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Title:.

The Peyote Way Church of God: A Yankee Way of Knowledge
Publication:. Drug Survival News
Editor:. Jim Parker
Date:. March-April 1982
Pages:. 12-19

If you were from another planet and suddenly beamed down on the Peyote Way Church of God in Klondyke, Arizona, you might mistakenly believe that members of the church worship paper. God knows they've got enough of it, and they'll proudly point to an appropriate pronouncement, declaration, statement, by-law, or article of faith at the drop of a half-formed question.

The paper blizzard the Church has generated is a force, a shield, and Church members use it unflinchingly. Because they know the paper keeps the Church legal and keeping the church legal keeps members out of jail for the sacramental use of the hallucinogenic cactus, peyote.


..Appoint among yourselves a teacher and let not all be spokesmen at once; but let one speak at a time and let all listen unto his sayings, that when all have spoken that all may be edified of all, and that every man may have an equal privilege
-- Doctrine and Covenants of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 88:122


When you first come in contact with Immanuel Pardeahtan Trujillo, president of the Peyote Way Church of God, it's hard to shake the uncomfortable feeling that suddenly descends on you that the inmates have taken over the asylum His eyes shimmer with an intensity usually reserved for the very enlightened or the very disturbed. and his conversation veers chaotically in every direction, a jumble of thoughts and images which impresses, if for no other reason, due to the sheer breadth and distance the speaker is able to cover in a single, tangential. stream-of-consciousness soliloquy.

But when you get used to the style and after you stop and think about the substance, you realize that Mana -- as Trujillo is known to friends, members of his church, and purchasers of the fine black-rimmed earthenware which he has made his trademark in the American Southwest -- is no crazier than you or me, and probably a good deal less so. But he is different.

You begin to get an idea exactly how different Mana and his church are as soon as you turn off the highway out of Pima, Arizona onto the 25-mile stretch of graded dirt that leads to the Peyote Way Church in Klondyke. One of the first things you notice is that there are no cars. You just rumble on through a seemingly-endless expanse of sand and dust and cactus, bouncing up and down and around hills that stretch off in the distance in every direction until they merge with a ring of mountains circling the horizon. Then, when you've driven as far up as the road will go, you begin an even swifter descent through godawful dips and swerves and blind curves that leave the hair on the back of your neck standing on end as you spin clouds of dust off cliffs that drop away into hundreds of feet of arid, inhospitable nothing. So you slow down a little and marvel at the awesome. desolate landscape and all the while you can't help thinking: There's no one else here. 10 o'clock on a Saturday morning and there ain't a soul going where you're going It makes you wonder about where you're going. And the people you're going to meet when you get there.

But the people you find there aren't particularly unique in any real way. They're good people. friendly people. with a peculiar flicker of alertness in their eyes when they talk to you. All in all. they're not that much different from people anywhere. And you realize there's not much of an angle to any story you could do on them, except for the fact that they're members of a homemade religion that promotes the sacramental use of the hallucinogenic cactus, peyote.

The Peyote Way Church of God was incorporated in the state of Arizona in 1979, although church members will tell you that their history dates back to 1948, when Mana experienced his first peyote vision. Fresh out of the Army and with no real prospects for a better life than those imposed on his Apache ancestors by the white man, Mana became a willing participant in a peyote ceremony organized by a Tucson, Arizona chapter of the Native American Church, an Indian sect which has long used peyote legally as a vision-inducing sacrament. Although he refuses to discuss that experience now -- or any other peyote experiences he's had since, describing them as "indescribable" -- Mana maintains that the experience included a "direct revelation" from God, which constituted the true beginning of the Peyote Way Church.

Mana remained officially active in the Native American Church for the next decade and a half, even though he gradually grew impatient with NAC guidelines that restricted membership in the church to those of at least one-quarter Indian blood. a policy he eventually attacked as "racist and segregationist." In 1963, he was instrumental in founding the All-Race Group of the NAC, which was officially sanctioned by the main council of the church's southwestern council. And although the All-Race Group was just as quickly un-sanctioned by the NAC's national membership, the seed was sown. From that time on, and until formal incorporation of the Peyote Way Church of God, Mana quietly worked in the Tucson-Phoenix-Safford area, building up markets for his pottery, eating peyote and studying its visions, and attracting a steady stream of non-Indian converts to his unorthodox peyote church.


