Alan P. Merriam and Warren L. D’Azevedo’s article detailed the cultural background of Washo peyote songs, particularly on the relationship between music and spiritual potency. An account of song types, characteristics and the musicology of these songs are also provided. It is eye opening to discover that drum, in the Native American context, is as important as it is in the Indian and African context. The drum is the one that carries agency. A good drummer is a unity between himself and the drum, and drumming is an expression of whatever internal state, intention and body-mind-spirit coordination the drummer has. For peyote rituals, the two most important aspects for drumming are timbre and timing (621). As in the timbre-centered music system in Tuvan tradition, timbre gives music spatiality and personality. Drumming needs to be performed in the right timbre with virtuosic and controlled pressure of the thumb hitting the fine-tuned, well-soaked drum for “fuller and deeper sound” that becomes one with the singing (621). This way, the singer’s voice gains freedom, and allows the ritual to maximize its effects. During drumming, the alchemical process that happens inside of the drum is reflected in the throat of the singer (621). Sound affects reality; the relationship between the drum and the singer is somewhat similar to that between the string and the kite. Similarly, the delicacy of timing draws a parallel with the Indian tala and African drumming. As architecture of time, rhythm presents a polydimensional presence of perpetual possibilities that leads “the way to the medicine.”
The folktale that explains the origin of the Comanche peyote ceremony and how the ceremony is performed are documented in David P. McAllester’s chapter. Peyote is always used in a collective ritualistic setting. This raises the question of how setting influences the “trip.” Specifically, how would the experience differ between using peyote in rituals versus using it in an unconstructed and unmediated way? More deeply, how does ritual influences one’s religious and psychedelic experience?
This question is partly answered in James V. Spickard’s article, which emphasizes the organic, living religious experience in a socially connected ritual setting. In this perspective, the ritual unites the helpee with the historical and mythological world in the Navajo tradition. The things that are out of order for him are re-ordered and reconstructed through this process. Symbols such as the sand painting open the door to that world, and the duree, the helpee’s inner time, is then adjusted and restored (201). This view presents the idea that ritual, in and of itself, is the center of religious experience. As in Victor Turner’s discussion on liminality and communitas, ritual opens up a liminal space where everything is in-between, reordering, remaking, as in the process of chemical reaction. In this state the sociality of the participants is compared to communitas, a moment of togetherness, solidarity and equality. It allows people to “ ‘tune-in’ to one another, to share an inner state of consciousness” (197). It is through this process that one is changed and recreated. Ingesting peyote, in this light, is more than a “trip,” but a profound religious experience that aligns the duree with cosmic time, connects the present with ancient history and wisdom, and helps the believers to be firmly rooted and protected.
The two amendments giving lawful protection to the use of peyote give me a sense of optimism and hope. Despite America’s the colonialism toward the Native Americans that first took away the right of their religious practices, as the movie Peyote Road describes, I think the attempt of revising this mistake is a sign of redemption.