The Peyote Cult, by Paul Radin, , at sacred-texts.com
From the accounts given by various members of the Peyote cult it is quite clear that Rave became interested in the peyote on one of his many trips to Oklahoma. According to the verbal account he gave, which differs in some respects from the account he subsequently dictated on the particular visit which resulted in his first eating the peyote, he was in a most distressed and unhappy condition of mind owing to the loss of his wife and children. 5 He went away from Winnebago with the intention of staying away as long as possible from the scene of his loss.
Rave's account of his conversion gives a sufficiently dramatic picture of how he first ate the peyote and its immediate effects. In response to numerous questions as to how he was first induced to eat the peyote he always said that it was because he had been so frequently asked. It is, however, far more likely that he was passing through an emotional crisis at that particular time, and the requests that he partake of it and the inducements held out to him, made it easier for him to succumb then than on his previous visits.
To judge from Rave's remarks, his first belief in the peyote had nothing of the nature of a conversion to a new religion. It seems to have been similar to the average Winnebago attitude toward a medicinal plant obtained either as a gift or through purchase. There is only one new notestimulation by a narcotic.
Rave states that the peyote cured him of a disease with which he had been afflicted for a long time. After repeated requests his wife also consents to being treated; so he paints her face and, taking the rattle, sings peyote songs while she eats the peyote. His attitude
throughout, both from his own testimony and from that of others, seems to have been practically the attitude of the Winnebago shaman. He even offered tobacco to the peyote.
We have, then, at the beginning the introduction of apparently only one new elementthe peyote, with possibly a few Christian teachings. Everything else seems to be typically Winnebago, and in consonance with their shamanistic practices. On the whole, the extension of the Winnebago cultural background seems to have keen so instantaneous that so far as the specific cultural traits of the Winnebago are concerned there was hardly anything new at all. This view does not, of course, interfere in the least with the fact that to the Winnebago themselves the presence of the peyote represented the introduction of a new element.
The elaboration of the peyote practices at Rave's hands is the most difficult problem to trace on account of the lack of data. In the account that he gives of his conversion there is no evidence whatsoever of any antagonistic attitude toward the old Winnebago manner of living. When the author met him, however, for the first time, in 1908, this passive attitude had changed to one of violent hatred for the old Winnebago customs. Why and under what circumstances this change took place we do not know. It probably represented the interaction of many elements, the hostility of the tribe, the drawing of issues sharply around certain points, and the gradual assumption on the part of Rave of the rôle of a prophet who had solved the problem of the adjustment of the Winnebago to the surrounding white civilization. Offhand, one might be inclined to believe that Rave's insistence upon breaking with the past was due entirely to the influence of the Christian elements incorporated in his new religion. It is, however, extremely doubtful whether such an assumption is necessary. There seem to have been comparatively few Christian elements in the religion before Albert Hensley's influence had made itself felt, yet many of the old war bundles had been destroyed long before that time, and the peyote eaters were looked upon with cordial dislike by the conservative members of the tribe. The admonition that only a complete break with the past could save the Winnebagoes and enable them to compete successfully with the white intruders had been given to the Winnebagoes once before by the famous Shawnee prophet. What the latter claimed, however, was that the various sacred objects used by the Winnebago had lost their power, and that that power must now be renewed. This he thought could only be done by returning to the old manner of living which he claimed the Winnebago were no longer following. Such a claim was, after all, not revolutionary. It is not, therefore, the break with the Winnebago present-day viewpoint that characterizes Rave's attitude, but the fact that instead of returning to the older, purer
life as the Shawnee prophet proposed to do, he substituted an alien religion. It was because he was introducing an alien religion, not because he was introducing a new religion, that he was so intensely hated by the conservative members of the tribe.
