Shamanic intervention is also a part of the social fabric of these cultures, and the Shaman is often consulted in terms of political and tribal disputes. The classic Shamanic trance or journey consists of a number of elements:
Leaving the realm of the mundane, that is, the physical world; (2) Traveling to the supernatural; and (3) Returning to the world of the mundane.
In order to facilitate this vital function the Shaman often uses psychoactive plants such as Peyote to aid his perception of the spiritual world. "The transition between the world of the mundane and the supernatural world is frequently facilitated by inducing trance states using psychoactive plants."
The use of Peyote and the origins of the Peyote cult are buried in antiquity. An early Spanish chronicler, Fray Bernardino de Sahagun, "estimated on the basis of several historical events recorded in Indian chronology that Peyote was known to the Chichimeca and Toltec at least 1890 years before the arrival of the Europeans."
The Peyote cult is estimated to be very ancient and some experts place the plant's known use as between three and seven thousand years ago. However, "The earliest European records concerning this sacred cactus are those of Sahagun, who lived from 1499 to 1590 and who dedicated most of his adult life researching the Indians of Mexico."
Peyote was used throughout Mexico to as far north as Texas, and San Pedro in the Andes mountain region of South America. "The earliest known depiction of San Pedro cactus is on a stone tablet found in Peru dating to 1300 B.C. Ritual objects containing images of Peyote were found dating back to 500 B.C."
Peyote or Lophophora williamsii contains the psychedelic drug known as Mescaline. Mescaline belongs to a family of compounds known as phenethylamines.
Put very simply, the essential function and use of Peyote or Mescaline is to contact the spiritual world and God. In the Peyote Cult, the plant is seen as a sacred messenger, or as a sacrament.
As in the case of any other sacrament, the worshipper eats Peyote under the proper ritual conditions in order to obtain power to commune effectively with God and the other spirits. That is why the amount of Peyote taken during a rite depends upon the solemnity of the occasion; the more serious the rite, the greater the amount of Peyote imbibed.
The Shamanic roots of the modern Peyote Cult are still evident and form an underlying and integral part of modern practices. The Shaman who works with the plant will have had to undergo an initiatory period with training in the specifics of the spiritual dimension. "Typically, a shamanic healer working with entheogenic plants undergoes a lengthy initiation and training (sometimes lasting years) under the guidance of an experienced elder before working with others."
In 1918 the Peyotists were incorporated into the North American Church. The North American Church is described as a "Native American religious group whose beliefs blend fundamentalist Christian elements with pan-Native American moral principles."
In 1940 the church was declared illegal by the Navajo Tribal Council, which saw it as a threat to Navajo culture. However, the church continued to flourish and in 1967 the Navajo tribal council reversed its decision.
Today Peyotism is the "most widespread indigenous contemporary Native American religion." In 1996 the Church had 250,000 members in the United States, Mexico, and Canada.
Furthermore, the Church teaches an ethical doctrine which is similar in some respects to the monotheistic religions of the West. However, there are central differences, particularly with regard to central Christian components; "...its exponents often stating that while Christ came to the whites, peyote came to the Native Americans. "
The Peyote rites can be extensive and often last from sunrise to sundown. There are usually four elements to the rites; which consists of prayer, singing, eating the sacramental peyote, and contemplation. Researchers claim that the religion originated among the Kiowa in Oklahoma about 1890. They also state that modern Peyotism incorporates the traditional use of Peyote.
It is often difficult for many Westerners to understand the intensely sacred nature of the Peyote for the Indians. It is not just a method of trance or vision induction but is deemed to be a spiritual entity in its own right. It is essentially used to enable the individual to "... communicate with God without the medium of a priest. It is an earthly representative of God to many Peyotists. " central aspect of Peyotism is that the Peyote is seen as containing spiritual power. "The Great Spirit put some of his supernatural power (mana) into Peyote, which he gave to the Indians to help them in their present lowly circumstances" (Slotkin 1952:568). Slotkin continues: "By eating Peyote under the proper ritual conditions, a person can incorporate some of the Great Spirit's power in the same way that the White Christian absorbs that power by means of the sacramental bread and wine. "
Today there are thousands of North and South American Indians who practice Peyotism. Peyotism is a spiritual and religious practice which has its foundations in the use of Peyote as a sacred element in the understanding and interpretation of the spiritual world. It is aligned with some of the earliest and most profound religions in world history. It is also a mistake to try to comprehend the use of a drug like mescaline in Peyote rites without at the same time understanding the intensions and religious context which enframe it.
Batchelder, Tim. Drug Addictions, Hallucinogens and Shamanism: the View from Anthropology. Townsend Letter for Doctors and Patients, July 1, 2001