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   In these times of "spiritual unrest", so denominated by a recent magazine writer, when "Christian Science", "New Thought", "Theosophy", "Divine Healing", "Dowieism", the "Emmanuel Movement", and such things claim their adherents among our own people, it may be of interest to note that from time to time movements, perhaps not similar but analogous, make their way among the people of the race which occupied this continent before us.
   Among such movements may be mentioned the "Ghost Dance" of near two decades ago, and the "Mescal Society", which has had more permanence, and which now has perhaps more adherents than ever before, among most of the tribes of Oklahoma and others of the southwest, from whence the cult has spread to some of the northern tribes.
   The mescal was introduced into the Omaha tribe in the winter of 1906-7 by an Omaha returning from a visit to the Oto in Oklahoma. He had been much addicted to alcoholics, and was told by an Oto that this plant and the religious cult practised therewith would be a cure. On his return he sought the advice and help of the leader of the Mescal Society of the Winnebago, next neighbors tribe of the Omaha. He and a few other Omaha, who also suffered from alcoholism, formed a society which has since increased in numbers and influence against much opposition, till it includes about half of the tribe.
   Those who joined the society did so, as they informed the writer, with the purpose "to throw away all their bad habits--drinking, gambling, and wife desertion", and indeed a wonderful change has taken place in their lives;



they are now sober, industrious, and intent on living in peace and quiet.
   The mescal plant and its cult appeal strongly to the Indian sense of the mysterious and occult, and his appreciation of ceremonialism and symbolism. The Indian mind, being in that psychic stage which peoples all natural objects with spirits, quite naturally attributes to the mescal plant wonderful properties and powers. As the Semitic and Aryan minds have found it possible to conceive that deity may be incarnated in an animal body--a human body --to the Indian mind it seems just as reasonable to conceive that deity may dwell in a plant body. So the Indian pays it divine honors and makes prayers to it or in connection with it, and eats it or drinks a decoction of it in order to appropriate the divine spirit, to induce the good and to exorcise the evil, making its use analogous to the Christian use of bread and wine in the eucharist.
   James Mooney, in "A Calendar History of the Kiowa Indians", says: "The greatest of the Kiowa gods is the sun . . . Next to the sun the buffalo and the 'seni' or peyote plant claim reverence, and these may be reduced to the same analysis, as the buffalo bull in his strength and majesty is regarded as the animal symbol of the sun, while the peyote, with its circular disk and its bright center, surrounded by white spots or rays, is its vegetal representative." The same author, in an article on "The Mescal Plant and Ceremony", says: "The traders call it mescal . . . The local name upon the Rio Grande is peyote or pellote, from the old Aztec name, peyotle."
   The plant is a certain small, turnip-shaped cactus, Lophophora williamsii Coult. The part used is the top, which, after being cut off with a knife, forms a disk about one to one and one-half inches in diameter. Surrounding the center are tufts of whitish hairs. The "buttons" are very bitter and disagreeable to the taste. The physiological effect from them is a form of intoxication which


Lodge of Omaha Indian mescal society, 1906




consists in an over-stimulation of the nerve center of sight, resulting in hallucinations of most wonderful visions, with remarkably beautiful kaleidoscopic changes, the character of the visions depending upon the temperament and mental content of the subject. Thus a white man, with his inherited and acquired habit of thought and store of mental concepts, would see a different set of visions from those seen by an Indian, whose mental habit and concepts are different. The visions are also partly induced by the hypnotic power of suggestion and expectancy.
   The mescal cult is a curious example of the blending of ideas, beliefs and customs. No doubt the fundamental rites antedate the coming of white men, perhaps many centuries; but since then Christian ideas have been added together with original religious ideas of the various tribes to which the cult has been brought. Thus the Omaha, of Nebraska, have interjected the use of the wild sage, Artemisia gnaphalodes, in connection with mescal ceremonies, that plant having been an immemorial symbol of sacredness among the Omaha.
   The writer has been present, by invitation, at several mescal meetings in the Omaha tribe. The entrance of the tent of meeting toward the east, the fireplace, in the center, is usually an excavation, eight to twelve inches deep, and in the shape of a heart to represent the heart of Jesus. Quantities of artemisia plants are often gathered and strewn in a circle surrounding the fire, and upon these the people sit facing the fire. At the west side, which represents the base of the heart, a "mescal button" is placed upon a cloth worked with symbolic figures, as upon an altar. Near this is placed an open bible and there is set up a staff about three feet in height, decorated with heads and symbolic feathers. Here is seated the leader, having in one hand a symbolic fan made of twelve eagle feathers, representing the twelve apostles of Christ, and in the other hand a rattle made from a gourd on which are various



carved symbolic pictures from the life of Christ, while the handle is decorated with beads and feathers. At the leader's left sits the officer next in rank who has a drum, made by stretching a piece of skin over the mouth of a crock which is kept partly filled with water. The drumhead is kept wet so that the effect of the sound from it is a low continuous and insistent thrumming, which does not seem loud, even at close range, but which can be heard at a surprising distance. The fire is lighted and kept burning by attendants appointed to that task. An attendant distributes a supply of "mescal buttons" to the circle of worshippers, beginning with the leader and going round the circle in the direction of the sun; that is, from the west, by the north, to the east, and back by the south. The people eat the buttons gazing downward or into the fire. The leader sings a chant and the man at his left accompanies him with the drum. Then the drum and rattle are passed to the next two on the left who likewise sing a chant; and so round the circle, the attendant meanwhile supplying more of the "mescals" as required. The meetings usually last all night. The hypnotic effect of firelight is well known, and here we have several factors conducing to this effect: the firelight, the community of thought, abstraction from all extraneous affairs, the droning chant, the hissing of the rattle, the insistent thrumming note of the drum, and the mental attitude of expectancy induced by the words of the speakers who discourse on what they shall be privileged to see. Having no notion at all of the chemical reaction of the human body to the drug, they fancy that they really see most wonderful visions of spirits. For example, at one meeting the leader read the account in the Old Testament of the prophet being taken up to heaven in a chariot of fire. Then the singing, and drumming began, and the physiological action of the drug having taken effect, one man related what he had seen. He said Jesus had come for him in an automobile and had taken him up to heaven where he had seen God in His glory, in a splendid city, and



with Him many of the great men of all time, more than he could number.
   I have been told by a member of the mescal society that while they are under the influence of the "medicine" in the meeting they can "see the thoughts" of those present, so if anyone is not in accord, is "thinking bad thoughts" he would be revealed to the true worshippers.
   They habitually repeat the promise of Jesus that if He goes away He will not leave them orphans but will send another comforter, applying this assurance to the "medicine", that is the peyote, saying it is the promised comforter and that it will lead them into all truth.

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