Kawitero of Santa Catarina, 1981.
When I began doing fieldwork in Santa Catarina Cuexcomatitlán in 1976 it was ranked as the most culturally conservative of any Huichol indigenous community, comunidad indígena, by Alfonso Manzanilla, the Mexican official entrusted by his federal government with managing various programs designed to assimilate the Huichol (or Wixárica, in their native language) in addition to other adjacent indigenous peoples (e.g., Coras, Tepehuanos). See map on page 4.
During my first ten days in Santa Catarina I had eaten peyote during an overnight pilgrimage I completed alone at Grandfather-Fire’s “godhouse” in Teacata (the paramount Huichol sacred site within their aboriginal homeland) after being escorted on a tour of caves and shrines surrounding Teacata. 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 cahuitero 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 Wixárica 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 cahuitero, 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).
Jerónimo Bonales, photo by Juan Negrín
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