Peyote Religious Art celebrates history, artistry of Native American Church
"Peyote has given me visions," says Elk Hair, a Delaware Peyotist in
Daniel C. Swan's new book Peyote Religious Art (University Press of
Mississippi $35.00, cloth). "He [Peyote] gave me visions telling me how
to study our existence, how to think right. God taught Peyote to teach
his children the good ways, to have good thoughts and clear minds before
Elk Hair's narrative is one of many first-person accounts Swan gathered
from practitioners and artisans in the Native American Church, whose
holy sacrament is the small, spineless cactus, peyote. Combining 77 full
color photographs, 32 black and white illustrations, and many
narratives, Swan reveals the convictions, the faith, and the wealth of
spiritual artistry surrounding worship in the Native American Church.
Controversial and misunderstood, the ritualized use of peyote by
American Indians has long been attacked by non-Indian religious and
secular authorities. Despite official efforts to eliminate peyotism as
far back as the Spanish Inquisition and as recent as the War on Drugs,
its status in Native American spiritual life has not diminished.
Works by self-taught and informally trained artists make up the diverse
traditional and folk arts associated with the peyote religion. Peyote
art displays an amazing range of genres, including carving, beadwork,
featherwork, metalsmithing, and painting. Swan also explores regalia and
accouterments that worshipers cherish and the evolution of symbols
Along with previously unpublished first-person narratives by
practitioners of the religion and by artists, Peyote Religious Art
features art objects from museum collections, works by contemporary
artists, and materials from private family collections. Understanding
these expressive forms provides invaluable insight into the challenging
nature of American Indian life during the twentieth century and into the
intertwining of art, religion, and community.
Daniel C. Swan is senior curator at the Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa,
Oklahoma. He has published numerous articles on the peyote religion
among Oklahoma Indians.
112 pp., 77 full-color photographs, 32 b&w illustrations