..Organize yourselves; prepare every needful thing, and establish a house, even a house of prayer. a house of fasting, a house of faith. a house of learning. a house of glory, a house of order, a house of God.
-- Doctrine and Covenants, 88:119


The house that Peyote Way Church members have established for themselves is an amazing house, indeed. You get your first glimpse of the Church and its house-and its other outbuildings-as you negotiate the last dog-leg turn off the bumpy mud and stone driveway that winds back through a bare forest off Bonita Postal Route X to the church proper. The first sign you see of anything out of the ordinary as you approach the settlement is a small plaque that admonishes the weary to "Slow Down" -- slower apparently being seen as better by the church in all circumstances, no matter how fast you're going to begin with.

As you park, you're immediately confronted by a small herd of good-natured dogs -- and maybe good-natured goats or peacocks, depending on who or what happens to be in the vicinity and whether or not you heeded the earlier admonition to slow down.

Getting out of the car and moving toward the main church building, you come face to face with the first piece of Peyote Way theology you'll confront that day (or the second, if you count the "Slow Down" sign). It's a good-sized sign, solid and substantial, all two-by-fours and painted tile, spelling out exactly What Goes and What Don't at the Peyote Way Church of God;

As you approach the main house, you're struck by the silence. Work -- involving any number of operations relating to the production of pottery, which represents the common day-long activity of all church residents as well as the sole source of revenue for the church and its members -- is carried out quietly, and none of the other sounds which we commonly associate with everyday life intrudes on the calm that seems to physically permeate Church land.

You look around and you understand another reason for the quiet: There's nobody else around.

Scanning the horizon in every direction, you see no evidence at all of other people or the artifacts of civilization, aside from the houses, buildings, and fixtures of the Peyote Way settlement itself. As you approach the main church building, you

see that the outside of the building is a kaleidoscopic mosaic, an exploding supernova of color and design that looks for all the world as if someone had taken their favorite hallucination, painted it on tiles of clay, then baked it at 1900 degrees for the better part of a day before reassembling it on the front of the church. If you look closely, you can make out the forms of birds and animals and people and corn in the mural, with round green dots superimposed on nearly every tile. You realize that the green dots must have some special significance and when you ask whoever comes out to greet you and show you inside, you get a one word answer and a smile:

"Peyote."

 


..Every herb in the season thereof. and every fruit in the season thereof; all these things to be used with prudence and thanksgiving
-- Doctrine and Covenants, 89:11

The history of peyote as a vision-inducing agent is an old one, dating back thousands of years, perhaps to the earliest years of human habitation of what is now Mexico and the American Southwest. The plant was a powerful ingredient of the pharmacopoeia of natural remedies developed by priests and shamans of the Aztec culture, revered for its visionary. psychotropic properties as well as its reputed ability to effect medical cures of a number of ailments.

In the years immediately following the conquest of Mexico, Spanish missionaries set themselves to the task of eradicating all traces of the vanquished Aztec civilization, particularly the religion -- which had employed human sacrifice as a means of mollifying cranky, out-of-sorts gods -- and the ceremonial and medicinal use of plants, including peyote.

The conquistadores carried out their annihilation of Aztec civilization with a fervent zeal and a terrible efficiency. Juan de zumarraga,the first archbishop of Mexico, ordered the destruction of thousands of manuscripts which had been seized by the Spanish, erasing in a single stroke the accumulated knowledge and wisdom of the entire Aztec civilization.

The Catholic missioners in New Spain looked upon peyote as a special abomination, associated, as it was in their minds, with paganism and witchcraft. With the expansion of the Inquisition into the new Spanish colony, peyote was officially declared to be the work of the devil and its use prohibited to all Christians.

But the sheer size and remoteness of many areas of Mexico -- and the desire of many native peoples to resist assimilation into the culture of their conquerors -- ensured the continuation of peyotism as the religious and medicinal use of peyote came to be called. Eventually, the plant spread north and east as increasing numbers of Plains Indians felt the need to affirm a common cultural identity in the face of increasing domination by the white race. At one point in the late 19th century, use of the plant became associated with a pan- Indian movement which proclaimed the imminent destruction of the white culture and the resurrection of fallen Indians, a movement which came to be known as the Ghost Dance. In one variation of the Ghost Dance practiced in the late 1880s, participants believed that, while wearing special "ghost shirts," they would become immune to bullets fired by the guns of white soldiers.

Following the massacre of ghost-shirted Sioux at Wounded Knee in 1890, the spirit of resistance which had characterized much of the pan-Indian peyote movement was replaced by a new spirit of resignation. Instead of rejecting the religion of their white conquerors, peyotists incorporated Christian beliefs and values into traditional peyote ceremonies. The eventual outcome of this process was the formation of a religious hybrid, which in 1918 was chartered as the Native American Church of North America.

