The Huicholes, heirs of Mesoamerican societies, make up one of the native groups that have survived with great vitality in America thanks to the rough topography of their territories, to its decentralized political organization and to their ability to adapt to the historical surroundings reflected by their active participation in the history of the West of Mexico. Nevertheless, the main strength of their cultural reproduction is the collective resolve to keep their ancestral traditions.
An essential part of their cosmogony and identity is the pilgrimage through dozens of natural sacred sites, spread along a corridor of more than 800 kilometers that runs from the coast of the State of Nayarit to Huiricuta. These pilgrimage routes are what remain of the pre-Hispanic trade routes that joined the Pacific coast with the Gulf of Mexico. Among them the route to Huiricuta, to the west, stands out because of the role it has played in the cultural survival of the Huicholes, the frequency with which it is used and the number of users it has.
Along the route, deities and the spirits of their ancestors (for example the cacallari) inhabit, certain species of wild fauna (wolves and reindeer) or natural phenomena like the wind or clouds (the tateima) are found. The Huicholes also identify some of these elements as “older brothers” or “teachers” (the tamatsi), who anoint the pilgrims providing them with wisdom and spiritual guidance, or with penalties and punishments. Deities and spirits dwell precisely in the sacred places, where according to the Huicholes they “utter their voices”. In certain areas there are concentrations of sacred sites that make up scenes like Huiricuta and the Huichol territory itself.
Natural sacred sites are found on islets, moist soil, rivers, lagoons, springs, forests, mountains or rock formations. These show engravings, and have spiritual, bio-geographic, social or historical meanings. Pilgrimage routes run along a variety of ecosystems whose cultural attributes are linked to agricultural periods, crop gathering or hunting as part of a ritual cycle. The constellation of sanctuaries and traditional routes constitute the Huichol scenery as the cultural resonance of a community that, together with the ritual cycle, manifests itself as a continuous, dynamic and complex system.
The fundamental purpose of their pilgrimage is to follow their ancestor’s steps to ask for rain and well-being. Along the route, the shamans recreate and transmit the tribal legacy to the young by means of chants, story-telling and complicated rituals. This legacy, in addition to shamanic, religious, or medical knowledge, includes the diversified use of ecosystems or the conservation of the genetic variety of the species they cultivate. This is why and considering that the Huichol language has no written form, pilgrimages perform a very particular function identified as an “itinerant Mesoamerican university”, main axis of a knowledge system based on nature, that gives the Huixáritari (Huicholes) their identity. This pilgrimage is the only way in which the Mesoamerican legacy of this ancestral culture can be kept.
During the last five centuries, the pilgrimage has had the double purpose of establishing contact and trade with the mestizo and European cultures that have radically transformed the natural and cultural resources of the Huichol territory. Consequently, the ritual indigenous time that looks for a deep identification of the human being with the natural processes has been able to survive within a utilitarian environment of rapid changes and depredation.
The route runs through two regions that are important to the world because of their contribution to biodiversity: the Sierra Madre Occidental and the Chihuahua Desert. The complex topography and the spectacular altitude ranges of the south of the Sierra Madre Occidental, allow the existence of a wide range of habitats that include tropical forests of deciduous and subdeciduous trees, spiny forests, thickets and grasslands, gallery forests, and pine forests –oak trees. The Chihuahua Desert is one of the three semi-desert areas biologically richer in the world. The habitats included in the southeast of this region such as xerophillus vegetation, thickets, grasslands and pine forests, lodge a notable wealth as far as diversity and endemicity.