Monday, May 23, 2016

Peyote and the Perfect You: Some Notes (Basics, History, Links, Videos, a Hypothesis about the Heart Chakra, and an Embryonic Bibliography)


>> Read about my book in-progress
>> Listen in to the 20 "Marfa Mondays" podcasts (mainly interviews) posted to date
>> View my maps of Far West Texas


Far West Texas, an area approximately the size of West Virginia, includes a goodly patch of the territory that stretches deep into Mexico where peyote, or lophophora williamsii grows... oh so very... very... very... v-e-r-y... slowly. 
A runty, dull-gray spineless cactus with wispy white hairs, when found, peyote-- an Anglicization of the original Nahautl name, peyotl-- is usually growing in clusters. What certain indigenous peoples have done for an eon is slice off the tops-- the "buttons"-- and eat them. Calories and dietary fiber are not the point; apparently the taste is puckerlips nasty. But adepts claim that this humble-looking plant is no less than "the divine cactus," and eaten as a sacrament, as "holy medicine," it can bring one's mind into a mystical realm where psychedelic visions can help one see across time and space and heal one's thoughts about oneself and the cosmos. As one participant in a peyote ritual reported, echoing so many others, he found "profound gratitude for his life" as it was. 

The Huichols, who live in Mexico's Sierra Madre, are the indigenous group best known for their peyote ritual. 

>> For more about the Huichol visit the website of the  Huichol Center for Cultural Survival and 
>> See the documentary "The Last of the Medicine Men: The Huichol and Peyote".

The first known written mention of peyote is in Franciscan missionary Bernardino de Sahagún's Historia general de las cosas de Nueva Españaor General History of the Things of New Spain. The original 16th century manuscript, which contains 2,468 colorful illustrations and text in both Spanish and Nahuatl (the language spoken by the Aztecs phonetically transcribed using Latin), is also known as the Florentine Codex because it is in the Medicea Laurencziana Library in Florence, Italy. 

>> To view the digitized manuscript which contains many intriguing and colorful illustrations, but, alas, not one of peyote, click here.

[[  Pages from the Florentine Codex.
(This does not show peyote, alas.) ]]
Of peyote, Sahagún reports (as quoted in Omer C. Stewart, Peyote Religion: A History):

"On him who eats it or drinks it, it takes effect like mushrooms. Also he sees many things which frighten one, or make one laugh. It affects him perhaps one day, perhaps two days, but likewise it abates. However, it harms one, troubles one, makes one besotted, takes effect on one."
Sahagún also reports that, according to his indigenous informants, the first to use peyote were the Chichimecas, a number of semi-nomadic northern tribes never completely subdued by the Mexica (or Aztecs). [See also Conflict and Conversion in Sixteenth Century Mexico: The Augustinian War on and Beyond the Chichimeca Frontier by Robert H. Jackson.]

(By the way, you may have noticed that I never link to wikipedia, aka The Maoist Muddle, unless there is absolutely, but absolutely, nothing else and a link really would be better than none. FYI: When I checked wikipedia for this post on the Florentine Codex, the images shown were from the wrong book.) 

In 1570 King Felipe II sent medical doctor Fernándo Hernández (1514-1587) to New Spain to survey and report on the natural resources of the colony, including plants that might be put to medical uses. In his seven years in the Valley of Mexico (Mexico City and environs), Dr Fernández documented a multitude of plants and a long-standing and elaborate tradition of Aztec herbal medicine. Dr. Fernández's report on 3,000 plants, in various editions and languages, did not appear in print until some decades after his death. 

Amazingly, until 2002 with Simon Varey's compilation  The Mexican Treasury: The Writings of Dr Francisco Hernández, almost nothing about this veritable magnum opus could be found in English. From the catalog copy for that book:

"Hernández died before he could publish his Natural History, and the materials were placed in the Escorial, where they were extensively consulted, copied, abstracted, and translated by generations of scientists, medical specialists, and natural philosophers before they were destroyed by fire in 1671. Hernández's work was still regarded as authoritative on a number of New World botanical topics as late as the nineteenth century, and his writings remain in use in popular form in Mexico today."
I have yet to get my hands on a copy of The Mexican Treasury, but as quoted in Stewart's Peyote Religion, in turn quoting a translation from a 1916 article by William E. Safford in Annual Report of the Smithsonian Institution, of peyote Dr. Fernández writes:
"Wonderful properties are attributed to this root... It causes those devouring it to be able to foresee and predict things; such, for instance, as whether the weather will remain favorable; or to discern who has stolen from them some utensils or anything else; and other things of like nature which the Chichimecs really believe them have found out. On which account this root scarcely issues forth but conceals itself in the ground, as if it did not wish to harm those who discover and eat it."

