Spineless cacti, moist, greenish mushrooms, and a drug from a rye fungus open doors into the unconscious for the Indians of our Southwest and southern Mexico, as well as for investigators from our modern colleges and hospitals. In his book, The Doors of Perception, Aldous Huxley outlined some of the medical research being conducted several years ago with the drug mescaline – a derivative of peyote – the spineless cacti. He mentioned the adrenal stimulation and described his own sensations of seeing unusual colors after taking mescaline. In the November, 1955 issue of a now defunct publication called Frauds and Rackets, Hugley was accused of starting a widespread use of peyote. This article quoted Dr. Clarence G. Salsbury, then Arizona State Commissioner of Health, as saying that experiences with the peyote cactus buttons could be likened to experiences from taking a combination of marijuana, cocaine, heroin, and wood alcohol. The author of this article went on to condemn the use of peyote as habit-forming and suggested that its use was spreading. (The fact that he gave an address where peyote could be ordered probably helped increase distribution.) Aldous Huxley certainly did not consider peyote to be habit-forming. Neither do many physicians who have taken it and reported their experiences.
Recently a little book entitled Beyond the Light, by Fay M. Clark, described a near-death, out-of-the-body experience which caused him to begin a search for a way to withdraw from consciousness. He tried experiments with mescaline. Clark outlines his experiences of taking from fifty to four hundred seventy-five milligrams of mescaline in a series of tests. Much of the book consists of his answers to questions asked him while under the influence of the drug. He certainly does not classify the drug as habit-forming. On the other hand, he strongly recommends medical supervision in taking mescaline, and more than idle curiosity as a basis for experiments. Clark was a serious-minded, sincere person when he began his experiments. He now seems to be a more spiritually minded one.
The use of peyote as one of the most widespread religious practices of many Indians of the Southwest is an interesting study in itself. The fresh peyote plant or the dried tops (buttons) are eaten, or a water infusion of the dried buttons is taken as a tea. The Indians believe that God gives His power to them through peyote. It is taken for minor ailments, or in serious illness quantities of it are consumed both by the ill person and relatives and friends who pray for him. Dried buttons are carried on the person as a charm. In special religious ceremonies which last for hours, prayer, singing, eating of the peyote, and contemplation are parts of a formal ritual. Five individuals conduct the ceremonies. There is the Roadman (the leader on the way); the Drum Chief; the Cedar Chief, who is in charge of the incense; the Fire Chief, who is also a sergeant-at-arms; and a close female relative, who has special prayers to perform.
Peyote is taken for healing, for cleansing, in order to have visions and to have mysterial experiences. The Indians believe that peyote has healing and cleansing properties. They also use it to increase the power to heal when prayer is directed to others. The peyote visions include communication with the dead, sensitivity to others (including telepathy), speaking in tongues, powers of introspection for correcting faults, and guidance in making decisions of all kinds. The more complex mysterial experience is uncommon, being confined to advanced practitioners of peyote rites.
To the Indian the preparations for taking peyote and the ritualistic practices connected with the ceremony are very important. The body is bathed; the mind must be freed of all evil thought, and an attitude of humbleness is essential. It has been suggested that the taking of peyote may be compared with the use of the sacraments of the bread and wine of the Christian communion. The Indian uses peyote to have a direct and personal experience comparable to the coming of the Holy Spirit in Christian tradition. A Comanche Indian is reported to have said, "By using peyote we talk to Jesus, not about Him as the Christian does."