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SACRED COLORS AND SHAMANIC VISION AMONG THE HUICHOL INDIANS OF MEXICO1
HopeMacLean Box 104,Wakefield, Canada 3GO JOX Quebec,
Color and the visionaryabilities of the shamanmay be related.Interviewswith a shaman-artistof the Huichol Indians of northwestMexico reveal that color is conceptualizedas a language which the gods and spirits of sacred sites use to communicatewith the shaman. Colors are perceived by the shaman as part of a synaestheticexperience in which color may convert to both songs and language. This visionarycolor language is depicted in Huichol arts and even in art such as yarn paintings madefor sale. Thesefindings suggestfurther lines of inquiryinto entopticphenomenaand other theoriesof how shamansvisualize. The interviews, conductedas part of the author's ongoing research with the Huichol since 1988, also provide a newperspectiveon the well-knownassociation of sacred colors and cardinal directions. THE HUICHOL INDIANS MEXICO renownedfor their brilliantlycolored OF are touristarts, such as yarn painting and beadwork.Could the colors they use have between anythingto do with theirancientshamanicheritage?Is therea relationship color and the special visionaryabilitiesof shamans?In this article,I explore some of the links between color and shamanicvision. The HuicholIndianslive in the SierraMadreof northwest Mexico. They speak a Uto-Aztecanlanguageand numberedover twenty thousandpeople in the 1990s (Schaeferand Furst 1996:1). In the past, the Huichol may have been huntersand gatherers,and their conversion into Mesoamericanagricultureis still somewhat incomplete.While they farmcorn, beans, and squash,they still place a high value on huntingdeer and gatheringwild foods in the SierraMadre(Furst 1996:56). When the Spanishinvaded, the Huichol managedto retaintheir cultureand language. Througha mixture of war and diplomacy, and retreatinto their steep and mountainhomeland,they stavedoff conquistadors missionaries(Franz1996). were never successfully Christianizedand so bring into the modem world They what may be close to a pre-Columbian form of shamanism.Both men and women be shamans,who areknown as mara'a kame(pl. mara'a kate). The shamans may are responsiblefor healing diseases, for communicating with the spiritworld, and for leading ceremoniesin ranchos and temple communities. Nowadays, a thriving trade in arts and crafts plays a growing role in the Huichol economy. Their productsinclude yarn paintings and beaded sculptures
Journal ofAnthropological Research, 57, 2001 vol. of Copyright by TheUniversity New Mexico ? 305
an artistand shaman interviewingbiweekly named Eligio C. He participated enthusiastically and made extra paintings to clarify points we discussed. . in particular. or a gourd shell bowl.306 JOURNAL ANTHROPOLOGICAL OF RESEARCH andbowls.I explainedat the beginningthatI was writing for publication.I do not regard my knowledge as adequateto express complex concepts. I have only limitedcorroboration his point of view from another shaman. then pressing yarn and/orbeads into the wax. I intervieweda wide and representativesample of Huichol artists. which was linked to In concepts of shamanicperformance. Eligio agreed to discuss this information because of his concerns about and transparency culturalsurvival. "I don't want to take this with me when I die.a carving. one of my most articulate consultants.As his answers form a coherentand connected whole. 1999-2000. these objects began to be sold as touristart.I found thatvisionaryexperiencewas depictedin some (thoughnot all) color combinationsused in yarnpaintingsandwas one sourceof the extraordinary the art. and understoodby the shamans. The better Huichol artists sell their art extraordinary art throughinternational galleriesandmuseums. He said that he disagrees with shamanswho keep their knowledge to themselves.What Eligio says about shamanic perceptionis consistentwith what otherHuicholhave told me. data are difficult to collect.The offeringswere madeby spreading beeswax on a board. He providedfurtherrich detail on the relationshipof color and how color is a languageused by the gods shamanicperceptionand." Our interviews were conducted in Spanish. I will mainly cite him in conversations.The or and bowls have their origin in offerings to the gods in religious yarn paintings ceremonies. 2000. METHODOLOGY For my doctoralresearchon yarnpaintings(MacLean1995). which Eligio speaks fluently. sometimes not even sharingwith their own families.he takes pride in sharinginformationand told me. some of whom were also shamans. as yet. In contrast. I elicited a theory of color combining based on the complementary oppositionof fuerte (strong)and bajito (low or soft) colors. and he allowed me to tape-record all our interviews. I spent a furtherthreemonths. Nevertheless. the discussion of color as language that transformsinto song and emanates from sacred sites is of uniqueto Eligio. As this is highly specialized informationabout how shamans perceive.While I am learningHuichol. 2001). but his answersare much fuller and more richly detailed than most. althoughhe only learnedit as an adult. knowledge risks being lost. and feels that because of this secrecy. Now the simple designs and limited colors of the offerings have evolved into elaborateworks of art with an sense of color and design. In the late 1950s. as well as beadedjewelry andsome embroidered woven textiles.while othersstill sell in the streets or marketsof Mexico (MacLean1995.
