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Religion and Psychoactive Sacraments:
An Entheogen Chrestomathy
Thomas B. Roberts, Ph.D. and Paula Jo Hruby, Ed.D.
Author Index | Title Index

Carlos Castaneda, Academic Opportunism and the Psychedelic Sixties

Kikes, Jay Courtney (1993)
Victoria, BC: Millenia Press.

ISBN: 0-9696960-0-0 paperback

Description: Paperback, xxviii + 285 pages

Contents: Foreword by Phil C. Weigand, acknowledgements, introduction, prologue, 5 chapters, Appendix A: Peyote: Divine Cactus or Dangerous Drug?, Appendix B: How Maize Was Acquired by Huatacame, Appendix C: Peyote Song, Huichol Glossary, bibliography, index, about the author.


by Phil C. Weigand

I first met Jay Fikes in the mid-70s, when he was a student who had just initiated his Huichol studies. He came recommended by the late Dr. Betty Bell, who had insisted that he attend a lecture of mine about the Huichols, given to the University of Arizona's Guadalajara Summer School. After that lecture, he introduced himself and told me of his first field experiences among the Huichols of the comunidad indigena (indigenous community) of Santa Catarina, Jalisco. I remembered that meeting as being full of perceptive questions, many of which I could not begin to answer, concerning his interest in comparative information based on the field work that my wife, Celia Garcia, and I were carrying out in San Sebastian, a neighboring comunidad indigena. At that early time, he was expressing already doubts about the accuracy of Peter Furst's and Barbara Myerhoff's work among the Huichols, saying that he found too many contradictions and much that seemed inexplicable because it seemed so unique. (page ix)

Periodically, he informed me of his progress, developments which progressively disheartened and discouraged me more and more as the study began to assume the shape of this book. There was something deep inside me that did not want to believe the extent of misinterpretation and sensationalism in the works of Furst and Myerhoff. We felt obligated to cross-check many of his findings, which we did with our own interviews (some of which are taped) and the re-study of the corpus of ethnography under consideration. In addition, I read several articles by Furst and Myerhoff for the first time. I had stopped systematically reading their material after the publication of Myerhoff's 1974 book, because so little of it seemed replicable in our own field work; because it was completely decontextualized; and because it appeared to have an agenda that was not anthropological in nature. I felt what was worthwhile in their works was simply rehashing of materials that had already been published, especially Lumholtz and Zingg. In my cross-checking of many of Fike's findings, I never found any inaccuracies on his part. I had simply no idea how deeply the ethnographic errors and misinterpretations had penetrated the Furst/Myerhoff works on the Huichols. By 1985, I had become convinced on my own that these works did not have real ethnographic value, but following Fike's investigation, I suspected that we may be faced with what deMille might recognize as prima facie evidence of fraud. (page xi)

Fikes is cautious about concluding that ethnographic data were intentionally misrepresented or fabricated. He believes that most of the mutations he has identified can be interpreted as a manifestation of a cavalier neglect of the canons of ethnographic research. His research suggests that an intolerable level of indifference to ethnographic truth may have caused problems I regard as a product of fabrication. One of these problems, turning an acculturated Huichol into something he was not, i.e., a Huichol singing shaman, could be a consequence of Furst and Myerhoff having failed to discriminate between Huichol religious types such as healer, singer, and cahuitero. Regardless of whether one decides that fraud, as I have defined it, best explains a specific ethnographic anomaly, all scholars must agree that maintaining the credibility of our discipline depends on our willingness to comply with standards of honest ethnography. (pages xvi - xvii)


Emphasizing accuracy in ethnographic investigations will in turn promote greater respect for Huichol and Native American religions. Most ethnographers who care enough about other people to record details of their religious life will learn to appreciate the elaborate symbolism, the beauty and profound meaning of the rituals, and the dedication exemplified by the finest of traditional religious practitioners. Such researchers will also be better equipped to debunk spurious and sensational accounts of Native American religions. Disseminating sensitive and authentic reports about Native American religions may also enable consumers to identify the more astounding (and inaccurate) claims circulating about Native American religions (page xxvi)

Chapter Three, The Marketing of Huichol Shamans

American youth, suffering from a crisis of meaning which became especially acute as the credibility of the "establishment" diminished in the mid-1960s, abandoned tangible political objectives to pursue "tales of power," of a "supernatural" sort, disseminated by a disorganized group of collaborators interested in profiting from meeting the unmet demand for gurus and mysticism. The Delgado-Furst-Myerhoff version of Huichol culture was inherited, and is being passed on with little if any modification, by Prem Das, Brant Secunda, and others. Their version of Huichol culture and "shamanism" is the version known to today's New Age consumers.

