TO SAFEGUARD THIS SACRED CACTUS AND DIVERSE CULTURAL TRADITIONS
In the late 19th century the ritual use of the vision-producing cactus spread northward and eventually to diverse Native American nations, where its medicinal properties as a panacea, and its transcendental spiritual effects were, and still are, considered to be nature’s gift to humanity. In Native American cultures and in Mexico, the shamans play a vital role as facilitators for participants to tap into the knowledge and healing powers imparted by the sacred cactus. These spiritual practitioners are the intermediaries between the realm of the creators, the ancestors and the human devotees, and guide the way to the acquisition of plant wisdom and life force from nature’s messengers.
Sadly, the catastrophic obliteration of many indigenous cultures in Mexico and the USA, where spiritual traditions were fiercely persecuted by the intolerant colonial Christian zeal against the indigenous people and their “diabolical root” led to government sanctioned ethnocide. This, and the relocation of tribes to reservations disintegrated many tribal ways of life and brought a tragic and traumatic end to many of their original shamanic peyotl traditions, eradicating many of the rituals, songs, dances and languages from memory. The oppression of shamans, visionaries, mystics and earth guardians who have channeled and safeguarded the wise messages of the plants for generations, in addition to the many who have been incarcerated for the sacramental use of these plants, are also the casualties in the government’s relentless war against nature.
DN recognizes that the persecution of indigenous peoples and nations in the past, the continual breaking of treaties back then and in the present, the on-going encroachment of native lands, and the poverty stricken quality of life on the reservations are all unconscionable assaults on the First Nations peoples of the Americas. We emphasize that the DN movement stands in gratitude and solidarity with the many generations of Native American people who have fought agonizing legal battles in decade’s long struggles to champion the cause to protect their precious traditions, their right to self-determination and religious freedom. The costly legal disputes were hard fought to win the constitutional right to practice their peyotl rituals, but in order to qualify for these protections it was necessary to create a church, a syncretistic blend of Christianity with indigenous traditions.
The ceremonial use of this highly revered medicine is central to the healing rituals that restore the physical and spiritual health of the worshippers. Under the guidance of a roadman (shaman), members of the church gather in teepees around a special fire and take part in rituals that include praying to the Divine, singing sacred native songs, drumming, performing water rituals, and burning cedar and tobacco for purification. This church now has over 250,000 native and non-native parishioners. The legal use of peyotl among this particular, nationwide religious institution is one of many ways, but not the only way, that humans engage in communication with the spirit of the sacred healing cactus. The medicinal and ritualistic use of peyotl by non-church and non-indigenous people is considered a criminal offense by the US and Mexican governments, but that has not deterred people from all walks of life, all over the world, from seeking ritualistic communion with the spirit of peyotl.
The DN movement has the greatest respect for the indigenous roadmen and shamans who are the tradition keepers, the singers and dreamers who dedicate their lives to healing their people with their leadership over their devout congregations. We strive to help strengthen the resolve of these spiritual leaders to continue to pass these revered engrained practices to future generations of their tribes and parishioners.
DN appreciates, but respectfully disagrees with, the position of some Native American leaders and others, who strongly suggest that the legal right to use peyotl should be exclusive to members of their nationwide religious institution and the affiliates of federally recognized North American tribes. They fought so hard to win the protections from the American Indian Religious Freedom Act Amendments to use, transport, propagate and distribute the plant, and would therefore put forth the idea that others who don’t fit the criteria of the law should be subject to federal prosecution for these infringements. But in fairness we must ask, what about the people who are not members of this church, both indigenous and non-indigenous, who were born into or had the calling to embark upon other spiritual paths, other non-Christian practices that have given them access to the powerful messages and healing properties of humanity’s ancient plant ally? For example, would that position place visiting shamans from the Wixárika tribe in Mexico in legal jeopardy if they were to come to the US to participate in educational and spiritual north-south inter-tribal exchanges, where they may lead or attend non-church ceremonies? And would non-indigenous attendees of these observances be subject to arrest by the DEA? Decriminalization of peyotl would resolve these incongruities.
It is therefore the position of the DN movement that the divine peyotl cactus does not belong to any one people, nation, tribe or religious institution. We consider it to be Mother Nature’s gift to all of humanity, and we are firmly committed to awakening humankind to the spiritual insights and important messages that peyotl teaches to the human custodians of this planet we all share and live on. However, we do indeed advocate for the protection of the peyotl traditions that are specific to each tribe or church, practices that must not be appropriated, copied, encroached upon or undermined by uninvited outsiders. Each cultural legacy is owned by those within the culture who practice it and pass it down, and it is up to them to decide if they wish to share or divulge their knowledge to invited guests or unwanted intruders.
While DN supports peyotl decriminalization, we are not supportive of people who would disrespect the spiritual integrity of this powerful healing medicine by attempting to commercialize it or use it for recreation. Guidelines must be enacted to ensure that this sacred cactus is utilized in healing settings where bona-fide medicine people or trained guides treat it with the highest respect so that it is not abused or misused.
