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THE PEYOTE RELIGION AMONG THE AMERICAN INDIANS By Patty Yuen INTRODUCTION The use of Peyote has long been referred to as a cult "...which we found springing into existence when old ways of life (of the American Indian) are being destroyed by a powerful and technologically more advanced culture ..." thus also classifying it as a revitalization movement. Today, peyote use has become the most popular, and one of the most durable of all the religious movements created by American Indians as a result of the suffering as the effects of domination by American society. Peyote use (in the United States) has thus evolved into what is more accurately described as a religion: a system of symbols which produces powerful, pervasive and long-lasting moods and motivations by formulating conceptions of a general order of existence. The rite as it came to the United States was aboriginal in character, and had no hint of influence of any other religion. Today, the Peyote religion can be characterized as the combination of beliefs tinged with Christianity and rituals which are distinctly Indian. The peyote cactus is central to the religion for its effects after ingestion and for its symbolism. For them, the cactus is the basis for their communication with God, and their cure for all bodily and spiritual ailments--a palladium, power and panacea. In spite of opposition from traditional and Christian Indians, who oppose the cult fear and hate Peyote, and from the Indian Service, doctors, missionaries, and traders, the religion has been passed from the land of the ancient Aztec empire to the Mexican Indians, and beginning in 1870's, spread to the United States, especially in the Plains, where nearly all groups use it. It is today one of the major religions of most Indians of the United States between the rocky Mountains and the Mississippi, from the territories spanning from Nevada to Wisconson, and even up to Southern Canada and parts of the Great Basin. The appeal of peyote is based upon the visions it induces, and its "medicine power," and its availability in doctoring is culturally based upon the aboriginal vision quest of the American Indians and the ideological premises of this quest. PEYOTE The Plant Peyote, or Lophophora williamsii is a small, low-growing spineless cactus, and ranges in shape from a turnip to carrot-shape. It does not have branches or leaves, but has tufts of hair or fuzz which are said to cause sore eyes or blindness. The flesh and roots are eaten by peyotists. The rounded top surface, which alone appears above the soil (and which cut off and dried, popular method of preparation, becomes the peyote-button) makes it difficult to find. It grows mainly in areas of Texas and Mexico, and was first discovered in 1560. It contains nine narcotic alkaloids, the most important of which is mescaline, which produces profound sensory and psychic derangements, or hallucinations lasting about twenty-four hours. It is this property of the peyote which led the native American Indian to value and use it religiously. It is interesting to note that throughout the world, people use many substances to create special psychological states such as the opiates, marijuana, coca, alcohol, etc. These are often used in magical contexts, for instance, for divination, to create a trance, visions, or dreams. But peyote is the only substance known which is used to create a special psychological state in service of religious ends. Cult members face persecution and imprisonment in order to use peyote for religious purposes. Another interesting point is that given the wide range of the plant genera in Eastern and Western worlds, why is it that in America, the American Indians knew of some forty local species of hallucinogens, while the rest of the world had scarcely half a dozen. Physiology of Peyote Intoxication Physiologically, the most noted characteristics of peyote is its production of visual hallucinations or color visions, as well as the derangements of olfactory, auditory, and touch senses. Typically, the first stage in the reaction to the ingestion of peyote is exhilaration (which may result in the allaying of hunger and thirst on the long pilgrimage to peyote land n order to obtain the drug, to give courage in war, and strength in dancing, and racing, etc.) which is produced by the strychnine-like alkaloids, followed by the second stage, characterized by profound depression, nausea and wakefulness, mild analgesia, and a sensation of fullness in the stomach or loss of appetite. If dosage continues, there may be active nauseam and a feeling of tightness in the chest, some muscular tetany (particularly evident in the jaw muscles), and finally, under the influence of the morphine-like alkaloids,heightened sensitivity to nuances of sound, color form and texture. If dosage