Reflections on Huichol Mythology

Through one thing and another I have just encountered the Huichol culture of Mexico. I was reading an entry in Rätsch’s Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Plants and came across the name ‘Tatewarí’. Looking him up online I came across the website of  David Wiley, an American born businessman who trained as a shaman with the Huichol after a spiritual encounter with Tatewarí, a god known as Gradfather Fire after the Huichol custom of seeing the gods as ancestors. I was intrigued and wanted to find out more, so I dug around a bit and come across this account of the Huichol creation myth. Juan Negrín talks introduces it this way:

The story of the Creation of the World chronicles the manner in which the ancestors emerged from an amorphous existence in darkness to find the way to light and harmonious life. Having accomplished their designs, the ancestors died physically…. Through [a] ritualistic lifestyle, repeating timeless actions and actually impersonating the ancestors, the Huichol attempt to establish a direct relationship with the animistic spirits of nature which are none other than their Ancestors. This philosophy of life culminates eventually in death, when the wise join the pantheon of the Ancestors, becoming spirit allies and guides for their descendants.

It struck me that at the heart of the Core Order of Ritual in ADF, with its emphasis on ritually recreating the sacrificial drama of an exchange with the gods, the same basic urge was playing out. In some ways, all ritual seeks to accomplish this (since all ritual is concerned with putting the people into right relationship with the divine), but what really interested me was the similarity between some of the mythic roles and concepts and Indo-European myth. Of course, there is no historical connection, but this makes them that much more intersting.

First and most striking to me is the parallel between Tatewarí and Agni, the Vedic god of fire. Both are concieved as fire itself, the active principle of warmth, quickening vitality and divine luminescence.The association of Tatewarí with deer and sacrifice mirrors Agni’s similar associations as the communicator of the sacrifice to the gods. There is a relationship likewise with the divine law, expressed in Vedic mythology as Ṛta but concieved (it seems to me) in Huichol mythology in familial terms, i.e. humanity is intrinsically

Yarn painting of the Huichol creation myth. The inseminating Deer-god sits above, the ancestor of all deer is to the right, while the divine twins are below and Tatewarí to the left.

related to all reality through the deeply physical (and not asexual!) connection of family and ancestry. If anything, this is where the great difference lies between Indo-European mythic reality and that of the Huichol: the Indo-European has a fully formed mythic Other and delineates family only in terms of ancestry, while the Huichol mythology seems to embody a total connection with absolutely everything.

Second, there is a parallel with the Greek Prometheus in the idea of fire as a teacher, fostering in humanity a divine understanding. The familial intimacy of Grandfather Fire finds a strong parallel in Prometheus’ affection for humanity, the same affection which calls down the anger of Zeus and which establishes him as first and foremost a teacher. Thus the difference noted above has a concomitant difference in narrative: there is no capricious justice enacted against Tatewarí, though what this difference means I have no idea …

Other parallels with Huichol mythology also intrigue me. The concieving of the Earth as a divine Mother, fertilized by a transcendent god recalls (at least in my mind) the IE myth of Gaia and the Sky God. Likewise, this transcendent deer-god is both father and child, analogous with the often incestuous and even impossible births of the gods in many IE myths. Beside the first god, Kauyumarie, and the fire god, Tatewarí, there is the sun god, Taweviékame, and what seems to me like a pair of divine twins: Pariya, the Spirit of Dawn, and Vieruku Temaiku, the Young Vulture. These two “inhabit the land of peyote” which seems to me (in my admitted ignorance) very similar to an otherworld. Really I need to know more if I am to pursue these parallels further.

Modern materialist perspectives would seek to see in these parallels a common human experience in the dependence on fire, hunted game and agriculture, but this common human experience could be a common experience of the divine understood and formulated rationally according to the details of how the divine manifests.


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