The Powers Of Peyote
"The Indians contend that, when crushed and applied, it cures pains in the joints. Miraculous proper-tics are attributed to this root (if any faith may be given to what they commonly say among themselves). To wit that those who eat it will be able to foresee and predict everything, such as whether they should attack the enemy on the following day or i"other wait for favoi-able times; or who had stolen a utensil or other matters of like nature which the Chichimecas attempt to find out with the help of this plant.. Furthermore, if they wish to know wl>ere they would find this root hidden in the grouiKi they cat another one of them anti would find the place,"
Di\ Francisco Hernandez (personal physician of the Spanish emperor), Opere
"Mescalito is a protector, a kind, gentle protector; but that does not mean you can make fun of him. Because lie is a kind protector he can also- be a honor itself with those he does not like/'
Don Juan in Caiilos Casienada's^ The Teochings of Don juon. 1974
man, each with explicit duties and ritual paraphernalia. Like the mushroom ceremony, the night-long peyote meeting ends with a communal meal at dawn. In comparison with wild dancing of the Tarahumaras (described by Western observers from Lumholtz. to Artaud) and the brightly-colored yarn paintings depicting the peyote mythology of the Huichols, the Native American Church peyote ceremony is solemn and relies on prayer and meditation.
Louis Lewin, the German psychopharmacologist who made the first systematic classification of
LIVING ARABESQUES "Perpetually, some totally new kind of effect would appear in the field of vision; sometimes there was swiff, movement, sometimes dull, somber richness of color, sometimes gliUer and sparkle, once a startling rain of gold, which seemed to appit>ach me. Most usually there was a combination of rich, sober color, with jewel-like points of brilliant hue. Evety color and tone conceivable to me appeared at some time or another But in spite of this immense profusion, there was always a certain parsimony and aesthetic value in the colors presented I was further impressed, not only by the brilliance, delicacy and variety of the colors, but even moie by their lovely and various textures-fibrous, woven, polished, glowing^ dulL veined, semitransparent-the glowing effects, as of jewels, and the fibrous, as of insects' wings, being perhaps the most prevalent But always the visions grew and changed without any reference to the characteristics of those real objects of which they vaguely reminded me, and when I tried to influence their course it was with very little success. On the whole, I should say that the images were most usually what might be called living arabesques. Theie was often a certain incomplete tendency to symmetry, as though the underlying mechanism was associated with a large number of polished facets. The same image was in this way frequently repeated over a large part of the field ... so that if, with a certain uniformity* jewel-like flowers were springing up and expanding all over the field of vision, they would still show every variety of delicate tone and tint."
Havelock Ellis "Mescal: A New Artificial Paradise." 1898
mind^altering drugs throughout the world (Phontastica, 1924), obtained some peyote extract from the Parke-Davis Pharmaceutical Labs of Detroit in the 1880s, His studies laid the gixxnKlwoi"k for the isolation of mescaline in 1896 by Arthur Heffler. Mescaline (3,4,5-trimethoxy-phenylethylamine) is not an indole like the majority of psychedelics, but is structurally related to the adrenal hormones and to the synthetic stimulant methamphetamine, which arc all very active in the peripheral nervous system. It may be that mescaline does convert to an iixJole structure ■ once it's in the body. The nausea-pi woking qualiiy of peyote is gieatly reduced, if iK)t entirely eliminated, when synthetic mescaline is used.
Artists and intellectuals as well as scientists and anthropologists were attracted to mescaline, which was named after the peyote-eating Mescalero Apaches. It was the first hallucinogenic extract and synthetic available, and the first 50 years of psychedelic research was done exclusively with it„
Mescaline's amazing visual effects were the most interesting aspect of the drug for earjy self-experimenters. S. Weir Mitchell, one of the most famous physicians in the U.S., wrote in 1896 of "the beauty and splendor of what |licj saw," describing Gothic towers, huge precious stones shining with an " interior light" and unbelievable ribbons of color floating out into space. The pioneer sexologist Havelock Ellis took it about the same time and reported "glorious fields of jewels," monstrous forms and fabulous landscapes. I I]is turned on W. B. Yeats to mescal buttons, and the poet hallucinated dragons on a Chelsea billboard. A leister Crowley dosed some members of the audience at one of his occult. lectures in 1910 with peyoce extract he had purchased in the U.S. William James, who theorized about consciousness expansion and religious experience after using laughing gas, tried chewing one button given him by Mitchell but was loo overwhelmed by nausea to enjoy the trip. There were peyote experiments among the avant-garde in Greenwich Village 40 years before Beats were busted there for possessing the psychedelic . cactus tops.
After Spaeth synthesized peyote's active agent in 1919- German scientists studied it intensely for a decade. Using mescaline, Heinrich Khiver published the greatest study ever done on psychedelic visions. He developed the idea of "form constants" as a visual language of hallucination. Typical mescaline visions are symmetrical geometric forms in bright colors-transparent Oriental nigs, kaleidoscopic wallpaper designs, cobweblike figures, Gothic buildings.
spirals, prisms and other patterns seen in two, three, or four dimensions, in sizes from tiny to gigantic. Everything is bathed in an intense light emanating from an unknown source. Huxley described this experience as the discovery of "the psychological equivalent of a hitherto unexplored geograpl i ical regio 11."
Meanwhile, Beringer initialed psychiatric study using up to 500 milligrams (a standard dose of mescaline, which has 11100 the grain potency of psilocybin and IJ4,000 that of LSD). Lewin became interested in the psychological effects and placed mescaline in the category of "phantastica," the term a forerunner of "psychedel it\"
Like other psychedelics, mescaline blocks the neuiumusclet, complex and alters the pattern of cerebral electrical activity in the deeper brain centers. Mescaline comes on over a period of several hours and lasts tor ft to 12. Initial effects include nausea, body heaviness and possibly some minor muscle spasms in the legs. The mescaline
THE SEDUCTION OF MESCALINE " This is how one ought lo see, how things really are J And yet there were reservations. For if one always saw like this, one would never want to do anything elsej"
Aldous Huxley The Doors of Perception, 1954
experience is similar to LSD and psilocybin, except for the extraordinary richness of the visions and a tendency sometimes to produce an emotional catharsis.
Tolerance to mescaline occurs, but not as quickly as in the case of LSD and psijocybin-one of the reasons peyole meetings can be held weekly. These three major psychedelics are also cross-tolerant to one another in varying degrees. Then' effects tend 10 be increased with speed and blocked with downers. Whereas spiders given LSD build perfect webs, mescalinized spiders build irregular webs, and on higher doses don't bother bu i Idi n g any.
Interest in mescaline died down until the discovery of LSD revitalized research on psychedelics. Canadian psychiatrists Osmond, Hoffer and Smythies used mescaline to achieve the first proof of the biochemical basis of schizophrenia and had great success in curing alcoholism. Their reports got Huxley interested ii the drug, and he found it to be "without question the most extraordinary and significant experience this side of the Beatific Vision." For Huxley, LSD and mescaline were neurochemicals for education
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