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The Shaman’s Mirror

hope maclean
Foreword by Peter T. Furst
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    The Shaman’s Mirror
    Book Description:

    Huichol Indian yarn paintings are one of the world's great indigenous arts, sold around the world and advertised as authentic records of dreams and visions of the shamans. Using glowing colored yarns, the Huichol Indians of Mexico paint the mystical symbols of their culture-the hallucinogenic peyote cactus, the blue deer-spirit who appears to the shamans as they croon their songs around the fire in all-night ceremonies deep in the Sierra Madre mountains, and the pilgrimages to sacred sites, high in the central Mexican desert of Wirikuta.

    Hope MacLean provides the first comprehensive study of Huichol yarn paintings, from their origins as sacred offerings to their transformation into commercial art. Drawing on twenty years of ethnographic fieldwork, she interviews Huichol artists who have innovated important themes and styles. She compares the artists' views with those of art dealers and government officials to show how yarn painters respond to market influences while still keeping their religious beliefs.

    Most innovative is her exploration of what it means to say a tourist art is based on dreams and visions of the shamans. She explains what visionary experience means in Huichol culture and discusses the influence of the hallucinogenic peyote cactus on the Huichol's remarkable use of color. She uncovers a deep structure of visionary experience, rooted in Huichol concepts of soul-energy, and shows how this remarkable conception may be linked to visionary experiences as described by other Uto-Aztecan and Meso-American cultures.

    eISBN: 978-0-292-73543-9
    Subjects: Anthropology, Art & Art History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. foreword
    (pp. vii-x)
    peter t. furst

    Hope MacLean’s book, the first to treat in real depth the uniquely Huichol art of “painting” with colored yarns—and from the “inside out,” that is, from the artist’s viewpoint, rather than only from the “outside in”—brings to mind the transformation from the mundane to the sacred of a yarn painting that looked no different from those made for sale, to which I was witness in December 1968 on the second of the two peyote pilgrimages in which I was a semiparticipant-observer.

    There were seventeen Huicholpeyoterosin our party, thirteen adults and three children, the youngest barely a...

  4. acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. 1 the path to the sierra madre
    (pp. 1-18)

    It was December 1988, and I had traveled four days and thousands of miles, from Ottawa, Canada, to Tepic, Mexico, and from there to Tucson, Arizona, to meet a Huichol Indian woman I barely knew. When I finally found Guadalupe de la Cruz Ríos (Lupe) in a house on the outskirts of Tucson, I realized that the tourist Spanish I had been learning from tapes was wholly inadequate. I could hardly understand anything she and her family were saying. I felt lost and discouraged.

    “Why did I come so far to see someone I can’t even speak to?” I asked...

  6. 2 wixárika children of the ancestor gods
    (pp. 19-24)

    The Huichol live in the rugged Sierra Madre of western Mexico. “Huichol” is a name given to them by the Spanish, and even the origins of the name are unclear. Early Spanish documents record different versions of this name, such as Xurutes, Uzares, Vizuritas (Rojas 1992, 23), Guisol, Usulique (P. Furst 1996, 40), and Tecual or Teçol (Anguiano 1992, 170–172).

    The Huichol name for themselves is Wixárika. It is pronounced “Wee-sha’-ree-kah” in the eastern dialect or “Wee-ra’-ree-kah,” in the western dialect. Carl Lumholtz (1900, 6), an early anthropologist, translated their name as “prophets” or “healers”; more recently, Liffman (2002,...

  7. 3 kakauyari the gods and the land are alive
    (pp. 25-35)

    Lupe dipped the tips of her shaman’s plumes into a jar of water taken from a sacred spring. Then she lifted hermuwieriin the air and offered a drop of water in each of the four directions.

    “Wirikuta, Haramara, Otata, Ta Selieta.” She pronounced the names with reverence.

    Hi xrapa,” she called out, raising her plumes above her head. (She pronounced it “hee shrapa.”)

    Then she sprinkled a final drop of water into the fire burning beside her.

    With her words and her offering, Lupe woke up the beings that live in each direction and called them in to...

  8. 4 gifts for the gods
    (pp. 36-56)

    I was sitting with Domingo González, Lupe’s brother-in-law, in his small house on the outskirts of Tepic. We were preparing offerings to leave at a sacred site along the Santiago River. Domingo was making a prayer arrow (Hui.:ürü) for his grandson. He cut a thin cane (Hui.:haka; Lat.:Arundo donax) and whittled a pointed tip of reddish-brown brazilwood (Lat.:Haematoxylum brasiletto). He mixed dark red and blue paints and drew zigzag lines down the sides of the cane. Then he cut a tiny pair of wrist guards (Hui.:matsuwa) and sandals from cardboard. He tied these to the...

  9. 5 sacred yarn paintings
    (pp. 57-84)

    When I did my PhD fieldwork, I was reluctant to focus on the sacred paintings because I was concerned about whether the Huichol would be willing to make this information public. There can be ethical concerns about publishing ceremonial and sacred information belonging to indigenous peoples. Therefore, I did my research on the commercial paintings, which the Huichol are comfortable showing and explaining. I did not ask to photograph or even to look at sacred yarn paintings. I asked my consultants only a few general questions about the use of sacred paintings.

    Since then, I have done in-depth research with...

  10. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  11. 6 commercialization of the nierika
    (pp. 85-112)

    Who first had the idea of transforming the Huichol’s small sacred offerings into a commercial art? When, how, and why did it happen? There were no definitive answers to these questions when I began my research.

    I found several versions of the story, but few details. According to Negrín (1979, 26), a Mexican anthropologist named Alfonso Soto Soria was the first to exhibit and sell yarn paintings. Negrín stated: “Yarn boards first appeared on the market in 1951, when Professor Alfonso Soto Soria held an exhibition of them in Guadalajara in Mexico.” Salomón Nahmad (1972, 157, 162) stated the first...

