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The yearly Wixarika pilgrimage in search of life. Photo from

When these days we talk about the search for life, we think almost automatically about searching for life in outer space, searching for other living creatures or for living conditions that might enable us, or some of us, to leave one day a doomed planet earth and start all over again in a more suitable environment.
That search is far removed from the search for life the Huichol pilgrims undertake each year when meeting with their gods, in a space beyond their mind, which is a pool of knowledge full of answers for the problems of life that the doctors are incapable of curing. Once they’ve found their life, they happily return to the harsh conditions of subsistence awaiting them high in Mexico's Sierra Madre Occidental, content with the spiritual support gotten in the divine encounter on the mountain.

For people that don't believe in a god and don't even want to hear about a god, or for those that know for sure that their god is the only true god and that all the other ones are but idols, it might be worthwhile to know that on their pilgrimage to the mountain, each Huichol participant prepares mentally for an encounter with one specific divine entity. That can be an ancestor, but it can also be one of the idealized personages of Huichol culture, like Corn Mother Tatei Niwetzika or Grandfather Fire, Tatewari - the god of fire that is, who was the very first Wixarika shaman, what Moses was for the twelve tribes of Israel. Each pilgrim prepares in advance for the encounter with what we might call her or his guardian angel. If the choice of the entity has been made judiciously, then it is quite possible that a meeting will occur. This is not the place to go into detail about the mechanics of these divine encounters, just to acknowledge that they function. Once the participant has entered in a state of ecstasy and loses the guidance of his conscious self - what we often call ego - only the heart is left to indicate what way to go, what images will appear, which ideas will flow. In this moment of sovereingty of one's heart, otherwise suppressed feelings and ideals are visualized and are momentarily projected into reality. There is no hocus-pocus involved, these are just imaginary projections of a heart run loose. As the Wixarika say, "one becomes a god."
That's another god than the one that you never want to hear about again or that you are willing to kill for. It is the picture of the ideal person treasured within, one we all probably carry around, but that most of us will never get to know.

To make sense of the search for life of the Wixarika, we are reminded that at the cradle of our civilization, one of the first stories written also treated the theme of life offered by a god to a man who refused that divine gift and that another story told about a man searching for life who returned home empty-handed because it was refused to him. In the third millennium Sumerian story of Adapa, this servant of the god of commerce Enki, was tricked by Enki into sacrilegious behaviour and hence was summoned to explain himself for his transgression to supreme god Anu, the god of heaven. As was the hosting custom in those days, upon arriving at heaven’s gates, Anu offered Adapa oil to anoint, and a fresh set of clothes. After Adapa had anointed himself and clothed, Anu offered him food of life and water of life, but Adapa refused both. Anu laughed and asked Adapa why he had forsaken the food and the water, which would have given him life. Adapa answered him that his lord, Enki, had told him not to eat or drink because he would surely die. At that point, Anu got mad and ordered Adapa to be sent back at once to his ‘netherworld’.

The second story is the standard Babylonian version of the Epic of Gilgamesh. If in an earlier version of the story Gilgamesh had gone searching for life, in this later version he goes looking for immortal life, afraid of death after his friend Enkidu had died. Helped by sun god Shamash, Gilgamesh is able to cross the sea at the end of the world and arrives on the shore where immortal Utanapishti lives. Utanapishti puts Gilgamesh to the test: he should remain awake seven days and seven nights before the gods can be called upon to bestow the gift of immortal life on him. Gilgamesh hadn’t sat down yet to start his wake, or he falls into a deep sleep from which he only awakes after seven days. Realizing that everything is lost, he bemoans himself, for in his bed-chamber, death does abide. At this point Utanapishti turns to the boatman:

[Said] Utanapishti to [him,] to the boatman Ur-shanabi:
[May] the quay [reject] you, Ur-shanabi, and the ferry scorn you!
You who used to walk this shore, be banished from it now!¹

After effectively having been told never to return, the boatman is ordered to ferry Gilgamesh back to the world. This is the symbolic moment - but with a tremendous historic repercussion - where the links between the human and the divine worlds are cut. Out of compassion, so the author wants us to believe, Utanapishti gives Gilgamesh the secret about a plant of rejuvenation he can take home. On his way back home Gilgamesh is able to get the plant, but while refreshing himself with a dip in the water, a snake takes off with the plant, sloughing its skin as it slithered away, leaving us proof of the authenticity of the plant's rejuvenating properties. Gilgamesh returns empty-handed to his kingdom, the city of Uruk, sobered up and aware that the realm of the gods is for dreamers: the walls of the city are the bounds of civilization that humans must live by. It is a grandiose story, seemingly a statement about the irresponsible behaviour of youth and the need to come to terms with the inescapable realities of life.
But then, to the consternation of the scholars, a twelfth tablet was added to the eleven previous ones, dealing with the conditions in the netherworld as told by Gilgamesh’s friend Enkidu, come up for the occasion through a crack in the ground. What to make of it, since the last part didn’t seem to belong at all², and even disturbed the perfect harmony of the 11 tablet epic? ²

