To many people, the words psychedelic and spiritual are dissonant on first hearing. Yet the use of psychoactive sacraments in shamanic and religious practices is found throughout history. The word entheogen, used to describe certain plants and chemicals when used for spiritual purposes, emphasizes this long-established relationship. Following is a survey of the most historically prominent and widely used entheogens.
PEYOTE The peyote cactus, which has been used in Mesoamerica for at least 2,000 years, is still used sacramentally by the Huichol Indians of Mexico. Their ceremonies are said to closely resemble the pre-Columbian Mexican rites, largely unchanged by missionary influence.
The peyote practices of Mexico began diffusing north into several of the native tribes in the United States during the latter part of the 1800s. The North American peyote ceremony, as described around the turn of the century, is “essentially different from that in Mexico (though having some basic similarities); a ceremony essentially Indian, but not of any particular tribe; a ceremony having overtones of Christianity, but so different from all Christian sects that it would provoke them all to do their best to eradicate it” (from Peyote Religion: A History, by Omer C. Stewart).
Robert Jesse is the president of the Council on Spiritual Practices.