Modern Sweat Lodge using a wood frame and canvas covering.
God Bless Colin Kingfisher, the Road Man that showed me how to sing.
Enlarging my Spiritual Life
Over the years I have always had some concept of God in my life, and various forms of spiritual practice, or religion if that word works better for you. I will always be grateful for my AA experience because it not only taught me how to grow closer to God, but also assured me that my long term freedom from alcoholism is dependent upon enlarging my spiritual life.
Learning of scientific research involving LSD and other hallucinogens to achieve the "entire psychic change" that the AA program requires and induces to achieve long term freedom from the insane idea that someday I could drink like normal people do. My journey with peyote began when a fellow AA member invited me to join him at a sweat lodge held frequently on the Salt River/Pima Reservation in Arizona and the experience opened a new dimension to me. At the time I did not know that the man conducting the ceremony was also a peyote roadman, I now believe that was no coincidence, it was just part of the path that soon led me to The Peyote Foundation in Kearny, Arizona. I became a resident and was there during the January 1999 raid.
Reflections on my experiences with peyote.
It has been many years since I participated in a tipi ceremony so I will do my best to recall everything, please forgive any omissions or inaccuracies. The most formal ceremony lasts from sunset to sunrise and is usually held in a tipi and begins days ahead of time with preparations. These include gathering of firewood specifically sized at about 5 feet long split into 3 to 5 inch wide sticks that are carefully piled in a wooden rack near the tipi site. The round tipi site is carefully leveled and smoothed to remove stones and pebbles in an open area far enough away from trees to avoid combustion from sparks. The tipi itself is composed of canvas stretched over long wooden poles and the door is always oriented to face east. There is a specific number of poles used and they are erected in a specific order. There are various sizes used according to the expected attendance and the process of preparing the ground and erecting the tipi usually takes all of a day. Once the tipi is up the next step is the making of an alter by the "Road Chief" or commonly "Roadman" inside that is made with soil and usually shaped in a crescent shape in the center of the tipi. The Roadman is the person that conducts the ceremony and he is assisted by a drummer and lead singer, a fire man, a door man, a cedar man, a water woman and possibly one other responsible for helping the door man to keep the area around the fire clear.
The peyote is called "medicine" and is prepared ahead of time in three different ways. Fresh peyote is very rare so it is usually provided as dried "buttons" that are ground into a powder. A tea is also made and this is used to help consume the dry powder. The powder is a bit like sand and both tea and powder have a taste exceedingly offensive. All of these preparations are done ahead of time. Also prepared ahead of time is a special piece of wood called a "fire stick" that is selected according to slow burning characteristics of the wood and round shaped about 3 inches in diameter by about 2 feet long. Often this stick is decorated with colorful designs. Sometimes the water drum is also prepared ahead of the ceremony.
To make a water drum the drummer uses a cast iron "bean pot" that has legs on the bottom filled about 1/3 with water. An animal skin is stretched over the top and secured by wrapping round stones around the edges and a continuous rope encircles the stones in a specific pattern using the legs of the pot as anchors. The actual pattern of wrapping and stretching is chosen by individual drummers and I have watched them work up a sweat during the arduous process. Throughout the night the drummer may add water by pouring it onto the surface followed by forcing air into the drum using his mouth. A single drum stick is used in a constant steady rhythm on the stretched wet animal skin but the tone changes as the pace quickens or slows and when the drummer pauses briefly to tip the drum and re-wet the animal skin. The effect is remarkable and requires great skill and stamina to keep doing this all night until dawn. Occasionally an alternate drummer may be permitted, but on the whole only one person has this duty.
The primary instruments used all night are the water drum, gourd rattle and staff. Usually the drummer is the same person all night and moves with the staff and gourd around the fire as each participant sings a set of four songs. The Road man also has a few special things used at different times during the night. These will include a very large and colorful feather fan, an eagle bone whistle, a "grandfather" peyote button and may include a variety of other ceremonial objects particular to the "fireplace" of each Roadman. The "fireplace" is a specific ordination passed from one to another qualified person within the Native American Church tradition. There are two general types with a variety of attributes specific each fireplace. I have only attended the "Half Moon" type with a variety of Road Chiefs and the other type is called "Cross Fire".
