Alan R. Sandstrom and Pamela Effrein Sandstrom

Nov 11, 2023

Pilgrimage to Broken Mountain

Nahua Sacred Journeys in Mexico's Huasteca Veracruzana

University Press of Colorado 2023

An ethnographic study based on decades of field research, Pilgrimage to Broken Mountain: Nahua Sacred Journeys in Mexico's Huasteca Veracruzana (UP of Colorado, 2023) explores five sacred journeys to the peaks of venerated mountains undertaken by Nahua people living in northern Veracruz, Mexico. Punctuated with elaborate ritual offerings dedicated to the forces responsible for rain, seeds, crop fertility, and the well-being of all people, these pilgrimages are the highest and most elaborate form of Nahua devotion and reveal a sophisticated religious philosophy that places human beings in intimate contact with what Westerners call the forces of nature. Alan and Pamela Sandstrom document them for the younger Nahua generation, who live in a world where many are lured away from their communities by wage labor in urban Mexico and the United States.

Pilgrimage to Broken Mountain contains richly detailed descriptions and analyses of ritual procedures as well as translations from the Nahuatl of core myths, chants performed before decorated altars, and statements from participants. Particular emphasis is placed on analyzing the role of sacred paper figures that are produced by the thousands for each pilgrimage. The work contains drawings of these cuttings of spirit entities along with hundreds of color photographs illustrating how they are used throughout the pilgrimages. The analysis reveals the monist philosophy that underlies Nahua religious practice in which altars, dancing, chanting, and the paper figures themselves provide direct access to the sacred.

In the context of their pilgrimage traditions, the ritual practices of Nahua religion show one way that people interact effectively with the forces responsible for not only their own prosperity but also the very survival of humanity. A magnum opus with respect to Nahua religion and religious practice, Pilgrimage to Broken Mountain is a significant contribution to several fields, including but not limited to Indigenous literatures of Mesoamerica, Nahuatl studies, Latinx and Chicanx studies, and religious studies.

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