March 13, 2004  Dr. Elin Danien: "Visions, Shamanism, Peyote and the Huichol"

After viewing the display of retina-searing Huichol yarn paintings outside
Classroom 2, members heard Dr. Elin Danien speak about the paintings and
their makers in a talk entitled "Visions, Shamanism, Peyote and the

The Huichol of West Mexico have maintained much of their Pre-Columbian
culture and shamanic religion even as they selectively adapt to and
incorporate Western concepts.  Elin described their periodic treks the
Huichol make to "go to find their life": they pilgrimage to a desert some
300 miles from where they live, because only peyote from these ancient sites
is of value to them.  An adult must participate in five pilgrimages to
qualify as a shaman, and fully one third of the adult Huichol men and many
of the women are shamans.  Elin then described the history of the yarn
paintings, and described some of the complex and colorful symbolism used in
them, tying the symbolism to the Huichol religious beliefs.

As a Research Associate in the American Section of the University of Museum,
Dr. Danien was responsible for the recent renovation of the Mesoamerican
gallery, and she wrote the Guide to the Mesoamerican Gallery.  She was the
Museum's first Public Programs Coordinator, and she originated its annual
Maya Weekend and ran it for 15 years.  She has written for Expedition
Magazine and has contributed articles to Assembling the Past: Studies in the
Professionalization of Archaeology, edited by Alice B. Kehoe and Mary Beth
Emmerichs, (University of New Mexico Press), Heart of Creation: The
Mesoamerican World and the Legacy of Linda Schele, edited by Andrea Stone,
and Philadelphia and the Development of Americanist Archaeology, edited by
Don D. Fowler and David R. Wilcox (the latter two published by U. of Alabama
Press).  She is currently working on a biography of the archaeologist Robert
Burkitt, the man who "came to tea and stayed for thirty years."

In 1986 Elin founded "Bread Upon the Waters," a scholarship program for
women over the age of 30, who can complete their undergraduate degrees at
Penn only as part time students.  So far, the program has allowed 42 women
to graduate (23 with honors); it is helping 30 women to take courses this

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