DN recognizes that humanity owes a debt of gratitude to the indigenous cultures who have explored the many medicinal and transformative uses of this remarkable plant. Decriminalization would allow for the legal investigation of its beneficial psychotherapeutic and medicinal properties and for the discovery of even more attributes of this natural antiseptic and antibiotic. Research would add to the range of ailments that peyotl is already highly esteemed for among indigenous populations, such as curing addictions, cures for snakebites and scorpion stings, rheumatism, diabetes and many more. As for the benefits in the area of mental health, once decriminalized, peyotl may become a significant ally for facilitators and spiritual practitioners in repairing the psychological trauma experienced by veterans, abuse victims, and substance abusers; not to mention, in the wake of global pandemics for example, the multitudes of people suffering from depression and other conditions as a result of the unprecedented times we’re living in.
DN is aware of the great concern of Native American peyotl practitioners that decriminalization will create such a demand for this rare cactus that the endemic growing regions will be depleted, and there will not be enough for the continuance of their ceremonies for present and future generations. We understand this apprehension and we too have given this great consideration. After examining the pros and cons of the issue, we stand firm on our position that the only way to protect peyotl from extinction, is to decriminalize it in the US and Mexico. As things stand right now, peyotl is under threat of becoming extinct in all of its endemic growing regions. More than ever, there are clear warning signals that this dismal scenario is playing out in Mexico, and at this point can only be averted through a concerted unified effort on the part of Native American nations who utilize peyotl, and their southern counterparts in Mexico, the Wixárika people.
Now that the red flags are coming from the deserts south of the border, where the once abundant habitats of Mother Earth’s healing medicine are decreasing at an alarming rate, we must all come together and take action. This is a wakeup call from Mother Nature to promote unity and build trust between ALL.
peoples and nations whose spiritual practices revolve around the peyotl universe. International borders do not impede the forces of nature that propagate the domain of this healing cactus in all directions, for all peoples of the Americas to access their messages and healing powers. However, the bio diverse habitats of the San Luis Potosi desert are under siege, where the magical cactus that grows close to the desert floor is slowing being scraped away by many destructive forces, such as the mining companies, mega agro-industries, cattle ranchers, black market cartels who plunder and over-harvest for profit---not to mention spiritual tourism from the international community and their ignorance and lack of respect for the sacred medicine that grows on these consecrated lands.
DN recognizes that the protection of the Pan-American peyotl universe has reached a vital tipping point at this time, as it teeters on the edge of extinction. Decriminalization will allow for legal propagation outside of the traditional sites where peyotl grows wild and is harvested. Legal growth will put an end to black market sales, and replenish depleted peyotl gardens while creating new areas for propagation. Once it is decriminalized, there will be no reason for outsiders to invade the sacred gardens of south Texas or travel to the consecrated deserts of Mexico to have access to Mother Nature’s plant messenger. On the contrary, an understanding of how to replicate the biodiverse soil conditions, the companion plants, and other features of the endemic habitats where peyotl grows wild, will allow for propagation elsewhere, ensuring abundant access to the plant by Native Americans and others, while safeguarding of the precious peyotl plants and seeds for future generations.
DN advocates for the right relationship of people with peyotl, and promotes respect, reverence and gratitude for this sacred medicine and its age-old indigenous guardians. For this reason, an important component of the decriminalization process is incumbent upon informing the world about the deep insights inspired by those who have entered the portal to the peyotl universe and are experienced in navigating its sacred landscape. The shamans facilitate the revelations that unfold throughout the journey to this magical place of divine love, beauty and esoteric wisdom that emanates from the life-giving planetary source energy, and are well-ingrained into Native American and other peyotl traditions. Some of the tradition-keepers may want to share the wisdom they have learned so they may mentor non-indigenous people to create their own culturally relevant sacred practices and rituals, and to become stewards of nature, rather than destroyers.
Under the guidance of spiritual practitioners, these insights will allow people to tap into a reservoir of creativity, introspection, compassion, earth care, and a wellspring of knowledge about the meaning and purpose of our lives. Explorations of the metaphysical realms of the creators and ancestors make us aware of, and grateful to, the invisible forces of nature that sustain our lives. This awareness is transformed from the supernatural realm into the mundane world through art, music, poetry, songs, dance, language, stories and imagination, and defines our humanity. The creation of spiritual learning centers, libraries and living museums in areas within new and existing peyotl habitats, are ways to educate the world about the power of nature to heal us, sustain our communities and raise the quality of our lives. Now that the world is ravaged by pandemics, trauma, grief, greed, negativity, racism, division and discord, it is time to restore the equilibrium. We who are the guardians of Mother Earth must put our differences aside, and trust each other to walk hand-in-hand to allow the power of nature’s plant messengers to heal our bodies, our souls, our social ills and our life-giving planet.
--Decriminalize Nature National Board
The DN National Board would like to thank Susana Valadez for her extensive contributions to this writing. Susana is the Founder and Director of the Huichol Center for Cultural Survival and Traditional Arts, and a 2019 Nobel Peace Prize Nominee on behalf of the Center and the Wixarika people’s ancient peyotl traditions. In 1975, Susana was a 24-year-old UCLA graduate student doing research for her dissertation in the Wixárika (Huichol) homeland in Mexico. Her anthropological investigations into peyotl-inspired art led her to meet Wixárika yarn artist, Mariano Valadez, whom she later married and had three children with…Angelica, Rosy and Cilau. Their marriage embarked her on her 40+ year path of her life’s work to act as an advocate for this ancient tribe struggling for survival in the modern world, and for the protection of their sacred use of peyotl.