Water Exercise Belt

Water Exercise Belt


Let’s now shift our focus the Shipibo people and move it north to Central Mexico to become acquainted with the powerful Huichol people and their understanding of the power of water. The Huichols live in the states of Jalisco and Nayarit, in a harsh mountain range stretching from the interior of Mexico to the Pacific Ocean. Numbering about 20,000, they are one of two tribes in Mexico who’ve managed to preserve their original culture from destruction at the hands of the

Spanish invasion. They have strong shamanic roots with a rich tradition of collecting peyote, which they ingest during multiple day and night ceremonies and rituals.

The Huichols, like all shamanic cultures, honor the spirits of nature and call upon them during healing and fertility ceremonies. Fundamental to their cosmology is the Pacific Ocean, one of their primary poderios, the great powers they work with. They call the spirit of the sea Tatei Haramara Tatei for “our Mother Goddess,” and Haramara for “sea.” During their annual pilgrimages to the Pacific Ocean, they deliver sacred objects (objetos sagradas), often arrows embedded with prayers that they then cast into the sea or bury nearby. Upon returning to their villages, they carry seawater with them in bottles for sprinkling on their fields and for use in ceremony.

For ten years, Lena and I studied intensively with a Huichol maracame (shaman) named Guadalupe Candelario, until his death in 1999. Over the course of that time, we participated in numerous ceremonies and learned a great deal about the importance of water in the Huichol culture. Guadalupe explained to us that the Huichols, being mostly dry farmers, rely on the sea for the clouds and weather systems that bring rain to water their crops of maize and squash in the arid mountain ranges they call home. According to him, Huichols believe that salamanders are helping spirits who act as midwives to the four Rain Mother Goddesses, especially the one of the east, Tatei Nariwami. The salamanders’ job is to assist nature by directing the clouds to release their rain in specific places over the land. In their exquisite yarn paintings and beadwork, the Huichols typically depict the rain goddesses as a powerful coiled serpent or as heavy storm clouds out of which millions of tiny snakes descend, symbolizing the life-giving rain.

Water Exercise Belt Photo Gallery

Yarn painting with snakes

The Huichols often depict serpents as middlemen between humans and the spirit world and use them to represent a deep intuitive knowledge of nature, especially water. Turtles are emissaries of Tatei Nariwami as well. Their job is to cause the waters to flow, purifying and replenishing ponds, springs, and small bodies of water.

Springs containing Kuutsala, beneficial healing waters, are especially sacred to the Huichols, and are important pilgrimage stops for extensive ceremonies. From these springs they obtain the waters they later use in ceremony to purify, cleanse, and revitalize. One of their most sacred springs, Tatei Matinieri (“Where our mother is”) lies en route to the sacred peyote fields of central Mexico, a destination all Huichols strive to reach during their lifetime.

Huichol yarn painting depicting water or rain

Guadalupe, like all indigenous peoples, considered water to be the sacred source of life. Without it, he said, nothing on this Earth would be able to survive. He often sang to the spirit of water to thank it for its many gifts; invoke its life-giving waters; and invite its ability to transform, cleanse, and heal.

During ceremonies, I often witnessed Guadalupe placing a small jar of seawater on the altar to bring the spirit of the sea into the ceremony and make her available to all participants. According to him, during the course of an all-night ceremony, the open bowl of water absorbs the songs and prayers chanted by the maracames, the shamans presiding over the ceremony. In the morning, Guadalupe would dip a deer-tail wand into the seawater and drip it onto the crowns of our heads and our foreheads, cheeks, wrists, and throats. This, he told me, was meant to both purify us and to embed the prayers and songs of the ceremony into us. In the breezy, freezing dawn light after a sleepless night of smoke, wind, and chanting, the water drops would feel amazingly refreshing. They were like ice trickling down the face and hands as the sun began to bathe the desert in its golden glow.

As with the Shipibo, the Huichols use water as a medium to transport prayers and healing songs into the body of the patient. I’ve seen Guadalupe pass eagle and hawk feathers over a hayurame, an open bottle of water, then sing into it and instruct the patient to drink it as a remedio (remedy) throughout the day or over a period of days. He told us that water is friendly to people and supports the transfer of prayers (intentions) and healing energies from other allies, such as the eagle, sun, moon, or stars. Interestingly, other Huichols can tell the difference between plain, unconsecrated water and water into which prayers have been introduced. They can actually see little lights and energy particles dancing in the treated water, whereas the average person can see no difference whatsoever. Most amazing, the Huichols can pick out the prayer water every time.

For Huichols, water isn’t a separate or a dead thing, nor is anything in nature isolated. All poderios work together, overlapping their energy fields to produce a balanced world where humans, plants, animals, and elements can be in harmony. For example, the Huichols believe that human beings were created by Spirit to be like flowers with blossoms (the crown of the head) open to the sun, supported by a strong vertical stalk (the spinal column). This beautiful flower is, of course, kept alive by an ample supply of water, as all plants are. For this reason, Huichols dress like colorful flowers, the men wearing wide-brimmed hats like gorgeous blossoms in full bloom. They’re fond of pouring water onto the crown of the head in ceremony not to get rid of original sin, as Christians do in baptism, but to introduce life-giving energy to that sacred opening in the head.

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