Native American Church

Native American Church – Founded in Oklahoma in 1918 and creatively fusing elements recognizable from earlier indigenous religious traditions and movements of North America and Central America (especially those of the Huichol or Wixáritari) with elements of Christianity, the Native American Church attracts adherents from many Native American nations in both urban and reservation locations. It is sometimes described as “peyotism” because of the sacramental use of peyote buttons in purification and prayer. This is not to be confused with an encouragement of “psychedelic experience,” hedonism, or altered states of consciousness for their own sake. The church’s ritual teachings and practices are allied to a strong ethical and communal focus. Peyote is important as an otherthanhuman person and helper, sometimes identified with Jesus Christ, who aids people to restore respectful relationships and live appropriately (including without addiction to alcohol). Peyote is valued more for opening the “heart,” that is, as an inspirer of love and compassion, and the stomach, as a purifying purgative, than for any hallucinatory effects. The main ritualist or “road man” is sometimes compared to a shaman in the way he leads and serves his community. In rituals, the road man is supported by a number of other important officials, but all members of a local group are expected to participate fully in night-long meetings in which everyone is a participant rather than an observer. Thus, the church provides another example of a democratized form of shamanism, typical of Native America more generally.


Historical Dictionary of Shamanism by Graham Harvey and Robert J. Wallis 2007