continues, b rilliant color visions are produced with eyes open or closed. There are no ill after-effects, and peyote is not known to be habit-forming. It is in the latter stage where "running amok," witchcraft-suspicion, psychic fear-states, euphoria and feeling of brotherhood, partial anesthesia, the "suffering to learn something" (characteristic of the Plains vision quest), hallucinations which teaches the worshiper sacred songs of peyote, and "learning" of painting and bead designs, symbolical birds and feathers, etc. Reasons for the Use of Peyote in Ritual Practice "For American Indians from the most ancient times, this experience (induced by peyote) of `medicine power' -- sought ...everywhere at least by shamans or medicine men..." -- motivated American Indians to explore a plant that resulted in such impressive experiences by the worshippers. The question arises, why are these characteristics of peyote so important to a religion? The visions are not critical to the peyotist, as one may have been led to believe; in fact they are rare or absent in a large percentage of cases, and even disvalued by many peyotists, although welcomed by many others. What I found to believe that makes peyote so religiously important is the feeling of personal significance of external and internal stimuli that hallucinogenics, in particular peyote, creates because the physiological reactions occur in the person, subjectively. Each person is experiencing his own similar, but distinct reaction, and examining his own thoughts, which cannot be exactly the same as the next person's. "Personal significance heightens the religious experience in the peyote meeting because it supplies evident proof that something is being done to and for the human organism and it is felt as a power." This feeling of personal significance asks, "What does this mean for me?" For example, if the worshipper is ill, he will be able to ask his own bodily sensations and the events of the meeting for an understanding of why he is ill and whether he is likely to get better. Or if he is anxious or depressed, or guilt-ridden, he can examine these feelings and the reasons for them and seek in his experience a clue as to whether he is forgiven, needs to worry, or can ever be happy. These are generally referred to as revelations. "Users may find personal significance in the events of the peyote meeting, the physical surroundings, their fellow participants and in their behavior and expressions, visions, nausea, indigestion, headache or simply in their own ruminations." Peyote is a religious adjunct-and aid to a special and personal experience. Many other religions also have, for the same purposes, such adjuncts such as fasting, repetitive prayer, trance, self-torture, etc. These, like the peyote experience are other-than-usual experiences which, in the context of religious ritual, is usually identified as having to do with the supernatural. The mind-moving effect of the plant was proof enough to them that it has supernatural mana or "power." THE RITUAL USE OF PEYOTE Symbolism of the Ritual To the users of peyote, the peyote is in itself, is a power that works from the outside. It is a teacher who can show a man the right way to live and answer his questions by giving him an experience to live through. Through the use of peyote in the ritual, one is able to communicate with the Creator, or in more syncretized tribes, God. The ritual is also regarded as a communion with one's fellow worshippers. Prayer, song, drumming and the eating of peyote are all regarded as forms of communication with God, and the reactions brought on by the drug is regarded as communication from Him--through reflection, illumination, or visual or auditory hallucinations. The communion with fellow peyotists is felt through the joint eating of peyote, the singing, confessions, in the drinking of water together at midnight and dawn and in the ceremonial breakfast which closes the meeting. Purpose A peyote meeting is generally held for a purpose, one of the most common reasons is for curing. Some other reasons for a meeting to be called can range from averting evil, promoting future good, or thanking God for past blessings to celebrating a child's birth, a death, obtaining rain, to divine and combat sorcery, to locate an enemy at war, finding lost objects, foretell the future, and to "see the face of Jesus" or the faces of dead relatives. Some tribes even hold meetings on New Years Eve, Christmas, and Easter. Doctoring the sick is, however the commonest reason for calling a meeting, but a quote from an old Indian states that, however, when a man wishes to have a meeting, he ordinarily finds little difficulty in discovering a reason for it, "In the early days they just had a good time for one night. It was not used as a curing ceremony then... at first they wanted to have good visions, that's what