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Mad Jesus

The Final Testament of a Huichol Messiah from Northwest Mexico

Timothy J. Knab

Publication Year: 2004

This is the story of an anthropologist's encounter with a Huichol Indian known as "Mad Jesus." Jesús was an artisan, a shaman, a self-styled prophet, a mad messiah, and a murderous mystic. Timothy J. Knab was a young anthropologist soliciting life histories from Huichols in Mexico City when they met. The life story of Jesús may have been the ravings of a madman, but it also embodied the Huichol anticipation of the return of Santo Cristo, the savior who will restore the Huichol to their place as masters of the world around them. Neither Knab's studies in anthropology nor his experiences in the world of counterculture prepared him to understand this strange Indian and his violent history and behavior.

Published by: University of New Mexico Press

Front Cover

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Title Page

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pp. vi-vii

Map of Mexico

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p. viii-viii

Part I: Mad Jesus: Santo Cristo

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pp. 1-2

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1: True Jesus

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pp. 3-4

Jesus, Jes

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2: Color Against the Sky

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pp. 5-10

Long before I ever imagined anyone like Mad Jesus, I met his brother, the first of his tribe I knew. He was but a flash of color in the great sea of humanity that is Mexico City. ...

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3: Huicholand

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pp. 11-21

Jesús was so unlike all of the other Huichols I had known, yet he was so much a Huichol. How do I speak of “The Huichol”? No one individual can represent the totality of a people, and Jesús was certainly not the prototypical Huichol. He was dark, different, haunted by the gods he had left behind; an urban creature, not a man of the Sierras; sometimes tearful, sometimes incoherent; in his soul he was Huichol. ...

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4: A Proposition

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pp. 22-24

At first I did not realize who Jesús was, or how he identified himself with the “Christian” culture hero, Santo Cristo. When Matsiwa, his half brother who was one of the first Huichols I had met, approached me with a proposition to record Jesús’s life story, I barely knew Mad Jesus. He was a very successful artisan, a shaman, and much more. Yet most of my Huichol friends referred to him as Chucho Loco, Mad Jesus. ...

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5: La Plaza de la Veracruz

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pp. 25-33

The Plaza de la Veracruz,sunken, and still sinking in the heart of Mexico City, joins the primordial ooze of Lake Texcoco on which most of the city was built.With its twin churches, skewed bell towers, and buckled buildings, the great monastery looked down on the sunken plaza of the True Cross. ...

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6: Jesus: Santo Cristo

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pp. 34-40

Early the next morning Matsiwa arrived at my little apartment on Calle Nueva York with Jes

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7: Aftermath

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pp. 41-45

As soon as he had finished, Jesús turned to his brother. He said something in Huichol. It was very rapid. I didn’t understand except that the word “Kieli” came up again. ...

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8: Little Jesus of the Peyotes

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pp. 46-51

When the two brothers did not show up the next day, or the day after, I went in search of Matsiwa. I had no trouble finding him with the other Huichols at the Plaza de la Veracruz. Jes

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9: The Magical Way to Peyoteland

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pp. 52-56

Matsiwa, still panting,went back to work on the painting.The women and children sat around us giggling and laughing. Jes

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10: Intimations of the “Evil One”

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pp. 57-61

Jesús wandered back to where I was seated next to the tape recorder and motioned for me to turn it back on. His hand traced circles in the air like the recorder’s reels spinning. I checked the volume and turned the machine back on. Jesús continued his tale without even a pause, as if he had never left off. ...

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11: Fathers and Forefathers

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pp. 62-64

As the tale went on, the influence of José, Jesús’s grandfather, was clear on the young man. He was a substitute for his absent father. Neither Jesús nor Matsiwa ever spoke much about their father. ...

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12: To Teakata: The Center of the World

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pp. 65-71

“The women were all weaving belts and bags to take on the journey to Teakata, the center of the world. It is the Huichol treasure house of offerings. Everything that anyone has ever offered Them is there.” ...

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13: At the Earth’s Axis

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pp. 72-76

Chucho began to describe his journey to the center of the Huichol world.“When we arrived at the entry to Teakata,when we arrived at the Gate of Stone, the great rock that Kauyumali split apart to show us where the Mothers and Fathers live, José said that we had to purify ourselves. He sent the women and children to gather leaves. He made a movieli and attached the leaves ...