such as mushroomsof the genus Psilocybe. researchers have notedthatsome culturesuse separate termsforblue andgreen.These color visions have been describedverballyandthrough paintings and drawings. VictorTurner's(1967) research meaningswhich particular Turner on Ndembucolor symbolismis one exampleof this approach.while othersemploy just one. a personmay experienceentry into anotherworld or communicationwith power animalsor other spiritbeings. In many culturesshamansentershamanicstatesof consciousnessthroughthe use of hallucinogenicplants. A series of paintingsby artistPabloAmaringo(Luna 1990) shows rainbow-colored wavy and jagged lines associated with taking ayahuasca. such as the colors associated with the cardinaldirectionsin the North American Plains Indianmedicine wheel. ayahuasca. and is currentlythe focus of a major researchproject known as the World Color Survey (Kay and Maffi 1999). A second line of anthropologicalinquiry has investigated the symbolic culturesattachto color. I look at a differentaspect of perception. the peyote cactus (Lophophorawilliamsii).Rather.ayahuasca seems to generatepowerfulcolor visions.with additivesmade from other plantssuch as Psychotria(Kensinger1973:10). I ask whether color use or color with the meaning can be associated with the actual process of shamanizing---or of shamanicvision itself. in South America. dating back to the Victorians. In this article.Researchon color perceptionandlinguistic might categories is a long-standing interest in anthropology. Harner (1980:29) reproduces . particularlywhen using hallucinogens. this approach not similarto is experience researchinto symbolismor researchinto ordinary humancolor perception.Colorvisions seem to be partof the experience associated with shamanic states of consciousness.which is perceptionthatoccurs while in a shamanicstate of consciousness. I direct attentionto a different aspect of color research-the relationship between color and shamanism. SHAMANIC VISION AND COLOR PERCEPTION MichaelHarner(1980) posits thatthe ShamanicStateof Consciousness(SSC) is a biophysicalcapacityof the humanbody. As I will show. how they divide the color spectrumlinguistically.Color symbolism is often a part of religious vocabulary.HUICHOL SACRED COLORS AND SHAMANIC VISION COLOR RESEARCH IN ANTHROPOLOGY 307 color using severallines of have examinedideas surrounding Anthropologists One has focused on how people fromdifferentculturesperceivecolors and inquiry.For example.Once in this kind of state. or. Altered states of consciousness may be enteredthroughvarioustechniquessuch as fasting or rhythmicpercussionsuch as drummingor rattling. demonstrates how colors may be associatedwith culturalconcepts such as masculinity/feminity or purity/goodness/evil. composed of one or more species of the genus Banisteriopsis. For example. Such researchmay combine a biophysicalor biogenetic approachwith a that linguisticone to examinewhethertherearedifferencesin eye orbrainstructure accountfor namingdifferences.
Lewis-Williams(1988) has arguedthatentopticexperiencesin the brainmay be a sourceof shamanicvisions.. or grids.:107. thatthis type of geometriccolor imageryis only one formof peyote-induced experience. by closing our eyes and rubbingthem.such as dots of light or colors.reds with blues or oranges. such as zig-zags.the gridmay be construedas the spots on a giraffe spiritby the San of southernAfrica. This type of peyote experience seems to resemble the shifting geometric shapes and colors seen througha kaleidoscope. This is an importantinsight.even decisive. entoptic phenomena..In the second stage. representingthe golden halo aroundthe head of a person in an altered state of consciousness. often in geometric or latticelike shapes (Cordy-Collins 1989:41-43). Huichol artists reproducethese colorful geometrics in embroidereddesigns on clothingandbags.the personwho will develop shamanicabilities goes beyond color imagery and feels himself or herself to be entering into direct communication with gods. in which everything changes into a fountainof formsandcolors. interpreted spirits or deities. for example. But the way the color gradually shades is important.The Huicholsay thatit is only a beginning... The ability of the peyote cactus to generatecolor visions is well documented.like the stainedglass windows of Gothic cathedrals. thereare in frontof me shapesof rhomboids. However.308 OF JOURNAL ANTHROPOLOGICAL RESEARCH another drawing by a Jivaro shaman which shows similar jagged lines. ratherthan simply pretty designs. and more geometricthanthe world we know. however. darkblues with greens.and shamanicvision. but clearly much more remainsto be learnedabout the relationshipbetween color.squares.. spirits. My own Huicholconsultantshave describedseeing embroidery designs duringpeyote visions.d. magentas with greens. In the third stage. the person will seem to see or hear iconic as imagics.. It shouldbe noted. the shapesmay be culturallyconstruedas spirits.stars.All can mix togetherwithout appearingugly.. We all may experienceentopticphenomena.triangles. LewisWilliams proposes that these shapes are an initial stage of shamanicvisionary experience. yellows with lime green..my translation) providesa vivid descriptionof his own experienceaftereatingpeyote: [I see] a marvellous world of color. or sacred places... It is a world of architectural shapeswhich seems more logical thanthe world we usually see. . nested curves.which move from the softest to the strongestshades .Ram6nMataTorres(n. The conviction grows that all the colors can combine themselves. that no color excludes another. Some people never see any more thanthis. Many people who eat peyote reportexperiencing brilliantcolors and vibrating patterns. Some entoptic phenomenaare seen as shapes. Greens with violet.. . The shaman sees meaningful images on a more importantlevel. The colors arealive andbreathing.
or the words of the gods. I have translatedour conversation from Spanish into colloquial English.Eligio C. the colors? Eligio: Yes. As though they were chattingin conversation. Words in squarebracketsare my additions. and at the same time they are songs.This is the idea thatcolor itself is the means used by the gods to communicatewith the shaman.The abilityto comprehend and translatethe words/colorsis simply partof becoming a shaman.But who knows how farthey areable to see? Fromhere. so he can translatetheir words.Accordingto Eligio.HUICHOL SACRED COLORS AND SHAMANIC VISION INTERVIEW WITH ELIGIO: COLOR AS A LANGUAGE USED BY THE GODS 309 My interviewswith the Huichol Indianshamanand artist.becausethatis the usualpracticeamongthe Huichol. color is a languageused by the gods. They are words. colors arethe voice. does anyone teach you to understand? Who taughtyou to understand them? . In that moment. Thatis exactly how the gods talk.According to Eligio.who only adoptedsurnamesin the late 1800s at the insistenceof Mexican census-takers(Lumholtz 1902:vol. Just like us. Hope: When the gods speak to you by colors. and they are magical songs. The shamanhearsandunderstands by means of color. and they understand Hope: Are they a languageof the gods.. The colors are each other. the gods make contactagain. He also proposedthatcolors could speak to each other. they do not function as a symbolic language in which color x means one thing and color y another.Rather.No one teaches the shamanto understand them. Then when the shamanstops singing. I refer to myself in the same way. For a moment.the shamansmakecontactas though by telephone. These colors are not words or symbols in a linguistic sensethat is. songs. to have a rest. Eligio: The colors are words. The color/wordscome from the gods directlyin the form of songs. 2. The words of the gods arriveat the shaman'sbody and particularly his/her to mouth.I referto Eligio by firstname. The vision is just a periodof light.the colors themselves seem to be comprehended in a multisensoryway thatis meaningfulto the shaman. 98-99). sees the gods.made to clarify points that may be obscure. colors are words. In those moments when the shaman is in communicationwith them. and they arrivewith you and [you have to say them]. They come from the gods. the vision also withdraws. Hope: Do they come from the gods when the gods sing? And those songs come out from them? Eligio: It is exactly the same for the gods as it is with us. And when the shamanbegins again.And then the shamansees also. brought out anotherdimensionof shamanicvisionaryexperience. the gods are speaking.