When this hostility was at its height a new convert, Albert Hensley, revolutionized the entire cult by introducing the reading of the Bible, postulating the dogma that the peyote opened the Bible to the understanding of the people, and also adding a number of Christian practices. He, like Rave, had been in Oklahoma. He brought back with him many peyote songs, generally in other languages, dealing with Christian ideas, upon which subsequently Winnebago songs were modeled. He also introduced either baptism itself or an interpretation of baptism, and induced Rave to attempt a union with the Christian Church. He seems to have been the only prominent man connected with the peyote who was subject to epileptic fits. He had the most glorious visions of heaven and hell while in his trance, and these he expounded afterwards in terms of Revelation and the mystical portions of the New Testament. Hensley's additions represent a second stratum of borrowed elements, all of which are in the nature of accretions as far as the peyote itself is concerned. The Bible is explained in terms of the peyote. Neither Hensley nor his followers ever interpreted the peyote in terms of the Bible, although other elements of the old Winnebago culture were so interpreted. These elements, however, represented features that even in the old Winnebago cults exhibited a great variability in interpretation.
Rave's attitude toward the innovations of Hensley seems to have been that of a benevolent acquiescence. He himself could neither read nor write. Yet he immediately accepted the Bible and added it to his other regalia. As such it always seems to have remained. To Rave, after all, the peyote was the principal element, and if Hensley chose to insist that the Bible was only intelligible to those who partook of the peyote why that naturally fell within its magical powers. From the entire omission in Rave's account of the Peyote cult of the more important things that Hensley introduced and from the fact that whenever Hensley's influence was not dominant there seems to have been little Bible reading, it seems justifiable to say that Rave's attitude toward these innovations was merely passive.
There never was any rivalry between Rave and Hensley. The latter was, however, a much younger man, quick-tempered, conceited, dogmatic, and withal having a strong mixture of Puritan Protestant ideas. A conflict developed after a while and in a very interesting manner. Rave had allowed a man with an extremely bad reputation, who had been admitted as a member of the Peyote cult, to occupy one of the four positions. Hensley violently pro-
tested, on the ground that a man of X.'s character could not properly perform the rites associated with that position. Rave, however, retorted that the efficacy of the peyote, of any position connected with its cult, was in no way connected with the character of the performer, and that it was inherent in the peyote and in the Peyote ritual. Thereupon, after much parleying to and fro, Hensley formally seceded, taking with him a number of followers. The bulk of the peyote eaters, however, remained with Rave, and within a comparatively short time a number of Hensley's followers returned to Rave, so that in 1911 Hensley had merely a handful of people. Since then he has ceased to be a force, although his innovations have been retained by a number of the younger Peyote members, especially by those who read English.
In 1911 there was no unification of the ideas of Rave and Hensley. Since then, strange to say, although Hensley's attempt to set up his own religion failed utterly, his ideas and Christian innovations seemed to have triumphed completely. This, however, has gone hand in hand with a marked dropping off of enthusiasm. It appears now as if the Peyote cult has run its course. Some of the members have recently returned to the old pagan customs, others have practically become Christians, and many have become indifferent.
Unquestionably the most interesting of recent innovations is that introduced by Jesse Clay, the account of which has been given before. This is, of course, the Arapaho manner of conducting the ceremony. At the present time it has none of the characteristics of the Winnebago ceremonial. Whether in the next few years it will develop any depends upon the interest manifested in it by the Peyote worshipers and upon the vitality of the Peyote movement in general.
It is extremely suggestive to compare what Rave introduced with the ceremony borrowed by Clay. The former introduced an isolated element, the peyote and its worship, and clothed it almost immediately in characteristic Winnebago forms. It can truly be said that although the peyote is an alien element, from the Winnebago viewpoint, everything else in the ceremony is and was from the beginning typically Winnebago. Clay's method of conducting the Peyote ceremonies, on the other hand, is entirely alien. For it ever to become popular with the large mass of Winnebago it will have to become thoroughly assimilated with the Winnebago background.
371:5 In the account Rave himself gives he speaks of seeing his wife and children. As his verbal statement was corroborated by other people, we are inclined to believe that in his dictated account of his conversion he had forgotten the actual state of affairs. It may, of course, be that in his ardent desire to show the marvelous effects of the peyote he permitted his memory to play him false.