Buttons are not just for clothes…

Sitting on my knees for the fourth consecutive hour, I was shivering
from either the cold or the mescaline. I noticed the Shaman
distributing round two of the peyote dose, and my mind involuntarily
began to scramble for an escape. My heart started sinking as I
realized I was not going anywhere; the medicine man was going from
person to person, depositing the powder into the guests’ mouths,
whether they wanted it or not.
With or without psychoactive assistance, it is quite easy to get
overwhelmed by the richness of the Native American healing ceremony.
The one I attended took place in New York City. This territory is a part of NYC’s Native
American land, where the Peyote ceremonies can legally be held, as the
Peyote cacti is considered a “Religious Sacrament” and therefore
constitutionally protected under Freedom of Religion.

In modern culture, plants with psycho-active properties are associated
with hedonism and irresponsibility. Indigenous people, on the other
hand, use visionary plants for healing and spiritual communion. This
peyote cactus, a sacred medicinal plant that has been used for
thousands of years for visionary healing by Native Americans, had
somehow journeyed from the deserts of New Mexico and Arizona to here,
the concrete jungle, far away from home, a rare species in this cold
and damp climate.

Fortunately for me, I happened to be inside of the tipi that night. I
have participated in various healing ceremonies before, but never
experienced the peyote one. Prior to the prayer, women are usually
asked to clean the peyote buttons, separating the roots and the
flowers. The latter is used for making the peyote tea. The buttons and
powder that’s distributed during the ceremony has a quite nauseating
taste, but you get used to it as you experience it more.
The water drum, considered to be one of the most sacred and
spiritually significant drums in religious ceremonies amongst the
Native Americans, was pounding loud. Under the influence of the
psychedelic, it seemed to me to be a rhythm that was “ridding the
participants of their inner evils”. As another effect of the medicine,
millions of sounds and bits of colorful and bright energy were
floating around and above
me. A cacophony of rattles, eagle whistles, feathers and drums, used
to attenuate and harmonize the vibrations of the experience with that
of the positive energies of the songs and prayers, were washing my
mind in a synesthesia of sounds and visions that oscillated between
terrifying and blissful.

The participants of the ceremony gather and pray around the fire all
night, while a specially appointed fire keeper takes care of it,
forming various symbols out of the coils that are sacred to the Native
American people: an eagle, a star or sun with seven rays or no rays.
The fire is the center of the ceremony and is a symbolical
representation of the sun on earth. “We sit in a circle whenever
possible to remind us that we are all equal and united in the
ceremony, and that we are sharing the medicine and the moment to help
each other,” says Kuauhtli Vasquez who has been conducting Native
American ceremonies for over twenty years now. Requests for healing
medicine ceremonies have taken Kuauhtli all around the USA including
Hawaii, Mexico, Canada, Central America, South America, and Europe.
The ceremonies are usually structured to honor the elements of life:
fire, water, the earth, and the wind, the vital energies of human
existence. The specially grown sacred tobacco is used to communicate
with the spirit of life, the medicines and each other. And of course
the plant, sacred Peyote that has caused a lot of controversy in the
past but was finally legalized in the United States as a religious
sacrament of the Native American Church. Its active ingredient
mescaline typically has a deep self-observational and healing effect
on its users. A normal feeling of discomfort and sometimes purging is
associated with the healing process and tenderly called “getting
Praised by such great writers of the last half century as Carlos
Castaneda, Allen
Ginsberg and Hunter S. Thompson, peyote has been used by tribal people
for hundreds or perhaps thousands of years and has now made its way to
the 21st Century.
Unlike the modern day pharmaceuticals, plant medicines that exist in
different forms all around the world treat causes and not the symptoms
of both physical and psychological diseases. “People are constantly
healed of drug and alcohol
addictions, past trauma including sexual abuse and rape,” adds
Kuauhtli. By taking them on a journey through the depths of their
psyche, peyote forces people to reckon with themselves, and transcend
the past. “People are freed of past guilt for crimes they have
committed against humanity, war crimes are forgiven, family
relationships are mended, almost everyone can benefit.”

As the sun was coming up hot and bright that morning and the ceremony
was coming to its end, I found myself gripped by the feeling of
sincere joy and appreciation for my life. I felt like the worrisome
burden of my stressful New York City lifestyle was lifted up and I was
free to emerge into a new more expansive reality.
The medicine gave me an opportunity to take a huge leap in my own mind
and realize the social chains that needed to be broken in order to be
a creator of your own destiny. It taught me to look inside myself and
see the endless waves of creative forces, an ocean of ideas
that not only can make me a living, but also fulfill my ever searching

Since that first journey, I have returned for four more ceremonies.
Each time, my pride in belonging to the peyote community has
increased. As one side benefit, I have noticed the medicine having a particularly powerful effect amongst my
creatively minded friends. Artists, musicians, and writers tend to
find themselves creatively inspired after the use of the medicine. Perhaps the
plant has the ability to open invisible channels of inspiration and
unblock the existing artist blocks. Whatever it may be, I’m utterly
convinced that the medicine energizes and balances the human spirit with
the rest of creation, while working on the individual aspects of each
personal situation.

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