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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:
A Study in Indian-White Relations.

Slotkin, J. S. (1975).
New York: Octagon - Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

ISBN: 0-374-97480-2

Description: Hardcover, viii + 195 pages.

Contents: Preface, 7 chapters, Appendix: Some Important People in the History of Peyotism, notes keyed to text pages, bibliography, illustrations.

Note: The notes section, pages 81-141, will be of great use to anthropological researchers. This is a reprint of an earlier edition with The Free Press.

Excerpt(s): This chapter is an attempt to present Peyotism from the viewpoint of Peyotists, but in a way Whites can understand. ... No officially promulgated Peyotist doctrine can be presented, for the religion is relatively individualistic. So the following account is based upon my own knowledge about, and acquaintance with, Peyotism. (My qualifications are six years of study and writing on the subject. I have surveyed the literature; discussed Peyotism with lay members and most of the important leaders throughout the country, as well as with other anthropologists who have studies the matter; and participated myself, first as an observer, later as a member, and finally as a local and international officer.) In addition, this account has been reviewed by all officers of the Native American Church of North America. (page 68).

Jesus plays various roles. In some tribes he is the cultural hero (often equated with the traditional culture hero) who gave the White version of Christianity to the Whites and Peyotism to the Indians. in other tribes he is a guardian spirit who, rejected by the Whites who murdered him, now looks after the equally rejected Indians. Another of Jesus' roles is that of intercessor spirit between God and man. (page 69)

There are intertribal and intratribal variants of the Peyote rite, but from the point of view of the Native American Church of the United States these are inconsequential. As Allen Dale (Omaha) once said, All fireplaces [i.e., alter variants] are man made. The different fireplaces are the equivalent of White Protestant denominations. But one point all Peyotists agree upon and emphasize: irrespective of variants, the Peyote rite is an Indian form of worship. In fact, a common statement is, The Peyote Religion is the only thing left to us Indians. (page 72)

As in the case of any other sacrament, the worshipper eats Peyote under the proper ritual conditions in order to obtain power to commune effectively with God and the other spirits. That is way the amount of Peyote taken during a rite depends upon the solemnity of the occasion; the more serious the rite, the greater the amount of Peyote imbibed. (page 74)

In the culture under consideration, the traditional Indian means of obtaining the power needed for a successful and healthy life was through the vision quest. The individual went off in isolation, often subjected himself to ordeals so that he would be pitied, and prayed for assistance, until some spirit appeared in a vision and gave him personal power. Peyotism changes the traditional pattern somewhat. The individual participates in a collective rite, but he spends most of the time in contemplation he is in a collective isolation, as it were. Two features exist which are Peyotist equivalents of the traditional ordeal. Most people do not find Peyote pleasant to take, It is hard to eat Peyote . In addition, they find it difficult to sit on the ground all night in one position, It is hard to sit through a meeting . (page 74)

Peyotist revelations should not be strange to Whites. Mysticism has been an important tradition throughout the history of White western culture, and visions have the authority of both the Old and New Testaments behind them.

And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions (Joel 2.28: quoted in Acts 2.17)

(c) Peyote is also eaten as an aid to contemplation; through it one obtains increased powers of concentration and introspection.

(1) The worshipper concentrates on communion and revelation in order to obtain the maximum from them.

(2) On behalf of himself an others, he prays silently or aloud, concentrating as hard as he can in order to procure the attention and acquiescence of the spirits to whom the prayer is directed. ...

(3) Peyote heightens introspection and sensitizes the conscience. The worshipper examines his life meticulously to see where he has strayed from the Peyote Road because of evil thoughts and deeds. He then confesses his sins, and promises to repent and discipline himself. (At present this confession is usually made in silence, but occasionally aloud; a few decades ago open confession prevailed.) (pages 75-76)

Compilation copyright © 1995 – 2001 CSP

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