Peyotism


?The white man's reality are his streets with their banks, shops, neon lights and traffic, streets full of policemen, whores, and sad-faced people in a hurry to punch a time clock.
But this is unreal. The real reality is underneath all this. Grandfather Peyote helps you find it.?
- Crow Dog
Peyote, a hallucinogenic plant that is commonly used as a recreational drug, has a much greater meaning for members of the peyote religion. By examining the effects of peyote along with its role in the rituals and beliefs of the Native American Church it becomes apparent why it is such an integral part of the religion.
The trade and knowledge of this sacred plant was already well defined in regions of Mexico well before European conquest and its ceremonial use was already underway in the tribes of the area in which it grew. This religious use eventually spread through North American regions. Along with its migration, the basic rituals and ceremonies changed along the way. The organization of religion involving peyote and the principle rituals had become commonly practiced among the Comanche and Kiowa tribes by the mid-eighteen hundreds. The Native American Church formed in 1921, beginning in Oklahoma. Soon after this initial formation, state and local incorporation followed in many places and continue to do so to this day. (Aberle, 19) Now, some form of peyote religion is common to most tribes of the North American continent.
Peyote (Lophophora williamsii) is a very small, low growing, fuzzy type of cactus. Most of the cactus is actually underground in a long root. Both the flesh and roots can be eaten. When dried the flesh resembles brown overcoat buttons, which is where the term peyote ?buttons? came from. Peyote isn't found just anywhere. It grows in the wild over only a small portion of the Southwestern United States known as the Peyote Garden. Precisely, Corpus Christi, Texas, Deming, New Mexico, Durango, Mexico and Puebla , Mexico bind the area in which this plant can be found and harvested. (Aberle, 5)
Containing eight different alkaloids, the most important being mescaline, peyote causes a number of effects. The experience begins with an euphoric quality. It heightens the sensations to sound, color, form and texture. Further into the experience, ?visions? begin to occur. These visions can include detailed, realistic pictures and sounds. The interpretation of these visions rather than the visions themselves are what peyotists consider most important.
The peyote experience is characterized by a strong feeling of personal significance of the internal and external stimuli encountered during the experience. Many find themselves asking, ?What does this mean to me??
The Native American Church came to the Indians during their darkest hour. It was around the time when the last of the buffalo had disappeared from the plains. They were left starving, helpless and with little of their old lives remaining to cling to. In the words of a member of the NAC, Mary Crow Dog, ?The Native American Church became the religion of the poorest of the poor, the conquered, the despoiled. Peyote made them understand what was happening and made them endure. It was the only thing that gave them strength in those, our darkest days.?
It was obvious that a militant religion could not have survived under white dominance. The formation of this religion was a response to the degraded status on Native Americans. It's goal- internal peace and harmony rather than competition. This idea was highly relevant to the socio-economic situation that these indigenous people were being faced with. For many, this was exactly what they needed to continue on.
Since the beginning, there has been strong opposition to the Native American Church by several groups. The traditionalist Indians opposed it believing that it was a threat to traditional tribal culture. Modernist Indians as well as whites opposed the religion also saying that it was heathenistic and backward. In the early stages, peyote meetings were illegal not for the use of peyote, but because Native American rituals in general were outlawed. But, in 1934, under John Collier, the Bureau of Indian Affairs enacted a policy of non-interference with peyotism. There have been state laws prohibiting the ?sale, use or possession of peyote?, but all such laws have been repealed since the sixties (Aberle, 18).At the present, it is legal