Native American Church
The Native American Church is a cross tribal religious organization which uses all night ceremonies to magnify the effect of their intentions and prayers. These ceremonies are done to communicate with the spiritual world which is filled with intelligence and life. This unseen spiritual realm is interconnected with the natural world and all physical life. The spirits hear are called in by the medicine man and his alter and the prayers are carried by the spirits who help us transform our lives. This organization was not always a legal entity but is thousands of years old and center around the use of the Sacred Medicine known as Grandfather Peyote.
Peyote is a sacred medicine used for healing and primary religious experience. Peyote has many names including; The Medicine, Grandfather or Grandmother, The Sacred Medicine. It is used as a medicinal herb to treat physical ailments as well as for religious ceremony. In legal and scientific circles the term Entheogen is used to describe the religious use of a sacrament like Peyote. Entheogen is defined as: “A psychoactive sacramental; a plant or chemical substance taken to occasion primary religious experience.” The longest standing legal use of an Entheogen in The United States of America is the Native American Church (N.A.C.) and the sacred medicine Peyote.
In these ceremonies one enters a part of the world inhabited by healers and ancient traditions. The ceremony is fully considered the sacred relationship between humans, plants, healing and the spiritual levels of reality are woven seamlessly. Recorded here are the wise words of the medicine people, in first-person perspective, as they introduce Grandfather Peyote.
We wandered toward the fire a large tipi stood against the big open sky. When arr immediately greeted by the Medicine Man. He had a large friendly smile, long dark hair he came closer for a hug. After our embrace he said, “Welcome, I am so glad you guys could come. It has come full circle, we spoke some time ago and now, here you are. I am glad you two came.”
We greeted him and expressed our appreciation for allowing us to attend the ceremony. I asked, “Where or when do I make the tobacco offering.” He responded, “You can give it to me now if you want.” So I handed him the tobacco offering and then he began showing us around.
He pointed out the fire and the sweat lodge, the house, the tipi, where to put the food we brought and then we came to a large metal pot with a lid. He said, “Here is the Peyote tea, we call it The Medicine, you can have as much or as little as you want.”
I asked him, “I have never had this particular type of tea. How much should one drink?”
He responds with a smile, “If you’re feeling cautious take one cup and see how you feel, it should start to be felt in twenty minutes or so. It is best to take the tea slowly with a little bit at a time…”
I said, “I am not exactly feeling cautious.”
He laughs, “Then drink the whole thing and it won’t hurt you.” A silent pause… “Lately, I start with just one cup and it can get me there, but many people will need more. It can show you everything; it has the power to answer all of your questions. There have been times when it answered all my questions.” He looked toward the fire with inner focus.
I questioned him further, “How long does the effect last? I know the prayers and the spirits are going to have a healing effect also, but does it last like 4 or 5 hours?”
He quickly responds, “Umm… more like 15 to 18 hours.” He thinks for a moment and says, “The greatest effect is noticed months and years later even though there is an immediate effect , the long term effect is there. It changes you.” He turns back toward the fire. “When I was your age I did my first Peyote ceremony.” He laughs a little, “and look at what I am doing now.”
I went into the tipi and sat down by the fire, an older native man with a long black coat was coming through to sit right behind me. He bumped into me and said, “Oh I am sorry if I bumped you. Don’t take it personally. But if I get well on you then you should take it personally.” I responded, “I will keep that in mind.”
The Medicine Man sang a song to start the ceremony and then spoke. “The medicine is Peyote which is a sacred medicine, we call it the Grandfather. Grandfather Peyote is the only medicine which is sanctioned for religious use by U.S. law so what we are doing here is protected in U.S. law and thus we are not doing anything illegal. These ceremonies are part of the Native American Church and people of all tribes are part of the Native American Church. There are now branches all over the world with even tipi meetings in Africa, many groups in Canada, South and Central America. You can take as much or as little as you like but we do require that on the first round some is taken even if it’s just a small amount. Likewise, if you want to drink a whole gallon of tea please feel free to do so, we have plenty and if we run out of this we have more so no worries about taking too much. The Medicine will be passed several times throughout the night so you don’t have to take a lot all at once and if you would like to you can pass The Medicine on without taking any. But not in the first round you are required to take some.”
The pot of Peyote tea was brought in and the Medicine Man gave some brief recommendations, “You should always pray with the Peyote before you drink it. It reminds me of a story about a woman who was using a face cream to help remove scars. She had been using this cream for a few years and noticed gradual improvement but then one day someone said to her, you have to pray over that first or else it won’t work. Since that day on the lady prayed over the cream before applying and her scars were gone in a couple of months. You see the medicine would not work until the prayers were said to activate it. The Peyote works in the same way as do many things in life.”
The Medicine Man began to explain about The Medicine Peyote telling the story of its discovery and showing its connection to women and water. “In fact, in the old stories from Mexico it is originally a women’s medicine and is called the Grandmother. In North America it is called the Grandfather. The story goes as follows. A woman was walking through the desert and was out of water and getting very thirsty. She suddenly heard singing, she looked around and saw no one but the singing continued. She looked on the ground and saw nothing but then the voice said, ‘I am here. I am on the ground.’ She moved the brush a little and saw a Peyote button. The Peyote said to the woman ‘eat me I am full of water.’ The woman ate the Peyote and that is how Peyote entered into ceremony. In fact, this place is not new to the Peyote ceremony the petroglyphs show that this same ceremony was happening in this same valley over 2000 years ago.”
