Peyote Sing


“What should I wear to the peyote party, Katie?”

“Rory, it’s not a party, it’s a religious service. Wear some nice clothes. Preferably all participants wear traditional dress and have taken a bath before attending. There are no other preliminary preparations, like fasting or sweating. I’m wearing my long dress.”

“The one you wore to Paula’s wedding?”

“Umm hmm,” she nodded.

“What about my hat, should I bring it?”

“Not inside the tepee. But a tie would be nice. Wear your Mickey Mouse tie.”

“I thought this was all solemn and shit. Why would I wear a Mickey Mouse tie?”

“Relax, its formal, but nothing is prescribed about what to wear. The tie will make the others smile for you. It would be like an indication you are relaxed about this stuff, sort of in the middle of too formal and not formal enough.”

“When does it start? How long does it last?”

“It starts at dusk, when the drumming begins, and the ceremony lasts until dawn. The meeting lasts for ten hours with only a single 10-minute break, and it unfolds in a rhythm of rituals: smoking tobacco rolled in corn husks; singing hymns in Diné to the pounding of a deerskin drum; eating peyote and drinking peyote tea passed around in bowls, three times in all.”

“Are there comfortable chairs, or couches to sit on?”

“This is not a place where you are supposed to be comfortable. Bring a stout pillow or pad, because your butt will get sore from sitting cross-legged on the ground all night.”

This is a layout of a typical peyote tepee. The semicircular alter looks like the big banana with Father Peyote in the Center. This layout seats thirty members. On crowded nights an extra inside circle is configured for the extra people. Omer Stewart. Peyote Religion.

“An entire night, sitting cross-legged in a tepee? That’s pretty arduous, don’t you think? Can I walk around?”

”Only at certain times. Fidgeting and inattention are signs of disrespect.”

“What if I have to pee?”

“You must be brave and patient, Baby.” She smiled at him. “I know you can do it. Others have gone before, you know…”

“Stop teasing me.”

“I’m not teasing, I’m trying to allay your worries.” She walked up to him, hugged him, and gave him a patient unhurried kiss. Her eyes were soft, her face relaxed. “I know you can do this, Rory. I’ll be with you all night, I’ll sit next to you.”

“All right,” he acquiesced

She smiled. “Ready to go?”

Mary snapped my picture before I went inside to sit down.

He nodded. “Let’s take the vet truck.”

“Sure.”

When they approached the truck she waited for him to open her door.

“Thank you sweetie,” she said when he realized it was time to be a polite fellow. He reached in front, opened the door, and helped her into the cab.”

“Have you ever had peyote before Rory?” He was settled in the driver’s seat, putting his seat belt on.

“No, but I was busted in high school for selling mescaline. I think the two are related.”

“They are. Peyote is a small, spineless cactus growing in Mexico along the Rio Grande. Mescaline is a hallucinogenic substance found within the peyote cactus. Mescaline can be taken from the cactus or created synthetically.”

“What does it do?”

“It’s hallucinogenic, I thought you knew about this. You took mescaline in high school.”

“I just sold it. I was too scared to try it, and got busted too soon to become comfortable with it. Anyway, I don’t think it really had illegal drugs in it. I think it was just a bag of cocoa powder.”

“And you were arrested for that?”

“Yeah, but I promised to be better, was sentenced to the two days I spent in jail already, and was released into the probation program.”

Here's the fire set in the middle of the half circle altar.

“I never knew you were a hardened criminal.”

“I’m not.”

“You’ve done time, my man,” she teased him.

“Two days in juvie hall, solitary confinement, Friday and Saturday. My Dad came and got me out Saturday afternoon. What are the rules of the ceremony tonight?” He wanted to change the subject. She knew it was bugging him, and she squeezed his hand and patted his arm.

“I’m glad you’re here with me, and I’m happy you’re coming to the ceremony. I love you, Rory.”

“Thanks, what does it do to a person, Katie, this all-night ceremony? There must be some substantial thing there… Why else would they sit around a fire in a tepee all night?”

“It’s the way we reestablish hózhǫ̨́́́́, Rory.”

“Tell me again what hózhǫ̨́́́́ is.”

“Hózhǫ́ is a universal flow, summoning feelings of well-being within us. These ceremonies offer a way for us to rebalance ourselves. The chants and rituals turn us inward, reminding us how to be respectfully supplicative, enough to cause hózhǫ́ to well up within ourselves.”

“So hózhǫ̨́́́́ is a feeling that just comes?”

“Yeah, hózhǫ́ is always around us. But sometimes one needs the ceremony and rituals to feel it, to bring it back. It comes to anyone when they are ready to receive it. You have to be thoroughly absorbed in what you are doing for this to happen.”

“So its simple concentration?”

“Yeah, pretty much but pushed to an extreme. The chaos of daily life tends to keep hózhǫ̨́́́́ away. Today it’s too easy to lose because people get brainwashed about what it is they want to do and what it is they should do. They become cogs in our cultural wheels and forget what it is they love.”

“Like what type of things?”

“Day to day stuff. Paying bills, cleaning up after kids, anything like that.”

“Oh yeah, like studying for board exams.”

“Umm hmm. The fire, the peyote, the tobacco, the chants, and the drums are tools to focus attention, it allows us to embrace emotion, to create a group swayed into enchantment, to suspend, for a moment, our cynicism and disbelief and become engrossed in another world.”

“It’s why I like to get high, too. I love other worlds. How is this peyote taken? Is it smoked, or what?”

“It is dried first, and then is finely cut with a knife. It can be chewed and swallowed, or made into a tea.”

“How is the place laid out?”

The fire in the center is central. It is sacred because there is nothing without fire. Fire represents the almighty focus. All life revolves around the central fire. Inside the tepee the fire represents the Great Spirit who created the universe.”

“This is Shooting Star Rd.” Rory pulled a stop at the end of O’Donovon Road.

“It’s the first opening in the fence on the left. Follow the dirt road up the hill.”

Rory found a spot, and parked the truck. He noticed dozens of cars and tents. “Wow, look at the license plates. Some people have come from Oregon, Utah, wow, and Nevada.”

“And a few have come up from Mexico. These are special ceremonies are, Rory.”

“What are the rules I need to follow? What should I expect to see, how am I supposed to act, what am I supposed to do?”

“The fire is in the center, remember?”

“Yeah…”

The tepee is laid out on an east-west axis. The door is on the east. When we enter the tepee we always travel in a clockwise direction.”

“Should I bring the stuff, is it time?”

“Not yet. We came early so I can show you the layout. Leave the pillow and water bottle here. We’ll come back in a bit for those. Are you ready for the house rules?”

“You mean tepee rules?”

“I guess,” she chuckled. “Crowbear is in charge. He is the main priest, and tonight, Xipe will be the cedar man, sitting on Crowbear’s left. Remember these things, sweetie: always walk clockwise inside the tepee; no one is to be excused ahead of the staff. You also cannot rise or leave while partaking of the herbs, while singing is in progress and while someone is praying.”

“No worries. I can whisper at you, so long as you’re going to be right next to me. Is that ok?”

She nodded. “Anyone can talk until the drumming stops. René is the fireman. He is responsible for the central fire, to keep the fire going and work the ashes correctly. He is also the doorman, responsible for conducting people in and out of the ceremony. As participants enter the sacred space, there is a specific order of entering, starting with the chief, then Tal, the drummer, the cedar man, all men, then all women and children and lastly René.”

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Peyote Sing, Chapter 7

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