Participants are encouraged to fast at least for the a day ahead and the ceremony begins at sundown. First into the tipi are the fireman and door man followed by the drummer, lead singer, cedar man, roadman and his family which often includes his wife who serves as the water woman. No furniture is used, blankets surround the inside wall and participants supplement this with their own blankets and often pillows. Standing is discouraged and there is only one direction to walk around the fire that is the center. Participants file in and sit on the ground until everyone is seated. The fireman is near the door and has been carefully tending the fire with the sticks piled in a specific order shaped like a "V" with the fire itself confined to the point of the V. His job will go on all night sweeping keeping the ashes and coals in order and feeding new sticks from the pile outside.
When everyone is seated the roadman will begin with a welcome and talk a little about the purpose of the ceremony and provide some instruction about what is expected from participants. We are expected to stay seated and to not interrupt anything as the night progresses. Corn husks and tobacco are passed around the circle and each person rolls a "smoke" using these but none are lighted yet. When everyone has completed rolling the roadman instructs everyone that this is a point of no return. If they choose to use the fire stick and light the tobacco they are committing to stay in the tipi all night and agreeing to only leave when given permission by the roadman. It is a very solemn moment and sometimes the water woman will provide further details about how important this decision is. Now is the time to leave if you are unsure or unwilling to agree and commit!
The fireman has put one end of the fire stick into the fire and now it is passed around the circle with each person using the glowing end to lite their smoke. This is the time when the intentions each has are set in a prayer that is expressed by the smoke and a couple of group prayers are performed by the roadman. The cedar man tosses cedar into the fire and at some point everyone tosses their smoke in also. Then the singing begins with the lead singer doing at least one set. The singer will kneel on one knee holding the staff in one hand and the gourd rattle in the other. Many participants will join in the singing. When one singer has completed a set of 4 songs the staff and gourd will be passed to the person sitting next to him and the drummer will move to that place. Everyone is encouraged to sing but I was never able to remember 4 songs so only "sang along" with the group. During this time the singing will pause at some point and peyote will be passed around the circle, powder and tea, and everyone is encouraged to have at least a spoonful of powder and cupful of tea. This will be repeated from time to time throughout the night.
The next thing that is common to all ceremonies is called "midnight water" and this is when the singing stops and the water woman leaves the tipi to bring a vessel of water that she first prays over with a "smoke" and is then passed around the circle for everyone to have some. This also about the time many people will begin to "get well" which means the vomit, sometimes violently, onto the ground directly in front of them. One of the doormen goes around with a flat tip shovel and collects the vomit to deposit it in a special place outside. There are pauses of silence and more singing until at some point the roadman will pause everything and go outside to blow his eagle bone whistle. No one is talking, all are staring intently into the fire. The only movement is the fireman stoking and tending the fire. Finally the roadman will come back in and often calls for a break so that everyone can go outside and stretch their legs or use the toilet. Everyone is reminded of their agreement and admonished not to wander away! By this time the effect of the peyote is quite strong and when we re-assemble inside the tipi a new unity is experienced. We feel very much one body involved in a holy experience and despite the discomfort of sitting still on the ground for hours most are smiling.
Some are not smiling at all, rather some will be suffering greatly and sincerely desire to quit the ceremony and exit the tipi. It is my belief that these are the ones that came with wrong intentions and were not honest at the beginning during the "first smoke". Only rarely are these permitted to leave for a couple of reasons. First for their safety because wandering around in the dark alone may be dangerous but also so that they will have a chance to "get well" by consuming more peyote, praying, being prayed over or possibly vomiting if they haven't yet. Often this works and the suffering one is found joyful and content when the sun comes up.