Like Gordon Wasson, I am outraged by marketers who bastardize ancient rituals and cheapen the tremendous personal sacrifices, unbending dedication, and humility required of bona fide Huichol and Native American healers and ritual specialists (those defined as "shamans"). My admiration for authentic aboriginal American ritual practitioners is what animates my criticism of those who prostitute and trivialize their teachings.

The curandero (healer) who today, for a big fee, will perform the mushroom rite for any stranger is a prostitute and faker, and his insincere performance has the validity of a rite put on by an unfrocked priest (Wasson 1972). (pages 136-137)

This expose may produce little change among consumers in the Huichol tributary of the New Age movement. For some, emotional needs for self-transcendence (some will say escapism) and larger-then-life personalities may overpower the capacity for critical thinking. They may well be involved in constructing a quasi-religion, one originally inspired by the charismatic Castaneda. The formation of this quasi-religion, one now being promoted by Castaneda partisans such as Michael Harner, Prem Das, and Brant Secunda, is "at least as interesting as Moses, Wovoka, Joseph Smith ... the movements they inspired". The cultural crisis of the 1960s, which precipitated the demand for gurus and shamans, and the complex relationship between contemporary New Age celebrities and consumers of their seminars on shamanism, are part of a social movement worthy of further investigation. (page 144)

Appendix A. Peyote, Divine Cactus or Dangerous Drug?

Anthropologists are among the few non-Indian organizations which affirm that the NAC's "solemn and controlled use of peyote as a sacrament is in no sense harmful ... it is a scientific, ethical, and legal error to classify peyote used in rituals of the NAC as a deleterious drug." On November 29, 1990, the American Anthropological Association accepted a "Resolution in Support of the Native American Church." In 1991 the resolution was approved by the membership. Ninety-six percent of those voting were in favor. The resolution states that
there is no compelling interest that justifies restricting the first amendment rights of members of the NAC to practice their religion; therefore be it resolved that the American Anthropological Association supports the NAC efforts to protect their sacramental use of peyote to assure that NAC members have full legal protection for their way of worship.

James Mooney, Weston LaBarre, Franz Boas, Omer C. Stewart, J. S. Slotkin, David Aberle and all other anthropologists who have studied peyote use among Indians have observed that members of the Native American Church regard peyote as a sacrament and use it in highly controlled religious rituals. Their reverent and sacramental use of peyote contrasts dramatically with non-Indian recreational use of peyote. Although anthropological "expert witnesses" testimony has helped protect the NAC, this time is different. (pages 220-221)

Native Americans have Special Rights

Few non-Indians understand how our Constitution's provision for treaty-making with foreign nations, e.g., Native Americans, set them apart legally, politically, and culturally. Although this nation-to-nation relationship has been partially superseded (in a de facto way) by imposing citizenship and the "trust responsibility" on Native American societies which were fully sovereign, members of aboriginal American societies ("tribes") still enjoy special rights. To treat them as if they were only ordinary immigrant Americans is to ignore U.S. history and Constitutional law.

In addition to the legal and political differences hinted at above, there are profound differences in religious perspectives. Even today, after centuries of forced assimilation, Native Americans preserve an epistemology radically unlike the kind of cognition essential in science and in monotheistic religions developed in the Middle East. The inalienable right of Native Americans to persist as distinct nations, and to determine their own destinies, includes the right to use peyote as a sacrament. anything short of full legal protection for the NAC rituals is inexcusable. Penalizing them for using peyote as a sacrament would be tantamount to blaming them for the drug abuse epidemic plaguing our society. (pages 222-223)

This compilation by Thomas B. Roberts & Paula Jo Hruby, © 1995-2002 CSP

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