"In 1935," he said, "Enrique Mertens, a Belgian physician, brought beads to the Huichols
as a substitute for yarn in their 'paintings.'" He took me to a case. "This is our oldest ex-
ample." It was a bowl and beads were strung on a string and glued to it. "Artisans found
the beaded strings difficult to work with. Curves posed a particular problem; spaces were
not filled in as with yarn. The design and color had to be thought out before threading the
string. The solution was to place beads individually, then to set them in campeche glue
mixed with beeswax."
I turned my attention back to the textiles, "Are they sewed together," I asked, "like a quilt?"
"No, they are hung on the wall. They adorn a sacred place."
"Cloth retablos ," I thought.
"Every cloth includes a design flaw," José said and pointed out a mistake. Like a Middle
Eastern carpet, they incorporated imperfection. "The artisan's signature is a coded message
known only to the artisan and the shaman," José explained.
He told me that Huichols associate the scorpion with a parched spring, bad harvest and an
increase of these venomous insects. But a wet spring brings snakes and an abundant har-
vest; hence, Huichols revere snakes and scorn scorpions.
He explained symbols in the designs. José said that Tata, the sun, was the supreme source
of energy, everlasting, in the past, the present and the future. Deer were messengers to the
gods. Christians would call them angels. Lizards were vigilant (watchers) for the sacred
The Three Sacred Spirits
1. Man, Tatuche, is often seen with a deer's tail.
2. Light-Shadow, Tatehuari, is the interplay of light and shadow. (Black is used in textile
design to create the effect of an optical inversion like the negative of a photograph.)
3. Woman, Tacuche, is often portrayed as transformed into an animal form.