The ceremony concludes with specific food brought in by the water woman after the sun is up. Everyone relaxes and may then exit the tipi. The fire smolders and the embers have been arranged into the shape of a bird. The decorated fire stick has been presented to the sponsor of the ceremony. The tipi will be taken down that day but the alter may be left to decompose or be rebuilt for the next ceremony. A phenomenon I observed post ceremony is that the officers would usually stay in the tipi for a long time casually joking and enjoying each others company. Rank and file participants were discouraged from this and in fact I noticed many would become isolated and almost zombie like during the following hours. Another observation following one meeting attended by a good number of native Americans was that they had brought along white bread, mustard and bologna for their breakfast following the meeting and they promptly exited the tipi to consume that inside the guest house. I know I have missed many things, but this is what I can recall about the ceremony.
The semi-formal Sweat Lodge is very different except that the same songs are sung usually only accompanied by the gourd rattle, though sometimes a water drum would be tied it was a lot of trouble for a semi-formal ceremony that doesn't last all night. The fireplace is outside a rounded structure of much more casual design, more like a mound or hump than a tipi. The fireplace is built outside the east facing door using heavier logs and large stones are layered in between each row. The fire is ignited at sundown and as the wood burns down participants sit around outside in a vary casual manner. Usually there is no peyote involved but sometimes it may be in a more casual individual way.
The ceremony proceeds in 4 "rounds". In the first round everyone goes in through a raised flap in the doorway and sits on the ground. The roadman is seated at the western side, across from the door and issues instructions for the doorman to begin placing stones into the center. As the hot stones come in they are sprinkled with cedar, sage and or tobacco. Sometimes anise or copal are used too. When a few stones have been placed the roadman calls for the door to be closed and the ceremony begins. Often only the roadman rolls a "smoke" using corn husk and tobacco with anise sprinkled into it and after lighting it the smoke is passed around for each person to pray with but in a more formalized setting each participant may roll their own before entering the sweat lodge. In many cases there is no smoke at all and possibly tobacco will be sprinkled on the hot stones instead.
During a round the gourd is passed to each person and if they don't have or want to sing 4 songs it is passed to the next person. As the singing progresses the roadman sprinkles water on the hot stones thus increasing the feeling of heat and inducing heavy sweat from all. After everyone has had a chance to sing the roadman may say a prayer or sing and then call for the door to be opened. As the steam escapes a great relief is felt but not for long as soon the roadman will call for more hot stones and then order the doorway covered again. In the hot dark steamy space the singing begins again and again water and incense is sprinkled on the stones.
After 4 rounds and a final prayer the door is opened and participants are allowed to leave or stay as they so desire. Many exit for the relief but a few will recline and enjoy the remnants of heat from stones. This is a general description of a type common to peyote roadmen, there are many variations and the idea of using heat to induce sweat is practiced among many cultures in various forms for all of history.
The casual use of peyote is sometimes done by people seeking the mescaline psychedelic properties but the reality is that the plant is so bitter and so much is required that this is not a realistic expectation at all. On the other hand, I have found that a small amount of fresh peyote held between cheek and gum can provide invigoration for work that is otherwise unpleasant, such as harvesting and preparing wood for a ceremony for example. As it is a stimulant it can be used to maintain wakefulness with no other side effects, somewhat like caffeine in coffee. I am unaware of anyone ever overdosing or becoming addicted to peyote, or even mescaline. I have seen a few have a bad experience, but as mentioned earlier I am convinced this has more to with bad intentions or dishonesty than any toxicity. I do recognize peyote as God's gift of a medicinal plant worthy of my respect and gratitude.
Next I want to share an article about The Peyote Foundation, a communal living space I occupied for about a year until the January 1999 raid. After this there will be more about my experience at the foundation, a trip to Mexico to learn more about Huicholes and other significant events around this time.
L to R: Raven, Moses and Leo Mercado: Home destroyed by raid yet no charges laid.
Leo and Raven Mercado’s Peyote Foundation in Kearny, Arizona was battling government officials over their right to grow and possess peyote cacti for religious purposes.
The Mercados, their friends and their cacti had been subjected to years of harassment, including seizure of peyote, arrest, political persecution, and brutality. Still, they had built a network of Native American Church members, entheogen experts and spiritual seekers who helped make their rural Arizona homestead into one of a handful of sacred sites of refuge for peyote cacti.