According to Stewart in Peyote Religion, the earliest known botanical illustration of peyote is from 1847, in Curtis' Botanical Magazine. Hat tip to peyote and cactus blogger Lophophora, here is that very illustration, a lovely one, from the Botanicus Digital Library, Missouri Botanical Garden.

[[ Lophohora williamsii, or peyote ]]

However, it is possible that an even earlier illustration is in the Voynich manuscript, which has been carbon dated as several centuries old, but has yet to be deciphered. 

>> See the utterly fascinating 2013 paper by John D. Comegys, "The Voynich Manuscript: Aztec Herbal from New Spain." Comegys also notes some possible influence from the work of Dr. Hernández. Comegy's paper is fascinating read, and I highly recommended it for anyone interested in rare book history, botany and/or Mexico.

[[ From the Voynich Manuscript. Peyote? Possibly... ]]

The archaeological record shows that peyote has been used many groups and many thousands of years into the past in what is today northern Mexico and remote areas along the Rio Grande on both sides of the US-Mexico border in Texas.

>>See the forthcoming book The White Shaman Mural by Carolyn Boyd. 

>> For a novelist's take on ancient peyote ritual in what is now the Lower Pecos Canyonlands of Texas, see Mary S. Black's Peyote Fire.  

>>And for more about the Lower Pecos Canyonlands and the magnificent rock art there, see my guest-blog post for Mary S. Black here.


It is often said that the Mexican Inquisition focused on heretics, in particular conversos secretly practicing Judaism, but not indigenous. But the Inquisition did prosecute some indigenous and their use of peyote was often the issue.

Quoted in Stewart's Peyote Religion (p. 20), in New Spain, in 16th and 17th century Catholic priests asked their parishioners:
Hast thou eaten the flesh of man?
Hast thou eaten the peyote?
Do you suck the blood of others?
Do you adorn with flowers places where idols are kept?
(For those not familiar with Mexican history, the first and third questions might seem extreme. All I can say is, read the history.)

And, according to Stewart, in 1620 "the Inquisition was brought to bear against peyote."

From American Anthropologist 44, 1942:

Irving A. Leonard, "Peyote and the Mexican Inquisition, 1620"
A quote from Leonard's translation of a Spanish document:
"We, the Inquisitors against heretical perversity and apostasy in the City of Mexico, states and provinces of New Spain, New Galicia, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Yucatan, Verapaz, Honduras, Philippine Islands, and their districts and jurisdictions, by virtue of apostolic authority, etc. Inasmuch as the use of the herb or root called Peyote has been introduced into these Provinces for the purpose of detecting thefts, of divining other happenings, and of foretelling future events, it is an act of superstition condemned as opposed to the purity and integrity of our Holy Catholic Faith. This is certain because neither the said herb or any other can possess the virtue or inherent quality of producing the effects claimed, nor can any cause the mental images, fantasies and hallucinations on which the above stated divinations are based. In these latter are plainly perceived the suggestion and intervention of the Devil, the real author of this vice, who first avails himself of the natural credulity of the Indians and their tendency to idolatry, and later strikes down many other persons too little disposed to fear God and of very little faith. Because of these efforts the said abuse has increased in strength and is indulged in with the frequency observed. As our duty imposes upon us the obligation to put a stop to this vice and to repair the harm and grave offense to God our Lord resulting from this practice, we, after consultation and conference with learned and right-minded persons, have decreed the issuing of the present edict to each of you, one and all, by which we admonish you and summon you to obedience by virtue of your holy submission [to the Church] and under penalty of anathema... and other pecuniary and corporal penalties within our discretion. We order that henceforth no person of whatever rank or social condition can or may make use of the said herb, Peyote, nor of any other kind under any name or appearance for the same or similar purposes, nor shall he make the Indians or any other person take them, with the further warning that disobedience to these decrees shall cause us, in addition to the penalties and condemnation above stated, to take action against such disobedient and recalcitrant persons as we would against those suspected of heresy to our Holy Catholic Faith."

In Peyote Religion, Stewart also includes a map (p.23) of the Inquisition hearings that specifically involved peyote, which were concentrated in Mexico City and surroundings, as well as scattered around what is now the main trunk of the Mexican republic (excluding the Baja California and Yucatan peninsulas). There were two cases in Manila (Philippines) in 1617 and 1639, as well as a case in 1632 as far north as Santa Fe. The case in Santa Fe involved someone who took peyote in order to divine who had stolen some of his clothing. 