chatting. like a picture. It is only possible if Hope: Then no one taught you to understand someone has the capacity.Eligio usuallyuses languagepreciselyto expresshis meaning. Hope: It seems to me that I am almost at the end of what I can ask you.. by the mouth and the ears as well as by the eye.The image that is coming to your body. color shapes nor colors transforming Eligio's explanationof colors as languageand song is difficult to understand fromthe pointof view of Westernthought. And thatis how you speakto it. how can I tell you?. the god can reach that place.You would have to experiencethem. well. those ones [the gods and the each other.. You would know what the colors are. Hope: Is it an image like a dream? Eligio: It is. They come to your body.and you were using peyote. Withthe image that is opening up your mouth... I have not been able to clarify this ambiguityfurther. want to ask about the colors. becausewe aregoing very deeply into the knowledgeof the shamans.therefore. AlthoughI have eaten peyote to ceremonies with the Huichol.Hence the ambiguityis not due to the confusion of someone who has difficulty in a second language.Forexample. With colors they understand shamans]understand Becauseit is the imagethatspeaks. That would allow you to do something to or concentrate focus yourselfso thatyou could see the colors. That is how it speaksto you with an image. It is difficult to imagine the two happening simultaneously. The limitationis mine. the colors. throughthe image. You are eating it . what it takes to understand them.in a phenomenonknown as synaesthesia.we see colors or images and hear words or songs. the colors..could hearthe colors.. each other. It will come to your mouth. them. almost [makes a gesture with his hand of stuffing somethinginto his mouthand eating the words or colors]. Eligio: Yes. That is where you can begin to comprehendthe colors.However.Westerners usuallyexpressperceptions in termsof separateandindependent sense experiences. It is like a picture. Hope: You are almost eating the colors? Eligio: Yes.Almostyou speakto it. Eligio: No. they come to your body. or I lack the understanding. becausewherever you are. For example. there are cases of people who can combine sensory perception. You are seeing. . I find it difficult as an anthropologist describeit. becauseI have not experiencedthis phenomenonand. I have not seen the transforming geometric during into language. if we were holding a ceremony. Hope: Like a yarnpainting? Eligio: That is how it will reach you.310 RESEARCH JOURNAL ANTHROPOLOGICAL OF Eligio: [laughingand shaking his head] No. but I almost don't know how to ask the questions.right? I And I lack the words. what you need to hear them. Eligio seems to be describing a phenomenon whereby colors and visual picturesare perceivedby means of multiple senses.you wouldhave to learnaboutthem.
which itself is powerful.HUICHOL SACRED COLORS ANDSHAMANIC VISION 311 Barron-Cohen(1996) defines synaesthesia as the mixing of two (or more) senses so that sensationin one modality is triggeredby sensationin another. we should be cautious about prematurely labelling Eligio's experienceas synaesthesia. Eligio's experience may be (1985) descriptionof a Shipiboshamanicceremony.Not to everyone either. a person has to fast and fulfill the requirements of becoming a shaman. however. Both shamansandnonshamans may observe these proscriptions. one may also abstainfromfood andwaterfor partof the day. the songs turn again into designs which penetratethe patient's body and heal the illness. However. he may be describing synaesthesiaor a similar phenomenon. One wonders if this experience characterizesother shamans' experience as well.Eligio seems to be saying the same thing. Abstaining from salt and sexual intercourse is a basic for in requirement participation many Huicholceremonies. Howes (1991:6) describes "plurisensory"aesthetic experience as a phenomenon which may characterizenon-Westerncultures more than Western culture. . Are they availableto anyone. CharlesLaughlin(personalcommunication)points out that only some people are synaesthesic. only this way.e. When the designs reach the shaman's lips. The shamanalso states that the songs have fragrance. Then when the songs come into contact with the patient.. depending on the ceremony and the degree of in participation it. or are they limited to the shamans? withcolorsalso? Hope:Do the gods speakto peoplelike us [i.2Barron-Cohen describes another case. or blue. comparedto Gebhart-Sayer's The Shipibo shaman sees designs float down during the ceremony. he sings them into songs. I once hearda radioprogram which a musician described how certain instrumentsmight cause him to see a cascade of silver. BarronCohen hypothesizesthat synaesthesiamay be a naturalstate among neonatesand that only laterdo the senses become differentiated. But they come with more enthusiasm[Spanish:mds gana] to a personwho wants to know [aboutshamanism].One in exampleof synaesthesiais hearingmusic as colors. or some other color. When Eligio describesseeing colors which turn into magical songs. which relies heavily on the visual sense. he notes that she was so overwhelmedthat she was obliged to withdrawfrom society. of a woman who heardsounds when she saw colors. The colors come to some people.At times. There is a striking similarityto Eligio's description. nonshamans] Eligio: Yes. well. PEOPLE WHO SEE SACRED COLORS To clarify these concepts.in the visual image which reachesthe shaman'smouthwhere it turns into song. In orderto see the colors.Anotherpossibilityis thathe is describingplurisensory or multisensoryperception. I asked Eligio who can see these colors.in which a personperceives througha combinationof senses.It's only some people.
