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The Wixárika of Mexico

The Wixárika people of the Sierra Madre Occidental of Mexico annually carry out a ritual pilgrimage of hundreds of kilometers under the direction of their mara’káme (shamans), in pursuit of peyote or híkuri (Lophophora williamsii), which only grows in the Wirikuta lands. This small cactus with psychoactive properties is the sustenance of the religiosity of this people, it connects them with their ancestors and regenerates their spirits. For the occasion, the shamans dress in their best clothes and carry a series of implements, from real and symbolic weapons, to backpacks with sacred objects that will assist them during the trip.

Trichocereus Pachanoj (Jill Plugh and Steven F. White©, 2022).

* Video Material

Mara'káme (shaman's) costume

The mara’káme costume consists of pants and a shirt, a belt around the waist and on it, small bags joined by a cord. They complete the attire, by a blanket on his back and on his head, a hat made of palm leaves adorned with beads and large feathers that identify him as a shaman, and two ‘peyoteros’ backpacks crossed on his chest. He carries as accessories, a bow, arrows and quiver for ritual deer (peyote) hunting and a pair of feathered staffs, which are his main power artifacts. The embroidered figures in this colorful Wixárika suit are very old symbols related to their beliefs, some are magical for those who wear them and others express requests for protection to the deity they represent, such as deer, peyote and fire, among other frequent motifs.

Pilgrimage and peyote harvest

As peyote is not native to the Sierra Madre, the Wixárixa must travel east each year on a pilgrimage of more than 400 kilometers, until they reach Wirikuta, the mythical place of origin of this cactus. On their walk, they stop and perform ceremonies at specific springs, mountains, and rivers. The itinerary follows the traditional routes that connect them with their ancestors. Upon arrival in Wirikuta, the peyote harvest begins, the Elder Brother Deer, whose divine meat allows the shaman and his community to transcend the limitations of his human condition.

Pilgrimage to Wirikuta

Extracto del documental To find our life: The peyote hunt of the Huichols of Mexico (Sonora, México), de Peter T. Furst, 1969, © University of California, EEUU.

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From shamanism to religion

The laws of the United States lead to the founding of the Native American Church, organized around the ideology of peyote or ‘peyotismo’, but within the structure the religious institutions of the United States. This demonstrates the ability of shamanism to mutate and adapt to different realities.


By 1880, the ceremonies, ritual instruments, and fundamental theology of Peyotism became more uniform, and the religion began to spread throughout Oklahoma. Its spread was influenced by the existence of trade routes that facilitated the supply of peyote, the use of English as a common language among the tribes, contact in prisoner-of-war camps and indigenous boarding schools, and the growing inability of the Christian religions to explain the new conditions in which the natives lived. The most important factor, however, was the role this cactus played in curing disease. The followers of Peyotism believe in a supreme being called the Great Spirit and consider peyote as a sacred sacrament through which they communicate with the Creator.

(Foto, Gonzalo Puga).

Origin of the Native American Church

The concentration of the indigenous population in Oklahoma was a consequence of the application of the Relocation Law of 1830 (Indian Removal Act), which implied that some 100,000 Native Americans were forcibly transferred to the west of the Mississippi River, to occupy formerly indigenous lands. Some tribes withdrew peacefully and others resisted the relocation policy. There were wars between the United States forces and the Native Americans. The government authorities, although they signed numerous treaties during this period, later abrogated many of them. The military clashes at Little Bighorn in 1876 and the massacre of Lakotas at Wounded Knee in 1890 are well known.

The three most influential men in the spread of the Peyote religion in the southwestern United States.

Kitsiuri. Bolsa ‘peyotera’ con diseño de peyote y borlas.

Tejido a telar, algodón. Pueblo Wixárika de Santa Catarina/San Sebastián), siglo XX.

Sierra Madre Occidental, Norte de México.

Colección José Bedia, Miami, EEUU; PT 57 (48 x 28.5 cm).

(Foto, Constantino Torres).

Kitsiuri. Bolsa ‘peyotera’ con diseños visionarios.

Tejido bordado en punto Cora, algodón. Pueblo Wixárika de San Andrés, siglo XX.

Sierra Madre Occidental, Norte de México.

Colección José Bedia, Miami, EEUU; PT588. (150 x 95 mm).

(Foto, Constantino Torres).

Los diseños y composiciones de estas piezas de arte wixárika surgen de las visiones que entrega el peyote y son de una fuerte carga simbólica. Se les considera ‘instrumentos para ver’ los mitos, las creencias y las visiones del chamán.

NIERIKA. Tablillas con visiones chamánicas. Peyote y Venado

Madera, estambre y cera. Pueblo Wixárika (Huichol), siglo XX.

Sierra Madre Occidental, Norte de México.

Colección Constantino M. Torres, Mami, EEUU; PT 52 (145 x 145 mm) y PT 53(365 x 305 mm).

(Foto, Constantino Torres).

John Wilson

Hombre Caddo-Delaware-francés, reconocido líder del Ghost Dance. Cuenta la leyenda que con su esposa fue a un bosque, donde comieron 15 botones de peyote al día por dos semanas. Durante esta experiencia, el Peyote los instruyó en cosas como la manera de pintarse la cara y de cantar los cánticos sagrados.

Quanah Parker

Jefe Comanche. Casi muriendo y después que ningún médico ni curandero pudiera sanarlo, fue visitado por una chamán tarahumara que le dio a beber té de peyote. A los pocos días recuperó la salud. La experiencia le cambió su forma de ver la vida y abandonó la violencia, dedicándose el resto de su existencia a difundir las enseñanzas del peyote.

James Mooney

Arqueólogo del Instituto Smithsonian. Su viaje por Oklahoma en 1891 participando en ceremonias de peyote, lo convenció de la necesidad de unir a las tribus y proteger su derecho legal a usar el peyote en ellas. Convocó en 1918 a todos los grandes oficiantes de la religión del Peyote (Roadmen), y escribió el reglamento que se usó para legalizar la Iglesia Nativa Americana.

Traje de chamán Mara’káme para la peregrinación a Wirikuta.

Textil bordado, algodón, lana, fibra vegetal, cuentas de vidrio (chaquiras), cuero.

Pueblo Wixárika, San Andrés Cohamiata, ca. 1980.

Sierra Madre Occidental, Norte de México.

Colección José Bedia, Miami, EEUU; PT 49, PT54 y PT55

(Foto, Rodrigo Tisi).



XUPURERU. Sombrero.
KAMIRRA. Camisa larga bordada con motivos de ciervos.
HUERRURI. Pantalón bordado con motivos de ciervos.
TUWAXA. Manta o pañolón anudado al cuello.
HUAIKURI. Bolsitas y borlas unidas por un cordón ceñido a la cintura.
KITSIURI. Morrales ‘peyoteros’ puestos en bandolera y pequeña bolsa para amuletos.
Collar de chaquiras (cuentas de vidrio) con diseño de ciervo.
GUARACHES. Sandalias.