The Church's Articles of Incorporation provide a succinct statement of purpose -- and a declaration of the importance with which peyote was viewed by members of the new religion.

The purpose for which this incorporation is formed is to foster and promote religious believers in Almighty God and the customs of the several Tribes of Indians throughout the United States in the worship of a Heavenly Father and to promote morality, sobriety, industry, charity, and right living and cultivate a spirit of self-respect and brotherly love and union among the members of the several Tribes of Indians throughout the United States with and through the sacramental use of peyote.

All of which served to legitimize the use of peyote as a sacrament. Although some states saw ritual peyote use as a dangerous symptom of undemolished remnants of Indian culture restirring-and thus constituting a threat to public safety and order -- other states did not, and federal efforts to prohibit sacramental use of the drug failed repeatedly throughout the 20th century to generate sufficient support in Congress to enact sanctions against the practice.

The legitimacy of sacramental use of the plant was finally codified into federal law with passage of the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970. The Act, which specifically exempts members of the Native American Church from its provisions (which set a penalty of up to a year in jail and fine of up to $5,000 for illicit possession), guaranteed First Amendment religious protections to all bona fide participants in Native American Church-sponsored peyote ceremonies. The only catch was that, to be a member of the Native American Church as defined by the Church. you had to have at least 25 percent Indian ancestry. And Immanuel Pardeahtan Trujillo, who happens to have 50 percent Indian ancestry, decided that formula was racist and discriminatory, hardly a way to run a church.

So he started his own.

 


..Go ye out from among the nations, even from Babylon, from the midst of wickedness, which is spiritual Babylon.
-- Doctrine and Covenants, 133:14


Klondyke, Arizona is not exactly the crossroads of the Western world, so having visitors has got to be something of a special event for members of the church, but they do heir best not to show it. One or two residents will lay down their pottery and come out and welcome you as pleasantly as you've ever been welcomed anywhere and give you a brief tour of the house and grounds and work area, introducing you, in he process, to all the other church members. And you struggle to remember everyone's name and to form some sort of association between the names and faces:

Tamara, young, blonde, and pretty-no problem there; Steve, if he was angry he'd be a big, broken bottle of a man someone you'd want on your side in a fight, but not angry he's an oversized elf who'll look you in the eye and tell you he's always taken drugs seriously and make you believe it; Richard a quiet cosmic cowboy of a spiritual seeker with hair the color and texture of straw and eyes the color of the sky on a day you think might rain; Matthew, friendly, smiling, not small, exactly, but compact, with a jaunty tam o' shanter and clay-spattered corduroys; Annie, married to Matthew, an open-eyed, fearless- looking earth mother of a woman with a brand-new baby, Kristin Joy, to prove it.

And everyone smiles up at you from their work and talks pleasantly and continues working -- trimming clay from greenware or painting or scraping or carrying molds- keeping throughout a cautious eye on the work and not dropping a stitch or missing a stroke in the process. The image that comes to mind is that of elderly bingo. players chattering with great animation about grandchildren and upright freezers and television programs while conducting an ongoing scan of the half-dozen cards before them for G-7.

And after you've had a chance to meet everyone, you re ushered back into the "sacrament room, where the church archives are pointed out to you with the suggestion that's where any proper research into the church ought to begin. And then whoever dropped what they were doing to serve as your guide is gone and you're alone.

You find yourself in a large, open room, unfurnished except for a table and a rug and framed pictures on every wall. And since you're curious about the pictures and why they're there, you move closer to examine them at more intimate range. Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter, Haile Selasse, Timothy Leary, the Shah of Iran (the Shah of Iran?), Richard Nixon, Barry Goldwater. There's an inscription on the Goldwater photo and you bend closer to read it: "To my friend Mana, a talented artist -- Barry Goldwater."

On the other walls you see ink sketches done in the same curious style you'd seen earlier outside, highly stylized, Indian-style drawings of birds, cattle, falcons, people -- or the general outline of people, at least. You notice that the heads of the people in the drawings are never realistic, but instead are bold swatches of thick curving lines in the shape of overextended question marks.

A bookshelf of dusty secondhand volumes crammed in every which way dominates an entire wall. And you move closer to have a look at the titles because you've always believed you can get a look at the person below the surface if you have an idea of the books they read. You note the titles: Reader's Digest Condensed Books, Clinical Neurology, New Directions in the Kindergarten, Ionesco's Rhinoceros, Mathematics Tables and How to Use Them, Holy Bible, The Grass is Always Greener Over the Septic Tank, The Disenchanted.

