The Evolution of Native American Peyote Use:

How has the legality and legitimacy of peyote use been maintained in spite of constant persecution of its users?






 Peyote cactus and root system. (Source:   Wicker basket filled with Mexican peyote. (Source: National Geographic)   Single peyote crown with budding flower. (Source: Flickr)
For millennia, various cultures native to regions of present day Mexico and the southwestern United States have used the hallucinogenic properties of the peyote cactus for religious and therapeutic purposes. However, since the arrival of Europeans in North America, peyote use has been a continual source of controversy and the persecution of indigenous peoples. Over the past 500 years, Indians have continually responded to this oppression with dissent and have sought to maintain the legitimacy of their religious practices. Peyote has long been an integral part of the culture of numerous Southwestern Native American groups. Throughout most of its time in use, Peyote Rituals were largely concentrated in present day Mexico, but use has more recently spread throughout North America. Indian religion has an emphasis on the supernatural and a connection to the supernatural via hallucinogenic visions. The nature of these visions varies greatly and is a largely individual experience aimed at soul searching. For many groups, Peyote became and still remains the primary means of attaining such a vision.
This pathfinder has served as a research tool in my effort to trace the origins of Peyote use in middle America through its diffusion into the present day United States. I argue that in spite of widespread efforts to criminalize and demonize peyote use as part of Native American religion, by acting in concert and making their beliefs known, natives have managed to preserve the legitimacy of peyote use as a religious and therapeutic practice. Below is  list of sources containing information pertinent to that argument.
Primary Sources:
1. Anderson, Edward F. Peyote, The Divine Cactus. 1st ed. Tucson: University of Arizona, 1980. 9-187. Print.
Peyote, The Divine Cactus is unique among books regarding Peyotism in its use of diagrams and illustrations to explain the history, botany, biochemistry, and legality of peyote. The book is divided into numerous distinct sections, classified by the people the information pertains to. By distinguishing between Mexican and American peyote users is easy to determine the unique practices of each distinct group. The sections on pharmacology and medicine proved surprisingly useful. This book was primarily used to gain insight into the history and culture of the Huichol people of Mexico; their struggle for legitimacy is well documented in this work.
2. La Barre, Weston. The Peyote Cult. 5th ed. Norman: University of Oklahoma, 1989. 1-189. Print.
Weston La Barre’s The Peyote Cult is a comprehensive and interdisciplinary analysis of the history of peyote use in the Americas; it includes sections on the botanical and physiological aspects of peyote, psychological aspects of peyote, the ethnology of Peyotism, and a history of the diffusion of Peyotism. To compile the study, Dr. La Barre draws from previously published works and the notes and manuscripts of other academics, as well as his own volume of fieldwork to explain to progression of Peyotism in the Americas. The text follows the origins of peyote use in the Tarahumari, Aztec, and Huichol cultures, to its diffusion into Mescalero Apache, Kiowa-Comanche, and plains cultures of North America.
3. Maroukis, Thomas Constantine. The Peyote Road: Religious Freedom and the Native American Church. 1st ed. Norman: University of Oklahoma, 2010. 6-220. Print.
The Peyote Road delivers a masterful account of the development and history of the Native American Church. It traces the origins of the church through is formal recognition by the federal government. The book also contains information on the religious beliefs, ceremonies, and rituals of the church. The author also explains the hardship that adherents of Peyotism faced throughout the twentieth century and how they in turn responded to the actions of their oppressors. This work was very helpful in determining more accurately how peyote diffused from use in Mexico to a large presence in plains cultures. Too, the legality surrounding peyote use is well documented in this book.
4. Stewart, Omer Call. Peyote Religion: A History. 1st ed. Norman: University of Oklahoma, 1987. 1-319. Print.
In Peyote Religion, Omer Stewart provides an overview of the History of Peyote in the Americas. He opens by describing the plant and its botanical properties. The author also provides insight into the lives and culture of the peoples from which Peyote use originated.  Omer then goes on to trace the roots and spread of Peyotism in the United States throughout Oklahoma and the Southwest in the Kiowa, Comanche, and Apache tribes. The book also contains sections on the legal implications of the spread of peyote use and the development of Peyote Religion.
Secondary Sources:
1. Chuchiak IV, John F, editor. The Inquisition in New Spain, 1536-1820: A Documentary History. 1st ed. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University, 2012. 320-321. Print.
This book is an extensive work, which contains information pertaining to every aspect of the Mexican Inquisition, much of which is only tangential to the subject of my research. However, The small section on Peyotism included in the book contains a wealth of information relating the struggle of indigenous groups native to Mexico at the hands of agents of the Spanish Monarchy. It explains public perception at the time and gives accounts from historians of the day. It was useful in determining the specific struggles faced by Indians and Mexico specifically relating to governmental action.
2. Danver, Steven L. “Native American Church of North America.” ABC-CLIO: History and the Headlines. (accessed May 2, 2015)
This article by Steven Danver provides a concise description of the Native American Church. Danver explains the history of peyote use and how long its properties have been known. He also gives a description of the early opposition to its use. He further explains how knowledge of peyote transferred from one tribe to the next until finally being used by a multitude of plains cultures in the United States. The article chronicles the birth of the Native American Church as a response to the actions of the federal government of the United States and of several state governments. He closes by touching on the controversy that continues to this day.
3. Danver, Steven, editor. 2013. Native Peoples of the World: An Encyclopedia of Groups, Cultures, and Contemporary Issues. 1st ed. New York: Routledge, 2013. 798-799. Print.
The article regarding peyote in this encyclopedia is brief, but it contains pertinent information regarding the issues of controversy in relation to peyote. The article describes the struggle faced by Native American peyote users even in the ealiest days of the European colonization of the Americas. It goes on to explain the evolution of peyote use into the twentieth century. Danver also provides the reader with details surrounding the legality of Peyotism over time. He works to explain the cultural and religious significance of peyote to indigenous peoples. He also mentions the organized movements that arose in response to the persecution and oppression of peyote users.
4. Franklin, Virgil and Jerry D. Patchen. “The Jurisprudence of Peyote in the United States,” The Entheogen Law Reporter Issue no. 5 (Winter 1994): 39-47, accessed May 2, 2015,
This article from the Entheogen Law Reporter provides an exceptionally concise account of the legality of peyote use in the United States. The authors provide the reader with the appropriate historical context needed to understand the legal implications of the peyote controversy in the United States. By putting laws into context and explaining their implications in the simplest terms possible, the authors provide a poignant account of the complicated legal aspects of peyote use in the United States. The article is authored so as to present and make clear the Native American struggle for the legitimacy of peyote use.