Kawitero of Santa Catarina, 1981.
WHY SELECT SANTA CATARINA FOR RESEARCH WITH HUICHOL SHAMANS?
I am the only child of parents who were both teachers. They rewarded me for reading books and getting good grades in elementary school. Using “positive reinforcement” put me on the academic track which led me to earn my anthropology doctorate in 1985 at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor; then ranked as America’s premier anthropology department. As a child growing up near the shore of the Upper Newport Bay (in Orange County, CA) I loved watching tadpoles become toads or frogs. I kept king snakes and other non-venomous snakes as pets. I remember watching adults troubled by a snake in a nearby vacant lot. Once I arrived to help them identify that snake, I knew immediately it was harmless so I persuaded them not to kill it. I still have a hand painted cup honoring me as the “snake man” made by an artist who lived across the street.
My maternal grandmother was a homemaker who took care of me while my parents were at work. She lived only two blocks away so I saw her every day. She showed me the basics of playing softball, thereby preparing me to play softball with our neighbors. Although I stopped playing ball soon after entering seventh grade, my keen interest in nature’s pageantry continued to flourish. My grandmother habitually taught me, throughout my elementary school years, about the birds, bees and plants in her garden. She showed me constellations and allowed me to roam alone, or with friends, in the countryside just beyond her backyard.
High school was a difficult time for me. I started playing football to compensate for being insulted by certain students who branded me a “teacher’s pet.” I quit football at the end of my junior year, as my dissatisfaction with late 1960s America led me to identify with intellectuals associated with the emerging counter-culture. Turmoil connected with assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King, together with police brutality endured by Vietnam War protestors in 1968 in Chicago, prompted me to graduate a semester early from high school. I was eager to attend college, to diagnose what ailed Americans and study more cohesive and peaceful societies.
During my first year at the University of California, San Diego I gained insights about hierarchical European societies by taking Professor Herbert Marcuse’s “Theories of Society” class. In Fall of 1970, I began what became my lifelong study of shamanism with Dr. Robert Levy, a psychiatrist and psychological anthropologist. Reading numerous publications about shamanism assigned by Dr. Levy taught me that shamans were leaders in simpler societies that valued group cohesion and adaptation to nature.
By 1976 I had learned enough about indigenous Mexican tribes, after taking several graduate classes in social anthropology at the University of Michigan, to select the Huichol as the people to host my doctoral fieldwork. My first visit to the Huichol ceremonial center at Santa Catarina in July of 1976 was remarkable. I was given two peyotes to aid me in completing a solo, all-night vigil at the shrine of Grandfather-Fire. My first Huichol shaman-mentor, Bonales, must have been impressed by my description of unusual experiences I had at that shrine, one of many I was taken to visit. Bonales invited me to return and stay with him and his family. Another Huichol guided me to see a young Kieri plant, enabling me to become the first anthropologist to photograph a Kieri. After one week in Santa Catarina & Teakata I knew this was the ideal place to do ethnographic research on the Huichol ritual cycle & shamanic initiation.
Twenty years later, after staying with two Huichol families during 23 visits to Santa Catarina, I arrived in the Huichol settlement of Tuxpan de Bolaños, to deliver from the Smithsonian Institution to Tuxpan elders anthropologist Robert Zingg’s 1934 silent film footage. Following a public screening of Zingg’s film footage, Jesús González, the protégé of Kieri whose biography I am publishing, approached me to let me know he was 13 years old in 1934, when Zingg filmed rituals depicting his Huichol relatives and friends, whose images González recognized in the film.