they were after. But then, recently, they began to use it as medicine for sick people." The Peyote Rite The ceremonial use of peyote varies greatly from tribe to tribe, but a general, or "universal" outline of a peyote ritual will be sufficient. For those tribes who live beyond the habitat of peyote, they may have to make pilgrimages in order to obtain peyote. For many Mexican journeys, it is very ritualized, for example, they must walk, some tribes require fasting even if the journey may last for a month. But for the majority, this journey is not ritualized, although there is a modest ceremony at the site. For example, on finding the first plant, a Kiowa pilgrim sits west of it, rolls a cornshuck cigarette and prays, "I have found you, now open up, show me where the rest of you are; I want to use you to pray for the health of my people." He sings and eats green plants while harvesting them; only the tops are taken, so that the roots may regenerate buds for the next pilgrimage. In Mexican tribes, the first button they find is saved as a "father peyote" for meetings later, in the plains, it is the largest one. In preparation, many tribes commonly take a sweatbath, while some require a washing of the hair in yucca suds. Fasting, perfuming of the body with mint, sage, or other scented plants are also common preparations in order to cleanse the body for the meeting. An universal peyotist restriction is that salt may not be eaten on the day that peyote is eaten. It is also considered hygenically if not ethically unwise to use peyote in alcoholic drinks; indeed, many become peyotists in order to cure their alcoholic addictions. The sponsor selects the leader, or himself acts as one. If a tipi is used, the sponsor's womenfolk erect the tipi, or enclosure, prepare and bring the food and water the next morning. The sponsor stands the cost of the meeting, or others may help in funding the peyote if it has to be purchased. Communicants may bring their own supply of buttons. The leader also supplies the paraphernalia: typical requirements are a staff, gourd rattle or rasp, eagle-bone whistle, and his personal "feathers" for doctoring. Each item has specific symbolic meaning in representing the idealogy of their creation. The road chief is the most important individual in a meeting. "The leader of each ceremony is the sole director of it. He may base his ceremony partly on visions during previous ceremonies. In other cases, he follows ceremonies that he has participated in, changing or adding details to suit his personal ideas. No two ceremonies conducted by different individuals are therefore exactly alike; but the general course of all is similar." -- This variation in leadership is also seen as a function of leadership -- he has full authority to change the ceremony in any way he wishes, and his permission must be asked and secured even in such little matters as leaving the meeting temporarily; even the fireman, his chief assistant must obtain his permission, and constantly consults with him throughout the ceremony for directions. -- In fact, peyote leadership is a matter of prestige in a tribe, and a major means of advancement among the fellow tribe, since each tribe has a limited number of rec ognized peyote leaders. For example, the Pawnee tribe has only eight recognized leaders in a population of eight hundred. Participants gather at sundown and enter the enclosure anytime after nightfall, in a clockwise manner. Entrance is generally informal. The road chief, who conducts the meeting may say a brief prayer: "I am going into my place of worship. Be with us tonight."-- The road chief sits west of the fire, which has been started by the fire chief who sits north of the door. Two other officials are required: a drummer chief, who does most of the drumming; he sits south of the road chief, and the cedar chief, who sprinkles dried cedar incense on the fire at several points of the ceremony is seated to his right. Almost any one can learn these roles after a little observation. A road chief is trained more elaborately by another road chief. In front of them is a raised crescent moon of earth, and the altar, where the father peyote is placed. Father peyote should be the focus of concentration in praying, singing, drumming, and smoking ritual cigarettes as it serves as a center for communication with God. Some individuals cherish and prize their father peyotes. Some even become heirlooms. If one gives his away, or loses it, he may be subject to misfortunes. A prayer, and smoking together is the first ceremony which announces the purpose of the meeting. The papers to roll the tobacco is usually made of corn husks. All pray privately, and then the incense ceremony follows. The cedar man will sprinkle cedar on the fire. The scent will protect them from feeling weak or dizzy. Peyote is then passed around and eaten. Peyote