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Observations placeholder

Tree, Isabella - Sliced Iguana – Juancho, the Huichol shaman who could prophecy



Type of Spiritual Experience


A description of the experience

Juancho was small and unobtrusive, a tortoise of a man, a little stooped and wizened with skin like Spanish vellum.

His age was incalculable. There were wispy rogue hairs on his chin and he had a way of moving his face that reminded me of a camel I had once seen in Morocco drinking a bottle of Coke. It was later that I began to notice his tungsten resolve, the depth of focus, the methodical, sequestered energy that would keep him chanting all night long, going from one ceremony to the next on just a few hours sleep and a couple of tamales.

In Humberto's eyes he was one of the most powerful of all the Huichol shamans. He had twice saved Humberto's life Humberto had told me late one evening in Mexico City after showing me a slide show of the Sierra. Once, when Humberto was new to the ways of the Huichol, after a particularly long and disorientating peyote-taking ceremony, he'd fallen desperately ill. He had literally crawled away into a corner to die, he said. He was overcome by a horrific sinking sensation as if his spirit was suddenly ebbing away and a dreadful conviction that he would never make it back out of the Sierra alive.

No one seemed to have noticed his condition, or his terror, except for Juancho. Until the moment Juancho came over to Humberto to offer his help, Humberto hadn't noticed Juancho either. He had seemed to slip into the background, a steady beam eclipsed by the floor show of the flashier apprentice mara'akemes.

He had taken Humberto to a river, along with a Huichol woman and her sick baby, and performed some kind of exorcism on them both. The baby had died. But Humberto was convinced Juancho had saved him.

A few years later, sometime into Humberto's campaign to protect the peyote valley of Huiricuta from the new highway, he was taking his leave of the mara'akemes and villagers he'd been visiting.

Juancho had approached him agitated.

'Don'r get into that truck,' he said, 'it will kill you.' Humberto had pressing business in Mexico City and diplomatically tried to reassure the shaman he would drive carefully.  Juancho shook his head but went several times around the car, muttering oaths of protection and flicking sacred spring water on to the bonnet as if he were trying to build some sort of a force field around it.

That night, ten hours into his drive and tunnelling against the strobe lights of the motorway at high speed, Humberto fell asleep at the wheel. He was lucky to escape the wreckage with compacted vertebrae, a broken leg and six months in hospital.

The source of the experience

Tree, Isabella

Concepts, symbols and science items



Science Items

Activities and commonsteps