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The Peyote Cult, by Paul Radin, [1925], at


I was at the old agency. There they were to try me for murder. At night, as I sat in jail, certain people came to me and told me that they had a gallon jug of whisky, and that if I was free that night, I should come and drink with them. They would wait for me. That same night there was a peyote meeting at John Rave's house and my brother Sam invited me to go there. Sam stood around there waiting for me. He was very low in spirits. He knew of the other invitation I had received and he told me that he would go with me wherever I went. I wanted very badly to go to the place where they had the liquor, and should have done so if Sam had given me the least chance. However, I could not get rid of him, so I decided to go to the peyote meeting. When I arrived there, we found just enough room in the center for myself and Sam. Sam sat at the right of me and John Bear at the left. In front of me there was some peyote infusion, and some peyote ground up and dampened.

As we sat there Sam began to cry and I began to think. I knew why Sam was crying; he wanted me to take some of the peyote. After a while I began to think of my own troubles. But I thought it wasn't the proper way of taking it just because I was in trouble.

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[paragraph continues] Then I thought of the other peyote eaters, how much they must be wanting me to take it. After a while I spoke to Sam and said, "I am going to eat this medicine, but . . ." Then I began to cry. After a while he tried to get me to say the balance, but I couldn't. I drank some of the solution. As the others saw that I was willing to take it they gave me a big ball of dampened peyote. However, I didn't like that and I asked for some more peyote in the dry state. I sat there asking for more and more peyote. This I kept up all night. When morning came I stopped. Just then Harry Rave got up to speak, and no sooner did he get up than I knew exactly what he was going to say. This must be the way of all peyote eaters, I thought. I looked around me; and suddenly I realized that all those within the room knew my thoughts and that I knew the thoughts of all the others. Harry Rave spoke and finished his speech; but I had known it all before he said a word. Then A. Priest, who was leading the meeting, arose and asked the rest to get up, so that they might turn themselves over to Christ. I also rose; but when I got up I was seized with a choking sensation. I couldn't breathe. I wanted to grab hold of Bear and Sam, but I didn't, thinking that I was going to stand whatever was coming to me. When I made up my mind to that, I felt relieved. Then I knew what the real meaning of turning one's self over to Christ meant.

In the morning they stopped the meeting and everyone seemed happy and glad. I, however, was very serious and wondered why they were all laughing. Every once in a while they would come and talk to me. I wondered why they did it, when they knew what was going on within me. For that reason I wouldn't answer them.

That week there were four meetings, and I went to all of them and ate very much peyote. The fourth meeting was at the usual place, John Rave's house. I sat with Sam as usual. At night I became filled with peyote. All at once I heard a voice saying, "You are the one who is to tell of the medicine dance." And I thought that Sam was speaking to me, so I turned around and looked at him, but he hadn't said a word. Soon I realized that nobody near me had said anything, and I began to think, "Why should it be I? Why not one of the others?" I rather pushed the idea from me; but no sooner had I done so than I began to have a tired and depressed sensation. This passed all over me. I knew that if I got up with the sincere purpose of giving in to the power that was wanting me to speak of the medicine dance I should be relieved. However, for some reason, I know not why, I felt like resisting.

The next morning I asked to be baptized, and said that I would thereafter have nothing more to do with offerings to the spirits;

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that I would not give any more feasts; and that I would not have any more to do with the medicine dance. From that day on I quit all my old beliefs. I did not feel like saying all this, for indeed my heart was turned just the other way, but I couldn't help it, for I was filled with the peyote.

From that time on, at every meeting that I attended, I could not rid myself of the idea that I must tell of the medicine dance. At all such times a feeling of heaviness would come over me. There I would be with but one thing on my mind; should I, or should I not, tell of it? I did not want to, and thought of all sorts of excuses—that I was not a member of the Nebraska division, etc.

I was in this frame of mind while living with John Walker. There I received word that I would be wanted to tell of the medicine dance. From that moment I could not rest easy. I went to the barn and prayed and wept, asking that God might direct me. I went about but could not sit quiet. My wife stayed around me crying. As I stood there, someone drove up with a white team. Then I thought of all the unhappiness I would cause to members of the medicine lodge if I told the secrets of the medicine dance; and I asked myself if it really would not be a sin to cause so much misery. The man who was driving the white team was John Baptiste, and he told me that I was wanted to tell of the medicine dance. I got ready and entered the buggy. I was still crying and praying. Then it occurred to me that I would like to see John Rave. No sooner had I thought of this than John Rave appeared in the road. I got out and shook hands with him and told him where I was going and for what purpose, and asked him what he thought of the matter. He began to thank me for the work I was going to do and said, "This is what we should try to do, to help one another and to work for our Creator." Then he thanked me again. Perfect happiness now came over me and I went to Sioux City and got married legally. From now on I was entirely filled with the desire to tell all that I knew about the medicine dance. "This must be the work assigned to me by the Creator," I thought; and yet I have rejected the idea all the time.

On Paul's last trip, although I had not finished the translation, I didn't care to have any more to do with it, and said that somebody else should finish the work, my excuse being that I was busy. So, as soon as I heard that Paul had come, I packed up and hurried out west as quickly as possible, for I knew that he would bother the life out of me if he found me. However, no sooner had I reached the home of my friend than I was seized with an attack of rheumatism, with which I had never been afflicted before, and the next morning Paul appeared with a wagon to take me back to Winnebago. Now I know that the telling and the translation of the medicine dance is my mission in life, and I am willing to tell all to the full extent of my knowledge.

Next: Jesse Clay's Account of the Arapaho Manner of Giving the Peyote, Ceremony Which He Introduced Among the Winnebago in 1912