is generally eaten in the raw dried state as "buttons" but, when obtainable, in the green form also, which is said to e more potent. Peyote "tea," a dark-brown infusion of soaked and boiled buttons may also be provided. This method is commonly used to administer peyote to the old and sick, who may be unable to chew the buttons, and are unable to pick the fuzz off, which is believed to cause blindness. Singing and drumming begin, continuing until midnight. There are four "peyote songs" which must be sung throughout the course of the night, usually by the road chief: Hayatinayo (Opening Song), Yahiyano (Midnight Song), Wakaho (Daylight Song), and Gayatina (Closing Song). During this time, the paraphernalia, staff, drum, tobacco, peyote, etc., are passed around to the left, in a clockwise circuit, for all participants to handle. At about midnight, when the midnight song is sung, a bucket of water is brought in by a female, usually the wife of the road chief, who is usually referred to as Peyote Woman, who, according to some tribe's legends discovered peyote. In the early days, women were prohibited to attend in meetings, and only old men used peyote, but forty or fifty years ago, women started coming in to be doctored and gradually came in for other reasons, though they could not use the ritual paraphernalia; under no circumstances may a menstruant woman enter.-- The restriction against women appears to apply only to groups who early had peyote, when it still had a flavor of a warriors' society about it. It is in the mexican practices where women are able to fully participate, and in a few cases where a woman acts as road chief. The water is passed around after prayers by various officiants. After midnight water, singing and drumming recommence, and peyote is again passed around. Public confessions are common, lengthy prayers for the purpose the meeting is held begin and continue until dawn, where a morning water ceremony, like the midnight ceremony, is held, after the four songs are completed. Again, it is brought in by a woman, whether she has participated in the meeting or not, and is followed by more singing and drumming, and prayers for the purpose and for the worshippers themselves. This ceremony is the morning "baptism" or "curing" rite. Singing and drumming again, and then the meeting closes with a ceremonial breakfast of parched corn, boneless meat, fruit, and water. A lot of joking, and discussion of the night's events and experiences occur. And at sometime between ten in the morning and one in the afternoon, a large meal is served. Beliefs and Values of the Power of Peyote Peyotists believe in the existence of power, spirits, and incarnations of power. "...[Power] is an immaterial and invisible supernatural force..." which man needs in order to be successful and healthy; without it he becomes unsuccessful and ill...God, who is equated with the Great Spirit, or the Creator, is the ultimate source of power. This power is personified as the Peyote spirit. Peyote "was given to the Indians by God because he took pity on them for being a subject people--poor, weak, helpless and ignorant...God made the Peyote cactus..., and put some of his power into it," in order to help the Indians. Therefore when one eats peyote, he absorbs the power inherent in it, which he can then utilize to cure and to understand the world and one's place in it. The amount of peyote eaten usually is minimally, four buttons. Some have eaten 75 to 100 or more, but the average is a third or a fourth of this. The reason for such large quantities being that there is a certain prestige in eating and retaining large amounts of peyote.-- But peyote is not as predictable as one may think. An overdose may cause one to vomit, and this is regarded as a punishment of one's sins, but it cleanses the body of its impurities in the process and purifies the blood. The belief in peyote as a protection against witchcraft is widespread. Vomiting of the peyote is attributed to witchcraft forced upon by a powerful shaman, for in Mexico and the Southwest, war and witching are often done while under the influence of peyote. "A favorite device of witches to weaken the leader was to make his assistants vomit the peyote." Non-Ritual Uses of Peyote In many instances, peyote is used to prophecize and to divine. Peyote is also carried in pouches as amulets as charms against all injuries and illnesses, and is also a powerful protection against witchcraft in foot races, which are common in Mexican tribes, held usually at night before a meeting. Rivals are liable to throw bones and obstructions on the track and cause the Tarahumari runner to be bewitched and lose the race. Peyote is also used to topically cure wounds. A salve is made out of peyote and fat, and is put on to snakebites, arrow wounds, bruises, etc. Therapeutic uses of peyote also vary from