The Peyote Pilgrimage of the Wixárika

By Valeria Amaral

For many Peyote is known as a psychedelic plant. A small, squishy cactus camouflaged underneath the shrubs in the Mexican desert. But for the Waxaritari it is much greater than that. The Wixarika believe that the plant allows them to connect with their ancestors and regenerates their souls. They use peyote in their religious rituals. Every year, Wixárika communities make a several-hundred-mile pilgrimage to five natural sacred territories to reconnect with their Gods. They travel to Sierra Wixarika, Isla de los Alacranes, Cerro Gordo, and Sierra de Catorce. Groups travel by car, trucks and buses these days but centuries ago did this journey by foot. This pilgrimage is done under the direction of a leading shaman, better known as Maraka’ame.

The members of the community attend this pilgrimage adorned in their traditional outfits. The women wear vibrant colors, hand-sewn dresses, as well as scarves to protect their hair from the sun. The men typically wear white shirts and pants, with embroidered depictions of deers, peyotes and other traditional symbols, such as God’s Eye. They also wear wide-brimmed hats with plumed feathers.

Throughout the trek, they make offerings at sacred sites — areas where their ancestors had found water during previous pilgrimages. Water is very sacred for the offerings. Feathers and candles are used to sprinkle water over the offerings, which included corn tortillas and coins.  The Mara´akame’s conduct the peyote ceremonies which are nocturnal and last throughout the night into the next day, with prayers, chants, singing, and dancing inducing moments of catharsis for the group.

The widespread awareness of the psychedelic experience induced by the peyote cactus has provoked a massive interest in the plant which in turn has put the cultural traditions of the Wixárika at risk. Under Mexican law, only Indigenous groups are authorized to harvest and ingest peyote but this has not stopped people from harvesting for themselves. As a result of the scarcity of the peyote cactus in its natural habitat, there is growing awareness surrounding the ethical considerations around consuming it. Since it is increased in mainstream popularity this has driven it to its endangerment. As our societies continue to develop, and as indigenous cultures and habitats are further intruded upon, it is important to listen to the voices from these communities. The venerated traditions of indigenous communities from around the world such as the Wixárika can provide wisdom for us as we move toward a common future created in alliance and solidarity with each other.

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