(For those wondering, why Manila? The answer is the China trade, wherein Spanish merchants brought the Manila Galleon or Nao de China, across the ocean to Acapulco on the Pacific Coast, and from there, by burro train and tameme, brought the goods inland to Mexico City, parts elsewhere, and via Veracruz on the Gulf, across the Caribbean and Atlantic to Spain.)

Mexico City's Palacio de la Inquisition is now the Museo de la Escuela de Medicina (part of Mexico's National University). You can visit that museum, see the original building, and also an exhibition on cells used by the Inquisition.

The Inquisition on Youtube -- who needs The Texas Chainsaw Massacre when you can surf around for all that infinitely more creative and toe-curlingly wicked gross-out stuff about Inquisition torture now on the Internet? For those with blood pressure issues, may I suggest Monty Python instead:

Notable links on the Inquisition in Mexico:
>> Palacio de la Inquisición, Mexico City 
>> Museo de la Medicina Mexicana (in the Palacio de la Inquisición)

The Bancroft Library's Collection on the Mexican Inquisition
>> Rare Documents Shed Light on Grisly Mexican Inquisition
>> News from the Bancroft Library: Inquiring About the Inquisition?
>> Guide to the Mexican Inquisition Original Documents Organized by Collection and Bancroft Manuscript Classification

Mexico's Archivo General de la Nación also has a large collection on the Inquisition. Alas, at the time of this writing the website was down.

North of the US-Mexico border-- into Texas and beyond-- peyote is used as a sacrament in the ritual of the Native American Church (NAC).  Is this legal? Yes, for members of the NAC, and only after a century of bitter struggle, with the 1994 amendment to the American Indian Religious Freedom Act, which protects the use of peyote in religious ceremonies. (Not that you, dear presumably non-Native American reader, can commence cultivating, selling, and scarfing down peyote as you please. For details, check out the current DEA status.)

Omer C. Stewart's Peyote Religion: A History and Edward F. Anderson's Peyote: The Divine Cactus both provide a a history of the founding of the "peyote church" on Plains Indian and other Indian reservations in the United States.

Chevato was a Lipan Apache born in northern Mexico who, long story short, became a member of the Mescalero Apaches roaming both Mexico and Texas, and later, of the Comanches on that tribe's reservation in Oklahoma, thanks to his friendship with chief Quanah Parker. 

His 2007 biography by his grandson, William Chebahtah, and Nancy McGown Minor, Chevato: The Story of the Apache Warrior Who Captured Hermann Lehman is both a major contribution to Comanche, Lipan Apache and Mescalero Apache history, and a gem-packed fascinating read-- a must for any collection on the history of Northern Mexico and the Southwest. 

Apropos of peyote, Minor writes (p.73) that the Lipans stayed near Zaragosa (in Coahuila, northern Mexico) because of its proximity to a hill where peyote grew in abundance. "The Western Lipans had been using peyote in their ceremonies since at least the 1780s, and as the Lipans were dispered out of Coahuila and into New Mexico, they brought with them their special peyote rituals."

Apart from doing all the Wild West things Apache warriors did in those days, Chevato was a shaman and a "peyote singer," singing special songs during the all-night ritual. Chevato's great-grandfather was the first Lipan to make use of peyote in Mexico. Minor:

"Although the Mescaleros had used peyote in their religious ceremonies... it was the Lipan Apaches who created the form of ceremony practised by the Mescaleros by 1870 and the Comanches after 1875." 

Why 1875? The year prior to that the Quahada and other bands of Comanches had been defeated in a contest over "Anglos" taking the buffalo hunting grounds at The Second Battle of Adobe Walls, which was in the Texas Panhandle, prime buffalo hunting country. This defeat was the end of the end for the Comanches, and I believe that Quanah Parker's adoption of the peyote ritual needs to be seen in this context.

UPDATE: Lonn Taylor's Big Bend Sentinel column of August 20, 2015
"Comanche Chief Quanah Parker and His Quest for Peyote in Far West Texas"

So who was Quanah Parker? One cannot write about Far West Texas without writing about Comanches, and one cannot write about Comanches without writing about Quanah Parker, and one cannot write about Quanah Parker without writing about the Native American Church and peyote. So you can be sure, in my book I will be writing about them. 

It seems that everyone in Texas and Oklahoma already knows about Quanah Parker, the son of Comanche Chief Peta Nocona and Cynthia Ann Parker, who had been kidnapped as a child from her family's farm in Texas and raised as a Comanche. 