relieving cramps, fainting spells, painful joints, rheumatism, head-aches, fever, and colds. In the Plains, a Wichita case of blindness of 15 years was cured by the sole application of peyote infusion. One of the most remarkable instances is the curing of a Cheyenne woman of liver cancer, which had been declared hopeless at a white hospital, although a meeting was called for this purpose. Peyote is also used in war for courage, in order to not feel fatigue in long journeys, etc. Peyote in fact gave power to perform shamanistic tricks in the old days. PEYOTISM AS A NATIVISTIC MOVEMENT Revitalization movement: "a deliberate, organized, conscious effort by members of society to construct a more satisfying culture" as a result of real or imagined conditions that create a demand for change. A nativistic movement, such as peyotism, is a form of a revitalization movement that is defined by Linton as, "Any conscious, organized attempt on the part of a society's members to revive or perpetuate selected aspects of its culture." Further evidence that the peyote religion is revitalistic is that several types of deprivation that are prevalent in the Indians' situation is noted to be the causal link in which leads individuals to join such a religion, the cause of the rapid spread of Peyotism. These are: (1) - economic deprivation. In the American Indian's case, the lost of their possessions, such as livestock and land. (2) - organismic deprivation. This applies to the feeling of the reduction of one's worth among his fellows. If "'s membership category is seen as distinctly below standard, (The American Indian is stills regarded with prejudice) this represents behavioral (organismic) deprivation" (Aberle). (3) - ethical deprivation is the result of the loss of hierarchy which used to be regarded with reverence amongst the tribes. With the introduction of reservations and with Indians, involvement in white man's world, these traditions become less adhered to. (4) - psychic deprivation, which results in the search for new meaning and values, and (5) - social deprivation, which refers to the loss of power felt as an American Indian. For instance, he is unable to control events on/ of the reservations as a result of white man's laws, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs. CONCLUSION Peyotism seeks a more satisfying way of life for Indian individuals in this world, in spite of the difficulties that confront Indians. Peyotism's only organized efforts at institutional change are those aimed at altering the legal status of the practice itself. Peyotism does not believe in changes of individual habit alone, but sees changes in belief, custom, behavior, and style of life as proceeding from a change of inner state. This is the stated goal of the Native American Church. In a sense, peyotism turns its face from the white world, but it has an ethic that is adaptive for the American Indian in his situation in America. Its stress on abstinence from alcohol, on hard work, self-support, sexual morality and responsibility for one's family is adaptive for those groups partially integrated in our industrialized society. December 4, 1989 WORKS CITED Aberle, David F. The Peyote Religion. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1982. Artaud, Antonin. The Peyote Dance. New York: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, Inc., 1976. Benitez, Fernando. In The Magic Land of Peyote. Austin and London: University of Texas Press, 1911. LaBarre, Weston. The Peyote Cult. Connecticut: The Shoe String Press, 1975. Lehmann, Arthur C. and Meyers, James E. Magic, Witchcraft, and Religion. California: Mayfield Publishing Company,1989. Siskin, Edgar E. Washo Shamans and Peyotists. Utah: University of Utah Press, 1983. NOTES 1 Lehman, Arthur C, and Meyers, James E. Magic, Witchcraft, and Religion (California: Mayfield Publishing Company, 1989) p.126. 2 Aberle, David F. The Peyote Religion.(Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1982). 3 Aberle, p.34. 4 Aberle. 5 LaBarre, Weston. The Peyote Cult.(Connecticut: The Shoestring Press, 1975) p.xv. 6 LaBarre, p.xv. 7 LaBarre, p.xv. 8 Aberle, p.8. 9 Aberle 10 Aberle, p.10. 11 LaBarre, p.xv. 12 Lehmann, p.126. 13 Aberle, p.59. 14 LaBarre, p.58. 15 LaBarre, p.8. 16 Siskin, Edgar E. Washo Shamans and Peyotists.(Utah: University of Utah Press, 1983). 17 LaBarre, p.43. 18 Benitez, Fernando. In The Magic Land of Peyote. (Austin and London: University of Texas Press, 1911). 19 LaBarre, p.63. 20 Artaud, Antonin. The Peyote Dance. (New York: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, Inc., 1976). 21 Artaud. 22 Benitez. 23 LaBarre, p.60. 24 LaBarre, p.26. 25 LaBarre, p.65. 26 LaBarre, p.42. 27 Artaud. 28 LaBarre, p.87. 29 LaBarre, p.29. 30 Aberle, p.338. 31 Aberle, p.338. 32 Aberle, p.334. 33 Aberle, p.335.


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