Visual and performance artist Jorge Rojas (JorgeRojasArt.com) has read about a hundred people’s fortunes via tortilla burn marks, and the performance “Tortilla Oracle” has become part of a larger project, Gente de Maiz (People of Corn). He will perform and divine at a fundraiser for the Salt Lake Art Center on Sept. 16 at a private home; tickets are $100. For more information and to register, contact Talia Ullmann at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Why did you begin reading tortillas?
A few years back, my wife would read our guests’ tortillas at dinner parties as a joke. We’d be making quesadillas and she would say, “Oooh, I see a heart on your tortilla; surely there is love in your future.” I’ve been reading tarot cards for 20 years and have always been interested in divination and mystical practices, but it wasn’t until years later that I decided to turn the idea into a performance piece. As far as I know, I’m the only person who reads tortillas. It wasn’t until after I started doing the “Tortilla Oracle” that I began learning some of the history and mythology around maize. I was amazed to learn that shamans of Aztec and Mayan cultures used corn kernels for divination. If you think about it, the most ancient performative practices were things like tribal rituals, shamanic ceremonies and storytelling.
What is your divination process?
It begins with creating a sacred space. I invite the questioner to do a brief meditation and focus on a particular question that he or she wishes to ask of the oracle. They then pick a tortilla and place it on a hot pan. The flow of energies (corn, water, fire, metal, air, intent) is indicated by the marks made on the tortillas. I do a brief ritual to invoke the Corn Goddess and ask for her blessing. Each reading is a personal ceremony and lasts 12 to 15 minutes. At the end of the reading, participants eat their tortilla as a way of internalizing the experience.
What do you interpret when you read the tortilla?
I’ve devised my own system for interpreting the marks on the tortilla. The center represents the material world, and the circumference represents cosmic forces at play. The first side of the tortilla deals with the past as it enters into the present. The second side deals with the present as it enters into the future. The most important things for me are sticking to my methodology, being present, staying open to the process and trusting my intuition.
What works better, flour or corn tortillas?
I use corn because I feel a strong connection to it. It carries such an ancient history that I can learn and draw from. Being from Mexico gives meaning to that connection. The Corn Mother, or Goddess, is often linked to renewal of life, fertility and protection. According to Aztec religion, Quetzalcoatl, the “Feathered Serpent,” was the god who provided humans with their first corn to plant. The Popol Vuh tells that the archetypes of the Quiché Mayas were four perfect men made of maize. The Navajo also speak of human prototypes created from corn.