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Written by Weston La Barre   
Wednesday, 12 January 2011 00:00


Peyote is only one of several narcotics in the southern United States and Mexico which because of their physiological action find ritual and other uses. Since, in many of these, uses are related, there arises the problem of their possible historical relationship. In any case, it is illuminating to study the general background of attitudes out of which peyotism grew.


The Tarahumari of northwestern Mexico, though their hikuli cult is less elaborate than that of the Huichol, have a complex of -worship" and use of several varieties of cacti. Besides hikuli wanamé (Lophophora williamsii) Lumholte lists the following:

Mulato (a Mammdaria), believed to make the eyes large and clear to see sorcerers, to prolong life, and to give speed to runners who eat it.2

Rosapara (a more advanced vegetative form of the same, but with many spines) which has very keen eyes for Tarahumari wrong•cloing; it punishes by driving the offender mad, or throwing him down a precipice; "it is therefore very effective in frightening off bad people, especially robbers and Apaches.2

Sunami (Mammilaria fissurata),4 rare, but even more powerful than wanamé, for it calls soldiers to its aid. The drink produced from it is strongly intoxicating. Deer cannot run away from you, nor bears harm you when carrying this cactus!.

Hikuli    "hikuli great authority," is the greatest of all; it is extremely rare, and Lumholtz never saw a specimen, though it was described to him as "growing in clusters of from eight to twelve inches in diameter, resembling wanamé with many young ones around it."'

Ocoyome, unlike the preceding hikuli which are good, is used only for evil purposes. It has long white spines or "claws," and comes from the Devil. If accidentally touched with the foot, it would break one's leg; it also throws offenders over precipices.' Lumholtz says it was very rarely used, and Mooney says the Tarahumari used it not at all—though the "Apaches" did—since it was "poison." Mooney describes the plant as having a reddish down, root and surface, which may account for the Apaches' tying it around their waists to make them brave, in their battles.8

Bennett and Zingg are perhaps referring to the same plant under the name "peyote cimar-ron," which is "small, red, and ineffective; it is not used or even touched, since the abuser might die." "Peyote christiano" (Mica dew éame), a larger, green variety, apparently Lophophora, is considered the "most efficacious."'

Bennett and Zingg give two other kinds of cactus used by the Tarahumari

Witculiki (Mex. biznaga, Mammillaria hyderi), a ball cactus of the gorges, is roasted about four minutes in ashes, after being split and divested of its spines; the soft center is squeezed into the ear in case of eavache or deafness. (This curiously echoes of the talking peyote stories.)

Bakanawa or bakAnori, a small ball cactus, is used by the Indians of the barrancas. Shamans, not peyoteros, carry small bits of the root in their bags; it can be kept only three years, after which it must be sold or hidden, lest the owner go crazy. The shaman chews and anoints the patient with it. So powerful is it that runners use it three days before racing ; one man died of fear after having of, fended this plant.


Of the ritually used narcotics of this area we have already discussed the "mescal bean," or Sophora secundiflora, and teo-nanacatl, the sacred mushroom of the Aztec and Chichimeca." The use of marihuana (Cannabis spp.) in counteracting sorcery, and other beliefs surrounding its employment are also elsewhere discussed." The use of the mescal-bean of the southern Plains and the various akoholic drinks13 of Mexico and the Southwest are perhaps related to the "black drink" made of the leaves and twigs of the "beloved tree" (Ilex cassine), which is distributed continuously from the Carolinas to the Rio Grande, with a continuation of the trait across the Antilles into northeastern and central South America.14

But the narcotic exhibiting perhaps the most numerous parallels in usage with peyote is datura." Gayton lists as datura-users in the Southwest" the Pima, Zufii, Navaho, Hopi, Havasupai, Walapai, Mohave, Yuma and Cocopa, and in California the Akwa'ala, Southern Diegudio, Pass Cahuilla, Gabrielino, Luisefio, Serrano, Chumash, Salinan, Miwok, East-ern and Western Mono, and the Foothill and Southern Valley Yokuts. This distribution is continuous with that in northwestern Mexico among the Opata, Tepehuane, Cora, Tepecano and Aztec."

