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
..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
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,
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:
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,
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
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,
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
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
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
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.”
“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
“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”
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,
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
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
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
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,
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,
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
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.”
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.
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
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
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.
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.