Realizing how little -- or how much -- that tells you, you look over the other rooms. The furnishings in the building are sparse, spartan. In a study off the main room you notice a single bed, a table and straight- backed chair, and another wall of books: The Boo-Hoo Bible, Psychology and Life, Dictionary of Electronics Abbreviations.

Then you push through an unstained wooden hinged door into a greenhouse. The room is bright and warm, with high slanted windows. You casually examine the contents of each window box for a look at what's growing inside. One box contains something that looks suspiciously like Kentucky bluegrass. Others look to contain tubers of some sort -- radishes, turnips, it's hard to tell from the ragged leaves and stems poking out of the ground. In another box you see nobby little green stubs with symmetrical grey-yellow spots and an occasional tuft of stringy white hair. Blossoms radiate off the main shoot like eyes off a potato, and a cartoon light bulb suddenly flickers on in an imaginary balloon above your head as you recall the green dots on the wall outside. Peyote.

Peyote is a small spineless cactus that is indigenous to the Chihuahuan Desert of Texas and north and central Mexico. Plants are usually yellow-green or blue-green with rounded crowns and are usually no more than two inches in height. The principle psychoactive ingredient in peyote is mescaline, an hallucinogen similar to LSD. Besides mescaline, more than 50 alkaloids and other compounds have been identified in the drug, many of which are believed to subtly affect the nature of the peyote experience.

The sliced crown of the cactus is called the "button" and is chewed and swallowed by users, although peyote is frequently brewed and drunk as a tea -- neither of which is a particularly palatable operation. An overpoweringly foul-tasting substance, peyote often causes extreme nausea and vomiting, a reaction which is sometimes seen as an act of purification by users.

Indeed. Ingestion of 4-15 buttons (a dose is determined by an individual's body size arid personal preference) is followed in 15 - 45 minutes by a range of effects that are similar in many ways to those produced by LSD. Perceptual distortions and visual hallucinations are prominent parts of a peyote trip, as are frequent changes of mood, thought, and perception of body image. A peyote trip can last six to 10 hours, depending on amount ingested and the experience and tolerance of a user.

And you return to the living room and sit down with the two oversized scrapbooks. You open one and flip through it. And you're looking at newspaper clippings of drug stories from the '60s alongside neatly typed journal entries:

Dec. 19,1966. The police entered my studio, confiscated quantities of peyote, LSD, and hashish. I admitted to the possession of the peyote

And there follows copies of indictments, arrest records, more newspaper clippings. Your eyes go to one official-looking document in particular, something labeled "Custodian Evidence Report, City and County of Denver." It's dated 12/21/66, and it was issued to Trujillo, I. P. Articles listed included a bead bag, two star peyote buttons, 80 peyote buttons, and a peyote box. Alongside the evidence report is a news article, headlined: "Court Case Tests Legality of Peyote," and a yellowing newspaper photo taped next to it, showing a peyote button with an absent corner in the shape of a human bite mark, captioned "'Button of Peyote Returned."

And you keep turning the pages and you see a succession of drawings, photographs, and documents. Here's a letter signed Richard M Nixon thanking Mr. Trujillo for the fine Indian pottery that now graces Casa Pacifica; there's a copy of the church's incorporation papers; here's a photograph of a baby, a tractor, a Christmas tree, a cat.

And as you put the scrapbooks away, you stand and stretch and wonder where is Mana, anyway. You've met everyone else and you've been through the archives and you've got a dim sense of where the church has been and where the members would like for it to go in the future and all these different elements are just kind of floating inside your head like some kind of protein stew but you realize that the main ingredient still isn't there -- there's still Mana to go.

And you ask and you find that he's "running errands" and ought to be back "any minute." And hours later -- when you've almost given up waiting, thinking that a Mana is a mythical creature like a zephyr or a unicorn -- he suddenly arrives like a noisy wind amid a screeching of brakes and blaring of horns and trailing a wake of dust and gravel and exhaust fumes behind the church's dilapidated Dodge pick-up.

And you go out and introduce yourself and you see that he's an older version of the peyote prisoner in the newspaper photographs in the archives. Only now he has this storm trooping white jumpsuit and bad black combat boots with thick cords of shoulder-length, salt-and-pepper brown-going-to-gray hair held in place with a knotted red bandana, and he just smiles like a shrewd, hip Cheshire cat who's taking some rodent's measure as you tell him about the article you plan to do and ask if he'll be willing to talk to you later.

And you follow him inside the building (you have to because he's been stacking jars of honey and bags of rice in your arms as you were talking), and you put the things down and watch as Mana disappears behind a closed door, and you begin to realize that he was easier to get a handle on as a mythical beast.

