The Peyote People: Interview with Mario Gómez Mayorga on Huichol Plant Medicine Traditions

October 27, 2018

Interviews | In Psychedelic Times 



In our final conversation with Mario Gómez Mayorga, founder of Con Ciencia Indígena, we delve into his decades of experience learning from the Huichol tribe about their plant medicine traditions, particularly as they relate to the peyote cactus, which is central to their identity. As you read about their relationship with the peyote plant, I invite you to be cognizant of how vastly different our Western culture is from their 4,000-year-old indigenous practices, and to suspend any judgment of their traditions from our diametrically-different cultural standpoint.


For more background on Mario and Con Ciencia Indígena, read our first interview with him here, and to hear him speak about protecting native cultures, read our second interview here.


Thanks so much for speaking with us again, Mario. You’ve spent a lot of time with the Huichol tribe. Can you tell us what role sacred plants play in their culture?


These sacred plants are so important to these people that they have their identity thanks to these plants. It’s not that they are helpers, or medicine or just one more herb- no, it’s that they became who they are thanks to being in relationship with these plants. There is something alive in these plants: there is an entity living in there; they have created cultures. Speaking more broadly, I suspect that we humans are civilized because of ingesting sacred plants in the past. I think all the revolutionary, creative ideas that gave birth to civilization were likely triggered by ingesting strange plants, many probably found by accident. I suspect they have a lot more to do with civilization than we realize.


I agree that very well may be true. You’ve intimated that the Huichol are a culture saturated by peyote. I’m curious- how often do they engage in consuming peyote? Is it a weekly thing, a daily thing?


I think it’s a permanent thing. They have this thing called “the hunt,” a yearly pilgrimage to the desert where they collect it. They call it the hunt because… well, I’ll try to make a long story short here, but there was a drought 4,000 years ago where everything was dying. All the plants, all the animals, everything was dying because of this gigantic drought. And in the middle of this severe drought a huge white deer appeared to them, a strong animal. Not thirsty, not weak. For them of course, this meant food and water. So the warriors took up their bows and arrows and hunted this animal. They followed it, and the animal keeps running and running. They chase it for days and days, and finally they arrive to the desert, which is 680 km away from their home. How do you do this almost dying of thirst? Well, survival, you know? Or perhaps it is just a myth, a legend… I don’t know.


And then this deer, instead of running further, faces them. They shoot two arrows into its heart and the animal falls dead, but when they arrive to the body of the animal, they find the arrows are in… yeah, it was the shape of a deer, but it was not a deer- it was peyote. A big spot of hundreds of peyotes. And they go “Wow, what is this?” So the myth says that they ate the “deer” and they collected the rest of the “deer” to take it back home. And they gave the “deer” to everyone there, and they were able to survive until it rained again. They didn’t die because of the deer. This is the moment the Huichol culture began, actually.


See how ingrained this thing is? They are forever thankful with this entity that is the “deer,” the peyote. For them it is like a god that appeared to save them, and every year they mimic that original pilgrimage. They walk all the miles, fasting with very little food and water to remember what it was like to be nearly dying of thirst and hunger, and they arrive there. So that’s why when they collect the peyote they call it hunting. And when they find little peyotes on the ground- one here, one there- they say it’s the footprints of the deer; he passed by there. And eventually they find a large spot, and when they find it they make a circle with the whole group and the elder who is leading the group takes a bow and arrow and shoots in the middle of the peyote, to remember the deer. And then they collect it. Each year when they do this, they collect a LOT of “deer” to take back home.


Through my many years with them, accepting their invitations, I saw how they take this cacti. When a woman gives birth, she eats peyote. When they are going to bury somebody, they eat peyote. When they are going to welcome the corn crop they eat peyote, and when they harvest the crop they eat peyote. When they are going to eat peyote, they eat peyote- it’s all the