Peyote is classified as a hallucinogen, but it is not generally considered a recreational drug. Peyote has been used medicinally and religiously in North America for several hundred years before being criminalized in the United States in the early 1900’s. In Canada, it is completely legal to grow and use peyote.
Current US laws purport to guarantee special groups of citizens the right to use peyote. Yet in many states, possession of any amount of the cacti for any reason is considered a serious felony, comparable in judicial penalty to that for large-scale marijuana cultivation.
Peyote raid, 1995
The Mercados know about the war on peyote only too well. In 1995, a group of armed Pinal County authorities descended on the Mercado’s home, machine-guns in hand, and confiscated 1,000 plants (see CC#13).
They also terrorized the Mercados and their children, leaving their home a shambles. International protests convinced the county attorney to return the Foundation’s plants, but many of the cacti had died.
Since then, Mercado has been subject to ongoing persecution, including the seizure of a sacred “grandfather” cacti. When he demanded return of the cacti, he became involved in a tug of war with the new county attorney, who had made his predecessor’s return of peyote to Mercado a campaign issue.
Last year, Mercado lost a court fight to have the grandfather cacti returned. A local judge ruled that the Mercados were not protected by Arizona and federal laws that allow peyote possession for spiritual purposes.
“We do not believe that these courts are capable of rendering fair decisions,” Raven said. “The core issue is that the government is trying to tell us what our spiritual beliefs are. We accurately state that we are religious users of this plant. We are members of the Native American Church and are fully covered by both state and federal religious freedom laws, but the government will not believe it.”
Bona fide religion
Raven explained how after Leo challenged the county’s right to confiscate the grandfather peyote, the county hired a Navajo Indian politician who was an alleged member of the Navajo Native American Church to testify against the Mercados.
“He has never met us, never asked us what our spiritual practices are, never talked to our friends or ceremonial partners,” Raven said. “But he has the temerity to come here and tell us, as if he is an expert witness on the state of our hearts, that we are not bona fide members of a church. He tells the court that we aren’t good enough to be members of the church, that he knows who is and isn’t qualified to participate in this holy sacrament. And the county judge takes his word for it.
“We have ceremonies with Native American Church members and we share sacrament with them. But the judge ruled that Leo had no right to possess his grandfather peyote button.”
Raid and destruction
Apparently empowered by the judge’s ruling against the Mercados, the Pinal County Multi-Jurisdictional Narcotics Task Force came to the family’s home on January 8, 1999, to serve an arrest warrant because Leo was in alleged arrears on a child support payment.
Leo Mercado said that he shares joint custody with his ex-wife and that she did not ask the government to collect child support from him.
“A child support warrant isn’t usually served by the Narcotics Task Force,” Mercado said. “This was not about child support. They came with a team ready to dismantle the Foundation and steal our sacrament.”
Officers handcuffed, arrested or detained the Mercados, their eight-year-old son Moses, and several Foundation volunteers. They then declared that the entire property was under seizure, even though they had no warrant for a search of the property. A warrant was later obtained, but Mercado says that the timing records on the search and seizure forms indicate that most of the seizures took place without legal authorization.
The Mercados and their friends were forced off the property at gunpoint, and were not allowed to seek legal counsel or notify allies. They were denied access to their home and belongings, even though this meant that Moses was forced to stand shivering in the night air dressed only in t-shirt and pants.
Leo was taken to jail. While he was scraping together the child support payment, members of the Native American Church were contacting Pinal County authorities to advise them that the Foundation was a bona fide church and that they would take control of the peyote, which is authorized by law.
Officials refused to even acknowledge evidence of bona fide peyote use, and the next day began to destroy the gardens where Mercado grew cacti. According to Raven, officers drove trucks over the sacred tipi and fireplace sites, then ripped 11,323 plants from the ground, threw them into trucks, and drove away. Agents also confiscated or mishandled numerous other items having absolutely nothing to do with peyote, Raven said, including family photo albums, sacred Huichol art, textbooks, clothing, sanitary napkins, money, sleeping bags, crystals and prayer devices.
