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Observations placeholder

Tree, Isabella - Sliced Iguana – 06 The ceremony



Type of Spiritual Experience


A description of the experience

Juancho is cutting more peyote. He looks questioningly at me for a moment, perhaps trying to judge whether to give me any more. I try to look grateful as I receive the second slice. It's far more difficult to eat than the first. My whole body seems to resist, my stomach wrenching and shaking as if trying to release itself from the peyote's grip. Again I chew the cactus slowly, waiting for it to come alive in my mouth, trying to conquer my instincts, to calm myself, to meet its challenge.

'The first time you take peyote,' Cumanama tells us, 'is very important. Since I had no fear, the peyote became my friend. Now, when I take it, I know it will be my guide. It will not try to trick me or frighten me.'

The flames of the fire begin to judder as if they're being filmed on Super 8. Juancho is invoking the deities from all their secret places. He has hardly moved from his rock. The Therm-o-rest has slipped ineffectively to one side. And, though he is barely four feet from the flames, he doesn't shrink from the heat.

Occasionally he raises a hand to cool his cheek. He's been chanting now for several hours. He's in a trance-like state yet he doesn't forget a single detail of the proceedings. He's aware of every individual in the cave and what they've come for. I can see how his energy, his kupuri, must be channelled from somewhere deep and unfathomable, perhaps from Tatewari himself, blazing beside him.

One of the Huichol takes some agave stems out of the hot coals.

He slices off the blackened skin with a machete. Each stroke leaves a dozen images in the air like the arms of Shiva. I think of Indians on another continent, of gurus and saddhus, and then ascetics and mystics all over the world, striving in the same Sisyphean attempt to keep our world on its course. The agave is sweet and woody like sugarcane with a hint of roasted chestnuts.

Juancho is moving on to the fourth phase of his incantion preparing for the arrival of the gods. He asks his wife to pass him his ceremonial hat. She looks at him nonplussed. 'There, beside you,' he points. She looks at it in amazement and bursts out laughing. 'Aaieee!' she exclaims, 'l thought it was a turtle!'

The women gather themselves together and begin to light the candles. Juancho's voice becomes keener. All around the cave, people stir from semi-sleep and collect around the altar. The chanting gains purpose. The atmosphere becomes powerfully charged and the women begin to weep. Their tears fall generously, profusely, with the occasional wracking sob. They wipe their eyes with their scarves without, somehow, disturbing the paint on their cheeks.

The uxa spots have begun to have a life of their own, rising out of their faces like glowing yellow pimples.

There are complicated rituals going on now that I find difficult to follow. But then, in one dramatic moment, Juancho raises the deer's head and seems to become Kauyumari himself. Remotely, I find tears in my eyes. One by one we go forward to receive his blessing, bowing our heads as if locking antlers with the god. '

When I return to my seat I notice the stars outside piercing the sky like uxa spots.

……… when I look into the fire now I feel heat where my heart is, as if part of the sun is burning in there and I wonder what genius called this part of the anatomy the 'solar plexus' because that's obviously what it is.

The source of the experience

Tree, Isabella

Concepts, symbols and science items



Science Items

Activities and commonsteps





Enacting ritual and ceremony