Shamanism and Peyote Use Among the Apaches
of the Mescalero Indian Reservation
L. Bryce Boyer, Ruth M. Boyer, and Harry W. Basehart
from: Hallucinogens & Shamanism,
Edited by Michael J. Harner
©1973, Oxford University Press
In a volume devoted to the study of shamanism
and hallucinogenic drugs it is important to include data
concerning a group whose experiences with the hallucinogenic
peyote cactus (Lophophora williamsii) in shamanistic rituals
resulted in serious conflict and, ultimately, proscription of the
ceremonial use of the drug. 1 Inthis contribution we present
information concerning the Apaches of the Mescalero Indian
Reservation, some of whom used peyote in shamanistic contexts
between about 1870 until some time after 1910. We then examine
some of the reasons why its use was abandoned and why their
accredited shamanistic practices subsequently have excluded the
use of hallucinogens.2
The Apaches presently living on the reservation
include members of three tribes, in order of descending numbers,
Mescaleros, Chiricahuas, and Lipans (R. M. Boyer, 1962, Appendix
A). The reservation was established in 1873 for the Mescaleros.
The Chiricahuas were taken as prisoners of war in 1886 after the
capitulation of Geronomo and his followers. When they were freed
in 1913, the majority chose to move to the reservation and to
become part of the Mescalero tribe. The Lipans were destroyed as
functioning groups during the latter half of the nineteenth
century, when their few known remaining members joined the
Nineteenth-century authors stated that the
Mescaleros used peyote in religious rites in 1867 (Methvin,
1899:36-37), the Chiricahuas in 1875 (Tones, 1899:95)1· and the
Lipans in 1885 (Havard, 1885:521; 1886:38). Nevertheless, it is
not generally known that these Apaches ate peyote. They were
excluded from Shonle's (1925) map of the distribution of the use
of peyote in the United States and they were listed as non-users
in a booklet compiled under the aegis of the Bureau of Indian
Affairs (Newberne, 1925.)
During his field work in the 1930's, Opler
(1936); learned that the Mescaleros had practiced rather
elaborate ceremonies centering on the utilization of peyote for
some forty years and that the Lipans had used it in shamanistic
contexts (Opler, 1938, 1940, 1945)·
According to the aged informant Antonio Apache,
the Lipans obtained peyote from the Carrizo Indians (Opler,
1938); and the Mescaleros are said to have learned peyote rites
from the Lipans not long before 1870 (LaBarre, 1938) or from the
Tonkawas, Lipans, Yaquis, or other non-Apachean groups of
northern Mexico (Opler, 1936:148). But for some slight degree of
experimentation by today's young people with marijuana and
perhaps LSD, the reservation Apaches are not known to have used
any other hallucinogenic drugs with the exception of alcohol.
Modern informants affirm that peyote has been and may now be used
for social purposes, but that formerly it was ingested only
during Mescalero and Lipan shamanistic ceremonies. We have been
unable to confirm its use during the years 1958-71. No one now
has knowledge of peyote use by the Chiricahuas of the
To understand why the shamanistic use of peyote
was abandoned requires an insight into Apache religious concepts
and a cognizance of personality structure among these people.
Initially we shall summarize the religious tenets.
Aboriginal religio-medical philosophies, the
criteria for according the status of shaman to individuals, and
shamanistic procedures have been similar if not identical among
the three tribes in recorded times (Boyer, 1964)· They conceive
the world to be permeated by supernatural power which has no
intrinsic attribute of good or evil; its virtue resides in its
potency. Power approaches people through the agency of a plant,
animal, or natural phenomenon by means of a dream or other
hallucinatory experience; its acceptance is frequently
accompanied by an ordeal. Ritual instruction may be received
directly from the power or from other shamans. Any person is a
possible power recipient. Thus, Opler (1936:146) described the
Mescaleros as "a tribe of shamans, active or potentially
An individual might own any number of powers.