“Our home, ceremonial sites, sacred gardens and personal possessions were crushed and destroyed by this raid,” Mercado said. “It is most unfair because the police get to come here, steal everything precious to us, run us off our own land, destroy what we love and hold dear, and we have no recourse since they haven’t charged us with anything. Unless they do, we will never get our day in court so that we can go up through the court system and establish that we are legal users of peyote.”
Why did authorities choose to conduct the raid?
“The current district attorney thinks peyote is a recreational drug,” Mercado said. “He obviously has no idea about anthropology or ethnobotany. It’s anything but recreational. Our use of peyote is no more recreational than a Catholic going to confession. Seizing cacti as if they are illegal is like seizing bread and wine used in communion.”
Mercado bemusedly explains that the county prosecutor apparently suspects the Foundation is making money selling peyote.
“It’s really laughable that they came in here apparently trying to accuse us of racketeering, like the Foundation is a criminal enterprise through which we sell peyote and make a living,” Mercado said. “We are a church living on shared resources and community values. They seized all the money we had, about $117. They even took two dollars out of our donation jar. That’s all we have. The food we eat is donated. The wood we use in ceremony we cut at the river. We live on faith and prayer.”
As the Mercados await news on whether the government will return the Foundation’s precious cacti and Leo’s computer, they rely on the peyote religion for strength.
“They can file charges any time. They can come back and threaten us with guns, rip us from our children. We always have lived under threat and terror. But we believe in a spiritual world that somehow governs what happens here,” Raven explained.
“Somehow, in all this suffering, Creator is bringing about a higher consciousness. Our family is growing. People are turning against the drug war. We will go through hell in the short term, but in the long term, we have our hearts fixed on the sacred Huichol land of Wirikuta, where sweet dreams and justice prevail.”
Moses, Leo’s eight-old-son, is growing up with nightmares and learning to distrust his government.
“I feel bad about what those men did to my family and the cactus,” he said. “I wanted to tell them to stop hurting us, but I was scared. I get scared whenever I see them, because all they do is hurt things.”
Over the course of 1998 through 2000 I participated in many Tipi and Sweat Lodge ceremonies, consuming vast quantities of peyote at times and very little or none at all at some. I learned a lot and will never regret those times. It has been many years since I attended any ceremonies, not for lack of opportunity but just that I know too much about it already and don't really want to know any more. Peyote is still and most likely always will be a key part of my enlarging spiritual life.
I have remained close in spirit with my brother Leo and these days he is still working to conserve and protect Peyote. To learn more please visit https://thepeyotelorax.com with an open mind and heart.
I spent a month in Tepic, Nayarit, Mexico in 1998.
Some of the people I had come to know talked about the Huichol tribe in Mexico they called "The last intact Pre-Colombian Indian Tribe in North America". Leo and Raven both had some of the colorful clothing and a some of the art produced by them was around the houses at the ranch. At some point the idea of traveling there for a visit was introduced and I decided to go to learn more. A fantastic journey commenced in late March and concluded in late April of 1998.
My companion was Kevin, an openly homosexual man but he was always respectful of my heterosexuality and I liked him so I covered most of our costs, which were not large anyway. We received detailed instruction from Michael Brown, a respected member of our "family" and contact info for a some friends in Tepic, which is Nayarit, Mexico. Michael suggested we take a bus from the border to immerse ourselves in the culture as we traveled.
We were dropped off at the border in Nogales, a town south of Tucson and easily obtained our visa's on the same day. Walking into Mexico everything instantly changes and it was both frightening and exhilarating. In hindsight I wish I had learned to speak and understand Spanish as it would have been less stressful, but many Mexican people have a basic English capability so we got by. We found the bus station and got our tickets for the 24 hour ride deep into Mexico.
I was surprised at how well appointed the bus was. The seating was comfortable, there were curtains on the windows and little TV's at each row that ran a continuous stream that included several American movies with subtitles. Our fellow passengers were all Mexicans that spoke very little English. They were "country" people that lived on ranches and farms for the most part. Everyone was very friendly and we felt welcome and safe. Every few hours the bus would stop at a roadside business primarily serving food but also with some convenience store type items that travelers would buy. These stops were also the toilet breaks and the toilets usually had a poor local sitting nearby selling toilet tissue by the square. I think it was one peso per square, so it took several pesos to get enough to be useful.