The parallel uses of peyote, cohoba snuff and datura in prophecy and divination have been summarized elsewhere," but there are further interesting uses of datura. The Aztec of Mexico" had special officials who took ololiuhqui (the seeds of datura) to discover cures for illnesses, to find lost or stolen property, to ascertain the origin of long sickness due to witchcraft, etc., receiving pay for their services. Sometimes they prescribed the drug for their patients; datura was also used empirically as an anodyne in setting fractures, and it may have been one of the drugs employed to stupefy sacrificial victims, though peyote is the only one identified. Ololiuhqui was also mixed with tobacco and the ashes of venemous insects to make the sacred ointment of the priesthood; set on altars it was called Divine Meat." The Cora" refer to daturas in their songs and myths, but their use of it is not known.

In northern Mexico, the Tepehuane used toloache Natural in place of peyote.22 Tepe-cano prayers refer to datura as the husband of Corn Daughter and the son-in-law of Father Sun; having taken two mistresses, he was punished for this by being stuck head downward in the ground and commanded to give mortals whatever they begged of him. They believe him to have great riches, which they pray for and "borrow." Datura is one of the five narcotics whose flowers decorate a love charm."

In the Southwest, the Pima had a jimsonweed song which brought success in deer-hunting" and cured vomiting and dizziness. 'The White Mountain Apache25 mixed the root of D. meteloides with their com beer to make it more intoxicating. The Apache of Bourke" credited datura with the power of making men crazy, but denied using it medici-nally or ceremonially. The Havasupai27 eat datura leaves occasionally apparently for purely secular pleasure, and also use the drug in their arrow poison. At Zufli" datura was one of the medicines formerly belonging to the gods, and only the rain priests and directors of the Little Fire and Cimex fraternities could use it; the rain priests propitiated birds with the powdered root, or a man ate it to bring rain. They also administered it to clients who had been robbed, to discover the thief, and to patients with broken bones; the pulverized root and flower were also used with corn meal for all types of wounds. In myth the daturas were once brother and sister who walked the earth and saw who committed thefts, but the Divine Ones said they knew too much and caused them to disappear into the earth forever; perhaps for this reason it is also used to communicate with the dead. The Navaho 29 eat the root of D. meteloides, and sometimes "the Indians under its influence, like the Malays run amuck and try to kill everybody they meet." There is a record of Hopi doctoring with datura.5°

Nearly all the tribes of southern California used datura. The Akwa'ala, Yuma, Mohave and Eastern Mono took it to acquire gambling luck; the Central Miwok did not eat it, but considered that a dream about datura aided one's gambling fortune." Of the remaining tribes of the region who used it ceremonially, some features were held in common: (2) it was not taken before puberty," (2) it was usually administered to a group," and (3) a supernatural helper, sometimes an animal, was sought."
In southwestern California the use of datura is strongly ritualized in the Chungichnich cult of the Luisetio, and Northern and Southern Dieguefio. According to Kroeber the ritual is comparatively recent and overlies an older, simpler use of the plant over a wider area.

In the Chungichnich ceremony datura is given to boys as a preliminary ritual in puberty observance; its use is not seasonal, nor do women ever partake of it.35

The Mountain Cahuilla36 are typical of groups who had the simpler datura rite in puberty ceremonials before the addition of Chungichnich ritualism.

Manet (datura) was given to boys of 18—zo in a ceremony lasting 5 to 6 days in which other younger boys of 6—io years were taught clan and "enemy" songs by their fathers. The paha or leader prepared strings of reed, eagle and flicker feathers which were worn by the dancers, who practiced away from the village. The drinking ceremony or kiksawel took place inside the ceremonial dance house, and women and children were warned away by the manet-dancer's bull-roarer.37 Each boy was given a drink of a decoction of datura pounded in a mortar by the clan chief. The men in the enclosure took each boy by the waist, and they all danced around the fire, led by the manet-dancer. The boys remained unconscious in the house all night when the effect of the drug became manifest, and were removed the following afternoon to a secluded carion where for a week they were taught songs and dances nightly. The last afternoon a sand-painting was made and its symbolism ex-plained. After an ant-ordeal and a fire-dance they were regarded as men and full-fledged members of the clan.

A second group of tribes in the San Joaquin basin and Sierra Nevada foothills had a datura-drinking ceremonial every spring for both sexes shortly after the age of puberty."

