Wirikuta: The Ritual Beyond Peyote

ruins in real de catorce

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Do you know a culture or group of people that have created a ritual that becomes so integral, it becomes a part of who they are?

Many, no doubt. Throughout folklore, it is a frequent narrative wherein a character must pass challenges and–after overcoming them–they are changed, purified and matured. You’ve perhaps also heard about ‘peyote,’ which is better known in the Wixarika language as hikuri.

After my first solo trip, I read about the Wirikuta ritual, a pilgrimage that Wixarikans do every year from the east of San Luis Potosí in Mexico to Sierra de Catorce. Guided by the mara’akame (shamans), the hikuritamates (peyote pilgrims) cross the mountain range and desert for many days, in conditions of extreme cold, sun, and thirst, fasting and making other sacrifices. On the final night, the mara’akames offer the hikuri to the initiated hikuritamates; the persons who aspire to cross the nierika (i.e., have a type of holy vision) and obtain the gift of seeing.

Huicholes are now nomads today due to forced displacement, and the sacred Wirikuta area has been sold off to several different owners.

I wanted to make my own pilgrimage, to pass my own challenges and purify myself and my life anew. So I planned it. I was going to the town of Guanajuato to do three art exhibitions — a really hard job for one week — when a friend asked me to join her trip.

I said yes.

After these seven days in Guanajuato, she arrived and we travelled to San Luis Potosí City by hitchhiking. She was a bit afraid at first, but I convinced her, and we had some great experiences on the highway. We found lodging via couchsurfing with our friend ‘Conejo,’ as we traveled to Matehuala in the north. It is not easy to get into Real de Catorce, an ancient town located at the top of Sierra de Catorce. It is a beautiful, cold town full of mystery and tourists alike.

When we arrived in Matehuala, nobody answered us our couchsurfing requests, and so we chose to continue hitchhiking north until sunset. Still, no one stopped to offer us a lift, so we considered staying at a hotel. As we were crossing the highway to such an establishment, we received a message from a man by the name of Marcos, who generously hosted us for a night.

Arriving in Estación Catorce you can easily find advisories about peyote. It is illegal to transport it out from this area, but there are no rules about consuming it.

It’s a long, bumpy, dirt road, but you can hire a ride for 50 pesos. On a friend’s advice, once in the town we asked for ‘Doña Lisa,’ and she hosted us for 30 pesos (approximately $1.50). The entire area is cheap, but it shouldn’t be a matter of price. Everything is accessible, and it should be more about your spiritual experience.

The next day we walked down to Estación Catorce again, in silence, enjoying the desert view from this huge mountain, taking in the sienna and red oxide rocks. It was a hot day without a cloud in the sky. We bought food and asked for a ride to Tanque de Dolores town. The first truck said yes; there’s no public transport, so people around are more willing to help you. We were dropped off in a ghost town, where all we could see was a school.

We took a rest there — maybe a nap — and when we decided to continue our journey, we walked up a set of stairs, facing a huge oasis where a horse was drinking water. There was a small dog that I greeted, who followed us for a while after that. There were only maybe seven houses around. A friend had recommended that we look for ‘Don Yemo,’ so I knocked at the first house to inquire, and was told, “Don Yemo is in the last house.”

But which one was the last one? There was no road! So, intuition.

In the house, two men were talking. When I asked for Yemo, his brother told us that he wasn’t there.

“What do you want?” he asked.

“Posada, a place to stay,” we said, honestly, and he answered, “Yeah, I’m going to my job and we have an empty house that is that way, come with me.” He took a bike–and we walked–for two kilometers.

The house was almost empty: just two dusty old beds and a table full of stuff.

“Are you coming for hikuri?” he asked.

“Um… yes!”

“Well, that’s on my ride to my job,” he revealed, “do you wanna come with me?”

So, we walked for another two kilometers deep into the desert, until he announced, “Hikuri is around here,” and explained to us how to find and properly cut it. He said peyote hides itself, covered by soil and dirt, always beside short bushes. Soon, a hikuri found me, and he took some for himself. He showed us how to wash and consume it. We expressed our appreciation, and he left on his bicycle.

Back at the house, we cleaned the peyote and took it with tangerines. That night, he came back, joining the campfire and asking us how many hikuri we took.

“One each.”

He recommended we take four or five each, so we prepared them and ate. He told us many stories from the land, accompanied by his dog, Anselmo, under the star-filled sky, even as the air began growing cold in the wind, until he left sometime after midnight.

The stars were dancing in harmony and coyotes were singing. We laid in bed as the visions came: geometric colorful figures made by points broken through matter itself. They appeared everywhere, expanding and contracting. I felt free, vulnerable, confident, fresh; like grass on a windy evening. Anselmo stayed with us the whole night.

The next day we left. On the highway we waited for approximately one hour for a vehicle to appear; the first one to pass gave us a ride. We got into the truck, saying goodbye to our small friend Anselmo. He followed us, running as fast as he could, whilst we waved our hands saying, “See you soon!”

He ran after us until we couldn’t see him anymore.