(The John Wayne / Natalie Wood  movie The Searchers is loosely based on the novel that was, in turn, loosely based on the story of Cynthia Ann Parker.) 

Although it has little to say about peyote, one of the best books on the Comanches and Quanah Parker and an all-star crunchy fun read is S.C. Gywnne's Empire of the Summer Moon. Humongously recommended.

>> Comanche Nation website
>> NYT article about Quanah Parker's Star House
>> More about the Comanches in the paradigm-smasher by Pekka Hamalainen, Comanche Empire.
>> The Last Comanche Chief: The Life and Times of Quanah Parker by Bill Neeley
>> Johnny D. Boggs interview with S.C. Gywnne about Quanah Parker.

Quanah Parker in the first two-reel western ever filmed (in 1907): "The Bank Robbery"
(zip about peyote as far as I can tell)

[Screenshot of Quanah Parker 
from "The Bank Robbery," 1908]

UPDATE September 2, 2016

Thanks to Gene Fowler, none other, who very kindly sent me the link, I have added to that blog post this link (embed rather) to "Amada of the Gardens" a fascinating documentary on peyotera Amada Cardenas (1904-2005).

An offshoot of the NAC, with Mormon roots, based in Arizona.
>> Peyote Way Church of God 
>> Peyote Way Church of God testimonials
Quote from a "Marine Corps Vet": "forgiveness and acceptance of the past, and a firm commitment to a better future" and "Peyote doesn't care about your past. What Peyote does care about is allowing you to see the perfect you; free from irrational fear, shame and hang-ups."
>> See also "A Remote Arizona Church Offers Followers Peyote-Induced Psychedelic Trips" by Eric Tsetsi, Village Voice, Janary 8, 2014

From the article "The Native American Church" in the Encyclopedia of the Great Plains, hosted by the Center for Great Plains Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

"While the exact origins of the Native American Church and its incorporation of peyote as a sacrament of communion are shrouded in oral history, Native believers generally agree that it began in the Southwest and worked its way up from Mexico. Among the Plains Indians, the Omahas, Poncas, Winnebagos, and Sioux readily accepted the belief system of the Native American Church."

As I understand it, the NAC is now pan-Indian.

George Morgan had much to say about peyote and the NAC:
>>George Morgan, "The Native American Church: Recollections of the Peyote Road"


>> The basics according to Texas Beyond History.

>> The basics on peyote according to NeuroSoup.

>>"With the Peyoteros" by Karen Olsson for The Texas Observer, March 2, 2001.
Strong demand, plus fences and ranches plowed over for deer hunting, make finding peyote in the wild increasingly challenging.

>>Bob Prue, "Protecting the Peyote for Future Generations: Building on a Legacy of Perseverance" 
(Excerpt from the anthology Peyote: History, Tradition, Politics and Conservation)

>> 'The Heart of the Great Spirit: The Peyote Cactus" 
By Stephen Gray, Realty Sandwich

>> Lophophora Blog
A blog all about peyote.

A quote from one of my very favorite books about anyone or anything or anywhere in Far West Texas, Border Healing Woman: The Story of Jewel Babb as Told to Pat Little Dog (p. 95-96):

"Indians from Mexico would come across hunting medicine plants and, above all, the cactus peyote. Six or seven of these men would walk up to the house wanting something to eat or water. The Indians were great beggars and always wanted you to give them anything that they could carry off. Sometimes they'd show me the different medicine plants they'd gathered and what each plant was for in curing. I learned lots from them and also from the old men and women that were my neighbors living in Mexico that came to see me at different times. One bunch of Indians came to see me from Oklahoma. They were looking for the cactus peyote. And as we talked, one said, "If you have faith, an ordinary rock could cure you."


"Sacred Peyote": a short documentary film about peyote and the Native American Church.

My friend Hans Lens' memoir. More about this anon.

Tara from "40BelowFruity" on her experience ingesting peyote
"Not as easy experience... I was feeling a lot of nausea... deep-seated, buried issues... I was resisting it... I started to become overwhelmed... peyote brought [memories] to the surface...I felt like I had been completely ripped apart and put together again... like a new person, reborn... It has the power to heal people." 

"The Mind Divided" shares his reflections on his peyote experience 

and what he believes was the beautiful lesson: "Lighten up... embrace and enjoy life."

