How Grandfather Peyote came to the people
Vision quests in which an individual seeks spiritual power are common
to many Indian tribes. The peyote plant is often used by the Sioux and
Cheyenne in the rituals associated with such quests - the sweat lodge, a
solitary vigil, a flesh offering.
This is how Grandfather Peyote came to the Indian people.
One old woman had a dream that she would find a herb, a root, which would save her people. The woman was old and frail but, taking her little granddaughter, she went on a vision quest to learn how to find this sacred herb. They walked away from the camp until they were lost.
Arriving at the top of a lonely hill, the grandmother made a brush
shelter for herself and the young one. Without water or food they were
weak, and as night fell they huddled together, not knowing what to do.
The sun went down again and the second night came. The old woman
prayed to the spirit:
The grandmother ate some more of the sacred medicine and gave some to
the girl. And a power entered them through the herb, bringing them
knowledge and understanding and a sacred vision. Experiencing this new
power, the old woman and her granddaughter stayed awake all night. Yet
in the morning when the sun rose and shone upon the hide bag with the
peyote, the old one felt strong. She said:
During the third night the spirit came again and taught the old woman
how to show her people the proper way to use the medicine. In the
morning she got up, thinking:
At nightfall once more they saw the spirit man, silhoutted against the setting sun. He pointed out the way to their camp so that they could return quickly.
Though they had taken no food or water for four days and nights, the
sacred medicine had kept them strong- hearted and strong-minded.
She showed the men how to use this *pejuta*, this holy herb. The
spirit had taught her the ceremony, and the medicine had given her the
knowledge through the mind power which dwells within it.
Everybody, men and women, old and young, ate four buttons of the new
medicine. A boy baby was breast nursing, and the peyote power got into
him through his mother's milk. He was sucking his hand, and he began to
shake it like a gourd rattle.
One woman felt the spirit telling her to look for a cottonwood tree.
On the way back to camp, a man felt the power telling him to pick up five smooth, round pebbles and to cover the drum with a piece of tanned moose hide. He used the pebbles to make knobs around the rim of the drum so that he could tie the hide to it with a rawhide thong. And when he beat the drum it sounded good, as if a spirit had gotten hold of it.
When night came, the people made a fire inside the tipi and took the medicine again. Guided by peyote power, the old woman looked into the flames and saw a heart, like the heart-shaped leaf of the cottonwood tree. Thus she knew that the Great Spirit, who is also in Grandfather Peyote, wanted to give his heart to the red men of this continent. She told the man tending the fire to form the glowing embers into the shape of a heart, and the people all saw it beat in rhythm with the drum.
A little later, one helper who was under the spirit power saw that the hide rope formed a star at the bottom of the drum. He shaped the glowing coals of the fire into a star and then into a moon, because the power of the star and the spirit of the moon had come into the tipi.
One man sitting opposite the door had a vision in which he was told to ask for water. The old woman brought fresh, cool water in a skin bag, and they all drank and in this way came under the power. Feeling the spirit of the water, the man who was in charge of the fire shaped the embers into the outline of a water bird, and from then on the water bird became the chief symbol of the holy medicine.
Around the fire this man made a half-moon out of earth, and all along
the top of it he drew a groove with his finger. Thus he formed a road,
the road of life. He said that anybody with the gift of *wacankiyapi*,
which means having love and heart for the people, should sit right
In this way the people made the first peyote altar, and after they had drunk the water, they thanked the peyote. Looking at the fire in the shape of the sacred water bird, they prayed to the four directions, and someone sprinkled green cedar on the fire.
The fragrant, sweet-smelling smoke was the breath of Grandfather
Peyote, the spirit of all green and growing things. Now the people had
everything they needed: the sacred herb, the drum, the gourd, the fire,
the water, the cedar. From that moment on, they learned to know
themselves. Their sick were cured, and they thanked the old woman and
her grandchild for having brought this blessing to them. They were the
Comanche nation, and from them the worship of the sacred herb spread to
all the tribes throughout the land.