But mythical beasts aren't real and Mana most definitely is, as you come to grasp with considerable clarity when you finally find him holding court in the church's "map room," a work area distinguished by the number of maps on its walls where church members color and decorate their pottery with the shapes of birds and men and animals.

And you huddle on the floor in the corner over a notepad, and you listen to Mana's running monologue on the comings, goings, and goings-on of friends and neighbors in the surrounding area, and you make notes of the who and the how rather than the what of the communication.

And you write:

Alternately hardboiled and homespun, somber and wisecracking, contentious and kind, Immanuel Pardeahtan Trujillo cuts an enigmatic figure as president of the Peyote Way Church...

His piercing eyes are set in a mobile, expressive face that can slide in a moment from an aspect of childlike glee to one of undisguised weariness and age, and he punctuates his rambling narratives with grimaces, rolled eyes, and an occasional slap on the table. . .

His listeners are rapt, seemingly spellbound, and although they continue working with their pottery, their pace slows as they divide their attention between their work and their abiding interest in Mana.

And when you get a chance to insert yourself into the conversation, you discover that a talk with Mana is a lot of things all at once, not much like the idle sort of chatter that takes place when you sit down with a lot of people. Rather, it is an endless strategy session and propaganda briefing, for which the word "harangue" is probably better suited than the word "conversation."

What do you want to know about?

The legal status of the church? It's a topic he clearly feels at home with and suddenly he's off to the races. Mana can cite peyote statutes by name and number, give you the year of the decision and the names of the principals involved in relevant appeals, and the phone number of the church's American Civil Liberties Union attorney all in the same breath. If you ask about the structure or organization of the church, he'll cite the appropriate by-law, point-of-order, announcement, pronouncement, or article of faith at length -- and see that you get a photocopy of the document in question. whether you want one or not. And before long you wind up with a manila folder full of papers and you promise, yes, to read them all and include them in your article, and you don't see how you can use many more, honest, so you change the subject to something less documented.

What's that? CarlosCastaneda?

Forget it. Mana'II dismiss Castaneda and his six books on peyote-tinged sorcery as the work of a fool or a shyster, possibly both. "Superstition is the hobgoblin of weak minds," he'll announce, as if he just coined the sentiment, before adding: "You can hear that sort of nonsense in California any day of the week." And you'll think case closed, but it isn't quite, because he'll suddenly stare at you with a look of utmost seriousness and then dismiss the topic with a slow shake of his head and a wave of his hand. "Anybody who knows anything about peyote isn't writing a book about it."

Why not?

"Because you can't put peyote into words any more than you can sit there and describe your god to me."

And you ask if the church has other members and you find out that it does. And to prove his point, Man a searches out the church's membership roster from a stack of papers, and spins it in your direction.

As you look over the membership rolls, you realize the church has a good many more members than it has residents at the Klondyke mission -- about a hundred more. That's the total number of faithful at this particular juncture in history, the total number who have signed the papers and taken the three-day Spirit Walk to earn church membership.

You find out there's another mission-in Albuquerque, New Mexico-and that others are contemplated in Texas and other states. And as he talks about future plans, you realize that Mana and the other Peyote Way people take this religion business very seriously-no less so than the Jesuits of New Spain 400 years ago, but with a difference.

"We're not trying to be the big congregation," Mana told me as I handed back the membership file.

"We're interested in laying out the music so all the other brothers can sing their own song." He shrugged. "We're not even interested in the words. We just want to make sure they get a chance to worship their own god in their own way."


..Therefore, verily I say unto you, my friends, call your solemn assembly, as I have commanded you . . .
-- Doctrine and Covenants, 88:117


 

One of the Church's most significant departures from Native American Church doctrine and procedure involves the manner in which peyote is consumed. Instead of the group peyote meeting of the Native American Church (which involves a highly-ritualized ceremony in which group members perform prescribed actions within the context of fixed roles) the Peyote Way ceremony is a solitary, contemplative endeavor.

Called the "Spirit Walk" by the g Church, the ceremony is an act of self-contemplation in which the fasting communicant goes into the

wilderness alone with a supply of peyote, where he remains for the duration of his experience. In the context of the "Spirit Walk," peyote is seen by Church members as an essential ingredient in achieving the proper state of introspection and awareness necessary to properly evaluate one's life and actions.

Labeling the NAC's emphasis on ritual as "restrictive," Mana sees peyote's value as one of direct

experiential revelation: "Who knows your sins better than you?" he replied when I asked about the absence of ritual in the church's peyote service. "That's why we don't hold any big gatherings or big meetings. I'm not going to waste my time sitting around in a circle next to somebody who's praying for a Sears Kenmore washing machine.

