Reality and Spirituality John Poon
For thousands of years now humans and even animals have sought to chemically alter their consciousness. The Native American Church is one unique example of this, an entire religion centering around the ritual use of a sacred cactus called peyote.
The Native American Church was founded sometime in the early 20th century, although documented use of peyote in religious rites dates back 2,000 years. Furthermore, specimens of the peyote plant discovered in archeological digs suggest that North American indigenous people have been using peyote for at least 5,500 years.
Today the Native American Church is the most widespread of all native religions, practiced among 50 tribes and as many as 300,000 members. Their core belief focuses on a deep spirituality and high level of respect for nature. Their “God”, not clearly defined as in other religions, is often referred to as “The Great Spirit”, creator of all things. The cultivation and use of peyote is illegal in the United States, but due to the American Indian Religious Freedom Act, members of the NAC are exempt from the law.
Peyote is considered a holy medicine to the members of the Native American Church. Therefore, to understand them you first need to understand how this plant affects the mind and body. Peyote is a small, slow growing cactus native to the North American southwest. The psychoactive properties are due to a number of alkaloids, mainly mescaline. Effects are felt a half hour after ingestion and can last up to twelve hours. The experience can be described as intensely spiritual, sometimes causing hallucinations and visuals. The experience will be different for each individual person and rarely causes a bad reaction. Also there are no known cases of death or any long term side effects of its use. In fact, a few of the alkaloids actually have antibiotic properties.
That aside, to know and understand their ways, research alone is not enough. I...