What I learned from Jesús González and three Huichol shamans from Santa Catarina profoundly changed me. According to Huston Smith, my 2011 book, Unknown Huichol, “will become a landmark in comparative religion.” Professor Emeritus Conrad Kottak praises Beyond Peyote as “well-written and innovative …an original contribution to studies of Huichol ethnohistory, shamanism, and comparative religion.” My hope is that readers of Beyond Peyote will appreciate its empathetic and comprehensive portrait of Huichol shamanism as well as its scholarly rigor. To buy this book on Amazon or Barnes and Noble click on links below:
PLEASE CONSIDER HELPING HUICHOL WITH A DONATION
Although other non-profit organizations claim to serve the Huichol, the only one I recommend without hesitation is the Wixárika Research Center. I met its founders, Yvonne and Juan Negrín, in 1976, after returning from my first visit to Santa Catarina. For some twenty years I personally witnessed Juan & Yvonne providing various types of aid to the Huichol from their home in Guadalajara. I am sure that whatever money you donate to their foundation will be used to benefit the Wixárika. Yvonne Negrín informs me that her salary is being paid by one donor, as a lifetime commitment. All other donations to the Wixárika Research Center are therefore paying the foundation’s general expenses, unless you request that your donation be applied specifically for scholarships. For more information please follow this link: https://wixarika.org/our-projects
ADDING RADICAL EMPIRICISM TO PARTICIPANT-OBSERVATION
When I began fieldwork in Santa Catarina Cuexcomatitlán in 1976 it was ranked as the most culturally conservative of any Huichol community, comunidad indígena, by Alfonso Manzanilla, the Mexican official entrusted by his federal government with managing various programs designed to assimilate the Huichol (or Wixárika, in their native language), in addition to other adjacent indigenous peoples (e.g., Coras, Tepehuanos). See map on page 5.
During my first seven days in Santa Catarina I ate two peyotes during my overnight pilgrimage, alone, at Grandfather-Fire’s “godhouse” in Teakata (the paramount Huichol sacred site within their aboriginal homeland) after being escorted on a tour of caves and shrines surrounding Teakata. I had also been handed by Huichol elders a sealed document I was to deliver to Manzanilla. Their report explained how a few Huichols, working together, had defrauded the Mexican government. Upon learning I had that affidavit, one of those fraudsters led me to a Kieri (a plant venerated as divine by Santa Catarina Huichol). Those initial experiences persuaded me to select the ceremonial center of Santa Catarina as the place to do ethnographic research for my doctoral dissertation on shamanism, myth and ritual (Fikes 1985).
For the next decade I alternated living in two distinct “villages” (called ranchos in Spanish) among Huichol affiliated with the native temple officers of Santa Catarina, During my residence in those ranchos I had several extraordinary experiences, i.e., momentous numinous moments which were mutually reinforcing. I went through a process of personal transformation, encouraged by four Huichol shaman-mentors, each of whom taught me that my dreams & numinous experiences had value and meaning. Their tutelage allowed me to internalize their faith in divine nature spirits. Summarizing two landmark paranormal experiences I had in 1981 may enable readers to appreciate what and how I was taught by my first two shaman-mentors.
At around 2 a.m. on January 12, 1981, at the village of my compadre’s parents-in-law, my adopted father, Jerónimo Bonales, was in the middle of leading a funeral ritual for my compadre’s sister-in-law, who had just committed suicide by dying slowly of grief. [See Note 1]. As Bonales and his two assistants sang, I heard what sounded like an owl screeching followed by a noise like a bird chirping. Soon thereafter Bonales’ singing summoned the blue fly which embodied the spirit of the dead woman. After that blue fly appeared, I stopped tape-recording his singing and followed the example of the relatives who were making offerings to the fly or rather to the deceased woman it represented (Fikes 1993: xxii). Having that unprecedented experience created a cognitive conflict for me. Although I trusted Bonales, it was difficult for me to dispense with my doubts about that blue fly being the spirit of the deceased woman. Fortunately for me this amazing experience was no anomaly. A few days later another shaman (who was the principal kawitero of Santa Catarina) introduced me to his wolf-spirit helper.
Note 1. I met Jerónimo Bonales, a shaman renowned for his healing, during my visit to the Huichol comunidad indigena of Santa Catarina in 1976. Bonales quickly adopted me as his son, gave me my Wixárika name and permitted me to tape-record various myths and songs, including his funeral ritual song--which became a turning point in my life. Until his death in February of 1981 I resided with him & his family, either at the ceremonial center of Santa Catarina or a few miles away at his rancho, which was also the rancho of Pancho Torres, my second translator (Fikes 2011: 227-29). Although Bonales was my foremost shaman-mentor until his death, I began developing rapport with the Santa Catarina kawitero, José Sánchez, sometime before February of 1980, when my wife and I became compadres (god-parents) of Felipe Sánchez & his wife. Felipe was my first translator and the grandson of José Sánchez, who was my second shaman-mentor (Fikes 1985: 12-13).
White Antlers Kieri 1976
Photo © Juan Negrín
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