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14: The Journey to Madness

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pp. 77-81

“When I went with my mother to the Magic Peyoteland the very first time it was very different. I was very small, no more than six or seven. Is that not so Matsiwa?” Jesús was trying to answer my question, but did not want to deal with the matter of age. Huichols find very little value in chronological age. One is a child, a youth, a man, or an old man. ...

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15: Return from Darkness

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pp. 82-86

Once he was locked away in his little dark cell, there was no need for me to stay. I wanted to leave, but Matsiwa convinced me that there would be no more trouble. Chucho would continue his tale in a bit. I told Matsiwa I would return shortly and went out to wander aimlessly in the city. ...

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16: Vengeance

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pp. 87-92

“A year went by and after the Peyote Pilgrims had returned again, we all went to the Peyote Festival. There were Peyote Dancers there with their long black feathers from the Uruaca that stuck straight up from their heads; they danced all night around the fires, and there were all the people who had been on the journey. I had wanted to go with them, ...

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17: Drunken Dervish

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pp. 93-98

I did not go back to the Plaza de la Veracruz the next day, or the day after. I simply tried to forget about Jesús and his brother. I was not about to drop the whole project, but I knew that the brothers would be back. The intensity of dealing with Jesús on a daily basis was a bit much. Jesús was obsessed with getting the small tape recorder, but it wasn’t just the recorder. He was insisting on telling me his tale for more than that. ...

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18: Crazy Kieli

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pp. 99-104

“Hoh! More beer!” Jesús paused and lit a cigarette. Then he got up by himself and went into the kitchen. He came back with two bottles and was talking as he handed one to his brother. ...

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19: Enchanted Music and Madness

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pp. 105-111

It was dark, dull, gray, cold, and raining the next morning when I awoke. It was difficult to even get out of bed. There was only a slim chance that the two foppish Huichol brothers would come out in this weather. Nevertheless, I went out to stock the refrigerator with some extra beers on the chance that the brothers would be over. ...

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20: A Chalice of Blood

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pp. 112-121

“Well, José told me, as we prepared to return to the ranch, that Kieli had told him that I could be shown His ways. Kieli asked for me, grandfather told me. He asked me to come back after the pilgrims had left. ...

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21: Song of Evil

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pp. 122-126

“Singing, singing, and singing, chanting over and over, Kieli, Kielisha, the Evil One, chanting, singing, calling. Down, down, make my way down, tripping falling down, down the rocks, accosted by rocks, stones, plants, earth, and leaves, the branches reached out. His things there, His things, His creatures, the snakes, the scorpions, ...

Part II: The Gospel of Mad Jesus

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pp. 127-128

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22: The Other World

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pp. 129-132

In Chucho’s bloodshot eyes was the severed head, his grandfather’s head, in the rocks speaking, blood all around. His voice held the incoherent behavior of Plaza de la Veracruz. The words that flowed in babbling torrents were mesmerizing. ...

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23: Into the World

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pp. 133-138

“It was the last time, the last time I saw the mountains, the trees, the mesa, the paths to the Sierra. Ahhh!” he went on weeping in a more subdued ritual fashion. ...

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24: The Coast

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pp. 139-143

Chucho continued his story without taking a break. “There was another Huichol there, Miguel Santos, from the coast and I told him I wanted to go to Santiago to work. He said it was a very bad place, but he helped me to find a bus and pay for it. I only had 5 pesos left then, and the bus was all night stopping and starting through Tierra Caliente, the hot tropical lowlands. ...

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25: A Teacher

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pp. 144-148

“Finally I came to a place with a big wire fence all around it and a concrete white sign in front. I did not know what it said, but it was the Agricultural Station. I slept in front of the sign that night and when I awoke in the morning I could see two Huichol men working inside the fence; I called out to them.We talked through the fence, but they would not let me in. ...

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26: The Mothers’ Land

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pp. 149-156

Several days later the brothers returned, and Jes

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27: Salve Mar

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pp. 157-161

“Without Pedro and his wife there I had no one to cook for me. I would buy some tortillas and some chilies,but there was no one there and there were few other Huichols. I bought things every time I found some other Huichols in town, and I sold them to the turistas. Often I did not find the other Huichols until after they had sold their things because I was ...