24 hours is long time to be trapped on a bus ride, but the experience did in fact make us more comfortable in such unfamiliar surroundings and immersed us into the "real" culture of Mexico which is very different than the violent gang activity that is shown on USA news. The "real" Mexican people are very friendly, kind and sociable. They are fond of our dollars! Mexican culture is strong on families and very musical. Musicians are on nearly every corner in city plazas and restaurants. Authentic Mexican food is amazing and delicious. Most of it is locally sourced and very fresh. There are massive central marketplaces populated by hundreds of small family businesses selling everything imaginable, but especially farm fresh food. The roads are poorly marked, narrow with frequent potholes and many hazards. Among the hazards are "safety" stops for private cars where people in uniforms collect small fees for their "service". This another advantage of traveling in the bus, we were not bothered at these stops very much at all.
When we arrived in Tepic my first priority was to find a hotel with a shower and bed. Soon we were checked in to a clean but modest lodging in a room with two beds for just $11 USD per night. We had been given two contacts to make there. One was at a local vegetarian restaurant owned by a friend and the other was at a ranch in the country owned by an American. Our goal was to meet Huichol people and we hoped to attend a ceremony. The country ranch owner had a good relationship with the local Huichol people and was building a traditional ceremony round-house called a "calihuey" on his property. We wandered around Tepic for a couple of days while the restaurant owner made arrangements for us to go out to the ranch.
The ranch was a few miles into the country via a decrepit winding road. We road one of the local buses to a stop very near it and walked about a half mile the rest of the way. There were coffee trees, avocado trees, and a variety of fruit trees on the ranch. The family lived in an adobe structure with a dirt floor. There were water tanks on the roof that were periodically filled by the local water company. A pipe was rigged up from the rooftop tanks to a spigot over a drum and this was where dishes were done and water obtained. There was a single electrical bulb hanging on the porch and the toilets were two outhouses built over holes in the ground. If you have ever used an outhouse then you know what the can of ashes near the seat is for!
There were also a couple a rough structures that had no electricity or water, just some rough cots to spread our bedding on. There were a LOT of bugs everywhere and many of them would sting or bite us for the first few days. After a time we developed some kind of immunity so didn't suffer as much. The family had a pet pig that roamed freely in and out of their house and we were told to go ahead and dump whatever was left of our meals on the ground so the pig could eat it. Talk about culture shock! I only lasted a few days and decided to go back to the hotel in Tepic where there was running water, a flush toilet and a bed.
One day I was out wandering and met a very pretty girl that spoke English well and enjoyed a nice lunch with her. Reflecting back on this it occurs to me that she may have been a high end prostitute because when she figured out I was there to attend a Huichol peyote ceremony and didn't have a lot of money she lost interest. I was much more focused on learning more about the spiritual journey than her anyway, so it was no big deal, just a nice experience. Kevin had stayed on at the ranch and was coming and going finding his own experiences of the sort I had no interest in.
Finally one day we got word that we could visit a local Huichol community in the city. There we met "Juan Jose", a community leader and medicine man called the Mara'a kame (sounds like mara kaam a) and made arrangements to sponsor a ceremony. Part of the sponsorship involved buying some of the "yarn art" the Huichol are famous for. They use thin wooden boards coated with beeswax and apply multiple colors of yarn in elaborate psychedelic designs. Juan Jose made some of them and also had some from other artists. We chose a few and paid an exorbitant sum for them, but this included his fee for conducting the upcoming ceremony so we complied.
A few days later we arrived as planned late in the afternoon and visited with him a while as he laughed, told stories and tried to sell us more of the art while we sat in chairs outside his house. The Huichol village was not very modern with pot holed mostly dirt roads, no sidewalks and very little electricity. The houses were wood shacks or adobe with dirt floors except the leaders was a bit more luxurious with concrete floor and bigger than most, though still primitive compared to modern building standards. There were a select few buildings that served as shops selling things like what might be found at a fast food store. Our order for supplies had to go through one of these and included a large volume of alcohol, commercial beer and tequila.
