Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Sacramentalizing the Ingest of Peyote, in Aldous Huxley’s words

The peyote cactus (Lophophora williamsii) and members of the Trichocereus genus (san pedro cactus) are often consumed for the mescaline they contain. Mescaline  is a naturally occurring psychedelic alkaloid. It is mainly used as a supplement in various practices for transcendence, including meditation, arte projects, psychedelic psychotherapy.  
 It is important in the Native American Church , which fused Christian doctrine with peyote-eating tribal ritual. The use of peyote is said to produce a mental state that allows celebrants to feel closer to their ancestors and their Creator.
Peyote has been used for over 3000 years by Native Americans in Mexico. Europeans noted use of peyote in Native American religious ceremonies upon early contact.
In traditional peyote preparations the top of the cactus is cut at ground level, leaving the large tap roots to grow new 'Heads'. These 'Heads' are then dried to make disk-shaped buttons. Buttons are chewed to produce the effects or soaked in water for an intoxicating drink. However, the taste of the cactus is bitter, so users will often grind it into a powder and pour it in capsules to avoid having to taste it. (From

The following is an excerpt of the book “The Doors of Perception” (USA, edition 1970), by  the English writer Aldous Leonard Huxley (26 July 1894 – 22 November 1963), who explains the ritual of Peyote ingest in the Native American Church. Huxley was a humanist and pacifist, latterly interested in mysticism, parapsychology, religion.
“We see, then, that Christianity and alcohol do not and cannot mix. Christianity and mescaline seem to be much more compatible. This has been demonstrated by many tribes of Indians, from Texas to as far north as Wisconsin. Among these tribes are to be found groups affiliated with the Native American Church, a sect whose principal rite is a kind of Early Christian Agape, or love feast, where slices of peyote take the place of the sacramental bread and wine. These Native Americans regard the cactus as God’s special gift to the Indians, and equate its effects with the workings of the divine Spirit.
Professor J. S. Slotkin, one of the very few white men ever to have participated in the rites of a Peyotist congregation, says of his fellow worshipers that they are “ certainly not stupefied or drunk…..They never get out of rhythm of fumble their words, …They are all quiet, courteous and considerate of the one another. I have never been in any white man’s house of worship where there is either so much religious feeling or decorum.”
For this Native Americans religious experience is something more direct and illuminating, more spontaneous, less the homemade product of the superficial, self-conscious mind. Sometimes (according to the reports collected by Dr. Slotkin) they see visions, which may be Christ Himself. Sometimes they hear the voice of the Great Spirit. Sometimes they become aware of the presence of God and of those personal shortcomings which must be corrected if they are to do His will. Dr Slotkin reports that habitual Peyotists are on the whole more industrious, more temperate (many of them abstain altogether from alcohol), more peaceable than non-Peyotists….
In sacramentalizing the use of Peyote, the Indians of the Native American Church have done something which is at once psychologically sound and historically respectable.”

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