If you were educated in the United States, especially in the American Southwest, you probably made Gods Eyes in school. You crossed two dowels the size of chopsticks and wove colored yarn around them to form concentric diamonds of color. You may have been told that it is a Mexican symbol of good luck or that it wards off evil spirits. Such items are sold to tourists in Mexican markets. Perhaps you have asked yourself, “Why is this the image of god’s eye?” I’m excited to share with you the rich symbolic and ceremonial history of this iconic image. It isn’t what you think it is.
The Huichol people of the mountains of Mexico are particularly interesting to me because they evaded colonization over and over again throughout their long history. First they evaded Chichimec marauders, then Aztec colonialists, then Spanish conquistadors. They fled their native homeland in the desert and avoided being subsumed by the Spanish by living in a mountainous region that had no natural resources the Spanish were interested in. They were able to preserve their ancient cultural heritage into modern times. The Huichol still speak the native Huichol language, practice their traditional religion, and about 1/3 to 1/2 of all Huichols are so intimately steeped in their sacred rituals that lay people (not just shamans) can perform sacred ceremonies and heal using the old ways. As such, their culture is a credible place to turn to for information about symbols that evolved in the Americas. Because of migration and diffusionism, Huichol symbology can be referenced when interpreting rock art (petroglyphs and pictographs) in the North American Southwest.
What is a God’s Eye? First there was a shield. Warriors wear front shields and back shields. The front shield is something most people are familiar with. It is a round disk, held on the forearm, and is used to protect the front of the body in battle.
A back shield is also to protect the torso, but is worn like an item of clothing. Modern police people wear bullet proof vests much the same way that people used to wear protective vests made of hard leather or reeds. In Huichol spirituality, the gods also carry shields. But, first, it is important to know what I mean by a “god”.
Huichol “gods” are not so much deities as energetic essences projected from various kinds of spiritual concepts in our known universe: sun, water, corn, birth, death. (There are about 120 Huichol gods of varying degrees of importance and power.)Each “god” embodies its own kind of subtle influence over how humans think, feel, and behave. Gods are also the faces given to the energies embodied by things in the natural world: water, sun, corn, etc. This is easy to understand. You feel totally different sitting by an ice cold stream than you do sitting under the desert sun. The essence of those two different energetic experiences are embodied in the “gods” of the Huichol world.
To call upon a specific”god” is to call upon its energetic essence of something in your known universe and ask to learn something from it or for it to lend you some of its energetic essence. You could call upon a god to lend you empathy for healing, or courage for war, or intuition for a successful hunt…
A god’s eye is the portal through which a god looks at the humans or through which humans can ascend, through trance, into the dimension of that god. “Gods” don’t exist in the human dimension. They exist in their own dimension. They are not concerned with human life, they are having their own experience, but they can be called upon if needed. It is difficult to catch the attention of a being from another dimension, because they are busy and very far away, on a different plane of existence. Even if they are looking directly at you, they see you as if through the wrong end of a telescope, tiny and distant. If you are human seeking the attention of a god, it is important to communicate clearly which god you are trying to call upon. You must use bright colors and images that a particular god will recognize as representing him or her. The god will look at you through the center of his/her shield, and if you make proper ceremony and leave an appropriate offering of corn or a little bit of blood, the god may come to you and bless you with his/her energy.
Enter the God’s Eye made of yarn or beads or paint or carving on a rock.
How do you contact an energy that exists in another dimension? Really. If you sit down in your favorite chair and think hard about it, how would you do it? If you want to contact a god that would bring you courage (for example), who exists on another dimension, how would you attract it’s attention? The Huichol understand that gods, like humans, hold shields before them, to protect them from unwanted advances. They also have holes at the center of their shields where they can see the person advancing upon them. It is through this hole or portal that the human can make contact with the god itself. The center of the God’s Eye represents that portal.
The God’s Eye that people make in school is the most simplistic example of a Nierika/Nieli’ka — a representation of a god. More authentic examples actually depict the image of the god being sought painted or woven or beaded onto onto a circular ritual item that contains a god’s eye at its center.
Ruitual Nierikas can be placed over ceremonial cupules (see below) that have been pecked into rocks to enhance the representation of a “portal” through which the god can be reflected (as if through a mirror), as well as hold a small ceremonial offerings.
As you can now see, the “god’s eye” is merely the hole at the center of a god’s shield through which the the god and the human can see each other. The elementary school project with yarn and sticks is a simplistic representation of the eye, authentic eyes will contain more complex imagery that doesn’t just shout “hey god!”, but says something more specific like, “hey god of rain!” The Nierika below is a Nierika from the 1800’s (documented by Carl Lumholtz) that requests the attention of the god of rain. Lightening, clouds and sun are all represented in this Nierika, and, importantly, there is a central, circular”hole” through which the gods and the supplicants can view one another.
Nierikas can also be square, and if they are they do not represent the round front shield, they represent the square “back shield”.
Round Nierikas are often made from gourds or round pottery bowls. I’ve been making some of this ceremonial art of my own using traditional Huichol methods of pressing beads into beeswax in a circular bowl with a representational “god’s eye” circle/hole at the center. The god’s eye at the center of a votive bowl can also be a mirror that reflects the god back to the supplicant (like a crystal ball) so the supplicant can absorb the energy of that god for use in this earthly life.
Now is the time for me to completely blow your mind. This God’s Eye ritual item isn’t only found in Mexico, it is found, exactly the same, across the world — at least the part of the world in the vicinity of the Pacific Ocean, the biggest ocean on earth. Identical God’s Eyes have been found in India (Naga people), Mexico (Huichol people) and Peru.
It is also seen on petroglyph carvings in the California desert.
If your mind is not completely and totally blown by how far and wide human symbols appear identically across the Pacific, wait until you see this faces.
This is our spiritual symbol…we are a tribe of Himalayas…LIMBU…….how come it is common among places in separate continents…..
That is the interesting question, isn’t it? My opinion would be, it’s partly a universal concept and a part of natural geometry thus part of the way humans think. The more complicated detail beyond that is looking for similar stories associated with that image. If so, then we can start asking questions about diffusion. Thank you very much for your comment. What you shared is an interesting thing to know! I will keep this in mind when I’m doing my future research. Does anything else about what I wrote here resonate as part of the story of this symbol amongst your people?