If he is thought to use power for purposes which are not oriented
toward the common good, he is accorded the status of witch. Yet
those who are thought to use their powers for the benefit of the
group, the shamans, are implicitly witches since a shaman who
saves a life must then either sacrifice his own or that of a
loved person. Obviously, jealousies, enmities, and suspicion
abound. Each shaman has private instructions concerning the use
of power, and his rites are individually owned. Consistent with
native concepts of leadership and authority (Basehart, 1959,
1960, 1970), there has never been a chief shaman.
Opler's informants stated, and today's Apaches
agree, that ritual peyote use was acquired from personal contact
with power that approached people while it was invested in peyote
flowers or "buttons." Various Mescalero shamans
acquired peyote power and became leaders of a peyote camp in
which curing and other ceremonies were conducted. During such
rites, various shamans and other participants used and were
affected by peyote, experiencing the usual perceptual and logical
distortions, hallucinations, and physical effects. Whether the
Lipans had a formal peyote camp is not known.
There is a fundamental incongruity between the
principles involved in ordinary Mescalero shamanistic ceremonies
and the rules that applied to peyote rites. In ordinary
shamanistic practices, a single shaman is tire principal figure
and the experiences of attendants at ceremonies are subordinate.
Religious ecstasy, visions, and communications with supernaturals
are the shaman's prerogatives and validate his power and
efficacy. The use of peyote by other people at ceremonies made
its psychological and physiological effects common, and the
uniqueness of the shaman's experiences disappeared. The peyote
meetings became places in which shamanistic rivalries and
witchcraft flourished. Disruption resulted, rather than
cohesiveness through shared experience.
The peyote ceremonies were not accompanied by
the acceptance of Christian beliefs and practices, and the
Mescaleros never became involved in the Peyote Religion (see
Slotkin, 1956). Instead, the use of peyote was intended to affirm
the vitality of traditional religious practices at a time when
the impact of reservation confinement contributed to an increased
awareness of social and cultural deprivation. Yet antagonisms
became so open and bloody that eventually the peyote gatherings
were abandoned. The hostilities which became overt during the
meetings were ascribed to the peyote. Since its use involved
witchcraft practices, its ingestion was equated with the
potential for witchcraft.
It will be recalled that, in the native
conceptualization, power has no intrinsic attribute of good or
evil, and can be used for moral or immoral purposes at the will
of its human owner. To our knowledge, peyote power is unique
among the Mescaleros in that it is uniformly considered to be
bad. Some Mescaleros believe that one other power, the owl, is
intrinsically evil. Thus, the hoot of an owl is considered to
presage death. However, some Apaches regard the owl as the bearer
of the power of a human witch, others believe ghosts to inhabit
owls, and yet others deem owls to be witches whose actions are
motivated by their own evil will or power.
During 1959-60 there were thirteen accredited
Mescalero, Chiricahua, and Lipan shamans on the reservation.
Perhaps fifteen Mescaleros, here termed pseudoshamans, claimed to
own supernatural power but were considered generally to be
One of the shamans, Ancient One, was the sole
living person known to have participated in the peyote camp. Of
the shamans, only he and Black Eyes (Boyer, 1961; Klopfer and
Boyer, 1961), both Mescaleros, were at times judged to be
witches. It was said that they and two of the pseudoshamans still
used peyote in the illicit practices of witchcraft and love magic
ceremonies, rites which are potentially dangerous to those who
perform them. The shamans, considered to be legitimate possessors
of peyote power, were not punished by that power for their
actions. However, the peyote had "turned back" on the
pseudoshamans. As a consequence, one of them lost one of his legs
in an accident and the other was castigated indirectly when one
of his close relatives was killed and another lost a limb.
Let us turn now to a brief and partial
recapitulation of facets of current socialization practices. R.
M. Boyer (1962) found that child-rearing techniques tend to be
uniform in emotional content, and usually in actual practice,
provided the mother has been brought up on the reservation.