Who needs that nonsense?"

Matthew elaborated on the Church's rationale for solitary peyote ceremonies by pointing out the limitations and distractions of ceremonies, no matter how well-intentioned. "Sometimes you lose the spirit of an action in a ritual," he said. "You wonder if you're doing it right, if you're holding the chalice right. And you wind up missing the target. You're off on the side somewhere."

Like Mana, Matthew argues that peyote's greatest benefit is its ability to produce a direct and immediate awareness of the relationship between God and Self-a relationship which he believes the church should not attempt to dilute by prescribing unnecessary ceremony and ritual.

"God is within you," he says, smiling pleasantly through a reflection of blue sky and clouds on the surface of his glasses. "You don't need a mediator. Everything is a reflection of His-Its- manifestations. Other than that we don't want to dictate solutions. If you've got a problem, ask God."

"Asking God" apparently takes in a lot of the spiritual ground that Peyote Way covers. Theologically, the church is a grab-bag of assorted ecclesiastical and metaphysical odds and ends, drawing heavily from a number of inspirational sources in addition to the obvious influences of the millennia-old peyote religion itself and its current practitioners in the Native American Church.

It's as though each member's personal philosophy is assimilated rather than replaced and, if you look closely, you II see any number of ingredients in the church's spiritual broth. You'll see a Zen-like absorption on the part of Peyote Way potters and hear repeated references to the work itself being a form of "active meditation." You'll ear Catholic canon and born-again fundamentalist zeal mingling in the same sentence with the jargon of pop psychology and Old Testament allusions to "Yahweh" and "Gentiles" and "Babylon."

But the most important single philosophical authority drawn on by the church in elaborating its own vision of things material and spiritual has been Joseph Smith, prophet and founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The church's Articles of Faith are posted conspicuously in the central meeting room and and Smith's Doctrine and Covenants serve as a rudimentary guide to conduct for church members.

But in talking to church members at length you begin to realize that "guide" is the operative word in the preceding sentence. You soon learn that while church members expect you to give a fair hearing to the precepts they've borrowed along the way-or at least not laugh out loud at their mention-if you don't believe, that's all right, too.

There are only a few rules which the church has laid down on which they appear to be more or less inflexible, and those include diet (no junk food, meat, alcohol, or sugar) and sex. "Sex is easy to cure," Mana will tell you. "No sex, no cohabitation outside of wedlock, according to the bylaws and points of order. Simple as that." He shrugs.

"It's also against the law in the state of Arizona."

But although the church is relatively inflexible on its rules, you also get the idea that they're not going to hunt down and maim anyone who might temporarily stray from the fold.

Explaining that Church structures provide only a point of departure for spiritual development, Mana is unconcerned with enforcing compliance among members. "If they follow our instructions they'll have a starting point," he says. "If they want to go out and do something else, that's their business."

Another self-imposed dietary law that church members have formulated is one of solitary dining. PWC residents take all meals-breakfast, lunch, and dinner-at their own time and place, with individual members preparing their own food. This rule came about, according to Mana, as a result of the belief that evolved in the church that eating is a vitally-important spiritual activity and should be regarded as such. "Food is the central sacramental activity of the day," Mana says. "Eating alone is essential to keep the sanctity of the individual together."

Another fixed star in the Peyote Way constellation is a belief in the essential rightness of work.

Church members work incessantly, usually from before sunrise until early evening. If you ask him about the church's emphasis on work, Mana will screw up his face as if it takes real effort to look up from the ceremonial wedding vase he's lightly sponging with an undercoat of color and he'll say, "Well, Jesus worked and He said His Father worked." Then he'll pause and go over a spot he missed the first time around. "I'll work with that."

What they work at at Peyote Way is to manufacture exquisite (and ultimately expensive) pottery in the style of an Indian tradition that dates far back into antiquity. Pottery -- cups and bells and dishes and urns and medallions and human skulls, for some reason -- is hand-crafted and hand-painted, baked in the church's kiln, and delivered to major Arizona department stores (the Goldwater chain has been a major outlet for PWC pottery for years).

Mana will tell you that the Pottery represents a continuation of a nearly-abandoned Indian tradition, and that the tradition is kept alive by the church's insistence on uncluttered lifestyle.

"We've got the time to sit and consider each unit that we do just as the Hohokams who made pottery centuries ago had the chance to sit down and consider the work they did. They didn't have to put up with the world you live in. In the world you live in, you couldn't do that workbecause of the stimulation involved. Here, we've eliminated the runaround. And the atmosphere is very similar, the food is very similar. We've toned down a lot of the actions, and if the pottery looks a certain way, it looks that way because the people that are making it are doing it a certain way."

