers and insights in the metaphysical world that are considered out of reach for normal humans.
SPIRIT GUIDES – Intermediaries between human and spirit realms, the guide can take the shape of half-human, half-animal being. These figures appear in visions and dreams and remain with each shaman even after apprenticeship is over.
FIRE – Considered a very valuable gift from the gods, fire is called Tai. Tai is believed to enable the Huichol to have visions. The fire god, Tatewari, is always honored at Huichol ceremonies, and receives many offerings such as corn meal, sacred water and much of the art that they make.
HEALING WANDS – Called Muvieri, each shaman carries a wand in their medicine basket. They are made of pairs of eagle or hawk feathers attached to ceremonial arrows, and are used in rain making ceremonies and other divinations.
PATH OF LIFE – Wavy lines represent the “vine of life”, which the Huichol Goddess of Life gives to every soul (plant, animal, human) at birth. This vine is the soul’s spiritual connection to the breath of the goddess in the ethereal realm. When people chose to follow her “path of flowers”, they receive her blessings: prosperity, abundance, creativity, health, and their hearts’ desires.
WOLF PEOPLE – Believed to be the earliest ancestors, they spoke and lived like people. Tacutsi, the goddess of life, first taught them how to live well and overcome hunger and cold.
PRAYER ARROWS – Used to express gratitude or requests to the gods, called Urus, prayer arrows, like gourd bowls, are ceremonial objects through which the gods are believed to give their blessings. Special prayer arrows have crystals attached to them, representing the spirits of departed ancestors.
PEYOTE CACTI – Symbol for life, sustenance, health, success, good luck, and acquisition of shamanic powers, the peyote appears in practically all Huichol art and is considered a gift from the gods to the people to enlighten their lives and bring them into the mystical realm.
THE SUN – Brings light and illumination to the world. Tayaupa is father sun, master of the heavens, and his wife is the Eagle, mother of the sky and goddess of life. The Huichols believe all living things receive their power from the sun, and that He guarantees healthy crops and abundant food.
SNAKES – Instruct shamans to become healers. The rattle on the Rattlesnake is believed to be the tongue of the greatest shaman of all, which is the fire god. Snakes may also be associated with the rain goddess. The Mother Goddess of the Sea is pictured as a huge coiled serpent forming herself into a cyclical storm cloud from which rain falls. The Huichols believe that rain itself consists of millions of small snakes. They are valued for their work in the cornfields where they eat the rodents and pests harmful to the corn harvest.
DEER – The spirit guide Kauyumari, who leads the shamans on their visionary pathways and teaches them how to gain their special knowledge. One of the most commonly seen motifs, the deer, maxa, in Huichol, often appear in male and female pairs, symbolizing the unity between men and women on their spiritual journey. Legends about the deer abound in Huichol culture. The deer mother is the guardian spirit, the important animal in Huichol shamanism. She holds tobacco gourds and corn plant, both of utmost importance for Huichol survival. The Huichols believe that deer give their lives willingly to those who hunt them in a sacred manner. After a deer hunt, the hunters have to perform purifying rituals for many days to insure that the animals are properly thanked for giving their lives to the benefit of the people.
FLOWERS – Play a part in all Huichol ceremonies, and all flowers are considered sacred in healing rituals; the patient’s head is anointed with flowers. Shamans use them to prepare for the deer hunt and during harvest ceremonies to adorn the new corn. One flower that appears often is called Kiera, the tree of the wind. It is a hallucinogenic plant said to open the Huichols spirits to the highest level of enlightenment.
BIRDS – Believed to be messengers to and from the gods, all birds are held in great regard. The shamans use tail and wing feather of eagles and hawks in their rituals and ceremonial chanting. The double-headed eagle is another common design, representing the shaman’s omnipotent power to see in all directions.
TURTLES – Esteemed as assistants of the rain goddesses, turtles are believed to be responsible for replenishing the water of underground springs and the purity of all water sources.
WOLVES – Carrier of spirits, Kumukemai, the wolf, is honored in all peyote ceremonies. Many Huichols believe they are descendents of the “Wolf-People” of primordial times. Huichol shamans claim to possess the power to transform themselves into spirited wolves.
GOURD BOWLS – Used by shamans as containers filled with important symbols, such as corn, animals, and images of family members. Colorfully decorated, they are carried during ceremonies and prayer for protection, health, and abundance. The symbols themselves represent attributes of different gods and goddesses. They are placed in shrines and sacred sites throughout the Huichol homeland.
SCORPIONS – Used by shamans to repel evil and bad luck. They are both esteemed and feared. A deadly species of scorpion inhabit Huichol land and cause numerous fatalities every year. However, the Huichols believe that the scorpion spirit is a powerful ally that protects them as well.
SALAMANDERS – Agents of the rain mother, salamanders are connected with the water and rain, stirring up clouds and making rain fall.
JAGUAR – Messengers of the god of fire, Tatewari, they are guardians of the sacred vows taken by shamans during their years of initiation. Called Mayetse, they are given the power to devour the spirits of those who fail.
EAGLES – Believed to be the embodiment of a goddess known as Mother Eagle, Mother of the Sky and Queen of Heavens. Admire Werika, the eagle as the most magnificent among all birds.
CANDLES – Represent the illumination of the human spirit, Catira, candles hold the sacred gift from the sun and fire gods. Along with flowers and ribbons, attached candles serve as offerings and payment to the deities who have granted special wishes to a Huichol.
THE SIGNIFICANCE OF COLORS:
The East, fire, masculinity.
The South, Pacific Ocean, water, rain, femininity.
The Earth, the Heavens, healing, the heart, grandfather, growth.
A special root from Wirikuta used for face paint in ceremonies.
“Wirikuta”, the sacred land where the Huichol believe life began and also where they gather peyote.