From article, In a world of prayer-hands emoji and lite spirituality, it is easy to feel distant from the sacred. It may even be hard to recognize what is sacred. For members of the Native American Church, however, this is not an issue. To its estimated 500,000 followers, peyote (Lophophora williamsii) — a diminutive, spineless cactus that grows exclusively in southern Texas and northern Mexico — is not only sacred, it is essential to their religious experience. In fact, “Peyotism” is another name for the religion itself, the most widespread movement among North American indigenous tribes.
A Brief History of the Native American Church
Veneration of the small spineless cactus called peyote probably began immediately after the first hunter-gatherers discovered its remarkable effects. The Native American deification of the plant is estimated to be about 10,000 years old. Peyote buttons uncovered in Shumla Cave in southern Texas have been radiocarbon dated to 5,000 B.C. The Huichol Indians of northwestern Mexico still use peyote sacramentaly. Their peyote pilgrimage may have been in place by 200 A.D. Scholars consider it the oldest sacramental use of peyote in North America.
Navajo Peyote Use: Its Apparent Safety
An American Indian religion uses significant quantities of peyote, a hallucinogenic plant containing mescaline. Since there have been many reports of serious emotional disturbance caused by similar drugs, the rate of such illness in this population was investigated. The rate was found to be very low, probably because the feelings evoked by the drug experience are channeled by church belief and practice into ego-strengthening directions and there are built-in safeguards against bad reactions.