The Navajos, Peyote and Jesus
Some Navajo Indians mix Christianity with the old ways
by Anthony Chiorazzi
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Raymond Lewis, a retired mechanic living in the Navajo Nation in Arizona, tucks away his rosary and rises from kneeling and praying in front of a statue of the Virgin Mary in his living room, “Tonight, I take peyote and maybe see the Mother Mary,” he says.
Lewis, a 67-year-old full-blooded Navajo, who preferred not to use his real name, says he’s not unlike many Native Americans who practice their Catholic faith alongside their native religion. “There’s no contradiction. Both religions speak of being kind and living in harmony with one another, the Creator and nature,” Lewis says as he straightens a picture of a Navajo goddess, hanging behind the statue of Mary.
The Peyote Way
Lewis says taking peyote (a hallucinogenic) has always been a way for him to deepen his Christian convictions by allowing himself to meditate on Christ and occasionally see visions of the Mother Mary and other Christian saints, including Saint Francis and Saint Anthony. “Peyote is a sacrament. When I consume it, I feel holy and more open to holy things.”
But Lewis emphasizes that the purpose of peyote—which federal law protects the right of Native Americans to use in religious ceremonies—is not to get high or see visions. “If you see something, that’s fine, but it’s more important that you use the experience to look objectively at yourself and see how you can become more holy, more righteous, more Christian.”
Knowing nothing about Catholicism, Lewis says he converted to the Catholic Church thirty-one years ago after seeing a vision of the Mother Mary while on peyote. The next day, a Sunday, he says he went into a Catholic Church and saw the same image of Mary on the wall and knew he had to be a Catholic. “You can’t tell me that didn’t mean something,” says Lewis, who was formally baptized less than a year after his vision and today still regularly attends.