A Remote Arizona Church Offers Followers Peyote-Induced Psychedelic Trips

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Andrew Pielage
A close-up photo of a peyote plant growing at Peyote Way Church.
Anybody who has read Carlos Castaneda's books has an idea of what peyote is.

Castaneda, a UCLA anthropology student turned prominent mysticism author, documented his experiences ingesting peyote. His first book, The Teachings of Don Juan, was published in 1968. At Peyote Way, visitors get a version of the experiences Castaneda wrote about.

But Kent warns that coming to Peyote Way with expectations is a recipe for disappointment.

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Andrew Pielage
The sacramental peyote tea used by church members for their spirit walks.
"It's hard to come here without expectations, but the more you can tamp them down the better," Kent says. "When you read Carlos Castaneda, or hear about somebody else's peyote experience, well, that was their peyote experience. Your peyote experience is going to be absolutely yours."

Each year, 120 to 140 people visit the church, which requires visitors to become members with a suggested donation of $200 to $300 each, including a one-time membership fee of $50. This qualifies new adherents for an eventual spirit walk (all this is outlined on the church's website, www.peyoteway.org). The church's annual income totaled about $60,000 for 2012, and the pottery business brought in about $30,000 more, Zapf says.

"Essentially, the way it's done here is that [people] make appointments with Anne, and they come here and fast for a day -- we sort of get to know them and figure out if they're ready for the experience," Kent says.

Kent says mentally ill individuals are turned away, and people with physical disabilities are required to stay near the compound's main house while taking peyote. Determining a person's physical condition is a judgment call by Zapf and Kent.

Their children had their first spirit walks at 14 years old.

"I figure if you're old enough to make babies, then you're old enough to know the truth of life and spend some time in reflection about who you are and what you want to be in this life," says Kent.

Those who venture into the middle of nowhere to find Peyote Way get a tour of its grounds, after which they are given a place to stay for the night so they can fast. The next day, they pick out one of the three spots on the property, each with a rustic lean-to and a fire pit, where they spend the second night drinking the church's peyote mixture.

"When it comes time for the spirit walk, Anne will measure 21 grams of peyote -- it's the reputed weight of the soul -- then boiling water is poured over it," Kent says. "The mixture really is more gruel than a tea."

In general, visitors report having three types of reactions to drinking the potion: They get sick all night and nothing happens, they are sick half the night and then the most amazing things happen, or it is wonderful from beginning to end, Zapf says.

"The first four hours are the most physical, as the tea has a challenging taste and ingestion of it can cause nausea," she says. "The next four hours are critical, as fear and nausea compete with the rational, curious mind. At this point, one can surrender to the experience or succumb to fear and fight it all the way."

The taste of peyote is notoriously bad, and drinking the mixture is a lengthy and arduous process. Most visitors don't make it through an entire pint-size container, says Kent. They typically vomit.

"Let's just get it straight from the beginning: Peyote is not a recreational substance, it's a re-creational substance," says Kent, who sees peyote as a medicinal plant that can be used for psychological and physical healing.

Church members who have participated in a spirit walk typically refer to peyote as "medicine" rather than a drug. One such member, Dr. Joe Tafur, an integrative family physician in Phoenix and co-founder of Nihue Rao Centro Espiritual healing center in Peru, says he learned of Peyote Way in an old article about the church. He subsequently decided to experience a spirit walk and since has participated in seven such psychedelic journeys.

"The average person can benefit from the spirit walk," says Tafur via e-mail correspondence from the Amazon, where he works at his Nihue Rao foundation. "The spirit walk offers an opportunity for profound spiritual healing."

Long-term, repeated use of peyote is safe, he says. He cites John Halpern's Harvard-affiliated study on it as evidence of the cactus' safeness.

"In my experience, it allows for healing of the subconscious and deep emotional traumas that often evade allopathic and psychological approaches," Tafur says. "Healing of the mind and spirit then allows for a number of physiological benefits through mind-body connections, primarily through psychoneuroimmunologic and psychoneuroendocrine connections."

Another church member, Robert McDermott, a former technology worker at University of California-San Diego, says he has experienced 15 spirit walks.

He embarked on one of his earliest in an attempt to overcome anxiety related to a "serious illness."

Says McDermott: "The medicine was difficult for me to take, and I became very nauseous. Then [after about an hour] I began seeing my anxieties and my fears of death associated with my illness for what they were. My anxieties were preventing me from being present with my family and friends. I found a place of profound gratitude for my life as it was."

McDermott says he wouldn't be alive today "if it were not for this sacred medicine."

The church's late founder and Kent's teacher, the Reverend Immanuel Pardeahtan Trujillo, started using peyote as a way to treat himself for post-traumatic stress disorder that resulted from his combat in World War II, according to Kent.

Far-fetched as it may sound, Kent credits peyote with reversing his vasectomy -- after which he and Zapf had their three children.


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Andrew Pielage
The grave site of Peyote Way Founder Immanuel Trujillo.
A mound of stones and gravel draped with an American flag and surrounded by discarded cattle gates holds a prominent place in Peyote Way's dirt yard. It's the burial spot of Immanuel Trujillo, who died at 82 in a small room at the church in June 2010.

With little prompting, Kent dives into an extensive biography of Trujillo, who went from New Jersey to Europe in World War II to New York City to Texas and eventually to Arizona. It's clearly a story he's told many times.