“In this first round everyone must take some Medicine even if it’s a small amount and take four portions of any size of the mush. Also don’t just swallow the Medicine, pray with it, offer it to the fire, and offer it to your head and heart. This is a sacred teacher and it can reveal things to you that you may not have known before. With this ceremony there is no need for a mediator you can talk to the Divine yourself and get your own answers for your own path.”
He seemed saddened when he spoke about how attendance at all religious ceremonies is down both in Catholic institutions and in the Native America Church (NAC). He went on to discuss how happy he was to see so many younger people at the ceremony and offered this advice, ”Although there are many new religious groups emerging, remember it is important to learn spiritual things in a good way. Traditional spiritual institutions have thousands of years of wisdom in what they do and they can lead you safely and in a positive way. Tradition is very important. In this life there are many difficulties but always remember, so much of what we do here is for later. What we do now is to help us later.”
“You should know that people may be throwing up in here. We call this “getting well” it is to remove the negative connotation. We call it “getting well” because that is in fact what we are doing. We are removing sickness from our body. This sickness when it’s out needs to be removed. When you “get well” a person comes and cleans it up and takes it outside to bury it in a hole.”
The Medicine Woman chimes in “Also I want to say that getting well is part of The Medicine but there is also something very rewarding about not getting well and experiencing the Peyote in your body. Also for the back row after The Medicine is passed out we will give you plastic bags so that you can get well in the bag but if you have dirt in front of you it is best to get well in the dirt this way is better so if there is dirt available use that but if not you use the bag.”
The Medicine Man spoke up, “It is tradition for the host to thank other medicine men who attend the ceremony. I want to introduce a special person he is a healer, medicine man and the son of a special medicine man who has since left his body. Would you like to say anything? We’d be honored.”
“Yes” says the man behind me with the long black coat, “My Dad was great but I am not him. His words helped many people and introduced many to great healing and to our traditions. He was a great healer and so were my Grandfather and his Grandfather. But I am not him, I am an insignificant significant. I just want to add about getting well, when you get well it is something coming out of you that you don’t need that you are letting go of. You are removing those spirits from your body and we bury them in the earth to stop them from coming back or from getting anyone else sick. People go to healers and get exorcised, have spirits removed from them, but the spirit is not buried it is just pulled out and usually it will just go back to the person’s home and wait for them to return and they get sick again. Also it is best to get sick inside the tipi if you go outside the spirits are not as contained. I also want to thank everyone here for coming and praying like this. You know that twenty years ago there were no white people praying in this way and now there are many people who are coming to the Medicine to be healed. I see this as a very good thing the Medicine brings us all together. So I would like to thank my friends holding this ceremony”
The Medicine Man thanks him again and continues, “Altars are used to communicate with the spirits. Certain altars are designed for certain spirits. This is why altars vary from medicine person to medicine person and from ceremony to ceremony. The altar for the spirits must be prepared in the proper way even slight changes in the altar are powerful signals to the spirits. One must be mindful and do their best to follow the flow of the ceremony according to the medicine person mediating the ceremony. This alter is the half-moon altar and it was put into my care by those before me. The prayers of all those who have come before the altar are still present with this altar. “
The Medicine Man continued, “There are specific spirits associated with each altar and they will hear those prayers and take them up. It is as though by praying to the fire the prayers are being spoken directly to the creator there is no priest no mediator. It’s you and the creator; it’s your prayers. You also need to be careful what you wish for because they can come true and if you pray for a Camaro and you already have twenty of them you will get it but it may be the last ride of your life. So there are two sides to every prayer so you want to be specific because the prayers may come at a cost.”
The man behind me spoke again. “Yes, be specific because if you say a loose prayer like, I pray for all the animals in the world, the spirits may take a little energy from you for every animal in the world and leave you drained of energy.”
The Medicine Man continued. “Yes, and also I will often say ‘may this person be healed if it’s for their highest good’. Also, don’t be afraid to pray for yourself if you need money or a car or healing for yourself, pray for those things. I use to always pray for something spiritual but then I realized what good is the spiritual when I have no truck so I prayed for a specific truck and that exact truck came to me. So if you need a job or anything like that don’t be afraid to ask. Also I often pray for the ancestors, family and friends and for the land, rain, spiritual knowledge and wellbeing. Just make sure you are specific in your prayers and thoughtful.”
The ceremony ended with the sun emerging from the mountains and great thanksgiving for the abundance of life given to us by the creator. The ceremony was full of medicine people, university students studying world religions, and seekers from various traditions altogether praying and healing with the sacred medicine Peyote. I am eternally grateful for the openness I experienced from all who were present at this ceremony and for the Grandfather Peyote.
Council on Spiritual Practices – http://csp.org/practices/entheogens/entheogens.html