Further, during the prelatency period of a child's growth,
socialization practices strongly resemble aboriginal tactics.
Typically, there is gross inconsistency in the
maternal care of children. Frequently, the baby of the family is
afforded tender and loving care but periodically the mother will
impulsively abandon the infant to the supervision of others,
sometimes to children of only four or five years of age, for
hours or days while she engages in narcissistic pursuits,
commonly involving drinking. Ordinarily, a husband does not
object to such treatment of small children because his attention
and regard are no more constant. Under such conditions, the
development of a sense of basic trust (Erikson, 1950) is
Stultified; one result is the marked ambivalence and
suspiciousness which form aspects of Apache personality.
With the birth of a baby, usually when the
previous child is 18 to 24 months old, the older child is
abruptly, and often brutally, displaced. The resultant sibling
rivalry is intense but strongly disapproved. Nevertheless, its
repression is insecure and its effects become blatantly manifest
when teenagers and adults are under the influence of alcohol. We
refer here to only two of the severe psychological traumata
encountered by growing children.
In the aboriginal situation, other
socialization practices were reasonably effective in directing
hostilities engendered by such child-rearing practices, for
example, those mentioned above toward outsiders, witches, ghosts
and other culturally defined objects. During the long period when
these Apaches were nomadic hunters, gatherers, and raiders, such
externalization of aggression served to strengthen group
solidarity. With changing life conditions, in the presence of
feeble repression of interfamilial and intragroup resentments,
individuals' hatreds are generally discharged in manners which
result in anomie and various forms of self-destruction (Boyer and
L. B. Boyer's essential research method
consisted of conducting psychoanalytically oriented investigative
interviews (Boyer, 1964a). He had from 1 to 145 interviews each
with 60 different persons of both sexes, ranging in age from 4 to
65 years. He found a personality configuration which was typical
for these Apaches.
They are impulse-ridden, fear loss of control,
especially of feebly repressed hostile urges, and are suggestible
and phobic. They tend to avoid introspection and seek outer
controls and explanations for their behavior and thoughts. They
are suspicious and dependent and their libidinal attachments are
unstable. The men, who are caught between passive and aggressive
urges, have insecure sexual identities. The typical Apache
personality configuration corresponds with the Western
psychiatric diagnosis of character disorder with hysterical and
L. B. Boyer was generally considered to be a
shaman and, accordingly, was in an unusually good position to
learn about shamans and their activities. He found them to have
personality configurations that concur with those which are
typical for the Apaches, differing only to the degree to which
they successfully employ imposture and in their having greater
creative potential (Boyer, 1962).3 They are not autocultural
deviants who have resolved serious psychopathological conditions
through assuming shamanistic roles (Ackerknecht, 1943; Devereux,
1956; Silverman, 1967)· The personality structure of the
impostor as delineated by psychoanalysts (Greenacre, 1958) is
clinically similar to that of the usual Apache shaman.
A capacity to regress in the service of the ego
(Kris, 1952) and an ego-controlled availability of primary
process thinking (Freud, 191·5) are related to creativity and
showmanship. These characteristics appear to be necessary for the
successful practice of shamanism and for convincing
impostureship. It is noteworthy that the pseudoshamans who were
interviewed were found clinically to lack creative potentials and
the capacity to use regression in the service of the ego.
Because it was impossible to conduct
psychiatric interviews in depth with all of the shamans and
pseudoshamans, the Rorschach test was employed as a research
adjunct. Protocols were obtained from all Apaches of fifty years
of age and older (referred to here as the old-age group), 12 of
the 13 shamans and 7 pseudoshamans (Boyer, Klopfer, Brawer, and
Kawai, 1964). The protocols of the shamans and pseudoshamans were
compared with those of the old-age group and with each other. As
expected, the protocols of the old-age group showed hysterical
signs. The shamans demonstrated more hysterical signs and,
additionally, a way of handling data with keener awareness of
peculiarities and more selective theoretical interest; they had
creative characteristics and a high degree of reality testing
potential in addition to a capacity to regress in the service of
the ego. Viewed heteroculturally, or within Devereux's framework
of the ideal psychological normal, they more nearly approached
normality than did their culture mates." The personality of
the pseudoshamans was strikingly different. They were not
hysterical, had variable degrees of reality testing potential,
and impoverished personalities. Klopfer concluded from indirect
data that the shamans were able to use imposture convincingly
whereas pseudoshamans could not.