After our time with the Mar'a kame we went to the ceremony yard where a large round building "calihuey" with thick adobe walls and un milled pine beams supporting a roof of possibly palm tree leaves or something similar. The construction included a hard bench for seating all around the inside wall. There was an elaborate alter set up with elements for the indoor part of the ceremony, amid stacks of commercial beer and tequila. In the yard outside was a small animal house where the sacrificial calf was confined. Despite repeated warnings Kevin was caught smoking marijuana and a big joke was made of locking him up in that little house with the calf for hours! After he was finally let out he told me he had been very frightened that he was to also be sacrificed when they killed that calf.
At sundown the ceremony got under way inside the calihuey, without Kevin, and after some brief prayers and a song a glass of "corn beer" was passed around for everyone to take a small drink of. I did not swallow but did get a taste and it was awful. Then the drinking of commercial alcohol commenced with vigor. No peyote was offered so I ate some that I had brought with me. For the next several hours I watched about 30 Huichol people, men and women, get so drunk they began to pass out on the bench and floor. Someone told me that they considered this another way to reach a state of conscientious that enabled them to enter the spirit world much the same as when they used peyote to do so. I was truly amazed and resolved to stay awake for the duration, and with the help of peyote I had brought was able to do so.
Late into the night, and after most of the people had passed out or gone home, the Mara' kame and a few helpers brought the calf out for the ritual sacrifice. They were all very drunk by now and the knife they used to cut the calf's neck was very dull. It was a dreadful mess that took far too long and I was horrified by it to the point that I walked away.
I did meet a very nice young man named Emilio who managed to stay less drunk than most and he took me to his house to meet his family and see his yarn art. He had one unfinished piece that he completed for me and I also purchased several more of various sizes. Emilio's prices were substantially lower than Juan Jose's and upon his passionate request I decided to help him get an Artist Visa so that he could travel to USA to market his art. The process involved a trip to another city and a long wait at a government agency, but we persisted and the Emilio traveled with me back to USA.
By this time Kevin had found a group to party with so it was only after quite an effort that I was able to convince him to join us as I felt a measure of responsibility to get him back to Tucson. I took Emilio to a gallery in Scottsdale and he spent a few days at the foundation in Kearny before we put him on a bus back to his home in Tepic. Emilio now had a 10 year artist visa and that was just all I could do for him. I had an amazing experience filled with strange sights, sounds, flavors and suffering and still have some of those yarn paintings in my home.
A few notes about my time visiting and living at the Peyote Foundation. from 1997 through January of 1999.
I found the Peyote Foundation website online during my research regarding treatment of alcoholism using a hallucinogen to induce the "Entire Psychic Change" or "Spiritual Experience" that is key to recovery in the 12 step program. I sent Leo an email and he promptly invited me for a visit to their ranch located in Kearny, a small mining town about 60 miles from my home in Apache Junction. My mom had a saying, "Is it odd or is it God" and Jesus said "Seek and ye shall find" which seem to apply as here was a religious community, dedicated to the preservation of a small cactus that induces spiritual experience when ingested, and it was just a short drive through beautiful desert space to a remote small town near my home. It was only later that I connected the earlier sweat lodge I had done on the Salt River/Pima Reservation as part of the NAC religion.
A few days later I followed the directions given to locate the ranch entrance at a locked gate with a suspiciously creaky old steel suspension bridge that crossed the Gila River. I don't recall which resident of the ranch, perhaps it was Rattlesnake or maybe Mike Gray, met me at the gate and I reluctantly drove across on that old twisty bridge, sure that it would collapse and drop me and the truck into the river below. In fact over the next years I crossed on that bridge many times and once or twice in a large motor home. Every time I crossed it seemed like it may be the last! That alone was always a spiritual experience!
