Knab, Timothy J. Mad Jesus: The Final Testament of a Huichol Messiah from Northwest Mexico. Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico Press, 2004. xiii + 279 pp. Cloth, $24.95.
Mad Jesus describes the life and death of Jesus, a Huichol shaman and self-styled prophet in exile from the plateaus of the western Sierra Madres. Anthropologist Timothy Knab met this mad messiah as a student in Mexico in the early 1970s, where he befriended many urban Huichols, learned their language, and participated in their peyote-centered ceremonies. Jesus, or Chucho Loco as he was known, was eccentric even for a Huichol shaman, and was on the fringe of Knab's circle of friends. His religion was a blend of Huichol shamanism and folk Catholicism. Born during Holy Week, Jesus identified himself with Christ. As the grandson of a malevolent Huichol sorcerer, however, he was schooled in the more dangerous branch of Huichol shamanism, associated with Kieli, the Huichol "Evil One." Jesus was a successful artisan and art dealer, who managed the affairs of his small group of "apostles," tending to his flock with the proceeds of their collective business.
Outside of his flock, other Huichols saw Jesus as an unstable and violent individual. In his interviews with Knab, he confessed to several violent crimes, including murders. The context of his behavior is illuminated through the narrative. This book should interest those in the field of deviant psychology. Because of his crimes, Jesus could never return home to the Sierras.
Decades later, a colleague sent Knab a clipping from a Mexican tabloid, describing the police assassination of a "narcosatanic" Indian cult leader, his wife, and some followers, at their compound in the town of San Isidro. The sensationalized account generated more questions than answers, and sent Knab on a journey back to Mexico to uncover the circumstances surrounding Jesus's death.
The volume incorporates translated interviews and testimonies of Jesus, along with standard anthropological sources and field notes. These sources are woven together skillfully using techniques from fiction, biography, history, and travel writing, making it an unusually captivating read, almost like a detective thriller. Knab allows drama and plot to drive the narrative, without compromising accuracy. Rather than interrupt the narrative with definitions and explanations, there is a generous glossary of Huichol and Spanish terms and phrases.
Traditional ethnographers may...