of The understanding colors as wordsis sharedamong shamans. Hope: Of the Huichol artists that you know.can anothershaman it understand throughthe colors you use? Eligio: Yes.anothershamancan comprehendit. Hope: They come as colors? Eligio: That's how they come. of color which is a word. a lot of wordsfromthe gods will come to you. or is it a more commonly sharedexperience?I askedhim whetherotherHuichol know aboutthe colors as words. know aboutit andperceive this way.He affirmedthatthe shamans.. others can also know if the shaman gives a verbal explanation]. [Otherscan tell] by seeing it. But they are colors that come.who are the ones thatyou thinkare using the colors in the mannerof the shamans? Eligio: All of us who work on yarnpaintingsare using this. Hope:Do the otherHuicholknow whatyou told me aboutthe colors andthe magical winds? Eligio: Yes. Hope: And it is by means of colors? It isn't by means of sounds or words? Eligio: By means of colors.e.If I had this. it will come with even moreforce.at least. of course. A person who doesn't know [is not a shaman]. with .312 JOURNAL ANTHROPOLOGICAL OF RESEARCH Eligio: You have to fast to learn. andI can tell whetherhe is a shaman. For me. if he hasn't completed [shamanictraining]. Eligio: Yes.he isn't a shaman.. I Hope: You are almost at the end of what I can understand.A person who has this knowledge. .doesn't understand anything.so thatif one shamandepicts the visionary experience in a yarn painting. the colors. Well. it is easy. it is for you. Hope: And when a personconstructsa yarnpainting. The depictionof colors is thereforeat the heartof Huichol yarn painting. but rightnow I can't graspthe idea very experienced well. and thereforewhether he knows. they are words which originateas colors. If you do it withpeyote. The shamansknow. such as [Jos6] Benitez or [Mariano]Valadez.if someone makes a design. whetherthey were shamansor not. think.or others. And by thatmeans [of peyote]. Because all the shamans work with these. the shamansdo. And moreover. I could grasp it. and then the shaman says what it is [i. to be able to hearthis. translate[the communicationfrom the gods] with colors.As for me. water. Is this means of perceptiona unique experience of Eligio's. it is very difficult.To fast from salt.food. Eligio felt that most of the Huichol artistsused these concepts.. I can just look at the painting.
and various others who are informing themselves. they speak to each other. Hope: Do you see this also in the clothes [madeby] the women. when the person [the makerof the clothes] is translating. of colors. to with and [Eligio uses "translating" meanthata shamanis communicating the And when she interpreting words of the gods. from the sacred fire and Kauyumari. However. the colors that they put in the clothes? Eligio: Of the women? Well. Hope: And does one see the same process in beadwork. If the person is a shaman. When the personis translating. they translate [relay communications to the shaman] from the sacred places [sacred caves and other geographic locations]. In the beadwork. is not.. depict the colors but not originatethem]. Women who are not shamanswill be able to replicateor copy shamanic designs and colors but not originatethem. if a persondoesn't know this study [of shamanism].Such as Benitez. because that is directly guided by the place from where the personis translating. using the colors of the gods. they see.e. For this reason. Hope: The clothes that the Huichols have are always very decoratedwith many colors. is not translating. myself. not all of them either. yes.then yes. In this last exchange. By this means. Of those who listen to the places of the gods.Eligio is affirmingthatthe colors which a female shaman uses in textiles will be guidedby the gods of a particular sacredplace. it yes. They understand means of this. Kauyumari each other.AND SHAMANIC VISION SACRED COLORS HUICHOL 313 and the help of [the Deer-god] Kauyumari the gods. Valadez. they make their designs. which is called Tatewari[ourGrandfather].But as I say. One can drawwhat one sees throughdreams. who cautionedthat not all women are . And by hears him. Santos. all of us who make yarn paintingsbase ourselves in the colors from these places. and they make their designs on the basis of these songs of the gods.] When she is translating. Thus. We also make designs with the help of the sacredfire.some women also use the sacredcolors as part of their work in textiles such as embroideryor weaving.such as the beaded masks? Eligio: Yes.the woman must have made pilgrimagesto thatsacredplace in orderto receive colors from it. but no more [i. Colors are born from the fire as well. They dream. they make designs. Fromthe sacred fire and everything. Besides the professionalartists.in orderto make a [yarnpainting]design.it is the same. Eligio: Well. Hope: The gods send the colors to the clothes? Eligio: You have to arriveat the sacredplace. it is entirelythe same. Eligio confirms the opinion of anthropologistStacy Schaefer (1990:245).one can use it. it is the same. He producescolors also. some women.
Schaeferfelt that it was mainly those women who were most maturein a religious careerwho were able to use this source of information. Hence. so the colors can be reproduced electronically. but he insistedthathis list was complete with these sixteen colors.The pairswere differingshadesof single color. IDENTIFICATION OF THE SACRED COLORS In additionto the questionof who perceivescolors. only abouteight distinctgroups I of colors are represented.Computergraphicprogramsalso use Pantone numbersfor identifyingcolors. used the series on shiny. Any printercan reproducethe desired color(s) by knowing the number. Table 1 reproduceshis choices.They hadnumbered colors from 100 to 877.Pantonecolors are widely used to identify colors of ink in printing and graphic arts. The PantoneswatchesI used were a set madefor printing. Eligio I was surprised he chose comparatively colors.) The advantage of the Pantone color system is that it is an international system of numberingcolors. otherlogical questionsare: Whatcolors is Eligio talking about?Do the gods use all colors. or are there only certaincolors they use? How many colors do the gods use? Are the sacredcolors shown in yarn paintingor otherHuichol arts? To bring this discussion right down to basics. TABLE1 as SixteenPantoneColorsIdentified SacredColorsby ShamanEligio Pantone Color Number 150C+ 151C 231C+ 232C 258C+ 259C 265C+ 266C 300C+ 301C 470C+ 471C 479C+ 480C 809C+ 810C of Description Color slightlybrownish oranges bluishpinks(closeto Rhodamine Red) strong purple violet blue(shading blueandreflexbluewithblack) between process chocolate browns browns lightdove-gray fluorescent and greenish-yellow fluorescent orange-yellow (whatusedto be calledDay-glocolorson psychedelic posters of the 1960s) .314 JOURNAL ANTHROPOLOGICAL OF RESEARCH capable of using informationfrom dreamor vision in theirdesigns. coated stock to make his selection. He selected 16 colors that few out of a possible 777. plus separateswatches for Basic colors I and II (colors and frequentlyused by printers) the fourcolors used in four-colorprocessprinting. All were selected in pairsof adjacentcolors on a swatch. (Pantone swatches are similar to the paint color swatches at a hardware store. I gave Eligio a set of Pantone color swatches and asked him if he could identify what colors the gods use to communicate. asked him severaltimes if he wantedto add any more colors.
