This is the story of an anthropologist's encounter with a Huichol Indian known as "Mad Jesus." Jesús was an artisan, a shaman, a self-styled prophet, a mad messiah, and a murderous mystic. Timothy J. Knab was a young anthropologist soliciting life histories from Huichols in Mexico City when they met. The life story of Jesús may have been the ravings of a madman, but it also embodied the Huichol anticipation of the return of Santo Cristo, the savior who will restore the Huichol to their place as masters of the world around them. Neither Knab's studies in anthropology nor his experiences in the world of counterculture prepared him to understand this strange Indian and his violent history and behavior.
A narrative of frightening encounters with a charismatic deviant, the tale culminates in the quest to discover what really happened when Jesús was killed in a police shootout thirty years after Knab's last disturbing confrontation with him. The book provides an overview of the Huichol and the plight of Mesoamerican Indians. It also sheds light on traditional religion, indigenous Catholicism, messianic cults, urbanization, and indigenous conflicts with the modern Mexican state.
"The subject is fascinating and Knab's technique of phrasing it in the form of ethnographic fiction will, I think, be welcomed by specialists. . . . it tells an unknown or little-known story that illustrates the conflicts and strains of acculturation, and does it in very readable form."--Peter Furst, author of Flesh of the Gods: The Ritual Use of Hallucinogens and co-author of People of the Peyote: Huichol Indian History, Religion, and Survival (UNM Press).