Syncretism in Peyotism and the Native American Church Your Full Name Your “A” Number The Name & Number of the Course The Name of your Instructor (The Date the Paper is Submitted) November 27th, 2013 Syncretism in Peyotism and the Native American Church The Native American Church is, as the name suggests, a native or indigenous religion that spread across different tribes and clans across North America…
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Peyotism is, essentially, the ingestion of the Peyote, a psychoactive, small, spineless cactus, for religious purposes. Peyote is native to certain parts of Texas and Mexico, and the tribes that settled there have been reported to use it for a long time. There are Inquisition cases that dealt with peyote usage as early as 1614 (Stewart 1980:300). Though there are many prevailing theories about the exact route through which peyote use came to the Native American tribes that were not settled in the regions were this cactus grows, however, this much is clear that the tribes that practiced peyotism taught the practice to either those they had captured, or took the religious practice with them even when they were displaced from their original settlements. According to Stewart, it was the Lipan who were primary contributors to the course that led to the founding of the Peyote Religion in Oklahoma (1974:218), and La Barre agrees (49). Slowly, but surely, peyotism spread; it took on many aspects of both traditional religious rituals of the Native Americans, along with amalgamating Christian themes within. La Barre states that as early as 1876, the Oto and the Sac were learning a Christianized version of Peyotism from the Tonkawa directly (as cited in Stewart 1974:216). Peyotism evolved and became what is now the Native American Church: a Christian church, with many Native American rituals. Just where the syncretism originated is not quite clear, but the fact remains that the members of this Church consider themselves to be practicing something that “incorporates distinctly Christian teaching and practices” (Feraca 2001:60). But the fact that most of their practices are frowned upon by the Catholics and the Protestants alike (La Barre 1960) for being incompatible with their practices clearly shows that there are some distinct native rituals that are practiced by this Church. Feraca maintains that at first glance, the paraphernalia used during Church meetings, both of the Half Moon and the Cross Fire sects, looks non-Christian (2001:61). The traditional beaded staff, the single-headed metal drum with three legs of the Cross Fire, and the peyote all are seemingly alien to Christianity, however, to Church goers they represent the walking staff of Christ, the three legs the Trinity, and the peyote itself is the host (ibid.). Similarly, the eagle, the turtle and the water bird symbols used by the Half Moon are considered to be the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit respectively (Ruby 2010:59). All these symbols, paraphernalia and rituals were part of the traditional religions of the tribes, but have now been amalgamated into a new form of Christianity that is practiced by the Natives almost exclusively. Emerson Spider, Sr., who was a Reverend of the Native American Church, when talking about this fusion put it so, “We are Indian people, and we still have some of our traditional ways…There are traditional things that we still have…because we grew up with them and we’re Indians” (1987:207). In his article about revitalization movements, Anthony Wallace states that revitalization movements take place when there is dissatisfaction amongst most of the population with the cultural
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