Wixárica Cleansing Ceremony

If you haven’t yet visited this year’s Smithsonian Folklife Festival, be sure to check out the daily Wixárica cleansing ceremonies. The Wixárica (pronounced wee-HAR-ee-ka) people, also known as the Huicholes, come from the Mexican states of Jalisco, Durango, and Nayarit. They are an indigenous community known for their brilliant beadwork and their highly ritualized ceremonies and shamanistic practices.

This year the Wixárica are offering Festivalgoers a traditional limpia, or cleansing ceremony, in which the maracate (shaman) searches the body for pain, bad energy, or any other malady in hopes to expel it. The maracate begins with a quiet prayer to the gods and spirits, and then takes a handful of white candles and eagle feathers, both of which are considered to be sacred and are frequently used in such ceremonies. He searches for pain—first at the crown of your head and then down to the face, the shoulders, the chest and arms, and finally the legs. As he brushes you with these feathers, he gathers all the negative energy and pain found throughout your body and concentrates it in your heart, considered to be the center of the body and soul. Once the maracate has gathered this pain he proceeds to suck it out through the feathers and candles. As he does this he spits to expel the bad energy and throws the remaining pain up towards the sun to be destroyed. After another quick prayer, the maracate beckons you to stand and shares with you the nature of the pain found within your body. Whether this negative energy stems from issues with family, work, or love, the maracate tells you “Ya estás limpia,” or “Now you have been cleansed.”

Cleansing ceremonies typically last between two to five minutes and are open to people of all ages. The Wixárica will be offering cleansings every day in the mornings and afternoons in La Plaza, so be sure to stop by!

Cameron Quevedo

Intern, México program

  • ScienceRocks

    I am a bit concerned that this sort of procedure gives false hope, promotes superstitious belief, and is not congruent with the SI’s values of increasing and promoting knowledge, even if it is labeled “for entertainment only.”

    • Cameron Quevedo

      Hi ScienceRocks,

      Thank you for your comments! First off, let me say that I write this reply on my own behalf and that the opinions stated herein do not necessarily reflect those of the 2010 Smithsonian Folklife Festival, its staff or participants, nor those of the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage. With that said, let us begin.

      Your concern for the effects of ceremonies such as the Wixárika cleansing are certainly valid, but I would argue that they are a bit partial. As you have noted, the Smithsonian’s mission is to foster the “increase and dissemination of knowledge” across the globe and to the public. However, it seems that you are defining this knowledge rather conservatively– perhaps too conservatively. I detect within your argument a strong juxtaposition between the reified monoliths of Science versus Tradition, of Knowledge versus Culture. Does not traditional practice serve to enrich our knowledge of the world just as Science does? Does not cultural heritage serve to contextualize and define the ways in which we interpret the world around us? Certainly so. For instance, the Wixárika belief in gods and spirits serves to give meaning to not only their religious ceremonies, but to their everyday lives. Similarly, the English lexicon serves to shape, define, and even limit the ways in which we describe the world around us.

      Next, it should be clearly stated that any events at the Folklife Festival are not intended to serve as “entertainment only,” (as you mentioned in your previous comment,) but to provide festival-goers with an inlet to a unique and memorable cultural experience that, as stated earlier, can serve to enrich their understanding of other cultures and peoples from around the globe. These ceremonies are not meant to be offered as a simple cultural commodity used to “spice up” our lives and experiences, but to further reveal to us the diversity and beauty of cultural heritage and tradition. With this in mind, your comment that ceremonies such as the Wixárika cleansing promote “superstitious beliefs” and provide festival-goers with “false hopes” of being cured are rather shallow. To be quite frank, who are you to say that these people have not been cleansed or healed? For the Wixárika they certainly have, and perhaps for the participants as well, although I cannot speak to their direct experiences. As a man of science myself, I indeed recognize and gladly lend an ear to such questions, but as a student of culture and tradition I also realize that these issues are infinitely complex and cannot be well-answered using the simple blanket of scientific reason as being superior to cultural practice.

      In closing, I would like to stress the importance of recognizing the validity, significance, and impact of traditional practice and cultural heritage, whether from cultures from near or far. I invite and encourage you to attend a Wixárika cleansing ceremony during the remaining days of the festival so as to witness the event with your own eyes, and perhaps participate if you would be willing. Without a doubt, these questions cannot and will not be answered with any number of words, and can only be better understood through experience. Once again, I appreciate your comments and would like to thank you for taking the time to voice your concerns.

      Best, Cameron Quevedo Intern, México Program

  • Beverly

    I went to the Smithsonian Festival today, Friday, July 2 and was “cleaned” by one of the shamans. It was for me a powerful spiritual experience. I felt the grief and sorrow I had been experiencing the last two days due to the death of a close friend leave me as he gently blew around me. Also, I had hurt my right foot last week when running and had been limping around the festival all afternoon. I was able to walk comfortably afterwards and it still feels much better. I am so grateful to the Shaman who assisted me today (the older man in the middle). If possible, please give him my gratitude.