In San Luis Potosi the sacred cactus is gathered
in October just before the dry season. So holy a plant is not to be
dragged from the earth without proper respect and those who go forth
to gather the peyotl do so with awareness of the sacred nature of their
mission. For several weeks before the expedition starts those who are
to take part prepare themselves with prayers and fasting. Abstinence
from sexual intercourse is imposed upon them, as both strength and purity
are required for the success of the expedition. Chanting prayers and
reciting sacred verses, the leaders of the party proceed over the rocky
mesas, followed by pack animals, which will bring back the harvest.
Before reaching the holy place the members of the expedition perform
a public penance. Then, displaying every sign of veneration, they approach
the plants, uncovering their heads, bowing to the ground, and censing
themselves with copal incense. The more devout cross themselves in the
name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Then, having discharged
arrows to right and left of the plant to ward off evil spirits, they
dig the cacti with care so as not to hurt them, brush off the soil from
the roots, and place the plants in jars. As the expedition returns there
is great rejoicing in all the villages through which it passes. Peyotl
is offered on the altars and fragments given to every person met. Sufficient
is kept for the great festivals and the rest is sold to those who took
no part in the expedition.
In order to dry and preserve it the plant is cut into thick, fleshy
slices, which are laid in the sun to dry. These slices, when dried,
become wrinkled brown discs more or less covered with tufts of short
white hairs. In this form they are commonly known as "mescal buttons."
The word "mescal" here is confusing, for it is also used to
describe an intoxicant made from the agave. The mescal button, however,
is entirely non-alcoholic and, with its dirty colour and covering of
spiny fluff, is about as unpromising a passport to an artificial paradise
as can be imagined. Its taste is as unpleasant as its appearance; indeed
anyone who has chewed his way through one of these "buttons"
must marvel at the hardihood of the Indian Peyotist, for the flesh of
the cactus is not only bitter but also possessed of a peculiarly nauseating
odour. Yet the Indian, not only swallows as many as twelve of these
morsels, but also is able to retain them in his stomach, a feat the
squeamish might envy.
Among the Kiowa Indians the rite of peyotl eating
generally takes place on a Saturday night. The men sit quietly on the
carefully swept earth, forming themselves into a circle about a flickering
campfire. All bow their heads in prayer, then, taking the mescal buttons
from the jar in which they are stored, the leader of the ceremony hands
four buttons to each man. One of these, freed from the tufts of hair
that cover it, is put into the mouth and thoroughly softened, ejected
into the palm of the hand, rolled into a bolus, and swallowed. In this
way as many as twelve buttons may be taken at intervals between sunset
and 3 a.m. with the accompaniment of occasional prayers and rites. Throughout
the ceremony the campfire is kept burning brightly and attendants maintain
a continual beating of drums. The Indians remain seated from sundown
to noon of the following day. As the effect wears off they get up and
go about their work without experiencing unpleasant after effects. On
the following day, purely for ritual reasons, they abstain from using
any salt with their food.
PEYOTL, CHRISTIAN CHURCH, THE
LAW and THE PEOPLE
The peyotl rite spread steadily among the Indians.
It crossed the border and invaded the United States, becoming established
first in that region of the Rio Grande in Texas where the cactus grows.
It spread steadily among the Apaches, Omahas, Kiowas, Comanches, and
was employed even by tribes as far north as Wisconsin. As a result of
the outcries of Christian missionaries efforts were made to prevent
the Indians from obtaining the plant. Why the missionaries wished to
prevent them is not clear, for there is no evidence whatever that peyotl
is associated with debauchery. Their efforts, however, resulted in prohibitions
and legal actions, one of the most curious of which was the trial in
Wisconsin of the Indian Nah-qua-tah-tuck, whose crime, it appears, consisted
in having imported a shipment of peyotl from Texas by parcel post. Considerable
efforts were made to prove that peyotl was harmful and that its employment
led the user straight to the pit of hell; that it was, in fact, the
"raiz diabolica" described by Padre Jose Ortega. From this
standpoint the Indians in the trial proved most uncooperative. Far from
describing peyotl as a short cut to hell, they insisted that by its
means they were brought several steps nearer to heaven. Before taking
the drug they "invoked God, begging Him to make all of them good
and to keep them from evil." They took peyotl that their souls
might ascend toward God. "Peyotl helped them to lead better lives
and to forsake alcoholic drinks." The Reverend Thomas Prescott,
who also testified at the trial, declared that for seven years he had
officiated as a priest in a society known as the Union Church Society
and to its Indian members as the Peyote Society. Peyotl was either eaten
or taken as tea at weekly services and those that took it derived benefit
from its use. "They gave up drink, established themselves in regular
homes, and lived sober and industrious lives." As for himself,
"it stopped me from drinking, and now since I used this peyotl,
I have been sober, and today I am sober yet." "This,"
writes Norman Taylor, "was too much for the government experts,
and Uncle Sam decided to go back, to Washington, where the records of
this fantastic trial still moulder."
Even so, those warped individuals who seem happy only when forbidding
something to their fellow men continued to seek to suppress the now
Christianize form of peyotl worship. In 1951 efforts were made to declare
illegal the use of peyotl among various Indian tribes. So energetic
were these attempts that LaBarre and four other professional anthropologists
who had made extensive studies of Peyotism and participated in the rites
felt it their duty "to protest against a campaign which only reveals
the ignorance of the propagandists concerned." After pointing out
that peyotl is neither a narcotic nor an intoxicant in the true sense
of the word they went on to describe the aims of that intertribal organization
incorporated under the name of "The Native American Church of the
United States" as given in its articles of incorporation.
The purpose for which this corporation is formed is to foster and promote
religious belief in Almighty God and the customs of the several tribes
of Indians throughout the United States in the worship of a Heavenly
Father and to promote morality, sobriety, industry, charity and right
living and cultivate a spirit of self-respect and brotherly love and
union among the members of the several tribes of Indians throughout
the United States; with and through the sacramental use of peyotl.
..by eating the sacramental peyotl [these writers continue]
the Indian absorbs God's Spirit, in the same way that the white Christian
absorbs that spirit by means of the sacramental bread and wine. . .
. The traditional practice of many Indian tribes was to go off in isolation
to contemplate and fast until a supernatural vision was achieved. This
is now replaced by a collective all night vigil in which, through prayer,
contemplation and eating peyotl, the Peyotist receives a divine revelation.
For the Peyotist this occurs because he has put himself in a receptive
spiritual mood and has absorbed enough of God's power from the peyotl
to make him able to reach God. The all night rite is highly formalized.
One man functions as priest, with the help of three assistants. During
the rite they pray for the worshippers at fixed intervals, while the
other men and women pray to themselves in low voices. Early in the rite
everyone takes four pieces of peyotl; later, anyone may take as many
more as he or she thinks proper. Most of the time is occupied in having
each man, in rotation; sing four religious songs that correspond to
hymns sung in white churches. . . . It will be seen from this brief
description that the Native American Church of the United States is
a legitimate religious organization deserving of the same right to religious
freedom as other churches; also that peyotl is used in a sacramental
manner, corresponding to the bread and wine of the white Christians.
This site may look ancient
It is the result of an evening class in Dreamweaver 4 website construction
I attended in 2002.
But it is current and working, thank you very much.
Now in Feb. 2015.
They are all having their winter sleep.
This is a good time to travel to a new home with no disruption to growth.