But don't mistake the pottery for "art." And even if you do, Peyote Way people will be around to assure you that it isn't.

Arguing that "too much ego" is involved in being "an 'artist' " Richard described his role in the operation as a simple one: "There are certain techniques that Mana has developed that anyone can follow, that's all. But it's not 'art'."

The rest of the group agrees. Describing the group's pottery activities as "ritual labor," Mana brushes a speck of dried clay from the rim of a cup and says with an air of absolute finality: "We're not artists. There's nobody here who thinks they're an artist, producing inspired art."

But when questioned about matters of philosophy, Mana becomes evasive. And if you press him, he'll slither away with the grace under pressure of a worm sliding off a dissecting pin. When I asked, as an example of a "philosophical" question, what the church supposes happens after you die, I got a finger- in-the-lightsocket look of incredulity from Mana. "I'll tell you a everything you want to know about what I know," he said, shaking his head. "But I can't tell you about something I don't know. That would just be speculation."

I turned to Matthew. Okay, so what's the meaning of life, according to the Peyote Way Church? Who are we and what are we here for?

Matthew just smiled, an inscrutable American Buddha with a beard and glasses and a tam o'shanter. "We're different cups," he finally said, with an air of patient understanding. He picked up a clay wind bell and held it up to the light, examining it for flaws. "We're the same water poured in many different cups."

All the rest of the philosophy in the Peyote Way Church seems to be concentrated in the peyote itself. Oh, yes, there are Articles of Faith that Mana's handed down -- something about no celebration of birthdays. Christmas, Halloween, and Easter, and something else about no cruelty to children and animals-but the principle belief at the church is the first Article of Faith that Mana thought up a long time ago: "Peyote is a sacrament for all the children of the earth."

The attitude of church members toward peyote is clearly reverential, they generally refer to it as the "sacrament" or as "medicine," and cringe when you call it a "drug."

Church members will tell you when you ask that peyote's greatest spiritual benefit is that it forces users into an "examination of conscience," a solitary consideration of the nature of one's acts-and an unavoidable confrontation with oneself.

"The beauty of the Spirit Walk is that you're off on your own with your Creator," Matthew says, pointing out that this solitude can produce what he calls "a form of ego death- something not unlike our last minutes. But you get a rebirth with psychedelics. You get another chance."

Seeming to change the subject, he 'describes travels he's made through Central America and India, and mentions that death -- in the, form of dead animals and dead people -- is a highly "visible feature of life in much of the Third World. He shakes his head. "You don't have that here, ' so death loses its meaning. We forget about it. Peyote makes us remember." He smiles. "And every minute after that, you realize life is a miracle."


..And the devil shall gather together his armies; even the hosts of hell, and shall come up to battle against Michael and his armies.
-- Doctrine and Covenants, 88:113

The legal status of the church is a bit muddled at the moment, although the church appears to be absolutely legal in its home state of Arizona and in New Mexico, where another PWC chapter is located. You're told that the Arizona Controlled Substance Act specifically states that any bona fide religious use of the plant is exempt from the provisions of the law. Mana makes sure you get a copy of the statute. And you look it over and, sure enough, there it is: "In prosecution for possession of peyote, it is defense that peyote was being used in connection with bona fide practice of religious belief, that it was (an) integral part of religious exercise, and that it was used in (a) manner not dangerous to public health, safety, or morals."

So far, so good. The problem is that Texas is the natural habitat for peyote in the United States, and Texas law specifies that tot be a "bona fide" practitioner of a peyote religion, you must be a member of the Native American Church and at least 25 percent Indian. All of which creates something of a catch-22 for PWC:

While it's legal for church members to use peyote in their home state, it's not available there. And in Texas, where it is available, Peyote Way people are subject to prosecution for possession.

Which is exactly what happened in November, 1980. While on a pilgrimage to the local registered peyote merchant in South Texas to pick up a load of sacrament, three PWC folk were intercepted by Texas police. Although illegal possession charges against the three were ultimately dropped, the seized peyote was not returned by the state, the church howled long and loud that its members' free exercise rights had been infringed. After a good deal of grousing, the church was finally able to enlist the support of the Dallas chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union in bringing suit against the seizure and against the law's constitutionality on grounds of religious freedom.

While that suit was being prepared in Texas, Mana decided to try another tack to get the church out of the vise in which it found itself by officially requesting permission from the U. S. Drug Enforcement Administration to import peyote directly from Mexico. Believing that the church's unquestioned legal status in Arizona and its tax-exempt IRS status would grease some wheels in his dealings with the federal drug control agency. Mana

laid his proposal on the line in a number of long-distance calls to the agency. But he was unprepared for the response he got.

