Legend of the Peyote

The legend of the sacredness of the peyote plant was revealed in a dream to a woman.

She was lost from her group of hunting-men and root-gathering women. She had fallen behind because she gave birth to a child, in some version a boy and in others a girl.

Alone she had to fend for herself. She cut the navel cord with a stone knife from a pouch at her waist. Then she lay helpless by a low, leafy bush, watching buzzards gather and circle overhead. She watched them swooping and soaring lower with each downward beat of their great black wings.

Out of this desolation and terror, the woman heard a voice speak to her. «Eat the plant that is growing beside you,» it said. «That is life and blessing for you and all your people.»

Weakly, the woman turned her head against the earth. The only plant in sight, besides the small bush that sheltered her, was a small cactus.

It was without thorns, and its head was divided into lobes. She reached for the plant, and it seemed to grow outward to meet her fingers. The woman pulled up the cactus, root and all, and ate the head.

Strength returned to the woman immediately. She sat up and looked around her. She raised her child to her filling breasts and fed it.

Then, gathering as many cactus plants as she could find and carry, she rose and walked forward. Something wonderful must have been leading her, for by evening she had reached the main group of her people again.

The woman took the plants to her uncle, her mother’s brother. He was a man of great wisdom and was much respected by his people. «This is truly a blessing,» the uncle said when he heard the woman’s story. «We must give it to all the people.»

The above legend is told among the Tarahumare, the Yaqui, and the Otomi of the northern Sonorian desert and mountains and their names have become familiar in the United States.

From which group of people the story originated would be hard to say, but it continues to be told today, and must have come to them from the south for it has long been told by the Aztecan peoples of Mexico’s central Great Valley. A.G.H.


Marriott, Alice, Carol K. Rachlin. Peyote. New York. Thomas Y. Crowell, Co. 1971. pp. 2-3