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Observations placeholder

Tree, Isabella - Sliced Iguana – 01 Isabella tries peyote



Type of Spiritual Experience


A description of the experience

Juancho, … was a walking display of shamanic curiosities. Under the paisley bandanna, and the three bead skeins (white, purple and yellow) that he wore around his neck, was a cowrie shell on a leather thong; and each wrist sported a blue and white bead bracelet like the one Chucho had given me.

On one hip, strapped to an embossed leather belt trimmed with red woollen tassels, was a Swiss-army knife in a sheath. On the other, a small gourd slung inside a deer's scrotum containing makutse, a native variety of tobacco with the highest nicotine content known to man. It is cultivated specially by the Huichol for ritual use and can be rolled up into corn-husk cigarettes or smoked in clay pipes during ceremonies that revolve around deer hunting and the peyote pilgrimage. Miniature makutse cigarettes would be tied to toy rattles during a ceremony in which Juancho, through his chanting and the rhythmic beating of a drum, would lead Huichol children on a metaphysical journey to the peyote desert.

Juancho's hat, broad and flat like one of a pair of cymbals, had two red pom-poms dangling either side of his ears, four on the brim and a fifth on the crown in the centre. It was trimmed with cockerel and eagle feathers, and a red plastic camellia Jessica had given him the previous year. This had been added to the assembly not simply because it was attractive - the Huichol wear nothing casually; every garment, every accessory has some religious purpose - but because flowers, like the plumes of birds, are prayers for rain and for life; even if they happen to be made in Taiwan.

Over Juancho's shoulder was slung a small, scarlet, pink and lime-green embroidered bag with a pattern of hearts and crosses and a safety pin stuck through the middle of it. In a larger bag, which he carried slung on his back, were the bulkier of his sacred power-objects: his magic muvieri in a long, lidded basket; the antlers of Kauyumari; a xikiri, or magical mirror, through which the deities would reveal themselves to him; some urutexi, or votive arrows; a gourd bottle containing sacred water; and a piece of yellow root from a desert shrub known as uxa which he would use to paint the faces of his companions.

And last, but by no means least, it contained five large, gnarly bulbs of the famous cactus lophophora williamsii, collected on his latest trip to Huiricuta with Humberto.

I felt a knot tighten in my stomach when I knew peyote taking was on the agenda. And Humberto must have noticed the colour draining from my face. He started singing the opening bars of The Twilight Zone.

'The time has come,' he said in a voice like Vincent Price, 'for your journey into The Unknown.'

The source of the experience

Tree, Isabella

Concepts, symbols and science items


Science Items

Activities and commonsteps





Listening to beating sounds