In some for versions. and the reds and yellows are not primarycolors. Eligio's red is a shadecloser to bluish pink. Eligio offered several differentHuichol words to referto the sacredcolors. the shades are quite similar.I received independentconfirmation Eligio's color choice fromanotherHuicholartist. had a series of colors as he represented parallellines. yellow. and.thatis. Chavelois learningto become a shamanandclaims a certainamountof shamanicvision.The selectionmadehereis not clearlyrelatedto a rainbowor light spectrum since it includesseveralshadesof browns. It showed the sun as a face. nor did I ask him to make a painting showing this.There is no green. which he defined in Spanish as palabras sagradas (sacred words). black and white. Nor are these colors the same as those used in the Native AmericanPlains medicine wheel or in otherpopularversions of colors associatedwith the cardinal directions in Native American thought. and. HUICHOL TERMS FOR SACRED COLORS Thereare severaltermsfor the sacredcolors the gods use to talk. of Perhapscoincidentally. representingthe five sacred colors of corn. especially when one keeps in mind that Chavelohad to use the colors of yarnthathe could find commerciallyin the shops. In most cases.black or white. I had not told Chavelo aboutwhat Eligio had said on the subjectof color.ChaveloGonzilez de la Cruz.Eligio's versioncontainsno black or white. Chavelo's painting is independentconfirmationboth of Eligio's statementthat colors are words which the gods use to communicateand of the actualcolors used.Thusthe words he uses may come from these regions. I had askedChaveloto makeme some paintings. said they depictedthe sacredwords which come from the sun. Tatei teima wa pu .such as chocolatebrownsanddove-gray browns.However. There are several shades of blue which lean towardsblack or violet and purple. andblue. but he says he does not yet have the ability to heal.blue is substituted black. whom he depicted in a yarn painting wearing a dress of five colors.SACRED COLORS ANDSHAMANIC HUICHOL VISION 315 It is noteworthythatthese colors are not what Westernartistsuse as primary colors.3Chavelo's family roots are in Santa Catarina the southern and partof the SierraaroundAmatlande Jora. primary red.andhe arrived with a painting of the Sun-god. His yellow shades lean towardsgreen or orange. as far as I know. Thus. In Canada. The colors beara remarkable similarityto the ones identifiedby Eligio. Hope: How do you say "colors"in Huichol?Is there a word? Eligio: Colors in Huichol?They say ukitsikatcha yeina. there was no direct communicationbetween the two while Eligio was telling me about the colors.Chavelo used this name to referto the CornGoddess (Spanish:Madre de Mafz).The second artist lived in a differentvillage some distancefrom Eligio. The term he uses is similar to the name of a Goddess. Chavelo said his paintingshowed niwetari. one often sees the Plains medicine wheel depicted with primaryred and yellow. When I askedwhatthe lines represented. Tatei Niwetsika. at the top.
which the shamanslearn to understand? As I delved into the meaning of colors. That's how I combine them. COLORS. Hope: If you aremakinga god [in a painting.who arepartof a constellationof deities the Huicholbelieve in.. as soon as the Deer-god comes to a with othercolors such ceremonyand makes contactwith the fire.his goal is to try to representthe colors he sees as accuratelyas possible. Are the colors which Eligio identified symbolic in some way? Thatis. SYMBOLS.. urrari.-didn't you say it to me in Spanish?Ukitsika Urrari. However. pu Tatei teima wa urrarixi pu yeni.: in as "oo-sha" the urrari)for the wordoftenwrittenin the literature uxa (pronounced easterndialect of Huichol). That is. not as single colors. does Pantonecolor 150C mean one thing. they come combined. Eligio is using Tatei teima wa urrarito mean the sacredcolorsused by the gods to communicate. with blue? . However.thus he uses urra (pl. Uxa is usually used to refer to a yellow root.the MotherGoddesses. you say here urra. Eligio: Yes. AND MEANING One of the first questions any anthropologistmight ask is.the Deer-godoftenappearssurrounded is a sign of the powers of thatdeity. if you see TamatsiKauyumari[the Deer-god].TateiteimameansourMothers.Instead. Urra. . Eligio: [The colors come] Combined. withblue. Hope: Wa urrariis the same as uxa.In a sense. Eligio: Well.do] you makeit with the color [you see]? Eligio: That is combined [in the god].. Hope: For example.. wa urrari.They don't come alone. It is the same. it quickly became apparentthat this kind of simple equatingof color with meaning was not what Eligio was talking about. Hope: And the word. It is more straightforward. it is surrounded as red and orange.when Eligio is making a painting. Orelse. while 151C means somethingelse? Is there a symbolic equation of one meaning to one color? Or is meaning more complex? Is there perhapsa languageof symbolic meanings.316 JOURNAL ANTHROPOLOGICAL OF RESEARCH ukitsikatcha yeina. or Eligio: Thatmeans.. I am only using that [power of communication]which the color carries . uxa. I make that [the painting]with these [same] colors.he said thatthe colors usually come as combinationsof colors. blue Forexample. Therefore. whose source is the fire. one usually sees a group of colors together in a communicationfrom the gods. Eligio speaksthe San Andr6sor "r"dialectof Huichol.while uxaalonemay mean the root or paint or color. which is to usedas a face paintduringthepilgrimage Wirikuta.also.
