The Church Of Father Peyote
Carl A. Hammerschlag, M.D.
from: The Dancing Healers,
Harper & Row, San Francisco
©Carl A. Hammerschlag 1988.
The first time I attended the church of Father Peyote, I got
quite sickand I was only sitting outside listening to the
music. They passed some tea around. I tried it and became
I thought that was the end of my relationship with Father
Peyote. There was no way that I would sit up all night just to
get sick. On that first visit to a Native America Church meeting
in 1965, I did not realize that the process it offered was not to
be taken lightly. It took me ten years to make a return visit,
but now the church has become a place of healing and
enlightenment for me.
To the believer, peyote constitutes a sacrament, not a drug.
Peyote has absolutely no recreational aspects for the church
participants. You must come to peyote as to truth, in an attitude
Let me explain at the outset that in matters of the Peyote
Church, I am a guest who has come to dinner; that does not make
me an expert on the entire family. I know what I have seen, and
there is much I don't know. I go as a fellow traveler. I don't
bring friends to observe the colorful ritual. This is a sacred
time to me and to every other participant in the service.
The most spiritual place I know is the tipi of the Peyote
Church. I used to go to synagogue on the high Jewish holidays,
but I can no longer feel the presence of the spirit in a group
larger than forty.
Indians have a very different concept of where you worship.
The whole Earth is the temple. Any place you stand is a church.
The tipi is a nestling enclosure on the Earth Mother's breast, a
place of sharing among a small group. Here each can worship at
his or her own time, as the heart directs, in his or her own
I sing my Jewish songs in the tipi, and I wear my father's
prayer shawl, the one he wore at his bar mitzvah in Germany. My
Indian friends say that it does not matter in what language you
sing; there are always at least two people who understandyou
and the Creator.
The first time I sat before the coals in the tipi I saw
crematorium ashes. I do not see them as such anymore. I have
allowed myself to become liberated. I understand that I am flawed
and imperfect, so it's okay to feel small and weak. I am freer of
the domination of those fears.
The more you work with the mind, the more you realize you
can't know it. The more you seek to touch your spirit, the more
you realize that you must enter some altered state of
consciousness to burst free of the conventional limitations of
flesh and rationality. This is what the Peyote Church is about.