In a letter to the church dated March 4. DEA Director of Compliance and Regulatory Affairs, Gene Haislip ignited a shock wave at the church by opining that, in the DEA's eyes, the use of peyote by the church is not and never has been legal. Making clear the DEA's policy that "the domestic supply of peyote is adequate to satisfy the legitimate national need," Haislip went on to say that "the only legal way in which (Peyote Way) members may possess and use peyote is if your group is determined to be exempt from registration." Then to complete the official hammerlock, Haislip cited Title 21, Code of Federal Regulations:

The listing of peyote as a controlled substance in Schedule I does not apply to the nondrug use of peyote in bona fide religious ceremonies of the Native American Church, and members of the Native American Church are exempt from registration.

Mana was livid. In a an angry rebuttal to the Haislip missive, he argued that the federal government and the DEA "just cannot have a 'pet' race or a 'pet' religion," before advising Haislip that the church would comply with any request for documentation to certify its "bona fide" status.

The church sent along a good- sized package of paper to Washington the next day, and included by-laws, articles of incorporation, documents, certificates, letters, testimonials, and whatever else was in plain sight that members thought would look authoritative and lend credibility to the church in the eyes of the DEA.

When I asked him about the church's penchant for paper and for documentation, Mana looked at me with the kind of condescension that's usually reserved for a child who asks what holds up the sky. "We keep records religiously," he said after a long pause, "because if we don't keep records religiously, they're gonna make us un-religious real fast."


..Therefore, cease from all your light speeches, from all laughter, from all your lustful desires, from all your pride and light-mindedness, and from all your wicked doings.
-- Doctrine and Covenants, 88:121

And the night before you're to leave, Richard and Steve ask if you're going to try some of the tea and you're too curious or polite to decline-one or the other-so you choke down a cup of the most acrid, fetid-tasting brown slop you've ever choked down-and kept there.

And it's only a mild dose and you're glad because you have to drive home the next morning so you'll need to get some sleep. And there are no massive hallucinations-none of the electronic cartoon daydreams and metaphysical meanderings you remember of the purple haze and strawberry barrel acid you took long ago in your misspent youth. So instead you study the cartwheeling cosmos going through its paces on the other side of the full moon and you stare into your campfire and you examine your conscience, yes, and you consider the nature of your acts.

And you don't die, physically or spiritually, but you realize that you will someday, and knowing that and knowing everything else will die with you makes you close your eyes for a moment against too-much awareness. Then you see the rotating pinwheels of neon pulsating against your eyelids and you feel the warm pulse of blood inside your eardrums and you thank God or Yahweh or Peyote or whatever He -- It -- calls Himself that you ever made it here at all.


..Quotations of Chairman Mana

On differences between the Peyote Way Church and the cannabis-using Ethiopian Coptic Church:

You don't sell your sacrament, number one. You give it away, but you don't sell it.

On publicity:

We're not interested in getting our names in the papers. We are interested in our brothers and sisters who are involved with psychedelic substances as sacraments...giving them all of our by-laws and points of order, anything we can give them to help them start their own religion.

On sacramental use of other drugs:

I don't think you could take cocaine and sit down in one place and consider your actions. I think that you could sit down and smoke cannabis -- or drink cannabis, preferably -- and consider your acts. I believe you could examine your conscience in back of psilocybin.

On the church's adherence to by-laws and rules:

Sit down and think of everything you don't want to deal with write it out of your life. You'll find it a lot easier to deal with -- especially if it becomes law. This is what we've done. This is what we intended to do.

On his reasons for establishing the Peyote Way Church:

God is not racist. He doesn't have a favorite race. He doesn't have a favorite church. God is. And that's enough.

Besides, there were only a few people taking peyote in '48. But then, bam, LSD, marijuana -- da-da-da-da-da-da -- and we suddenly had a congregation running around that had no idea that they'd been baptized into a psychedelic religion. Because when you take any psychedelic, you're changing your consciousness -- whether you want to or not.

On recruitment of new church members:

We don't have to. We're so goddamn selective, we don't have to. Anybody who reads this article is welcome to write in...and ask for our by-laws and points of order and familiarize themselves with what we're about... But don't come out without realizing how heavy the commitment is. We don't want people who want to sit in a circle with feathers.

On America:

You see that flag flying up there, right? You understand the power of that thing? Well, it's big and strong and it protects your crazy head. And mine. Don't let the Gentiles give you crap.

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