The Huicholmakepilgrimagesto the the sacredsites andleave offeringsfor the deities..namedTatewari. The . but clearly he is not thinkingof a languagethatcan be learnedand spokenby anyone. and blue. But he carries partof Tatewari[the Fire-god.[with] TamatsiKauyumari.which representsomethingother than themselves. coffee aroundthe outside .) the Hope: And it can be seen as light outside the deer? Eligio: Like lights. springs.which may be for generalbenefits such as health or long life or for specific abilities such as skill in embroideryand weaving.. and The sites includeparticular caves.accordingto Eligio.VISION ANDSHAMANIC SACRED COLORS HUICHOL Eligio: Yes.. if Eligio: If I make TamatsiKauyumari.He is in contactwith the sacred fire.as well as mountainsandregions such as the peyote desert. The deities include powers that are located in the cardinaldirections. when the fire is there.SantosDaniel CarrilloJim6nezquiteoften depictsthese red and orange colored lights surrounding deer in his yarnpaintings. Hope: And you will paint him with the same blue? Eligio: Yes. like lights. he is . of the fire also.(The Huichol artist. If he surrounds with red and yellows. But they do not necessarily"mean" the anythingelse.or rocks withinbodies of water. They are a language that can be understoodby the shamans. coffee color [brown]. COLORS AND SACRED DIRECTIONS The Huichol have a system of sacred sites within and surroundingtheir territory.such as a large white rock in the Pacific Ocean at San Blas (Tatei Haramara). In return.Because the deer alone is only blue. Combined. with the same.I make it with blue. Huicholexpect the deities to granttheir prayers. That is. you should see him with blue. Nor arethe colors a languagein the sense of a set of symbols. 317 As the Deer-godcontactsthe Fire-god. with or without shamanicability. and red and orange. or places wheretheirpoweris concentrated wherehumansmay makecontactwith them.. luck in huntingdeer.othercolors leap out. Hope:Whenthe deeris touchingthe fire. it carriesthe colorsof the fire also? Eligio: Yes. it is because that is how he sees it. The colors "mean" powersof the gods. or shamanicpowers. it is because thatis how he it sees it when the power of the Deer-god combines with the power of the Fire-god. once he makes contact]. He is quite literally representingreality as he sees it through shamanicvision. if he paints a Deer-spiritwith blue. ClearlyEligio is not using colors as symbols.These sacred sites are consideredto be homes of the deities. The colors of the fire can be seen as colored lights shining aroundthe deer spirit.
He addedthe information the shamanhas colors that the colors contact also. they have them there. south.he once again reversed the conceptualorderof the question. when I asked Eligio whetherthere was any particularcolor associated with the directions. sacredsites]. They come to the place [wherethe shamanis].nothing else. There was no one color for each direction.[Makessssingsound. In the literatureon Native American and Mesoamericanbeliefs. the colors. Well then. This bringsthe numberof directions to seven. these come forthwhen the shamanis using the powersof the sacredplaces of the gods. while prayingduringa ceremony.. Thatis to say.the directionsused all the sacred colors to speak. However. I reiterated question. And then it comes.the south. those colors arrivefrom the sacredplaces.the ocean.thoseones overthere. They arriveat the sacred of temple [i. here is [cardinalpoint in] the north.with those [colors]they [shamanand place]makecontact.Inthoseplaces.For example. which can communicatewith the colors of the sacredsites. and down towardsthe earthand the fire.east..that'swheretheyare. There are sacredplaces in each of the five cardinaldirections.]At themomentthathe is speaking. With your spirit/mind (Spanish: pensamiento). for example. With that. towardsthe sky.He repliedby elaborating the theme of how the shaman. It is like an electricity.He is singing for them [the sacredplaces] to reach them.For example. andthe center.to make surethathe clearlywas not thinkingof symbolic the on associationsof color anddirection.It is as though it were an image.as well as deities associatedwith the directions. Hope: And it doesn't make . It is like electricity. Wirikuta sacreddesertwherepeyote grows]. andto the takwatsi[medicinebasketof shaman].And the shamanhas a color also. It is noteworthyhere that Eligio refers to certainsounds as he describesthe experience of receiving the colors. sometimesthe Huichol add more directions.. Ratherthan making a was simple associationof color with direction. Five is also used most commonly as their sacred number. and so did the shamanto reply..318 JOURNAL ANTHROPOLOGICAL OF RESEARCH Huicholusually speakof five cardinaldirections-north.here from the center [makes pshing sound] it has to touch to the four points with this [soundof wind]. Hope: Are therecolors which are linked with the sacreddirectionsalso? Is it like each sacreddirectionhas a color? Eligio: Well.I have seen thempoint to the five directions. the colors .those ones [i.e.then point up. west.Those arethe colors..Instead.he said thatwhatwas important that the directions-the sacredplaces-talked to the shamanin colors.right?To the four cardinaldirections.if I speak to the four cardinaldirections. You are calling it. fire lit duringthe ceremony4] the shaman. [the There isn't one color which is linked to each direction? Eligio: Well. particular colors are often associated with the cardinaldirections.However. Marie-Francoise Guddon (personal .e..
They also describedthis geometricconfigurations 1985:167). His colors are talkingto [the sacred sites?]. the description of Shipibo shamanism by Gebhart-Sayer (1985:162) shows some significant similarities to Eligio's perception. somewhatlike air coming out of a tire. Hope:Fromthe differentplaces. Eligio: In the moment. She laterrecognizedthese sounds in other was accompaniedby particular of shamanic experiences. an out-of-body state. the is communicationceases. her consultantssaid that it was possible to read these designs as though they were words in a book.VISION AND SHAMANIC SACRED COLORS HUICHOL 319 communication)points out that sounds can be a componentof altered states of consciousness and that certain characteristicsounds may accompanyparticular states. [they are] differentcolors. (1985:168) was told how this readingmight be done.Because . they saw luminous which took the form of designs. as well as several references to brilliantness or shininess in designs. They [thecolors] have different powers. Hope: And the shamanhas colors also. a referenceto "coloredstripes"(GebhartSayer 1985:157). the colors.. phenomenonas "rapidlyflashing 'sheets' of designs" (Gebhart-Sayer Her article does mention color playing a role in these designs. Shipibo shamans recounted that. readinglines Gebhart-Sayer and motifs. For thatreason. such as manydifferent colors. Hope: And the rays . the colors are like rays.The channelof communication open as long as the shamansings. However. sounds.There is one mentionof red and black (Gebhart-Sayer 1985:155). It reopenswhen he begins to sing again. Hope: As though combined? Eligio: Combined. Does otherresearchrecordthe idea of shamansusing a languageof color and song or deities communicatingby these means? Is this concept unique to the Huichol? Probablynot. Whenhe stops. Eligio: No. but she does not discuss which colors in detail or what they mean. For example. to the shaman. I clarified that this was what happenedwhen the shamancommunicateswith the directions. Since my interviews with Eligio are tape-recorded. under the influence of ayahuasca. They aren'tjust one. Referringto previous conversationson combining of colors. such as an Inuit descriptionrecorded by descriptions Knut Rasmussen. That'show it is. the knowledge of how to do this was passing away. Verbally. In the moment. thatare arrivingfrom those places to the shaman? Eligio: Yes. yes. For example. and coloredinfill of design units (Gebhart-Sayer 1985:147).the exact sounds he made are on tape.yes.they make contact. the rays... startingat the lower rightandtracingthe meandersof the designs with . It is those ones who hear the magical air (Spanish:aigre5mdgica). And they arecolors. which she experiencedin a workshop. In the past. it is coming to the takwatsi.I can describe them as hissing or shshing sounds..exactly.
