In the vibrant city of Chihuahua, Mexico, the annual Santa Rita Fair comes alive with color, music, and laughter. This celebration, held in honor of the patron saint, draws crowds from far and wide to celebrate the region’s rich cultural heritage.

Amid this vibrant event, I took a journey into the depths of the majestic Barrancas del Cobre. It is there that the secrets of Rarámuri shamanism awaited me.

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Leaving behind the fair, I embarked on a sacred pilgrimage into the heart of the Barrancas. Its rugged landscapes, sculpted by 20 million years of exposure to the elements, whispered stories of ancestral wisdom. There, the Rarámuri people have lived for centuries, weaving their traditions from the very fabric of the land.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The survival of the Rarámuri

The Rarámuri, or Tarahumaras, is an indigenous community known for its ability to run long distances. Despite the challenges posed by time and contact with settlers and outsiders, their worldview and rich culture have persevered.

Their name means “runners on foot” and comes from the roots rara (foot) and muri (to run).

Following the arrival of the Spanish colonizers, the Rarámuri strategically decided to retreat to the Barrancas del Cobre in the Sierra Madre Occidental.

Since then, they have diligently preserved their traditions, shared by a population of between 50,000 and 70,000. Their traditional lifestyle encompasses cave-dwelling, corn and bean cultivation, and transhumance.

Two Tarahumara men photographed in Tuaripa, Chihuahua, in 1892 by Carl Lumholtz.

A sacred ritual

My journey to the depths of the Barrancas began on a winding trail. Eventually, I arrived at a small Rarámuri community nestled in one of the caves. I was there to meet Catalina, a revered sukurúame — as the Rarámuri call their shaman.

Her presence radiated timeless wisdom.

Once I entered her cave, carved into the mountainside, I felt a sense of reverence wash over me. The air was charged with the scent of sacred herbs that permeated the space with ancestral knowledge.

Then, with her weathered hands and gentle demeanor, Catalina invited me to participate in a ritual as old as the land itself: the egg cleansing.

Image courtesy of Alicia Civita.

This profound ceremony symbolizes the removal of negative energies and spiritual impurities that hinder a person’s well-being.

Furthermore, Catalina explained that her cosmogony attributes to the egg the power to absorb and neutralize these energies, restoring harmony and igniting a spiritual rebirth.

Thus, with unwavering grace, the sukurúame rolled a raw egg over my body. Her touch transcended the physical realm and reached into the depths of my soul. This way, the egg became a conduit for releasing negative energies to the sound of Catalina’s prayer in the melodious Rarámuri language.

Image courtesy of Alicia Civita.

Like ancient incantations, her words invoked the guidance of Onorúame, the Great Benefactor in Rarámuri cosmology, asking for his wisdom and protection.

Afterward, Catalina delicately broke the egg into a glass of water as the ritual came to an end, unveiling a mesmerizing dance of yolk and white. Each intricate pattern held deep meaning.

Catalina deciphered these patterns with her ancestral insight, guiding the journey ahead.

Used with permission from Alicia Civita.

A profound connection

Upon leaving Catalina’s cave, there was a sense of profound serenity and interconnectedness. The experience had transcended mere observation — it had become communion with a resilient civilization.

Their legendary endurance races, which serve as spiritual prayers, reflect their unwavering resilience and ability to find balance in adversity.

In this era of rapid change and disconnection from our roots, the Rarámuri people serve as guardians of a sacred flame, illuminating the path toward unity and harmony. 

For whoever this story has inspired to travel and visit the Rarámuri, I recommend planning at least a four-day stay.

You can arrive at the airport in Chihuahua or Los Mochis, in the state of Sinaloa.

From there, take the El Chepe train, and you can look for lodging in the Balderrama hotels. Consider carrying pesos in cash, an open mind, and a heart full of respect.

The Rarámuri traditions and spiritual practices are not relics of the past but living, breathing entities that offer profound lessons to those willing to listen.