  12. 7 footprints of the founders
    (pp. 113-134)

    The birth of many indigenous art forms is lost in time, and so we know little about their evolution. This is not so for Huichol yarn paintings. Because the origins of commercial yarn painting are so recent, it is still possible to trace the footprints of its founders. We can ask such questions as who were the innovative artists? How did popular themes and designs originate? How did unique and recognizable styles arise? With some detective work, it is still possible to find and interview the original artists or those who knew them. Through collections of yarn paintings—some published...

  13. 8 making yarn paintings
    (pp. 135-145)

    Eligio Carrillo sits down to make yarn paintings in the morning. After breakfast, he brings a small wooden table out of his three-room concrete-block house and sets it down in the shade of a large mango tree on his patio, a level patch of earth swept clean of plants, debris, and insects. In front of him on the table is a plywood board spread with beeswax. To one side is a plastic bag filled with balls of acrylic yarn.

    Eligio works in the midst of his family, surrounded by household activities. When I sat with Eligio, visitors came and went,...

  14. 9 the colors speak
    (pp. 146-164)

    Yarn painting, embroidery, weaving, beadwork—all Huichol arts use vivid colors. The Huichol use color with a bravado matched by few cultures around the world. Their love of colors is particularly evident in the clothes they wear. A well-dressed Huichol man in fiesta gear wears a rainbow of colors—an embroidered suit and cape, several multicolored woven bags slung over his shoulders, several more woven belts around his waist, a belt of little embroidered pockets with bright red tassels bouncing around his hips, beadwork bracelets and pendants, and a sombrero encircled with beadwork dangles and covered with multicolored feathers.


  15. 10 sacred colors and shamanic vision
    (pp. 165-190)

    Eligio’s comments on color and meaning were intriguing. After completing my PhD fieldwork, I had a feeling that there was much more to be learned about what color really meant to the Huichol and that I was still only scratching the surface. A breakthrough came one day as I was talking to Eligio. He had used the phrase “the colors speak” before, but I thought it was just a reference to the colors having meanings of some sort. Suddenly, I realized that he was talking about something else: he was saying quite literally that color was a language used by...

  16. 11 the artist as visionary
    (pp. 191-200)

    When I first began to study yarn paintings, I was intrigued by statements that they were spiritually inspired. The dealers told tourists that all Huichol artists were shamans and that all their art was the product of dreams and visions. As time went on, I began to question this romantic statement. Not all the yarn painters I met were shamans—and many of their paintings seemed to be about myths or legends or ceremonies. The images may or may not have had their sources in visions. Perhaps the dealers were being overly enthusiastic in order to sell art. The statement...

  17. 12 the “deified heart” huichol soul concepts and shamanic art
    (pp. 201-213)

    The relation of dreams and visions to art is more complex than the simple yes-no debate presented in the early literature. As I talked to the artists, I began to feel that I was missing the point of what they were telling me. I was concentrating on the source of the image—whether it was a dream, a vision, peyote, personal experience, or traditional or culturally derived themes. The artists did not seem too concerned about which of these sources they used. What was important was the process of envisioning, of how vision and artistic inspiration occur. This process is...

  18. 13 arte mágico magical power in yarn paintings
    (pp. 214-220)

    Once someone showed me a large Huichol beaded bowl that she had bought in Puerto Vallarta. She asked me to see whether I could discover anything about the bowl and its maker. As I held the bowl, I had a strange sensation of tingling electricity running through my arms. Afterward, I felt drained and exhausted.

    “What on earth did that bowl do to me?” I wondered. “Was it good or bad?”

    Later, I told Lupe about the incident and asked her what she thought of it.

    “That bowl was draining your energy,” she said. “It must have been a strong...

  19. 14 shamanic art, global market
    (pp. 221-236)

    When I began visiting Lupe in the late 1980s, the market for Huichol art was still quite limited. When I flew into Puerto Vallarta, I found one newly opened fine-art gallery specializing in Huichol art. A folk-art gallery had a few good pieces of Huichol weaving, embroidery, and beaded jaguar heads. Some tourist souvenir stands sold tired and dusty-looking items such as painted or beaded snakes and deerskin quivers with Huichol bows and arrows. In Tepic, the few stores that specialized in Huichol art had stacks of yarn paintings piled in the corners and a variety of Huichol souvenir items...

  20. 15 the influence of the market
    (pp. 237-249)

    One of my first interests was to find out what we can learn from yarn paintings about Huichol shamanism and visionary experience. Some authors have maintained that yarn paintings are simply commercial products, turned out in volume by artists distant from the culture. The artists may use symbols drawn from Huichol culture, but lack any deeper personal or philosophical understanding of shamanism. The artists’ aesthetic choices may be driven purely by commercial factors.

    Therefore, I explored how the art is influenced by the marketplace. Cross-cultural influence can go both ways. Western buyers may influence what sort of paintings the painters...

  21. 16 ancient aesthetics, modern images
    (pp. 250-252)

    What conclusions can we draw from this study of commercial yarn paintings? What do yarn paintings tell us about why the Huichol make art, and what ideas guide their artistic choices? Here I will try to go below the surface details of technique and draw out some principles underlying the Huichol philosophy of art.

    There is no question that financial motivations play a part in the making of yarn paintings. The artists make yarn paintings to sell as a way to support their families; most artists have few other ways of making a living. Many older artists have little or...

  22. notes
    (pp. 253-258)
  23. Glossary of Huichol and Spanish Terms
    (pp. 259-264)
  24. bibliography
    (pp. 265-274)
  25. index
    (pp. 275-284)