Colorperceptionsmay be seen as the productof brainactivity. or his I will not tryhere to "explain" interpret design.one of the paintingshe offered me was a paintingof the colors as he sees them coming from a sacredsite. and song with a form of languageor meaningcomprehensibleto the shaman.320 JOURNAL ANTHROPOLOGICAL OF RESEARCH a finger.which areused to stimulateentopticphenomena. to decide how we wish to interpret this very explicit demonstration shamanicperception. whereHuicholgo to requestpowers. includingthe shamanicabilityto heal as well as the abilityto paintand drawwell. I did not request any particulartopic. The painting shows the Sun-god floating on the surfaceof the water. as anthropologists. of CONCLUSIONS of How can we understand interpretation colors as a languageof the gods? the Whatdoes it meanto say thatcolors area language. The paintingdepictsthe deity locatedin a cave with a springin it. Why would colors be associated with cardinaldirections?Is it possible that the concept originatedin fromthe sacred actualshamanicperceptionof multiplecolors which communicate sites located in the cardinaldirections?Perhapslater this became simplified and stereotypedas a single color for each direction? WHAT COLOR PERCEPTION LOOKS LIKE Towards the end of our interviews.All around springarejagged lines in colorsof bluish andpink. A biophysical model might interpretthis information as the product of synaesthesia. Eligio's perspectiveon sacredcolors and the cardinaldirectionsalso sheds a new light on the usual symbolism of the medicine wheel. Her researchprovidesanothercase in which thereis a strong association of the idea of visual designs.thatthecolorstalkto each other and can speak to humans?I suggest that our understanding may depend on what theoreticalmodels we subscribeto. Eligio explainedthatthis image is what a personwith shamanicvision sees upon looking the into the waterof the spring. but it seems thatthe consultantdid not tell her the meaning. . The Huichol shamanmay then culturally construethe colors as meaningfulcommunicationsfrom the gods. light.The cave is a sacredsite. Eligio helped out by making a yarn painting to show me. When I returned. He called itAriwameta. trouble imagining what the colors looked like when they come to the shaman. I asked Eligio to make me some yarn paintings.He explainedthatthis is how he sees the colors when they emanate purple from a sacredsite. It is up to us. I simply note thatone of the amazingaspects of studyingshamanismamong the Huichol is theirreadiness Since I was having to drawa pictureof visionaryexperiencefor the anthropologist.eitherthrough the use of a hallucinogenor throughothermechanismssuch as rhythmic percussion or fasting.perhapscaused by chemical stimulationof the brain.and she was not sureif it was still known.
SACRED COLORS AND SHAMANIC VISION HUICHOL 321 Therehas been considerablediscussionof shapesandentopicphenomena. Shamanscan also see colors on and though they were transparent aroundpeople's faces andbodies. If you have not experienced them. you will understand what they mean and what they are saying.Huicholhave describedto me some visionarycapacitieswhich they say shamansroutinelyhave..Huicholshamansaresaidto be able to see illnesses which people have and to be able to see throughpeople's bodies as like a bottle. information abouthow shamans Eligio may be giving us some very important and what form of communicationgods or spiritsuse to communicate." . which are Lewis-Williams's third stage of entoptic phenomena)? s Those who subscribeto Harner' model of shamanicstatesof consciousnessas of accessing communicationwith powerful beings might see this actual means do event differently. Do entoptic phenomenaappearas colors in additionto Do shapes. Why are our symbols and our artand the storiesthatwe have not an accuratereflectionof our history. it is very difficult. Speck.the gods may choose to give them many beautifulcolors paintedon their faces and bodies. who feel that anthropologists violence to native models of thoughtby rejectingthe aboriginalexplanationand convertingit into symbolism. grandmother's Thereare all kinds of naturalphenomenain the world thatI know of in my saw own time thatarenot madeup.ratherthan anthropologists believing that everythingis symbolic of somethingelse? Why can't it be just what it is? People have very differentexplanationsof what happens. "If you experience the colors.So do some aboriginalpeople. As a Kwakiutl. These colors tell the shamansa good deal about the person's characterand also their relationshipto the gods.but little discussion of color.Ren e Taylor says. and Taylor 1993:179) Those who believe thatshamanismdoes access otherrealmsor dimensionsof realitymightdescribeEligio's color languageas a genuineexperienceof shamanic vision. As Eligio said. For example.(Ignace. The ability to perceive these colors may be related to other capacities which the Huichol also believe are partof shamanicvision. The shamanscan see these colors and hence can read a person's state of spiritualdevelopment. when people go to the peyote desertcalled Wirikuta. Perhapsthere is a language of colors and songs which only shamanscan perceive.and arethese colors then culturallyinterpreted? othershamansclaim to understandcolors as communicationsfrom gods? Do gods or spirits appearas colors (iconic images. It is as thoughthey were dressed and paintedin gorgeous clothes. Overthe years. may begin to comprehend natureof this aspectof comparative human perception.By perceive listening closely to descriptions of shamanic experience and gathering the we information. but it is a phenomenonthat is more like light. . speakingof her vision of a giant snake. Forexample. Whatthey [my grandparents] is what is real..