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28 comments
neenapril
neenapril

This is weird. "Drugstore Indians" exploiting medicine to make a living and turning away people that need help. Goes to show that this "ceremony" has no strength and that these people are just playing with it. Just don't go dying in some freak accident because we all know how the sweat lodge in Sedona ended. SMH.

hurricaneric
hurricaneric moderator

Here's a Letter to the Editor we received from Peyote Way Church:


1. Carlos Castenada’s work has long been regarded as fiction by scholars. For more accurate and scientific information about peyote’s alkaloids, please consult MAPS or EROWID, or Edward Anderson’s Peyote the Divine Cactus.

2. No one is getting rich off Peyote. The holy sacrament Peyote is not for sale at the Peyote Way Church. The gross income listed in the article does not reflect the taxes paid by Mana pottery, or the cost of upkeep for buildings, vehicles that wear out quickly on the rough roads, or minimal salaries for minimal staff. Our records are available upon request
 
3. The church is tolerated and even admired by many of its Mormon and non-Mormon neighbors. Mormons tend to know a thing or two about religious persecution and do not tend to practice it. The many other friends of the church, in and out of Graham County public office, will go unnamed, but we know who you are and appreciate your kindness, acceptance, and often support over the decades.
 
4. When Immanuel and his associates purchased the land in Aravaipa, it was not in foreclosure. It was Immanuel who was often battling foreclosure to hold this beautiful 160 acres as a sanctuary for all race Peyotism.
 
5. Membership is not a one time fee, but an annual donation. We, like all other non profit organizations, depend on membership support.
 
6. To a person who considers Peyote a Holy Sacrament it is painful to hear it described as a hallucinogen. We consider the word hallucinogen to be a pejorative. It is an inaccurate term that has been used since the 50’s and 60’s to denigrate the Peyote experience and not an accurate description.
 
7. The establishment of discriminatory Peyote laws that limit Peyote use strictly to Native American members of the Native American Church, while prohibiting these same people from cultivating their holy sacrament, is a threat to the survival of this sacred plant.

Rev. Anne L Zapf, Apostle, with approval of the Peyote Way Church of God Board of Stewards

onebigjuan
onebigjuan

Historically, the Carrizo/Comecrudo people of Texas are the people who showed others to maintain their native identities through the use of the medicine.  It was never intended to become a lifestyle or religion.  This was lifeway of the Esto'k iyope'm ( Carrizo/Comecrudo), in other words it was part of daily life, but not the only thing of daily life, it was never intended to become what it is today.  As native population struggle to maintain a healthy and stable identity, the more confused generic colonialism populous distorts and misrepresent our lifeways to accommodate their co-dependent and dysfunctional ignorance.


Even the the more popular ways of the Native American Church is a compromise and an accommodation to the Colonial oppressive thought to allow us as natives to have a God that makes the Colonial oppressive thought more comfortable at the expense of even forgetting and leaving the original people of the sacred Medicine out of the picture.


So, the distorted Idea of a non Indian non tribal man and woman saying "welcome to the Peyote way" is only part of the shock.  The roots of exploitation, discrimination, distortion, collusion, and misrepresentation is deeper than being shocked that some hippie who read Carlos Casteneda wants to be part of something that we in our language say  tokom anawalom, it is nothing without the teachings.


gnosis43
gnosis43

The disappearance of the idea of God in the modern world is not due to the appearance of drugs (for drugs have after all been known and used for thousands of years). We might, in fact, say the exact opposite: the use of drugs betrays the fact that man is not a natural being; he experiences not only thirst, hunger, dreams, and sexual pleasure, 

but also a nostalgia for the infinite. ‘Alternating current’, Octavio Paz http://www.artbreak.com/work/show/655801-solidificar-sunofman

Nick Nuvamsa
Nick Nuvamsa

Is this guy even native? This was intended for native people, and or people they invite into the culture lol, me being half native I'm suprised the navajo gov hasn't said anything to this individual.

John Clayton Cross
John Clayton Cross

Perhaps they mean people currently experiencing psychological issues.

Krista Peterson
Krista Peterson

This place has been around for at least 30 years. Why don't you just go out and visit them. They are nice people. Talk to them and make your decision. Cripes.

Pia Kitchen
Pia Kitchen

Smh.. Natives are sacred with it, other people it seems to have no effect. Dam shame!

Allen Kee
Allen Kee

Tradition like this should stay with its culture and not taken into a new context. Just need to leave these native traditions alone.

Kreme Infinite
Kreme Infinite

White Folk … Always Trynna do Native things… and turn it into complete fuckery.

Scott Hecker
Scott Hecker

This place has been around for a long time. I've considered making the trip.

Eleanor Riddle
Eleanor Riddle

Interesting ... in a never-gonna-do-it kind of way

Valerie Moreno
Valerie Moreno

So mentally ill individuals are "turned away", but it says people have used it to alleviate PTSD and anxiety. Hmm. Which is it?

Dimitri
Dimitri

Mister you're a racist prick, taking your own segregationist opinions for facts..yuck

Dimitri
Dimitri

Says who? You? There's absolutely nothing scientific in what you state

Dimitri
Dimitri

yep : apartheid. Why does this not suprise me coming from a yankee...

Dimitri
Dimitri

There's a difference between being mentally ill and having psychological problems in relation to trauma , like PTSD. Surely you must know the difference...

neenapril
neenapril

I think (hope) they learned their lesson.

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