Historical and modern data provide some partial
and tentative answers to the intriguing question of why the
Mescaleros abandoned the use of peyote in shamanistic rituals and
today forbid its use.
Apache child-rearing practices engender much
hostility. Aggression was and is addressed institutionally toward
outsiders, witches, ghosts, and cultural bogies in an attempt to
produce individual repression of hostile impulses originally
directed toward familial and societal members. The effort was
more effective aboriginally but has never been strikingly
successful. In the past, as today, when individuals were under
the influence of hallucinogens, including alcohol, their unstable
repression of hateful impulses toward parent and sibling
surrogates became blatantly overt and threatened tribal unity.
The use of peyote in the camps introduced a
foreign element into Apache shamanistic procedures, the
simultaneous assumption of authority by more than one
practitioner. Each of them vied for supremacy of power and
status. The physiopsychological effects of the hallucinogen
reduced the efficacy of their repression of the hostilities which
had resulted from their socialization experiences.
The drug-induced regression resulted in their
releasing aggression in its earlier, childish form, directly
toward parent and sibling surrogates. Bloodshed and feuds
occurred; the Apache wisely banned the peyote camps.
It would appear that the ascription of the
quality of evil to peyote (power), an act which involved basic
deviation from the conceptualization of power without intrinsic
properties of good or evil, was intended to deny the presence of
The use of peyote was proscribed for shamans;
thenceforth it was employed by possessors of supernatural power
solely in witchcraft rituals, as was owl power, and love magic
It can be no coincidence that only peyote and
owl power have been considered to be evil in themselves. In each
instance, murderous wishes are projected onto the power in
The Mescaleros, Chiricahuas, and Lipans fear
the use of peyote for two stated reasons: (1) it has an evil
power which will drive them to do evil and (2) it causes
hallucinations, that is, reduces their capacity to perceive and
judge external reality accurately.
There is fear of the visual aberrations and of
the strange qualities of movement encountered. In the first case,
intrapersonal asocial tendencies are projected onto the peyote.
Sexual transgressions arouse little overt anxiety among these
Apaches except when inter-generational incest has occurred, but
they fear their poorly controlled aggressive impulses. The second
case is similar. The Apaches may displace their fear of loss of
control over destructive urges onto fear of loss of control of
A number of questions remain, of which we shall
deal briefly with three.
First, why did two shamans continue to use
peyote in illicit practices! Both were considered to be very
powerful and were feared by most Apaches. Black Eyes,
intoxicated, frequently bragged that he was a witch and once
flaunted peyote buttons before the psychoanalytic author. Ancient
One had no need to flaunt his witchcraft potential. He was said
to have killed many individuals, both tribal enemies and Apaches,
sometimes by means which appeared to have required the
intervention of the supernatural. His own children were so awed
by his presumed powers that they even hesitated to whisper their
conviction that he was a witch. Perhaps these two men deemed
themselves to be so strong that they were above social sanctions
and continued to use peyote both to demonstrate their contempt
for their fellow Mescaleros and for material purposes. It is
probable that they could demand greater recompense and command
greater respect from performing rituals which were conceptualized
as illegitimate in Apache practice and belief.
