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About the Huichol Indians..

The Huichol Indians live in virtually inaccessible areas of the states of Nayarit and Jalisco, straddling the Sierra Madre Occidental in an inhospitable region of about 15,000 square miles in scattered kinship settlements (ranchos).

The Huichols have only an oral tradition and no written language (thus the many differing spellings of Huichol words). "Through their artwork, the Huichol Indians encode and document their spiritual knowledge." notes Susana Eger Valadez in 'Huichol Indian Sacred Art'. In their artwork the Huichol express their deepest religious feelings and beliefs acquired through a lifetime of participation in ceremonies and rites.

From the time they are children, they learn how to communicate with the spirit world through symbols and rituals. Thus for the Huichol, yarn painting is much more than mere aesthetic expression. The topics of these yarn paintings reflect Huichol culture and its shamanic traditions. Like icons, they are documents of ancient wisdom.

Beginning about thirty years ago the yarn painting evolved to its high state today from the "Nierika'. A small square or round tablet with a hole in the center is a Nierika (Nearika) or sacred magical offering. These tablets are covered on one or both sides with a mixture of beeswax and pine resin into which threads of yarn are pressed. Nierikas are found in all Huichol sacred places such as temples, springs and caves. The Nierika, in ritual use, is a face; of the sun, of the earth, of a deer, the wind, the peyote, and the face of the man making the offering. The Nierika facilitates the entry into the other "spiritual world". For the Huichol there are five directions, each of the cardinal points and the fifth is the spiritual, source of visions, power and enlightenment.

A Nierika is called a mirror with two faces, and for that reason often both sides are covered with yarn designs and the hole in the middle is considered a mirror or often a small glass mirror is used. This 'hole' or 'mirror' is the magical eye through which man and God can see each other. The mirror makes the Gods pay attention to the petition, which places a real obligation on the Gods to grant whatever is portrayed on the Nierika.

Beadwork originated as an art form long before the Spanish Conquest of the Indigenous peoples. Instead of the glass seed beads utilized today, bone, clay, coral, jade, pyrite, shell, stone turquoise and seeds were used. These were often colored with insect or vegetable dyes.

Originally the beads defined the waxen figures pressed into gourd prayer bowls to be used as offerings (as Niekira) and/or petitions to the gods and goddesses. The Huichol believe that just as one drinks water from the gourd bowl the gods drink up the petitions in the bowls and subsequently understand the prayer better. Color defines the god or goddess petitioned: for example blue signifies Rapawiyeme (Rapa is the tree of rain); black is Tatei Aramara, the Pacific Ocean, place of the dead, great serpent of rain; red indicates Wirikuta, location of the birthplace of peyote, deer and the eagle. With the development of finer, smaller beads, more detailed work s are now seen, not only on gourds but on wooden jaguars.

Peyote cactus is much revered by the Huichol, a veritable gift from the Gods. Through the use of peyote, the Huichol create the elaborate designs used in their artwork. It symbolizes the essence, the very life, sustenance, health, accomplishment, good fortune of the Huichol. Plus through peyote's hallucinogenic effects, enlightenment and shamanic powers can be achieved. Annual pilgrimages are taken to Wirikuta to collect the peyote. Only the 'purified ones' can participate in the harvest or the peyote will not be found.

Peyote Mandalas or Neakilas (nierika) symbolize the entrance to the spiritual world. As important power objects they are often found at the center of their amazing work. Each mandala is individual, mirroring peyote vision trances.

"Life is a constant object of prayer for the Huichol, it is, in the conception, hanging somewhere above them, and must be reached out for, thus all phases of their lives are prayer - the planting, harvesting, peyote pilgrimages - all art, weaving, bead work, face painting and yarn paintings, embody prayer within symbols."