A dusty winding dirt road of less than a mile brought me to a cluster of two old houses, one was the home for Leo and his wife Raven and their son Moses. The other was the "Guest House" and both building suffered from age and lack of funds for maintenance and modernization. They did have running water and the day I visited a leech field project was under way for drainage from them. There was also electricity and phone service that Leo used for his dial up internet connection. He had built a computer on a lego board that he managed to coax into sufficient life to put up the website that had brought us together. That computer was super slow and finicky, but the one thing there was an abundance of at the ranch and that was time.
That first day after I parked and just as I got out of my truck a dove flew across the yard and slammed into an old school bus that was parked there. Leo saw this and declared it was surely some a sign of spiritual significance, though he didn't know what meaning it had. Thus began a friendship that has endured ever since.
Full time residents at that time were Mike Grey, a rough tattooed toothless strong man that sometimes worked as an auto mechanic, and Robert "Rattlesnake" Breeden and his wife who lived in a Pop Up trailer tent set up near the guest house. Rattlesnake had left most of one leg in Vietnam during the war and though the VA had provided him a prosthetic leg he preferred to get around on crutches and the leg he still had. In the guest house was a community kitchen, two bedrooms, a bathroom with a tub and a medium size "great room" where nightly gatherings took place in front of a rough stone fireplace. Visitors from all around the world would come and stay a night or two as Leo and Raven hosted with music and conversation late into the night. There were no TV's on the property and alcohol was not allowed though there was plenty of cannabis and most also used roll your own tobacco.
And just behind the houses were the peyote gardens. Scattered all around under mesquite trees and a large "shade" structure were thousands of peyote plants happily growing under the loving care of Leo and the other residents. As the mission of the foundation was preservation very few of these were ever harvested and then only one or two to be shared after a ceremony. In January 1999 Pinal County uprooted over eleven thousand by their count, which was most likely less than what was really there. Perhaps some that were missed still thrive in that perfect desert environment under mesquite trees behind that locked gate and rickety bridge.
Also in that area of the property were a cleared site for tipi ceremonies and a large community size sweat lodge and then a bit further back another old garage building that was used to store variety of miscellaneous junk. Behind that structure was the smaller "family" sweat lodge site where informal ceremonies were often held. Over the coming months I visited several times and attended sweat lodge and tipi ceremonies. There was a steady stream of misfits, new age hippies and Native American Indians at the foundation and they were all seekers looking for something beyond traditional society. After a few months I traded the small equity I had in the East Mesa property I was living at for a medium size motor home that I parked on the ranch, in the back, near the small sweat lodge.
We enlarged and improved the food garden and were working on various projects to generate income for our living expenses. None of them were illegal and usually involved art that was created on site. One project was to try to market survival food packages in relation to the Y2K issue that was at hand. For a time Leo drove Mike Greys rickety little car to a job in Tucson, which was a two hour round trip for minimum wages. I tried to conduct my website business but the dial up service was so limited this was not really viable.
One afternoon I had gone into that motor home to make a bowl of ramen and have a nap when someone began pounding on the door and demanding I come out. I remember them yelling "Occupants in the motor home, Pinal County Sheriff, come out with your hands up!" So I came out to find a sheriff in a a bullet proof vest pointing a loaded pistol at me. He said I was being detained and I had to go with him NOW! I nervously pleaded with him to stop pointing the pistol at me as I willingly complied. To his credit it didn't take long for him to recognize that I was no threat and he escorted me to a vehicle and then I was taken down the dirt road and across the bridge to join all the other residents except Leo. He was taken into custody and transported to Pinal County jail. Over the next 24 hours or so we were forbidden to return to our property while various agencies, including DEA, came and went and destroyed our homes and gardens. The damage was substantial inside and out and went way too far. All of this was clearly intended to intimidate us and in some ways they succeeded. This was also the event that ignited a passion for justice that led me to create Hemp US Flag and several subsequent efforts to bring justice.
My first achievement was recovery of the computers and some of the private property that Pinal County had seized. We got Leo out on bail within a day or two and no charges were ever filed. After a long fight Leo eventually succeeded in getting most of the peyote returned, but not before the plants had all died when they were in custody. Imagine that, using taxpayer dollars to lock up harmless plants that are legal for use in Native American Church!