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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

The Peyote Religion Among the Navaho.

Aberle, David F. (1991).
Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press.

ISBN: 0-8061-2382-6

Description: Paperback, second edition, iii + 451 pages.

Contents: Preface to the Oklahoma Paperback Edition, preface to the first edition, acknowledgments, introduction to the second edition, supplemental references, 5 parts: Part I. The Peyote Cult, II. The Navaho, III. The Peyote Cult Among The Navaho, IV. The Differential Appeal of Peyotism in the Navaho Country, V. Peyotism As A Redemptive Movement, 7 appendices: A. Trends in Navaho Population and Education, 1870-1955, by Denis F. Johnston; B. Vocabulary; C. Four Interviews; D. Peyote and Health; E. The Leadership of the Native American Church in the Navaho Country; F. The Interview on Navaho Communities; G. Postscript-1965; Bibliography-References Cited; Index of Names; Subject Index.

Excerpt(s): Navajos today want to maintain their identity. Religion is one way of doing so. Although traditional religion is an obvious way to tie oneself to a Navajo or Indian identity, it faces two problems: a decline in the number of chanters, which will reduce the number of chants and the availability of ceremonies; and the loss of Navajo language among the young. Transmitting Navajo religion without the language in which its ideas are embodied will be difficult. Today peyotists refer to themselves as traditionalists and respecters of Navajo ceremonies. They see an alliance between Peyotism and Navajo ceremonies, contrasting them with Christianity, viewed as alien. (page vii)

More important, the [Supreme] court held that it was not possible to apply a balancing test to weigh the harm done by a statute to an individual's freedom of religion against a "compelling state interest" in the law. The decision was a radical departure from crucial prior decisions. As Justice Blackmun said in his dissent,

This court over the years painstakingly has developed a consistent and exacting standard to test the constitutionality of a state statute that burdens the free exercise of religion. Such a statute may stand only if the law in general, and the State's refusal to allow a religious exemption in particular, are justified by a compelling interest that cannot be served by less restrictive means.

Until today I thought this was a settled and inviolate principle of the Court's First Amendment jurisprudence. The majority, however, perfunctorily dismisses it as a "constitutional anomaly." (page iii)

I wish I had done some things differently. The most important to me is my failure to use "Peyote religion" instead of "peyote cult" throughout the book, and not just in the title. ... a close Navajo friend said to me, in some exasperation, "Dave, why do you call the Native American Church a cult?" ... In one range of meaning, "cult" signifies "form of worship," "ritual," of better "form of worship that expresses the believer's relationship with the supernatural." In that sense, the mass is the "cult" of Christianity. To use the word thus is not to criticize the cult of any religion. When anthropologists began to write about "the Peyote cult," they meant "the form of worship," "the Peyote ritual and what it signifies." (page xxi)

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