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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


Peyote: The Divine Cactus.

Anderson, Edward F. (1996).
Tucson: University of Arizona Press.


ISBN: 0-8165-1654-5 paperback
0-8165-1653-7 hardcover
Description: paperback, second edition, xviii + 273 pages.

Contents: list of illustrations, A Word from the Author, introduction, 9 chapters, epilogue, Appendix A: Peyote Systematics, Appendix B: Peyote Alkaloids, Appendix C: Excerpts of Current Federal Laws and Regulations Pertaining to Peyote. references, index.

Note: This integrated and interdisciplinary review includes information on the history, anthropology, psychology, medicine, pharmacology, chemistry, botany, and legal aspects of peyote.

Excerpt(s): The most effective actions were achieved by the passage of state laws prohibiting peyote, often involving widespread but often untrue newspaper publicity and other misinformation. In 1917, for example, a strong campaign was mounted against peyote in Colorado in order to obtain the necessary prohibitive legislation. The Denver Post of 12 January 1917 reported that the "societies which have interested themselves in the welfare of the Indians have discovered that peyote is killing dozens of them yearly. The 'peyote' eater has dreams and visions as pleasing as those of a 'hophead.' To get a better hold on their victims, the peyote peddlers have lent a religious tone to the ceremony of eating the drug, so that peyote is worshiped in a semi-barbaric festival before the orgy is held." Denver organizations that supported a prohibitive measure against peyote included the Ministerial Alliance of Denver, the Women's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), the Parent-Teacher Association, the Women's Club, and the Association of Collegiate Alumnae.

Such a response of well-meaning members of Anglo society is not surprising, because the peyote religion as reported to them seemed to be in direct opposition to established Christian mores. Further complicating the issue was the fact that the U.S. form of the peyote religion ... had taken on many Christian concepts and called itself the "Native American Church, thus creating a serious moral and legal dilemma: Should a "Christian church" that used "drugs" be permitted to function in our society? The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees the free exercise of religion, but interpreting and applying this guarantee has long been a difficult legal problem. What precisely can be considered a "religion" has been continually open to question. (page 190)

Thus a serious legal issue was specifically raised with regard to the religious use of peyote: Are the effects of this plant harmful enough to deny a group of people their right of religious freedom? Opinions have been expressed on this question for nearly a century by anti-peyotists, who have been largely missionaries and other church workers with Native Americans. Missionaries have felt that peyote was more than just a problem involving the use of drugs with the related physiological and social ramifications. The use of peyote was religious, and worse yet, a revival of old traditional Native American customs and beliefs; it was a form of pagan worship that was very attractive to Native Americans for historical reasons and was highly competitive with Christianity. Newberne, an outspoken opponent of peyote early in this century, stated emphatically that "to the missionary the use of peyote is paganism arrayed against Christianity -- the power of a drug against the elevating influence of the cross." Of course, he assumed that Christianity should be the religion of all people because of its superiority over any form of pagan religion, and that any Native American activity which ran against Christianity should be prohibited. He contended that peyotism, in mixing certain pagan beliefs with selected Christian elements, was an "absurd cult incompatible with Christianity" and opposed to the work of missionaries among the Native Americans. Missionaries were also concerned that peyotism involved a "vicious drug habit," an aspect that made it even more dangerous. (page 191)



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