Plants - Drugs Mind - Spirit Freedom - Law Arts - Culture Library  
A Brief Summary of the Relationship between Peyote Use and the Ghost Dance
by Erowid, Nono Canasta, & K Trout
May 2002
There appear to be few direct links between the use of peyote among native americans and the Ghost Dance movement of the late 1800's. The main connections appear to be that the knowledge of the use of peyote spread through some of the same mechanisms and institutions that spread the Ghost Dance practices across the northern United States and that some who participated in the Ghost Dance participated in peyote using ceremonies.

In Peyote Religion, a History (1987), Omer C. Stewart writes about the peyote/Ghost Dance tie-in (see pages 65-67). He writes that the widespread establishment of "indian schools" around 1880 brought people from different tribes together. Although the schools intended to teach Christianity and 'white culture', the students also learned about the culture and practices of other tribes through the forced integration. Wovoka, a northern Paiute from Nevada, envisioned a the Ghost Dance and a millenial coming of change and taught what he saw to those around him. Because he refused to travel, others transmitted his vision to the Oklahoma reservations around 1890 (the first Ghost Dance was directed in 1889). Wovoka's Ghost Dance vision was primarily non violent, but as it spread, it included increasingly violent elements.

The early dance doctrines were Paiute and Northwest Plateau beliefs about cyclical world renewal brought about by dance which was based on an ordinary Paiute round dance, with side-stepping. The Ghost Dance also included novel, Christian-influenced, millenial themes: "faithful dancing, clean living, peaceful adjustment with whites, hard work and following god's chosen leaders". The view was that following the Ghost Dance would result in the return to the 'Good Ole Days' and that the whites would disappear. Wovoka's message of non-violence was overwhelmed by the visions of others, noteably Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull. It was this militant "removal of the whites" theme of much of the Ghost Dance movement which caused the most tension. There are many better descriptions of the Ghost Dance, we include a few links below.

Some peyotists, like Quanah Parker, disavowed the violent imagery of Ghost Dance and some Christianized native Americans did likewise. Other peyotists experimented with the Ghost Dance, bringing more native americans in contact with peyote religion. Caddo John Wilson, Pawnee Frank White, and Arapaho Sitting Bull were Ghost Dance leaders and peyote road men during the period of major dance activity. When the Ghost Dance faded after a few years and bloody massacres, the peyote road continued.

It is important to note, however, that Mooney's "Ghost Dance Religion & Sioux Outbreak of 1890" monograph written as an "ethnologist" / anthropologist observing the Ghost Dancers at the time makes no mention of peyote.

Robert Fuller, author of "Stairways to Heaven - Drugs in American Religious History", said "The peyote cult flowed easily along the new channels of [intertribal] friendship the Ghost Dance religion had opened up." [Salt Lake Tribune, August 2000] He wrote:
"Peyote rituals inherited a great deal of the cultural dynamic underlying the earlier Ghost Dance movement. That is, like the Ghost Dance, peyotism was also an attempt to overcome existing social disorganization by means of a collective rite. Peyotism, like the Ghost Dance, emphasized social solidarity. Yet, whereas the Ghost Dance preached teh violent demise of white culture through supernatural intervention, peyotism focused on the regeneration of Native American culture through ritual and ethical behaviour. - Robert Fuller "Stairways to Heaven", 2000, page 47.
Weston La Barre, who wrote the well-regarded book "The Ghost Dance", wrote The Peyote Cult which includes several mentions of the Ghost Dance, none of which suggest a direct involvement of peyote in any Ghost Dance ceremonies.
"It is interesting to note that, as with the Shawnee and others, Pawnee peyote was early involved in the Ghost Dance excitement. The leader claimed from peyote the same sort of revelations acquired in the Ghost Dance trance, and taught that while under the influence of the peyote one could learn the rituals belonging to bundles and societies; in this manner he himself amassed considerable star lore. One unusual Pawnee feature was the use of a special Ghost Dance form of painted tipi for peyote meetings; minor changes were made in the type of drum and rattle also." - La Barre W (1938/1989), page 118.
Perhaps the most consistent view of the influence of the Ghost Dance on peyote use in native American culture is simply that: "In the days following the cessation of inter-tribal warfare, peyotism was able to exploit the friendly contacts growing out of the Ghost Dance." (La Barre, page 112)


Other Links on Peyote & The Ghost Dance
General Ghost Dance Links