Eligio uses the Spanish word aigre for air. called xiriki.B. 27-60 in People of the Peyote (ed. It is customaryto hold ceremoniesoutdoorson the familypatio (a clearedspace in frontof the houses). 63-87 in People of the Peyote (ed.M. However. 3. Pp.However. 4.Albuquerque: Universityof New Mexico Press.Eligio said thatwhen a shamanlights his fire duringa ceremony.CharlesD.monash.Pp. a musician who lived in Montrealand who was wellknown for being synaesthesic. Howes. History as Myth: A New Look at Some Old Problemsin Huichol Origins. 1993. and large communaltemples.B. Toronto:University of TorontoPress. ratherthan simply to the air (aire) which surrounds Kearney(1972:48-49) describes a similaruse of aigre to refer to spiritually us. Furst).S.au/v.2/psyche-2-27-barron_cohen. it becomes the shaman's temple.322 JOURNALOF ANTHROPOLOGICAL RESEARCH NOTES 1. Dyck andJ. by S.Otherssay it is purple or pink. Speck. In some versions. 2.R. Young. Ignace.he often used the term "sacredtemple"and ceremonialfire synonymously.T. D. .. called tuki.DavidE.. Harner.B. blue. the sacred colors of corn usually include red. 41-50 in Mirrorsof the Gods (ed. Queen's University Press. R. however. P. The Way of the Shaman:A Guide to Power and Healing. Bernstein). The Originsof HuicholArt. Public Montreal: McGillPolicy andNative Peoples in Canada(ed. Waldram).. SchaeferandP. This may be local Mexican or rural dialect.the fifth color is spotted(pinto). Furst).A. The Varieties of Sensory Experience. dependingon who is telling the story.T. 5.(http://psyche. 1985..Journalof Latin AmericanLore 11(2):143-75. Huichol Ethnohistory:The View from Zacatecas.San Diego: San Diego Museumof Man.Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press.A. andwhite.. CharlesLaughlinsuggests thatthe musicianmay have been Oliver Meissen (1908-1992). 1996. Afterwards.edu.Huicholalso have a customof makingsmall family temples or godhouses.csse. 1996. Schaeferand P. REFERENCES CITED Barron-Cohen. I amgratefulto Marie-Francoise Gu6don. In our interviews. Myth as History.. chargedwinds among Zapotec. A. June). G.. by N. by S. and the JARreviewersfor their commentson a draftof this paper. 1996. 1980. with in participants a circle aroundthe fire. by S. for Eligio. In versions I have heardthe actual colors vary. 1989.T. yellow. San Francisco:Harperand Row. Furst. and R.. Pp.. Pp. Is There a Normal Phase of Synaesthesiain Development? Psyche2(27. 166-91 in Anthropology. Dyck). Gebhart-Sayer. The radio program may have been on the CanadianBroadcasting Corporation sometime between 1995 and 2000. he often seems to use aigre specifically to refer to winds as spiritual entities or "magical air" as a spiritualpower. Franz. Taylor (interviewedby N. Some Native Perspectives on Anthropology and Public Policy. Huichol have a legend of five corn maidenswho representthe five sacredcolors of corn (Zingg 1938:255-57). The Geometric Designs of the Shipibo-Coniboin Ritual Context. 1991. The Huichol grow corn with all these color variations.html) Cordy-Collins. a shamancan set up his own temple at will by lighting a ceremonialfire. Laughlin. ed.
and L. Maffi. Lumholtz.: KrausReprintCo. L. Ph. BanisteriopsisUsage amongthe PeruvianCashinahua.. Shaman's Drum 20(Summer):30-43. P. The Origins of Huichol IndianYam Painting. Guadalajara: Casade las Artesanfas del La del Gobiernode Jalisco. University of Alberta.. Zingg.. diss. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press.D. The Ayahuasca Visions of Pablo Amaringo. MacLean. N. Peregrinaci6n peyote. H. .M.E.d. 59-92 in The Forest of Symbols: Aspects of Ndembu Ritual. New York: Holt. N. 1902. 1972. eds.. diss.and Winston. H. University of California. The Winds of Ixtepeji: World View and Society in a Zapotec Town. H. Kensinger. The "Deified" Heart: Huichol Indian Soul-Concepts and Shamanic Art.. 1967.Y.. Schaefer. Schaefer. n. 14 in Hallucinogens and Shamanism (ed. Becoming a Weaver: The Woman's Path in Huichol Culture... R. Color Appearanceand the Emergenceand Evolution of Basic Color Lexicons. Colour Classification in Ndembu Ritual: A Problemin Primitive Classification. MacLean.. and P. MacLean. Reality and Non-Reality in San Rock Art.. Pp. Harner). Lewis-Williams. by M.New York:G. Stechertand Co.B.Y. 2001. 1996. MataTorres.D. 1999. Anthropologica42:75-90.V. Furst.Oxford: Oxford University Press.C.Edmonton. Johannesburg: Witwatersrand University Press.B. 2000.R. S.. S. Kearney. Millwood. 1990.. 1995.. 1990... 1938. The Huichols:PrimitiveArtists.Los Angeles..E. Luna..D. 9Pp. M. Reprinted1977. Ph.: CornellUniversity Press.American Indian Art Magazine 26(3):42-53.M.HUICHOLSACREDCOLORSAND SHAMANICVISION 323 Kay. 1973. Turner. 2 vols.J. People of the Peyote. Twenty-fifth Raymond Dart Lecture delivered 6 October 1987. Unknown Mexico. J. Rinehart.T. Huichol Indian Yarn Painting and Shamanism:An Aesthetic Analysis.. New York: CharlesScribner'sSons. Ithaca.K. 1988. American Anthropologist 101(4):743-60.
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