The Peyote Cult, by Paul Radin, , at sacred-texts.com
It is quite impossible to establish now what these converts introduced individually. For that matter it is not necessary to assume that they brought any specific additions to the cult. What they did bring were Winnebago; and with that, the emotional and cultural setting of the old pagan background. To one, the eating of the peyote gave the same magical powers that were formerly associated with membership in the medicine dance; to another, the visions were direct blessings from God, directing him to perform certain actions; to a third, faithfulness to the teachings of the Peyote cult became associated with a certainty of reaching God, of being able to take the right road in the journey to the spirit land. Even a man so thoroughly saturated with Christian doctrines as Hensley himself felt it necessary to introduce an origin myth; and although we know that he borrowed it from a southern tribe, it is quite clear that in Hensley's narrative it has already assumed all the characteristics of a Winnebago fasting experience and ritualistic myth, similar to those connected with the founders of the old Winnebago cult societies. In its totality the atmosphere of the Peyote cult became thus charged with the old Winnebago background. In 1911 it can not be said that they had displaced the distinctive Christian elements. Among the younger members, especially those who had been trained in the east and could read and write English, the influence of the Christian ideas in the interpretation of the old pagan features is, as was pointed out before, so strong to-day that it threatens to displace the others.
The following homily will show how the old myths were used by the younger Peyote members to point a tale.
The old people often spoke of the Trickster, but we never knew what they meant. They told us how he wrapped a coon-skin blanket around himself and went to a place where all the people were dancing. There he danced until evening and then he stopped and turned around. No one was to be seen anywhere, and then he realized that he had mistaken for people dancing the noise made by the wind blowing through the reeds.
So do we Winnebagoes act. We dance and make a lot of noise, but in the end, we accomplish nothing.
Once, as the Trickster was going toward a creek, he saw a man standing on the other side, dressed in a black suit, and pointing his finger at him. He spoke to the man but the latter would not answer. Then he spoke again and again, but without receiving any reply. Finally he got angry and said, "See here! I can do that too." He put on the black coat and pointed his finger across the creek. Thus both of them stood all day. Toward evening, when he looked around again, he noticed that the man across the creek, pointing his finger at him, was really just a tree stump. "O my! what have I been doing all
this time? Why did I not look before I began? No wonder the people call me the Foolish One."
So are we Winnebagoes. We never look before we act. We do everything without thinking. We think we know all about it.
The Trickster was walking around with a pack on his back. As he walked along, someone called to him. "Say, we want you to sing." "All right," said he. "I am carrying songs in my pack, and if you wish to dance, build a large lodge for me with a small hole at the end for an entrance." When it was finished, they all went in, and the Trickster followed them. Those who had spoken to him were birds. He told them that while dancing they were not to open their eyes, for if they did their eyes would become red. Whenever a fat bird passed the Trickster he would choke it to death, and if it cried out, he would say, "That's it! That's it! Give a whoop!"
After a while one of the birds got somewhat suspicious and opened its eyes just the least little bit. He saw that the Trickster was choking all the birds. "He is killing us all," said the bird. "Let all who can run for their lives." Then he flew out through the top of the house. The Trickster took the birds he had killed and roasted them; but he did not get a chance to eat. them, for they were taken away from him by somebody.
So are we Winnebagoes. We like all that is forbidden. We say that we like the medicine dance; we say that it is good and yet we keep it secret and forbid people to witness it. We tell members of the dance not to speak about it until the world shall come to an end. They are afraid to speak of it. We, the Winnebago, are the birds, and the Trickster is satan.
Once, as the Trickster was going along the road, some one spoke to him. He listened, and he heard it say, "If anyone eats me all bad things will come out of him." Then the trickster went up to the one talking, and said, "What is your name?" "My name is 'Blows-himself-away.'" The Trickster would not believe it; so he ate it. After a while, he blew himself away. He laughed. "Oh, pshaw! I suppose this is what it meant." As he went along it grew worse and worse, and it was only after the greatest hardship that he succeeded in returning home.
So are we Winnebagoes. We travel on this earth all our lives, and then when one of us tastes something that makes him unconscious we look upon this thing with suspicion when he regains consciousness.