The participant's social status was not changed and the rite alone constituted a ceremonial unit, the tananhibina or tanabi-drinking of the Western Mono. Dancing to clappers took place until the children fell unconscious, whereupon they were carried away to special camps by rela-tives. If a person appeared to be covered with blood or maggots and vermin (the causes of sickness), they were brushed off with an eagle-feather brush.39 In discovering the sickness the seer used an eagle-bone whistle which enabled him to "hear" the sickness; if a man had poison, one could see where it was. One could also see things at very great distances, as well as discover what medi-cine-man had caused the death of people by witchcraft. The seer could likewise find lost articles and discover wealth by means of datura. The drinkers were guarded during this time lest they harm themselves or be harmed. Some men did not have any datura-visions; this was because some medi-cine-man feared his bad deeds would be discovered, and hence rendered the drink harmless by magic and "covered up" those persons. If a medicine-man wanted to become very powerful, he took tanabi on ten successive seasons. Datura leaves were placed on the forehead of a dead person to drive out the spirit," and people boiled tanabi leaves so the steam filled their house that the spirit of the dead man would not return to them in dreams.

In view of these repeated parallels in the attitudes and usages surrounding both peyote and datura, it is certainly not without significance that their distribution, while contiguous, is mutually exclusive in northern Mexico and the southwestern United States: peyote is generally central and northeastern in Mexico, whence it spread northward and eastward into the Plains, while datura is northwestern in Mexico and extends through the Pueblo and nomadic Southwest to southern California. And if the "black drink," native American beers in Mexico and the Southwest, and the mescal bean be all counted with peyote and datura as part of one general distribution, we have a large continuous area or "narcotic complex" across the whole southern United States and northern Mexico. Such large general distributions are not unknown (e.g., bear ceremonialism), and datura (via Central America), ilex drinks (via the Antilles) and aboriginal alcoholic liquors (continuous from the Southwest through Mexico and Central America to include the entire northern three-quarters of South America) are surely connected ultimately with the same traits in South America—more particularly since not alone are the plants involved the same, but also detailed "superorganic" attitudes and ritual manifestations.


1 Lumholtz, Unknown Mexico, 1: 372—'74. These short paragraphs are summaries, not direct quotations.

2 Cf. the physiological action of peyote-alkaloids, discussed elsewhere (dilation of the pupil, increased reflex excitability). The use of narcotics in this area in connection with racing appears again with peyote in northern Mexico, and with the "mescal bean" (Sophora secundifiora) among the Wichita. The Acaxee used peyote in their ball play, much as the "black drink" (11ex cassine) was used in the Southeast. Cf. Mooney's (Tarumari-Guayachic) "MurIto," apparently identical with Lumholtz' Mulato, that "is used mostly in races, not ground up, but tied whole around waist, at back."

3 Lumholtz, Unknown Mexico, 1: 373. In this region narcotics in general are much employed in connection with war, and the magical "witching" of the enemy—whose power is not merely physical but magically malevo-lent too. "Mescal beans" were part of the war-bundle in some southern Plains tribes, and both peyote and datura were used clairvoyantly and prophetically in war connections. The attitude that the enemy is a witch, Dr . Spier informs me, is widespread among both the Yumans and Athapascans of the Southwest. Cf. also peyote and cap-tured scalps (e.g., Maricopa) talking, and being danger-ridden.

4 This is an instance where it is rewarding conscientiously to respect native categories and ethnobotanical statements for hordenine ( = anhaline, one of the alkaloids of Lophophora) was discovered in Anhalonium fissuratum in 1894 by Heffter (see Appendix 5, fn. 5).

5 Mooney, Tarumari-Guayachic, says sunami is very much respected, and is used only by doctors. Women doctors grind them on metates, placing the plant upright and crushing it with one blow (cf. the "killing" of mescal beans in the Plains). Doctors assemble for this feast, which requires the sacrifice of a beef. Special rites attend its gathering, and it must be gathered in a black blanket and bleeds red blood. It must be kept in a double basket in a cave, lest it hear quarreling in the house. It dislikes fire, and after ten or twenty years it loses its virtue and must be replanted with copal incensing where originally found. Doctors rub tizwin-and-sunami over the heart and rest of the body, for it makes one win races. Anhalonium fissuratum has a striking resemblance to deer-hooves; it is likely the hikuli referred to in this and other Tarahumari-Huichol tales—but it should be re-called that peyotism in Mexico is also connected with deer-hunting.

6 Lumholtz, Unknown Mexico, I: 373-74; Mooney, Tarumari•Guayachic, says this variety is as big as a man's hat. The description probably refers to an occasional polycephalous specimen of Lophophora williamsii (hikuli wanamé).

