The Wixárika, Wixaritari (pl), commonly known as Huichol, are among Mexico's most fascinating indigenous groups with living cultures. They inhabit the Sierra Madre Occidental area in San Luis Potosí, Jalisco, Nayarit, Durango, and Zacatecas, where they maintain their language, customs, and traditions.
Several elements stand out from the Wixárika culture. Perhaps the best known are their clothing, handicrafts, and relationship with peyote, or hikuri (Lophophora williamsii), a hallucinogen plant charged with religious/spiritual meaning for the Wixaritari.
When contemplating a piece of Wixárika (or Huichol) art, its hypnotizing designs in vibrant colors are the first thing that stands out. Wixarika art is an artistic process linked entirely to a culture and a cosmovision. In it, we can see repeating symbols that carry different meanings.
In a short and informative conversation with Sergio, author of some of the Wixárika pieces in Lolo, we learned a little about the meaning of Huichol art. Sergio explains that within Wixarika art, "everything has its meaning. We, the Wixaritari, through our crafts, designs, and colors, convey what the world means to us; we convey our adoration to the earth, the sun, the deer, the rain, etc."
Within these always-present symbols, we find the image of a deer. According to what Sergio tells us, "The relationship of the Wixaritari with the deer is very deep and ancient." For them, the deer represents a source of prosperity (deeply linked to peyote), explained in the Legend of the Blue Deer, Kauyumari. In this folk tale, the deer serves as a spirit who guides the Wixaritari and sacrifices himself to transform into peyote, with which the Wixarikas get in contact with their ancestors, receiving their guidance to be guardians of our planet earth.
Kauyumari: The Legend of the Blue Deer
An ancient oral tradition transmitted by the Wixárika elders tells that, a long time ago, terrible diseases, droughts and famines struck the land. So, the venerable grandparents decided to send four young men hunting; their task was to bring some food to share with the community, no matter how little they found. The young people represented the four elements: earth, air, water and fire.
The four young men began the journey armed with bows and arrows. They walked for days until, one afternoon, a giant deer jumped out from behind some bushes. The hunters were exhausted and hungry, but when they saw the deer, they forgot everything and began running after it without losing sight.
The deer looked at the young men and felt compassion for them. He let them rest for one night; the next day, he provoked them back into hunting him. Days passed like this, where the deer would let them rest and taunt them back into hunting him while guiding them into his path.
Many weeks passed before reaching Wirikuta. When the young men were on the path up the hill near the Cerro de las Narices, they saw the deer jump in the direction of the place where the Earth Spirit lives. They could swear they saw the deer running in that direction and tried to find him without success. Suddenly, one of the men shot an arrow that fell inside a deer figure formed by peyote plants that, under the sun, shined as emeralds do.
Since then, the Huichols have worshiped the peyote, which, at the same time, is deer and corn, their guiding spirit. So, every year since then, they continue to make the pilgrimage to Wirikuta, to ask their gods for rain, food, and health for their people.
The Wixaritari are one of the few cultures whose cosmology, traditions, and practices have remained almost intact since pre-Hispanic times. They preserve their language and social and political structures, reflecting Mexico's enormous and beautiful diversity. (If you want to read more about the Wixarika, don't forget to check out our blog post "Who are the Wixárika/Huichol?")
With the urbanization of some regions of the mountains, the Wixaritari create pieces of art for commercial purposes, ranging from yarn paintings, embroideries on clothes, musical instruments, and figures decorated with colored beads, this last one perhaps the most recognized.
If you want to support Sergio and his Wixárika community, be sure to check out our Wixárika/Huichol art products. Remember that we have a wide selection of artisanal products to fill all space with talent from all over Mexico!
Here is a Youtube video that does an amazing job at narrating this story in Spanish. We are working on finding one in English or with English subtitles, hopefully we'll be able to do it soon! (you can create auto-generate english translation by clicking on the video's settings (lower right corner) subtitles/CC > Spanish auto-generated. It will bring you back to settings. Click again on subtitles/ CC > auto-translate, and scroll to the language you wish to translate it to!):
So, what do you think? Is this something you knew before? Would you like for us to share more legends and stories like this one? Let us know in the comments below!
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Karen Morales Potter
I love this story. Thank you for sharing it. I love all the different legends! There is so much to learn about the different cultures of Mexico. Please keep them coming!