Second, why did two pseudoshamans use peyote in
their rituals? They had impoverished personalities, and were
generally scorned both as shamans and witches and employed solely
by the most suggestible. We postulate that they used peyote in an
attempt to raise their esteem in their eyes and those of others,
hoping that they would truly become powerful if they could
exploit the effects of the hallucinogens. Each of them confided
to L. B. Boyer while intoxicated that they doubted their own
claims of power possession and consciously sought to deceive
Third, the use of alcohol among these Apaches
is commonplace. While it is officially and to some extent
socially disapproved, it is accepted as "one way of
life," a way accepted even prior to white domination. Under
its influence, hallucinosis is frequent, and exceedingly violent
actions often occur. Further, in the drunken state, perception is
blurred and distorted, paralleling one aspect of the experiences
induced by the ingestion of peyote. Why, then, was the use of
alcohol socially permissible, while peyote was proscribed? A
significant reason would appear to be the incorporation of peyote
into the shamanistic ritual complex from the time of its
introduction to the Apaches; the consumption of alcohol, to our
knowledge, has never been culturally acceptable in ceremonial
contexts. Where the group situation at peyote meetings fostered
conflict centering on the varying powers controlled by and
controlling particular individuals, aggression released during
drinking parties was channeled outside the personally mediated
world of the supernatural.
It will be most interesting to observe future
Apache involvement with hallucinogens, inasmuch as their use has
become commonplace among adolescents and young adults throughout
the United States. Will the ban against the use of peyote extend
to other hallucinatory agents with which Apaches may become
familiar in their increasing intercourse with the world beyond
the reservation? Or, might acquaintance with some hallucinogens
pave the way for the re-definition of peyote, especially in view
of the diminished commitment of the majority of present-day
Apaches to the system of supernatural beliefs associated with
Research designed to answer these and related
questions should yield significant data for cross-cultural
comparison of processes of sociocultural change.
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1. An earlier version of this paper was
presented at the Hallucinogens and Shamanism symposium at the
annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association in
1968. The research which made this communication possible was
supported in part by National Institute of Mental Health Grants
M-2013 and M-go88 and University of California (Berkeley) Faculty
Grants. It has continued since 1958.
The ultimate purpose of the research is to
delineate areas of interaction among social structure,
socialization, and personality organization. Harry W. Basehart
has been responsible for collecting data pertaining to social
structure. He was assisted in 1959-60 by Bruce B. MacLachlan.
Ruth M. Boyer has gathered socialization data and also aided
Basehart. L. Bryce Boyer has studied personality organization.
The principal psychological consultant was Bruno Klopfer; his
assistants were Florence B. Brawer, Hayao Kawai, and Suzanna B.
Scheiner. Basehart has spent more than a year on the reservation,
MacLachlan over fourteen months, and the Boyers over two years.
L. BRYCE BOYER, M.D., RUTH M. BOYER, PH.D.,
and HARRY W. BASEHART, PH.D., have worked as an inter-disciplinary team in
their studies of Mescalero Apache shamanism. L. Bryce Boyer is a
practicing psychoanalyst in Berkeley, California, who in his
considerable field research: specializes in shamanism. Ruth M.
Boyer is an anthropologist and Lecturer in the Department of
Design at the University of California, Berkeley. Dr. Basehart is
Professor of Anthropology at the University of New Mexico and
Editor of the Southwestern journal of Anthropology.
2. The Apaches call peyote hoos. Almost no
one remembers an aboriginal name, xucladjin-dei (Castetter and
3. Subsequently, Boyer reviewed the
relevant literature on shamanism and concluded that,
cross-culturally, shamans have personality configurations similar
to those exhibited by Apache practitioners (Boyer, 1964b).
4. Devereux's (1956) stand has been
frequently misunderstood. He held that shamans must be considered
to be seriously neurotic or psychotic when compared with the
hypothetical psychological normal. Boyer's viewpoint has been
similarly misunderstood. Thus Handelman (1968) has stated that
Boyer considers shamans to be psychologically abnormal, inferring
therefrom that he deems them to be autocultural deviants, which
is not true (Boyer, 1969).