Beliefs of Mexico's Huichol people: Responsible Ecstasy
Flowers of Wiricuta - Chapter 6
Ecstasy is a real human need...
a state of consciousness beyond concept.
And if it does not come through... in positive ways...
it's going to come out in violence.
— Elizabeth Cogburn —
The Huichol shamans say we are perdido, lost. They say we are bringing doom and destruction to Yurianaka, Mother Earth, and that Taupa, Father Sun, is coming closer to the earth to purify it. They are concerned for the future and for the life of their children. They are holding great ceremonies calling in shamans from many areas to try and "hold up the sun." But they know they cannot do it themselves, for they are not the ones soiling the collective nest. We are. We are the ones who have to wake up, who have to find our lives.
For the Huichols, this is the purpose of their sacred pilgrimage to the holy land of Wiricuta — to find their lives. This is what all their ceremonies involving the ritual use of the peyote help them to accomplish. Their technology of the sacred enables them to change channels and access "state specific information" available only on the wavelengths of specific channels. For shamanic peoples such as the Huichols, the purpose in changing channels is not for escapism, to get lost in imaginary hallucinations that have no basis in reality. Their purpose is to get a more accurate reading of the nature of reality. They seek entrance through the nierica into the numinous universe underlying the limited, material world of the sensory — the "mysterious, ubiquitous, concentrated form of non-material energy... loose about the world and contained in a more or less condensed degree by all objects" (Bob Calahan in his introduction to Jaimie de Angulo's Coyote Man and Old Doctor Loon). Why? To obtain information, healing, and power, which they can use here on this plane of existence to better their lives and the lives of their people.
Entering into the depths of the mystery is not something to take lightly, for the mystery is all about power and power can manifest itself in many ways. Out of respect, the Wisdom Elders observe, listen, and commune with this power in all its manifestations. From this base of phenomenological data of mind in nature, nature in mind, they came to learn the order and structure of life's connectedness and that all things are dependent upon each other and thus related. Recognizing this, the norm of reciprocity in all interactions is raised to the status of sacred. Balanced reciprocity with all of creation is observed at all costs, for without this practice, the fragile web of life is irreversibly damaged, a fate that faces us today. The eminent theologian Thomas Berry addresses this fate:
"The earth asks us to accept greater responsibility. We must exchange mindlessness for mindfulness." It's an initiation process, says Berry. Humanity is "moving from a state of childhood into its adult stage of life and human community must now assume adult responsibilities." Respect, humility, clarity of intention, right relationship with the appropriate psychospiritual technology, and sustained, focused mindfulness are all key components of successful channel-changing to access state specific information. The shaman is the state shifter, the channel-changer par excellence, for the shaman is the master technician of ecstasy.
"Open your heart. Speak to the spirit of the hicouri. Tell it the truth of what it is that you seek. It sees into you and is a great teacher. If you open to it with humility, if your prayers are good, it will help you find your life. It is good medicine. You are under the mara'akame's protection. Eat well, mi amigo, it is for your life, for your family, for your people."
These words were from Presciliano, a young Huichol man who, along with his wife and four children, were on the 1983 pilgrimage journey to Wiricuta. We had been on the pilgrimage road for a week now, stopping at various holy places along the way to make offerings and to pray. We were eating minimally of tortillas and fruta, fasting at times, abstaining from washing, from salt, sex, alcohol, and drugs, spending long hours driving and short hours sleeping, awakening and bedding down with prayers and purification around Tatewari, sleeping out in the desert and mountains as we made our way over the three-hundred-mile passage to the holy land, learning all the while about the dynamics of responsible ecstasy.