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The Huichol Web of Life: Creation and Prayer
Lesson Three: "I Wish" Arrows
Suggested levels for this lesson are any grades. The understood concepts and
art making activities will be more sophisticated with the older age of the
In this lesson students are introduced to urus, which are functional art
forms of the Huicholes. These "arrows" are made of painted, patterned
sticks that are highly decorated with feathers, "ojos de Dios"("eyes of
god"--yarn weavings) , woven rings, and pieces of embroidered cloth. All
these decorations are individual symbols definitive of a particular wish.
These arrows (muviere) are then left at a holy place, or sent into the wind,
or floated down rivers as prayers. The wishes are thus sent into nature to
find their fulfillment and restore balance.
Students will learn to create their own "I wish" arrows using materials
symbolic of their own individual or community wishes.
Art Historical Objectives - Students Learn:
- Huicholes have many different art forms that are functional. The gourd bowls
jicara are used as offerings to the deities-refer to Lesson 2. The
decorative, woven bags that the men wear around their waists are used to
carry personal objects-Lesson 4. Also, decorated hats are worn to protect them
from the sun.
- Urus are examples of Huichol functional art. Urus are highly decorated
arrows used to send individual/communal wishes into nature, similar to
metaphorical phones. The main shaft is made from oak, with an overlay of
bamboo starting at the top. Decorative materials like feathers, string,
small embroideries, etc. are attached.
- Everyone in the ranchos creates urus. Children begin at a very
early age to design and make their own. They are used in children's ceremonies.
- Feathers are usually tied to the top of a urus directly onto
the bamboo. Huicholes believe feathers to be a direct method of communication
to nature. The arrows "fly" these wishes into nature in order that they are
heard by Huichol deities and the situation will be brought back into balance.
Other beliefs of the Huichol are that wishes are thoughtfully conveyed to
the top of the arrow and the arrow placed in nature (top up). When the rains
come the wish is coated with rain. As the sun warms the arrow the moisture
at the top of the arrow evaporates, carrying the wish into the heavens via
the metaphoric phone line.
- The arrow is painted with different colors signifying a variety of symbols
important to the maker. Woven rings, symbolic of "ojos de Dios" (god's eyes)
are also tied to the arrow. Little cross-stitched figures on white fabric
are added. (The circular woven shapes are representative of the traps used
many years ago to catch the deer. They look like modern dream catchers. The
concept of a dream catcher is a decorative, commercial design not
traditional to the Huichol.)
- The wishes of the Huicholes may be personal or communal. Wishes may include
good health, good harvests, rain to alleviate drought conditions, and
bountiful material goods.
Art Making Objectives - Students learn...
- ...to make their own "I wish" arrows using a variety of
materials. The addition of strands of beads and personal trinkets is a
good way to personalize the "I wish" arrows. Small pieces of fabric with
embroidered symbols or painted designs can also be attached.
- ...how to create their own symbols by assigning different
(personal) meanings to the materials, colors, and patterns used in the
decoration of their arrows.
- ...art making can also serve a functional purpose as a means
to illustrate wishes.
- ...wishes do not always concern individual desires but may include the
entire community, asking for Peace or Prosperity for the family.
- ...their, "I Wish" arrows have value in the community where they live.
- Begin by asking the students to describe the urus (arrows) seen in the
accompanying images. What materials are they made of? What are their
designs? What persons within the village create them? What is their
purpose? Have the participants share their answers after they have written
down their initial replies. At the end of the lesson ask the same questions
to assess student learning. Have them share their answer with the other
- Explain to the students that art may be functional, that is, art may be used
for a specific purpose. Explain further that most Huichol art serves a
function. For example, nierikas are very similar to books because they
tell individual, communal, and historical stories. Tell the students that
the Huicholes also use art to illustrate their own personal or communal
wishes: health, a bountiful harvest, rain, etc. Urus or arrows are symbols
of particular wishes. These are brightly decorated (dull) arrows that are
sent into the air, floated down rivers, and/or placed in special places.
(The urus are also used in ritual.)
- Explain that arrows/urus are used in children's naming ceremonies.
- Explain that these arrows are decorated with objects, patterns, and colors
that are symbolic of particular wishes of the artist. Explain further that
a wish may be used in order to reestablish balance within a community and in
nature. For example, drought is considered by the Huicholes as nature out of
balance, and urus may be sent to restore that balance.
- Read the book, The Eagle and the Rainbow, to the younger students. Have
the older students read the story out loud and discuss each page. Ask the
students to explain how the hero, Fast as Deer, restored the balance of the
community. He sent arrows/urus into the four directions. The fifth direction
is the sacred point of union for all four points to unite with the heavens.
Ask also what was the sign that the community was out of balance (drought,
death, and dying and because Fast as Deer was originally denied his name
that the shaman/leader originally assigned him). Explain to the students
that Fast as Deer wished to restore the community balance by making and
sending the arrows into the four directions. Tell the students that by
focusing on their own wishes, they too may change conditions towards their
own important desires.
- Show the students some examples of Huichol urus, pictured in this lesson.
Ask the students what their own wishes for themselves and their community
- Using pre-cut sticks, have the students decorate these with symbols defining
their own particular wishes. Use feathers, colored ribbons, charms, objects from nature, strings, beads,
cloth, and written wishes to decorate their arrows.
- Direct students to tie written wishes with ribbon or string to the stick. Such
wishes may include "I wish it would snow, I wish there was no hunger in the
world, I wish there was world peace, I wish there was no poverty, I wish...
- Have the students think of special places where they may place their sticks,
so they are reminded of their wishes.
- Exhibit the I wish arrows in a community location along with the
written wishes. This could be in the lobby of the school.
- Have the participants share the places where they will place their "I Wish"
- Explain to the students that by focusing on their own particular thoughts
they may be able to assess whether certain wishes are worthy of attainment
and fulfillment. (This lesson may teach the students how to appreciate and
evaluate their own wishes and desires. It is also an excellent activity to
stimulate thoughtful reflection and personal perspectives no matter what the
age of a participant.)
It is hoped that a field trip to The Bead Museum can be included in this lesson.