Gilgamesh mourning Enkidu by Ludmila Zeman

In the story of Adapa, the main character is deceived by his master, the god of commerce, who wanted to teach his most trusted servant never to aspire to go to heaven in search of life. In the Epic of Gilgamesh, the hero is ridiculed by having him search in vain for immortal life. As if the humiliation he suffered was not enough to drive home the message, he is fooled with a plant of rejuvenation, the very thing that would have given him immortality, and then manages to lose it without ever realizing what he really lost. In this story the road to heaven is definitely closed.
What these two stories make clear is that civilization starts with the alienation of mankind, its separation from the divine world.. As long as people were able to go to heaven and talk to their gods, i.e. leave their mind behind to access a space beyond the walls of the city and the rule of its king, they could anchor their personality in this supramental experience and in this way find their life, their own life, given to them by their god, the ruler of their beyond. Thrown out of heaven and the company of their gods lost forever, humankind became imprisoned between the walls of the city, unable to extricate itself from the rationality of civilization and the deceit of its trickster gods.
Looking at the epic travails of Gilgamesh in this way, we realize that underneath its glorification of civilization and the need to accept its rule as supreme, the story is meant to justify the horrendous crime of alienating the people from their inner self for the sake of undivided obedience to the ruler. Being kicked out of the world of the immortals and by loosing the plant meant as a gift of the gods for his people, the king managed to cut his subjects' anchors in the divine world, making them completely dependent on his word. He took his subjects' lives away from them and to compensate for that loss and make it more bearable, the possibilities for obtaining a pleasant afterlife are given, cinically, as the happy ending to this tragic tale.



Disillusioned Gilgamesh was sent away from beyond the world where he had hoped to find answers for his existential fear of death. But no god gave him his life, and since that fatal moment only death awaits mankind. That is the reason why Sin leqe Unninni, the 13th century B.C.E. author of the epic, added the twelfth tablet. This tablet gives the readers the opportunity to aquaint themselves with the afterlife and shows how to take the necessary precautions, as stipulated in this last part of the story. It is no coincidence that a priest of moon god Sin wrote this epic story, since the priests of Sin took care of all the mortuary services which, according to the last tablet, the surviving family members are supposed to perform for the well-being of their loved one's on yonder side of death, as well as for a personal insurance for their own homecoming reception in the netherworld.

With the European conquest of the world, the walls of the city stopped being the sole point of reference and the rule of the king became one option among others. But it is in the realm of the spirit that the greatest change occurred: the doors of heaven opened up again. Maria - as the Mexicans aptly baptized marihuana - was found sitting at the entrance, inviting whoever wished to enter inside.
In the middle of the nineteenth-century French poet Charles Baudelaire, member of the Parisian Club of Haschichins, still figured the custom to be a moral deprivation, leading to Artificial Paradises. Attacking the haschish adepts he wrote:

"Magic fools them and illuminates them with a false happiness and a false light; while we, poets and philosophers, we have regenerated our soul through continuous labour and contemplation; through the diligent application of our will and our unwavering noble intentions, we have created for our use a garden of real beauty. Trusting the word that says that faith moves mountains, we have accomplished the only miracle for which God has granted us licence!"

The decadence for which Baudelaire was known completely bemuddles his haschisch experience and his analysis of the product. Because of his self-esteem, 'unyielding as marble', he is incapable to let himself be illuminated and embrace the people around him: those ordinary, vulgair, rubber-necking people, "born for the stable". It doesn't come therefore as a surprise to learn that he was addicted to opium and must have projected its psychological effects on the use of haschisch. 

Twentieth century Dutch poet Simon Vinkenoog instead celebrates the plant:

"It laughs and gives us courage, it is pure nature,
Each moment here and now. 
The high, that desired effect, that awakes your curiosity.
What's it all about, what is happening to the world and the law?
Put your best foot forward
And throw the lie forever overboard."⁵

And lifetime "muggles" (a slang term for marihuana cigarettes) smoker Louis Armstrong expressed in plain terms what all adepts know to be true: "It's an assistant, a friend."


¹ The Epic of Gilgamesh,Tablet XI lines 247-49 - Translation Andrew George, 2000,  page 158 of the
mpdf document

The Epic of Gilgamesh,Tablet XII - Translation Andrew George, 2000 , page 161 of the pdf document:
m"The last Tablet in the 'Series of Gilgamesh', Tablet XII, is not part of the epic at all, but an Akkadian
mtranslation of the latter part of the Sumerian poem of Bilgames and the Netherworld. It was appended to the
mepic presumably because of the relevance of the material: it describes conditions in the Netherworld, where
mafter his death Gilgamesh presided over the shades of the dead." In a later edition, George had changed his
opinion, noting that closer study had convinced him that tablet XII was, after all, an integral part of Sin leqe
mUnninni's work.

³ Healing the planet, healing themselves: Wixárika medicine transcends the personal.
mBy Tracy Barnett,, May 2018. See also
The Last Peyote Guardiansfrom the
msame publisher.

Closing lines from "The Poem of Hashisch" in "The Artificial Paradises", Charles Baudelaire, 1860. From our
mpoint of view, the author should have included this 'poem' in the volume "The Flowers of Evil", an earlier
mpublished collection of his poetic work.

Simon Vinkenoog, "Go with the Blow", 2004