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28: The Cult of Santo Cristo

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pp. 162-170

“María was back and I told her about Don Raúl and Mazatlan and all of the money I made there. She told me not to tell any of the others and she hid the money away. The next day María went to Guadalajara to buy more things and I went to San Blas to see if I could find some more of our brothers and sisters who would help us make things for all the people in Mazatlan. ...

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29: The Apostles

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pp. 171-184

I had a feeling that I would never see Jes

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30: A Brother’s Tale

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pp. 185-191

As I got into the taxi I thought once more about the young man stringing beads, the man with no name, and I told the taxi to take me to the Plaza de la Veracruz. I would give Matsiwa some extra money for a taxi for the young man just in case he managed to find his way to the plaza. ...

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31: Guadalajara Madness

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pp. 192-198

We entered the compound and went up the stairs to my first-floor apartment. There was obviously more to the Guadalajara story. Matsiwa sat down in one of my big colonial chairs with shocking Mexican-pink cushions. I rummaged through the closet for the recorder I was going to give Jes

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32: English Enrique

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pp. 199-201

Enrique Croft, born and raised in Mexico,was a thoroughbred Brit. An aesthete and sometime artist, he rode with the Mexico City Hunt Club, which was where I first met him. Enrique was a product of the British schools and social life in Mexico with an anglophile family. ...

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33: Dark City Lights

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pp. 202-210

I made my way through the darkened hallway and took the elevator up to the top floor. I began to climb up the rickety steel staircase to the roof. There were no lights. I heard someone distinctly chanting in Huichol. ...

Part III: Resurrecting Jesus

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pp. 211-212

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34: The Death of Jesus

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pp. 213-220

INDIOS NARCOSATANICOS screamed the headline from a yellow bordered clipping sent by a colleague with Mexico’s National Indian Institute. It had to be about Mad Jesus! ...

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35: File of the Dead

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pp. 221-228

I decided to stop at the offices of the government institute Rosa had mentioned on my way back out to the south of the city where I was staying. Those files were essential, and I had to figure out a way to get a look at them. It was impossible to know what happened without them. In my mind I was already turning over different ways to get a look at the police reports. ...

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36: Tracing the Path of Jesus

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pp. 229-237

The report did not bring me any closer to understanding what had happened to Mad Jesus and his cabal of followers. Death visited them so suddenly. How had this little cult aroused such draconian official ire? Was it an accident, or was there something far more menacing about Jes

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37: White Rocks

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pp. 238-242

I paid my bill and took the bus to San Blas. I could feel the sea long before we arrived in San Blas. The moon cast blue shadows through the trees as we snaked our way down to the coast past lagoons filled with sleeping water fowl, black waters, blue shrimp, the moon’s pearls shimmering on the waters. ...

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38: San Isidro

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pp. 243-248

All the next day, in the town, in the port, and on the beaches I thought about the two scared women. I thought of going back to see the women with a tape recorder and someone who could translate better for me. I was asking myself if there was anything worthwhile that the women could tell me. They fled when the shooting started and managed to survive. How many other survivors there were, ...

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39: Guadalajara

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pp. 239-254

At four the bus rumbled off to Tepic, where I spent the night.The next morning I went to the police barracks on the edge of town again to see if Captain Miriles could give me any further help in locating any of the other men who had participated in the shoot-out. I specifically wanted to know about Ra

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40: Holy, Holy Madness

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pp. 255-257

As I wandered the beaches, looking out at the great white rocks where everything had begun, where the Mothers of the Huichol had emerged, Jes

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pp. 258-260

When I had finished working on the final version of this book, with some fear and trepidation I decided to get in touch with Jesús’s brother, who is called Matsiwa in the book. This is a plot-driven narrative, just as my previous book, A War of Witches, was. It is ethnographically accurate, based on notes and tapes, but as in any good tale, the plot, tension, and drama of the story take precedence. ...


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pp. 261-268


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pp. 269-271


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pp. 272-274

Selected Readings on the Huichol

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pp. 275-276


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pp. 277-279

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9780826332066
E-ISBN-10: 0826337414
Print-ISBN-13: 9780826332042
Print-ISBN-10: 0826332048

Page Count: 287
Illustrations: 1 map
Publication Year: 2004

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Mad Jesus.
  • Huichol Indians -- Biography.
  • Shamanism -- Mexico -- Jalisco.
  • Nativistic movements -- Mexico -- Jalisco.
  • Shamans -- Mexico -- Jalisco -- Biography.
  • Huichol Indians -- Religion.
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