7 Lumholtz, Unknown Mexico 1: 374; Tarahumari Dances, 253, 452-54; cf. Mooney's (Tarumari-Guayachic) kákoy6mi. Mooney thought Lumholtz' "walulasahane" was Tepecano, not Tarahumari.

8 The resemblance of some Mammillaria spp. to a head or scalp of hair is quite striking; Higgins, in fact, figures an "Old Man Cactus" with long flowing white "hair."

9 Bennett and Zingg, The Tarahumara, 290.

10 Bennett and Zingg, op. cit., 137, 295. The users of bakánawa believe it to be even more powerful than peyote. One can more easily believe that the ataxic gait of a peyote-intoxicated person would "throw" him over a cliff or break a leg, than that it would result in any conspicuously superior racing ability.

11 Dorman, in Bourke, Scatalogical Rites, 9t, says mushrooms were "worshipped" in the Antilles, in Vir-ginia, and possibly also in California. The Siberian use of Amanita spp. is well-known, but no doubt these spo-radic uses are all independent of each other.

12 Lumholtz, Unknown Mexico, 2: 354; see also notes 41, 45, 48 in Appendix 6.

13 The writer has published elsewhere on the subject of the numerous native American beers (see Native American Beers). So far as a cactus-source of these is concerned, the following groups make use of Cereus giganteus Englm. and C. Thurberi Englm. for their sahuaro drink: Huichol (?), Pima, Maricopa, Yuma, Papago, Halchi-doma (?), and San Carlos Apache.

14 The ilex "black drink" is Catawba (Handbook of the American Indians, t: 15oa, 2: r000—tooi); Alibamu (Forster, Bossu, 254, 261, 294, 354-55); Creek (Swanton, Social Organization and Social Usages, 3o7, 445; Adair, in Swanton, Social ancl Religious Reliefs, 265; Speck, The Creek Indians, Ito, x17-18, 134; Bartram, Travels, 449, 5o7), both Taskigi and Mikasuki; Cherokee (Bartram, Travels, 357); Chickasaw (Swanton, Social and Religious Beliefs, 24o); Koasati (Paz, Koasati Field Notes); Yuchi (Speck, Ethnology of the Tuchi, 122-24, 135); Natchez (Charlevoix, Histoire de l'Isle, i66; du Pratz, Histoire, 2: 46, 3: i3); Atakapa (Forster, Bossu, 354-55), Chita-macha (Gatschet, in Swadesh, Chitamacha Texts) and Karankawa (Oliver, in Gatschet, The Karankawa Indians, 18-19). Also in Florida (de Laudoniére, in Lewin, Phantastica, 279; Safford, Narcotic Plants, 417; Romans, A Concise Natural History, 94), and also possibly in Virginia (Beverly, History of Virginia, 175-80; Ribault [1666], Dominique de Gourages [1567], McCullough, Le Moyne—all in Havard, Drink Plants, 41-42; Lawson, History of Carolina, 38o-82 [I86o ed.]; Adair, The History of the American Indian, to8). A similar emetic rite is also found among the "Cutalchich" of Texas (Cabeza de Vaca, in Safford, Narcotic Plants, 416-17), the Tainan or Greater Antilles Arawak (Gower, The Northern and Southern Affiliations, 39-4o), the Lesser Antilles Carib and Guiana (Dixon [R. B.], Some Aspects, r—t2), the Amazon Basin (Wissler, The American /ndian, 213), Jivaro and Canelo of Ecuado (Karsten, in Lewin, Phantastica, 279-81; Safford, Narcotic Plants, 413, 416); Guarani of Northern Bolivia (Safford, op. cit., 413; Spruce, Notes of a Botanist, 2.: 419-2o). See also Thurnwald, Economics, 65; Harrington, Cuba Before Columbus, 295, 388-89; Spier, 'Yuman Tribes, 181; Handbook of the American Indians, 2: 32a, 145-46; Sapir, Kaibab-Paiute. An interestingly parallel distribution (which may have historical relevance) is that of fish and arrow poisons. Fish poisons are reported for northeastern South America, the Orinoco valley, the upper Amazon, the Antillean Carib; the Tarahumari, Acaxee, Opata and in California; the Catawba, Taskigi Creek, Cherokee, Koasati, Yuchi and Iroquois (cf. the blow-gun of the Creek, Cherokee, Choctaw, Iroquois, Yuchi, central Carib, Florida Key-dwellers, natives of Hispaniola and of north-eastern South America). Arrow poisons are found in Sonora, Central America, the Guianas, the Antilles (Carib), Florida Arawak (?) and, in historic times, the Tarahumari, as well as in South America. The Opata, curiously, used yerba de fleche to poison deer at water-holes. Beals (Comparative Ethnology, i15, 193) also lists poison arrows for the Southern Dieguerio, Chumash, Cahuilla, Yavapai, Havasupai, Navaho, Western Apache, Lipan, Natchez (?), Seri, Mixtec and in Sinaloa and Culiacan. Spier adds the Blackfoot and perhaps other Plains groups to this list. The group with poison arrows south of the Great Lakes (Jesuit Relations, 8: 3o2, in Gower,2a) one would guess is Iroquois.

