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In The Magic Land Of Peyote
by Fernando Benitez
University of Texas Press 
Reviewed by LaMalice, 10/7/2005

In The Magic Land Of Peyote is a pioneering journey into the heart of the most iconic peyote-lovers and peyote-worshippers Indians of Mexico : the Huichols. Fernando Benitez is a leading Mexican anthropologist, author of the reference Los Indios de Mexico, and was one of the very first to experience the annual Huichol pilgrimage to the mountains of north-eastern Mexico where they communicate with their god through the ingestion of the sacred cactus.

Throughout this long pilgrimage in the desert, we get an insider view of the Huichol religious pantheon and how their gods take a real existence and fully participate to their social life. There is a short and rather doubtful chapter in which Leary and Castaneda appear on the stage with the Indians; otherwise the whole book is dedicated to a systematic description of the events and people involved in this journey. His description of the complex, never-ending and poetic rituals is detailed and includes various chants with a rather hermetic symbology. Always considered a stranger, there is at times a kind of soft melancholy in his accounts, as he realizes he is observing a game with rules that will always be out of his reach and sight.

This is an early and good account of a central aspect of the Huichols’ life, where the sacred cactus takes life and significance, embedded in a whole world of symbols and rituals. More neutral and scientifically oriented than Castaneda’s accounts, it plays the same role in documenting the traditionnal Indian life and culture in a less passionate and fictional way.

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