Peyote Religion In Sundown By John Joseph

.. first learned of the sacred American plant. Indians in the United States had been restricted to reservations.. and much of their cultural heritage was disintegrating and disappearing. Faced with disastrous inevitability, a number of Indian leaders, especially from tribes re-located in Oklahoma, began actively to spread a new kind of Peyote,” (H & S pg.4). The spreading of peyote usage promoted the American government, like the Spaniards earlier, to take notice. The use of peyote was being adopted and integrated into Christianity.

There was a strong opposition from missionary and governmental groups. This caused legislation to be produced to repress the use of peyote. That was when they organized it as an official religion “Native American Church.” This religious movement, unknown in the United States before 1885, numbered 13,300 members in 1922,” (H & S pg.5). The membership now in NAC, Native American Church, is over 250,000 members. The Spaniards outlawed peyotism because they linked it with “cannibalism and witchcraft,” (James pg.2). Today, there are still challenges of the use of peyotism, but surprisingly, it has been held as a religious freedom.

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Much of the conflict comes from the idea that it is abused and it is compared with LSD. “Peyote contains more than fifty psychoactive ingredients, the most powerful of which is mescaline.. peyote and mescaline are best known for their unique hallucinogenic properties, which many users report as less disorienting-and hence more manageable-than LSD and other synthetic psychedelics,” (James pg.3). Peyote, Lophophora Williamsii, is a small cactus that looks like a button, it is dried, and that is what is eaten. The Peyote Religion believes that special powers are given to the users. An ability to get in touch with a spiritual power a guidance, true sight of what is reality that may be blinded by outside distractions.

The ceremony is most often drumming mixed with music and prayer in a ceremonial dwelling, house, or at a sight. The experience is lead by the Road Chief or Road Man who oversees the group. He leads the others “On the Peyote Road, the way of learning to live life well,” (Ref.1, pg.1). In Sundown this was Watching Eagle. The sweat lodge ritual from Sundown resembles very much the actual ritual from the account of “Peyote Night,” by Humphry Osmond. This was an article written of the true happenings of a peyote ritual. This story is a walk through a peyote ritual from a man experiencing it with a congregation of the Native American Church of Canada, the Red Pheasant Band.

The similarities between the two are very interesting. The purging of themselves through drink releasing the evils, the Road Man leading it, and the healing done by the Road Man took place in both of the stories. An amazing thing that struck very similar was in the healing story of the young man in Osmond’s “Peyote Night”. “I watched the young man, and I think I experienced some of the queasiness that peyote induced in him. Like most young men, he longed for a life that meant something-a life of action, danger, pain, defeat, torture, and death at the hands of his enemies if necessary. A life like that of his ancestors who live on the prairies for centuries before.

Anything rather than the humiliating meaninglessness of the present. But the drumming told him, “You cannot go back. You can go forward. It will be rough, but it can be done.” It is sad to be a warrior from generations of warriors with nothing warlike to do-an Achilles without Troy, staying at home among his mother’s spinning women..The young man still cannot bear his fate. All the warrior in him is assailed by it and revolts against it. But he must listen to the voice of music, which is greater than man. He sings again, this time in high falsetto.

There is a note of triumph in it, perhaps peyote has dissolved the aching in his heart, (Osmond pg.6). Healing, Running Elk needed healing, like that given to White Deer. Chal will follow the same bad road if peyote healing is not found, if he does not accept it. Chal is confused like the young warrior of the Red Pheasant Band. The loss of the warrior role, the changing times. He fights himself, trying to adopt white mans society, abandoning his blood, embarrassed.

Peyote is a way of healing ones soul but also brings closeness, a feeling of belonging, and a brotherhood to many. “Subjective effects can include rapid changes in mood, feelings of empathy and kinship with others..and deeply moving, even profound, introspective spiritual experiences, (James pg.3). Chal has never felt that feeling of belonging it talks about, that kinship. He has always just slipped in and out of his relationships in life. The one thing that may save him is he has returned home. Chal is a lost soul, a mixed blood full of confusion. He was born in a time of turmoil for not only his people but also all Indian people. Their traditional roles were gone and the next generation was supposed to either assimilate or fail. That was the government’s idea with such things as the Dawes Act.

Out of that disheartening strife came an answer, a way to see the road; the road that had been covered by so many wrong roads or bad roads. Watching Eagle said “We cannot fight white man, but we are Indian; we cannot be white men. We must use our time to fight our troubles. To fight the evil which comes on inside of us,” (pg.277). Peyote could have brought Chal the answers like it did so many others, but he refused. A Challenge was what his life was, and that is what it was to be.

Bibliography The Peyote Religion, “The Tracks Of The Little Deer”. Schultes Richard, Hoffman Albert. Their Sacred Healing and Hallucinogenic Powers. Healing Arts Press, 1992,Vermont. Divine Cactus.

James Jennifer. “Peyote Night”. Osmond Humphry. Tomorrow, 1961,


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