This book is a study of the background of the Mexican and American Indian rituals based on the plant that produces profound, but temporary sensory and psychic derangements. Peyote is a spineless cactus (Lophophora williamsii), ingested by people in Mexico and the United States to produce visions. The plant is a light blue-green and bears small pink flower. The crown, called a peyote, or mescal, is cut off, chewed, brewed into a drink, or rolled into pellets to be swallowed. The active substance in peyote is mescaline, one of several naturally occurring hallucinogenic drugs. Mescaline tastes bitter, causes an initial feeling of nausea, and then produces visions and changes in perception, time sense, and mood.
There are no uncomfortable aftereffects. Peyote use is central to traditional Native American religious practices — practices that predate this country’s founding. Anthropologists date the religious use of peyote back 10,000 years, and its use by Native North Americans has been documented since the 1600s. The present day Native American Church, with 250,000 members and chapters in 20 states, advocates the religious use of peyote. According to practitioners, peyote use is a spiritually profound exercise, and ranks among the oldest, largest and most continuously practiced religions in the Western Hemisphere. Peyote is a sacrament to believers, something which when eaten provides awareness of God.
The medical evidence shows that religious peyote use is not harmful to the practitioner, and it is taken in private and secluded religious settings. In fact, to ingest peyote other than in a religious setting is regarded as a sacrilege. Aside from this religious use, peyote is a controlled substance, illegal in all 50 states. Professor La Barre strongly supports the legitimate use of natural peyote in the ritual of the Native American Church: “Western man already complacently accepts (since it is ours) the mass use of substances such as tobacco and alcohol which, to physical health can be more dangerous, than a weekly Indian use of a feebly psychotropic desert plant.
The book reports that the peyote Indians sometimes hears the voice of the Great Spirit, they feel they are in the presence of God. Some experiences have been described as a feeling of great peace and contentment, floating, peace, contentment, and being a part of goodness. Many say words can’t describe the experience. Since the book was written a lot has happened. On April 14, 1994, Representative Bill Richardson introduced an amendment, H.
R. 4230, to the American Indian Religious Freedom Act (AIRFA). This amendment protects the First Amendment rights of Native Americans to practice their religion through the use of peyote as a religious sacrament. The Drug Enforcement Administration has a longstanding regulatory exemption, which allows for the “non-drug use of peyote in bona fide religious ceremonies for the Native American Church.
” Twenty-eight states have similar exemptions, but twenty-two states do not. I think the constitutional rights of Native Americans to exercise their religion must be ensured. Although 28 states have laws that protect the use of peyote as a sacrament, the laws are inconsistent with each other. Tribes located in different states are treated differently regarding peyote use. Native American Church members who have lawfully acquired peyote in Texas can be arrested and subject to felony prosecution in the 22 states that do not protect religious use of peyote, even for just driving through those states.
Anthropologists give the Native American Church a good report, noting among other things that members resist alcohol and alcoholism better than do non-members. The conclusion to which evidence currently points would seem to be that chemicals can aid the religious life, but only where set within a context of faith and discipline. Drugs appear able to induce religious experiences; it is less evident that they can produce religious lives. Religion is more than religious experiences.