The Birth of the Modern American Drug War: Mescal
R.E. Schultes in Nature
, 10/42 & 9/37
The Comanche war shaman Quanah Parker found a more successful path: "Lay
down your arms, Quanah Parker. Your solution, as is the solution of all
creatures, is personal. Turn your energies toward conquering the self....Only
through this will you and your people have a freedom that exceeds the white
"I have planted my flesh in the cactus Pioniyo. Partake of it, as it is
the food of your soul. Through it you will continue to communicate with
Me. When all of those with the skin of red-earth clay are united by pioniyo,
then and only then will they once again reign supreme. The white civilization
will destroy themselves and the Indian will return to nature, master over
himself and at peace with all."
Péyotl is Náhuatl, Aztec, for “furry thing,” used to describe a “cocoon,”
which is simply a description of the shape of the tuberous cactus, which
is sliced to make the "buttons." The ancient Huichol First Hunt equates
Peyote, Deer and Maize, the ecstatic ingestion of the "hunted" cactus unifying
the world, bringing back the First Times.
The Gnostic teacher Valentinus said that the search for gnosis begins with
three sufferings: "terror, pain, and roadlessness (aporia)." Magpie said:
"Other religions teach men what to believe, but in this religion each man
learns truth for himself. God has given the mescal to man that through it
man might know. There is a word that comes at the end of the mescal songs
and that word means 'the road.' Each man's road is shown to him within his
own heart. When he eats the mescal he sees the road; he knows; he sees all
the truths of life and of the spirit."
The mescal, "sweet medicine," is the "balsam" of the Gnostics, though, of
course, they used different "plants of truth." A spontaneous Huichol Peyote
sung, sung in a ceremony, goes like this: "climbed the blue staircase up
to the sky/climbed where the roses were opening, where roses were speaking/heard
nothing, nothing to hear, heard silence/I climbed where the roses were singing,
where the gods were waiting, blue staircase up in the sky/but heard nothing,
nothing to hear, heard silence, silence."
In 1888 an Indian Bureau agent named Clark reported this to the central
office in Washington, calling Peyote Wokwave, which is close to the generic
Comanche word for cactus: "Four or five years ago, a Mexican, named Titcheestoque
or Chewowwah, having been a captive of the Commanches and under their training
having become equal to them in savage warfare escaped punishment by remaining
with the Apaches in New Mexico. He returned to this reservation [Kiowa,
Comanche and Wichita] during P.B. Hunt's term of office [1878-85], bringing
with him quite a sack full of these opium buttons as I call them, and traded
them to the Comanches."
"The Indian is supersticious by education. The influence of the Wokwave
upon them I think is similar to that of large doses of Chloral Hydrate.
It throws a person into a kind of trans, delema or like a dream, seeing
or imagining all kinds of things. These visions, after the spell is passed
off and the Indian sobers up, he does not consider his mental condition,
but he thinks that all he saw and heard while in this condition is reality
and that these things were communicated to him through the Wokwave and that
they came direct from the Great Spirit."
An 1890 BIA directive continued the tradition of pharmacological lucidity
so brilliantly established by agent Clark: "It is the duty of the government
peremptorily to stop the use of this bean by the Indians. You will direct
the police of your agency to seize and destroy the mescal bean, or any preparation
or decoction thereof, wherever found on the reservation. The article itself,
and those who use it are to to be treated exactly as if it were alcohol
or whiskey, or a compound therof; in fact it may be classified for all practical
purposes as an 'intoxicating liquor.'"
Added the JAMA, no less: "Certain Sons of Belial, taking advantage of the
tendency of the Indians to religious ceremonial, have been industriously
spreading the word among the tribes that partaking of Peyote enables the
addict to communicate with the Great Spirit. It is true that certain Mexican
tribes have long had a superstitious reverence for mescal buttons and have
used them on occassion in religious ceremonials; and this old superstition
gave the commercial dope vendor a great opportunity among the Indians in
the United States. This has been carried so far that the 'Peyote Church'
has actually been incorporated, the members being devotees, who gather for
an orgy of frenzy, far worse than the cocain parties held among the negroes."
"The government has investigated the use of Peyote and found its evil effects
to parallel the Oriental use of cannabis. The addict becomes indolent, immoral
and worthless. The great difficulty in suppressing this habit among the
Indians arises from the fact that the commercial interests involved in the
Peyote traffic are strongly entrenched, and they exploit the Indian, even
as similar interests exploiting morphin addicts are strongly entrenched.
Added to this is the superstition of the Indian who believes in the Peyote
Church. As soon as an effort is made to suppress Peyote, the cry is raised
that it is unconstitutional to do so and is an invasion of religious liberty.
Suppose the negroes of the South had a Cocain Church!"
The NY Times