- Name derived from the Nahuatl word peyotl for the buttons of a cactus indigenous to Mexico and the southwestern United States. Its ingestion is central to the rituals of the Native American Church and Huichol (Wixáritari) shamans. Academic and enthusiastic interpreters often privilege the vision-inducing or hallucinogenic effects of peyote, as they do with other plant and mushroom derivatives, and portray its emetic, vomit-inducing properties as an unfortunate side effect. However, vomiting is central to many shamanic rituals, purifying participants and preparing them for encounters with significant other-than-human persons, including adjusted styles of communication with the plant-persons themselves. Carlos Castaneda’s early books stressed the need for peyote’s help in achieving consciousness of other helpers who would aid one in seeking a good way to live. Louis Lewin published the first systematic study of the pharmacology of peyote in 1886, and included it among the “Phantastica” (rather than the “Inebriantia,” “Exitantia,” “Euphorica,” or “Hypnotica”) in his encyclopedic classification of drugs and psychoactives (Phantastica, 1924). The first English translation of Lewin’s book (1931) was read almost immediately by Aldous Huxley and had a considerable impact on him, resulting in years of experimentation in altering states of consciousness as a form of mysticism. Edward Anderson’s book (1996) publishes more recent research about the “divine cactus.”
Historical dictionary of shamanism. Graham Harvey and Robert J. Wallis. 2007.