Native American Church

From Academic Kids

Native American Church, also called Peyotism or Peyote religion, originated in Oklahoma, and is the most widespread indigenous religion among Native Americans. Peyotism involves the use of peyote, a spineless cactus with hallucinogenic effects similar to LSD.

Peyote was used in Mexico in pre-Columbian times to communicate with the supernatural and also as a medicine. In the mid 19th century, the use of peyote spread to the Great Plains area of the United States primarily through the efforts of the Apache people. Statistics are uncertain, but Peyotism is practiced in more than 50 Indian tribes and probably has between 100,000 and 300,000 adherents.

Peyotist belief varies considerably from tribe to tribe. Among the various beliefs are: belief in Jesus as a Native American culture hero, an intercessor for man or a spiritual guardian; belief in the Bible; belief in Peyote personified as a God; and association of Jesus with Peyote. Peyotists believe in a supreme God (the Great Spirit) as well as several lesser gods or spirits. The "Peyote Road" calls for Indian brotherly love (i.e Indian Nationalism), family care, self-support through work, and avoidance of alcohol.

The peyote ritual normally begins at 8 pm Saturday and continues through the night. The ritual includes prayer, eating of peyote, Peyote songs, water rituals, and contemplation. It ends with breakfast Sunday morning. The peyote ritual is believed to allow communion with Gods and the deceased and to give power, guidance, and healing. The healing may be emotional or physical, or both.

The Church members consider that the communal ingestion of peyote and the ceremony of the Church meeting help participants to get into a proper relationship with themselves and with God. In turn this leads to an ability to live a good day-to-day life. Church members have a very strong community awareness. A good life is considered to be one that is kind and responsible and over and above all else, embodies love. Native people have turned to the Church and relied on it when their lives have been beset by substance-abuse or domestic problems.

In regards to the ideal frame of mind and manner of conduct, the Native American Church has affinity with various forms of Christianity. But it also has close affinity with the values of some forms of Buddhism, Zen for example. The renowned Zen Buddhist scholar D.T. Suzuki wrote that the aspects of this life were: a life of humility; a life of labor; a life of service; a life of prayer and gratitude; and a life of meditation. This is quite close to what the Native American Church deems to be a proper life.

Peyotism has faced many legal challenges. Nonetheless, a Native American Peyotist is much less likely to be prosecuted than the average drug user (see details at Peyote).

See also

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