Source: Sierra Vista Herald
Date: August 05, 2003

Native Americans use peyote
in ancient prayer ceremonies

PEYOTE: the divine cactus

Banned by the United States government in the 1940s and 1950s, the use of the peyote "medicine" became illegal because of its mescaline content. However, in 1976, the government changed its mind and declared that Native Americans could practice their religion by using the sacred medicine.

"Native Americans just use it to pray," said Richard Speer, also known as Hunting Crow. "It has been used by Native Americans for thousands of years and is thought to have been introduced by the Southern Plains tribes. It was introduced to the Navajos in the 1930s." The ceremony is held in a tepee and conducted by a roadman, or medicine man.

"No negativity is brought in. Everything is positive. We do the best we can for everyone there," Speer said.

"The people form a circle, with everyone part of the circle, whether you sing or not. Once inside you are there all night, saying prayers and using tobacco, cedar and sage."

Speer said that the prayer ceremony lasts from dusk to dawn. Songs and chants are sung during the service. Different songs have different meanings. Some pertain to Jesus Christ, some ask God to bless the people.

The people pray for practical things. One person may want to pray for a loved one to get better, another may pray for her son to do well in college, others may pray for help in getting their finances in order. They pray for each other's needs.

While the Native American church serves the Native American community, it is always open to the public, Speer said. Non-native people who befriend Native Americans can be invited to join in the ceremonies.

In the center of the tepee, opposite the door entrance, is a half moon-shaped mound where they place the chief or medicine man. Objects used in the ceremony include a staff, a gourd with rocks in it, a cup of sage and feathers. Participants drink tea made from peyote in a fresh or powder form.

"It's nasty and has a bitter, foul taste," Speer said.

It induces vomiting, which means you are getting well. However, the peyote, or medicine, is a psychedelic that produces incredible, brilliantly colored visions.

The use of peyote by the Native American Church is protected by the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution as well as sections of the Arizona Constitution. Some of the other states that permit the use of peyote include Texas, Colorado, Utah, Minnesota, Nevada, Kansas, Oklahoma and New Mexico. Roadmen get the peyote from Texas or the Chihuahuan Desert in Mexico and bring it to the prayer ceremonies.

They travel across the United States and Europe, holding prayer ceremonies in various communities when they are asked.

The ceremony helps achieve balance in life and realize spirituality, Speer said.

"By helping other people, you are helping yourself," he said. "It's a selfish reason to do things for others. It helps you embrace humanity rather than focus on you. We believe that whatever we pray for is going to happen. It's been helping Native people for thousands of years."

There are usually 15 to 30 people in a prayer meeting. Participants in the ceremony spend most of the night sitting on their knees.

"It takes an honest person to sit all night and pray that way," Speer said. "You're there to pray for people and suffer for a good cause."


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