15 We ignore for our purposes the South American area of the use of datura, though it is surely connected with the Mexican culturally and historically, as well as the South American use of coca, tobacco, cohoba snuff (Piptadenia peregrina), guarana (Paullinia cupana or P. sorbilis), chocolatl (Theobroma cacao), aya-huasca (Banis, teria amp° and yajé (Haemadictyon Amazonicum Spruce). Many of the uses of these plants in war, prophesying, divination, ordeals, and doctoring are strikingly similar to the Mexican uses of marihuana, datura, teo-nanacatl and peyote.

16 The sources for these are cited in Gayton, The Narcotic Plant Datura, a manuscript to which I am much indebted.

17 Note the parallel uses of datura in South America found among the Inca, Matacuna, Chancay, Sipibo. Cocoma, Omagua, Jivaro, Canelo, Quijo, Zaparo, Guanes (Guanuco?), Chibcha and in Darien (after Gayton), The "wysoccan" used by the Pamunky (Beverly, History of Virginia, 2: 24) is said to be a datura (Safford, Daturas, 557-58); the sporadic use as a medicament in Jamaica (Beckwith, Notes on Jamaica, 9, note 5, 28) may not be aboriginal.

18 The writer hopes in due time to publish further data on New World narcotics.

19 De la Serna, in Safford, Daturas, 551, Arlegui, Crénica, 144; Rouhier, Monographic, 33i.

20 Gerste, Notes sur la médicine,    This may be the source of Reko's erroneous teo-nanacatl etymology.

21 Preuss, Nayarit•Expedition, t: 231.

22 Diguet, Le Peyote et son Usage, 21, note 1.

23 Mason, Tepecano Prayers, 138, 139, 142, 143. Cf. the supposed aphrodisiac effects of peyote, teo-nanacatl, and marihuana.

24 Russell, The Pima, 299-3oo. Cf. sunami of the Tarahumari for deer hunting, and the mescal bean for buffalo hunting.

25 Hrdla.ka, Physiological and Medical Observations, 28; cf. Handbook of the American Indians, 2: 837b.

26 Bourke, The Medicine•Men, 451.

27 Spier, Havasupai, 149, 269.

28 Stevenson, Ethnobotany of the Zufii, 46, 47, 88; The Zutii Indians, 385; Parsons, A Zufii Detective, 168- 7o. Every single instance in this paragraph finds parallels in the uses of peyote: the powdering of the root, rain-getting, discovery of robbers, as an anodyne, for wounds, etc., differentiation in sex and communication with the dead. Note also in connection with rain-making the "water-bird" of peyotism.

29 Lumholtz, Unknown Mexico, 1:4; The American Cave•Dwellers, 389; cf. the running amuck with peyote.

30 Robbins et alii, Ethnobotany of the Tewa, 55, note 1.

31 References from Gayton, The Narcotic Plant Datura.

32 Cf. the use of peyote formerly only by adult warriors.

33 Cf. the group use of marihuana, teo-nanacatl and peyote in Mexico.

34 Again compare peyote, particularly in the Plains.

35 Kroeber (Handbook 462, 589, 593, 609, 623-24) lists tribes who may lack it. See also Kroeber, Anthro, pology, 309-322.

36 Summarized from Gayton, citing W. D. Strong, Aboriginal Society.

37 Cf. the preparation of peyote in Mexico.

38 Summarized from Gayton.

39 Cf. this and the following elements with peyote usages.

40 Cf. the Mexican use of peyote.

Last Updated on Friday, 21 January 2011 11:18

Our valuable member Weston La Barre has been with us since Sunday, 09 January 2011.

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