Blogger Sara Brooke shares her experience with peyote in this post. A quote

"It is conscious medicine, a consciousness that is far more intelligent than our own. It needs to be treated with respect and care and it honestly is something that isn’t for everyone. Psychologically, mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually you have to be ready for it. It gives you an opportunity to face ALL parts of yourself, especially the shadow aspects. It is one of the most confronting, yet profound and worthwhile experiences I have ever had. I am eternally changed." 

>> "Through the Lens of Perception" by Hal Zena Bennett in Shaman's Drum: A Journal of Experimental Shamanism, Fall 1987. Adventure in a Mexican cave with peyote.

>> Related: Amber Lyon, "How Psychedelics Saved My Life" 
(Ayahuasca and mushrooms)
>> But aura reader Rose Rosetree offers a stark warning about ayahuasca.

(WHAT ABOUT CARLOS CASTANEDA? He did write about peyote in his several best-sellers. Alas, dude, not on my wavelength.)

My drug is coffee! My own ventures into the esoteric have not been psychedelic but literary-- primarily by way of the Himalayas of reading I did for my most recent book, Metaphysical Odyssey into the Mexican Revolution: Francisco I. Madero and His Secret Book, Spiritist Manual. Indeed I read so much esoterica that my sense of cognitive dissonance went from geyser to sputter, then a little puddle, then, well... that dried up. So now, no problemo, I could read about oh, say, aliens tokin' peyote. That doesn't mean I am saying anything about aliens tokin' peyote. I am unaware of any such report. 

Scion of a wealthy family in Coahuila, Francisco I. Madero was the leader of Mexico's 1910 Revolution and President of Mexico from 1911-1913. I am often asked what he knew about indigenous shamanistic traditions. I did not find any evidence that Madero had any interest in or experience with peyote nor, indeed, with indigenous healing traditions other than an association, late in his short life, with his Masonic brother and fellow Spiritist and doctor, the Mexican-German spy Dr Arnoldo Krumm-Heller, aka "Maestro Huiracocha," author of a number of works, including El zodiaco de los incas en comparación con los aztecas, 1910.

Madero's personal library contained mainly French and Ango-American (some in the original, some in Spanish translation) literature on Spiritualism, Spiritism, Theosophy, hypnotherapy, French occultism, the Bhagavad-Gita, adventures into Tibet, and the like. His work that I translated, Manual espirita of 1911, references many of these works. 

Educated in France, where he discovered Spiritism and other esoteric ideas then in vogue, Madero would have been familiar with the Hindu concept, as conveyed to the West through the writings of various Theosophists, of the human body as having interpenetrating "energy bodies" and specific energy vortices known as "chakras." 
Under this paradigm, my hypothesis-- and take this with a truckload of salt, I am not sure I have a clue what I am talking about-- is that ingesting peyote removes certain neuro-filters in the pineal gland and actives a chakra so that one can clearly perceive blockages and other auric debris, and one's own emotional body. Which chakra might that be? Heart-- I guess. Just a guess. 

Continuing to follow my understanding of what could have been Madero's hypothetical paradigm for understanding peyote, there may also be one or more conscious and intelligent astral entities / spirit guides associated with the plant. This concept is eloquently articulated in Eliot Cowan's Plant Spirit Medicine.

Most modern doctors and scientists would focus on peyote's botanical, chemical, medicinal pharmacological aspects, and specifically, their measurable effect on the brain and body. Several chapters are devoted to these topics in Anderson's Peyote: The Divine Cactus.


Anderson, Edward F. Peyote: The Divine Cactus.

Chebahtah, William, and Nancy McGown Minor. Chevato: The Story of the Apache Warrior Who Captured Hermann Lehman.

Cobb, Russell, "Texas' Peyote Hunters Struggle to Find a Vanishing, Holy Crop" Dallas Observer, February 14, 2008.

Cowan, Eliot. Plant Spirit Medicine.

Furst, Peter T. Rock Crystals and Peyote Dreams: Explorations in the Huichol Universe

Lens, Hans. Una visita a los huicholes.

Michaux, Henri. Miserable Miracle. 

Melville, Michael J. Peyote Ceremony (thesis).

Morgan, George. "The Native American Church: Recollections of the Peyote Road"

Myerhoff, Barbara G. Peyote Hunt: The Sacred Journey of the Huichol Indians.

Shaefer, Stacy B. and Peter T. Furst, eds. People of the Peyote: Huichol Indian History, Religion and Survival.

Shaefer, Stacy B. Amada's Blessings from the Peyote Gardens of South Texas.

Stewart, Orner Call. Peyote Religion: A History. 

> Your comments are always welcome. Write to me here.