Accepted Paper:

Shamanic vision and colour in Huichol art of Mexico  


Hope MacLean (University of Ottawa)

Paper short abstract:

Huichol artist Eligio Carrillo described to the anthropologist Hope MacLean how he perceives colours as a language the gods use to talk . This opens a new way of understanding visionary experience, synaesthesia, and colour symbolism that runs through ethnographic accounts of shamanism.

Paper long abstract:

Colour perception and the visionary abilities of shamans may be related. Interviews with Eligio Carrillo, a shaman-artist of the Huichol, Natives of Northwest Mexico, reveal that he conceptualizes colour as a language which the gods use to communicate. He describes color as part of a synaesthetic experience, combining taste, vision and art. The Huichol use peyote as part of their ceremonies. It may be that this hallucinogen opens the brain to color and other sensory experiences which are described in painted art and other ethnographic accounts.

This research is based on Hope MacLean's ongoing research with Huichol shamans and artists since 1988. Recent neurochemical research on brain states and hallucinogens is suggesting new ways of understanding what were previously regarded as abstract statements about colour symbolism of non-Western peoples. How can we bring this recent research into dialogue with traditional knowledge recorded by anthropologists?

Panel MB-SSR06
Shamans, senses and synaesthesia: the art of vision