Peyote and The Rise of The Native American Church

Peyote (Lophophora Wiliamsii) is a thornless cactus growing along Rio Grande valley and south of it . Its green flower buds  are covered with white spots . These spots contain  nine alkaloids of the Isoquinoline group . This alkaloids group has psychedelic effects on the human consciousness .


peyote cactus


The name Peyote comes from the Aztec language Nahuatl .


In Nahuatl the word Peyotl means caterpillar . The analogy comes from the fact that the cactus looks like the back of a caterpillar . In the different native American tribes , the cactus is called differently . The Lakota  word for it for example is “unchela” or simply medicine .


The Peyote rituals are practiced among the tribes of central , north Mexico and United States for hundreds of years . Accordingly to some explorers, as Carolyn E. Boyd however the sacred plant is been used for millennia . During 19th century the Peyote rituals are widely spread among the tribes of southern of the Great Plains . The plant has been highly appreciated and considered sacred medicine for many of the tribes there .


The first propagator of Peyote among the tribes of the Great Plains is the Comanche chef Quanah Parker (1845-1911) .


During a ride in Mexico he has been seriously wounded by a raging bull . His condition was critical , but luckily his warriors mange to find a  local medicine woman which saved Chef Parker’s life . Quanah Parker was as good as dead . The woman give him a mysterious herb , which miraculously healed him . The shaman agreed with the Quanah’s request and taught him the secrets of the mysterious plant medicine . The rituals he has been taught by the shaman were significantly different than these practiced by the other tribes . However Quanah Parker became the first peyotist among the north American tribes .


Peyote chef Quanah Parker


Greatly impressed by the healing powers of “Grandfather Peyote” Quanah knew that his mission was   to spread the knowledge of the sacred plant among his people . In his quest he has been aided by the American ethnologist James Mooney (1861-1921) , who helped the chef systemizing the knowledge of Peyote . This systemized knowledge is the foundation of the Native American Church .


The word church however may sound inappropriate word to be related with the usage of Peyote cactus , but there are few good reasons for that .


The most important however is related with the social intolerance , prohibitions and persecutions imposed on the Peyotism and its followers . The Spanish chronicles of the first explorers are speaking about how the Chechemeca tribe used the sacred plant of Peyote to see the future . With the help of the plant they were able to predict when the enemy will attack , or what will be the weather like during the next season . Of course the Catholic church proclaimed Peyote to be a plant sent by the devil in order to stray the natives of the salvation . That’s why the peyotists are burned to the stake .


peyote ceremonial tippi


Even in more recent times the Christian missionaries had the same negative view regarding Peyote . They believed that this plant was taking the people away from God and the civilized society .  Many Peyotists are thrown in the jail , others are forced to renounce of their believe . Even outside the religious doctrine , the civil position regarding the sacred plant was negative , defining the ceremonies as amoral orgies of drugged Indians . All of this has led to the formalization of the Peyote spiritual cult . In 1918 in Oklahoma the Native American Church has been officially registered .


Related Literature

Teachings of the Peyote Shamans

by James Endredy


Peyote : The Divine Cactus

by Edward F. Anderson


Peyote and Other Psychoactive Cacti 

by Adam Gottlieb


Quanah Parker : Comanche Chief

by Rosemary Updyke


The Ghost-Dance Religion and Wounded Knee 

by James Mooney


The Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Plants : Ethnopharmacology and Its Applications

by Christian Ratsch and Albert Hofman___________________________