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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


One Nation Under God: The Triumph of the Native American Church.

Smith, Huston and Snake, Reuben. (Editors and compilers). (1996).
Santa Fe, NM: Clear Light Publishers.


ISBN: 0-940666-71-5

Description: Hardcover, first edition, 176 pages.

Contents: Forward by Daniel K. Inouye, Preface by Huston Smith, Introduction by Reuben Snake, 5 chapters, epilogue: The Death of a Roadman by the family of Reuben Snake, Appendix: A Brief History of the Native American Church by Jay C. Fikes, Contributors.

Contributors: Edward Anderson, James Botsford, Phil Cousineau, Walter Echo-Hawk, Gary Rhine, and members of the Native American Church.

Excerpt(s): An important word in the Winnebago language is wo-shkun. It means "Way, a way to be," and it sums up a great deal of our way of life. Central to that way, as I have said, is our sacred Medicine, Peyote; or as we call it in our language, ma-ca-wa-ca-chugra, so let me return to that. In Isaiah 29:4 it is written: "Then deep from the earth you shall speak, from the ground like the voice of a ghost, and your speech shall whisper out of the dust." We Indians hear that verse as referring to our sacred Peyote plant. Jesus was born in a part of the world that was semiarid. Water was a precious commodity. Life was difficult, especially for the Jews who had to live under Roman oppression. It was equally difficult for Christians, once they became a distinct sect. They too were persecuted, reviled, tortured, and killed.

My grandfather taught us that it is the same with us today. Many of our tribes live on arid land where there isn't much water. Our holy Medicine comes from such land, and bears witness to the passage in the Bible I just quoted, for the Peyote plant comes to us as the voice of God arising from the earth. If Jesus was God incarnate in human form, our holy Peyote is God incarnate in plant form. And like Jesus, it teaches us to love our fellowmen. The parallels continue, for Indians live in turmoil today, oppressed as were the Jews and early Christians. The saying, "The only good Indian is a dead Indian," is a grim reminder of that fact. (pages 23-24)

But I want to end with our sacred Peyote, which is the pillar of our Church. I have ingested it since infancy. That I have never done so for kicks goes without saying. In every case I have approached it as a sacrament, and invariably it has lived up to that designation. Never has it caused me, or any Church member I have ever heard of, to hallucinate, and its directives have always been to live cleanly and with a loving, compassionate heart. (Introduction, Reuben Snake, page 27).

The Native American Church (NAC) is the spiritual bulwark of a quarter million of the original inhabitants of this continent. Its roots extend into the twilight zone of prehistory, before the rise of Christianity or any of the historical religions. But because its sacrament is Peyote ("God's Flesh") whereas that of the dominant religion in the United States is alcohol ("Christ's Blood"), members of the Native American Church have had to worship under a cloud since European invaders took over. Its members could not practice their religion without fearing a knock on the door.

That fear excalated in the early 1990's, as a result of the Supreme Court's explicit ruling (on April 17, 1990, in Employment Division of Oregon v. Smith) that the Bill of Rights --- specifically the "free exercise of religion" clause in the First Amendment to the United States Constitution --- does not extend to the Native American Church because of its sacramental use of Peyote.

This book is the story of the Native Americans' response to --- and victory over --- that ruling. The judicial branch of the United States having deserted them, they resorted to its legislative branch. Without a nickel in their coffers, they challenged the highest court of the land on the Peyote issue and won, reversing (by four years of determined effort) four centuries of prejudice against their sacrament. It is a story that deserves to be documented, remembered, and retold for generations, for it carries hope for freedom lovers the world over.

The prime mover in securing the passage by Congress of the American Indian Religious Freedom Act Amendments of 1994 ... was Reuben Snake, this book's co-editor. (Preface, Huston Smith, pages 9-10.)



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