Earth Angels

Now wait a minute,
I know I'm lying in a field of grass somewhere!

Branches shading my open mind
describe the shape of life and
hold the smallest of birds which,
informing me with a nod,
sings "All plants are Angels!
Praise God, Praise God!"

Friday, January 21, 2011

Grandfather Peyote: How Some Plants Are More Equal Than Others

Pencil drawing by Michael Wisnowski
As in the memorable oxymoronic quote from Orwell’s Animal Farm- “Some animals are more equal than others”, some plants may also be more equal than others, depending on what your particular human situation might be.  Sour orange trees are beautiful to see ubiquitously planted in Tucson/Phoenix landscaping, but the inedible fruits end up dropping all over the place and people pay Mexicans like me good money to collect and bag and haul them off to the landfill.  (Why not just plant sweet, rather than sour oranges in the medians and public commons you ask?  Well we wouldn’t want people thinking that food grows on trees would we?  And think of the people who need the pay to gather the sours, as the sweets would mostly be hauled off for free, and now the dudes at Safeway have to layoff some workers because nobody’s buying oranges and, well you see- it’s all such a vicious cycle.)  Ok, so you get that if you’re hungry and thirsty, Arizona Sweets are way more equal than the equally visually appealing, Arizona Sours.
With this same utilitarian, practical prejudice in mind, I will share a few words, and more effectively perhaps, a few images illustrating the following notion; Based on my experience of hunting, observing, planting, growing, harvesting, drying, giving, being blessed by, and also consuming no small amount of the humble and ancient looking Chihuahuan Desert medicine they call peyote, I believe this plant is by far, the most equal plant I have ever known.  And if I live long enough, I hope to tell you, the willing reader, about quite a few of them, but let's start with my favorite plant- a cactus.  (Important note to you, mis amigos y amigas, who've read this far: I have it on the solid word of the honorable Mr. Uncle Pete Petrie of Mesa, Arizona and Santiago, Chile- that only the readers of this world have any chance at all of evolving from loserhood to actualized, sustainably cognizant, earth-loving, friendly human beans, so congratulations people- you're at the right party!)
Ink Drawing by Leo
About cactus; I remember when I worked with Uncle Pete at The Boyce Thompson Southwestern Arboretum there was a back greenhouse, not open to the public, that really only got watered when Dr. Crosswhite or I had nothing else going on.  So this place was full of cacti in little pots that baked all summer with precious little or no moisture, lots of heat, and absolutely no attention.  There was one particular ceramic container that had a setting of a small family of healthy looking cactoid beings with a little sign that said, "Cacti: Warmth, Courage, Endurance"  That's all it said.  I don't know why.  But I understood exactly what it meant from the moment I saw it and each time thereafter.  The way they somehow germinate and thrive on a dry, vertical cliff, hanging on in unbelievable heat, witnessing the decades away.  I was in awe of cacti before I even liked them, mostly due to "jumping-cholla" and stuff, but then I loved them, and part of this is that they show me how to develop warmth, courage, and endurance for myself, my family, my world.  At some point, I pretty much just realized that I want to be around cacti, the deserts where they grow, especially saguaros and peyote. (The Sonoran and Chihuahuan Deserts.)

Yarn Painting by Raven
  So then, here's this little Arizona-grown, altar-boy, spoiled, Mexican, lucky brat, who loves cactus, then finds out there's one that you eat and it teaches and heals and gives you art and community and all stuff like that.  Ok people, how could I not go there, check that trail out?
All photos by Leo
You can read all kinds of stuff about peyote, (Lophophora williamsii, or Hikuri amongst my Huichol relations), in books and online- botanical, historical, cultural, pharmacological, and personal experience reports.  Like it's a drug or something.  A special Grandmother said in a New Year's ceremony, you can research this medicine if you want but all you can really say about it is that, it's wonderful."  The emphasis on the so-called trip, the experiences... It’s embarrassing, or something that feels like embarrassment, to talk about this medicine in this way… It reminds me of our common culturally under-informed discussions of religion, gardening, and sex.  Why?  Because it's something you do, not say, and if you're saying it, chances are good that you're not doing it, and therefore any words can only confuse an otherwise good thing. 
Yarn Painting With Silver Liberty Coin by Leo
I edited the re-publication of “Peyote and Other Psychoactive Cacti”, which is a factual synopsis of, you know, the basic information- but all of this stuff is just the hole in the donut I say.  It’s actually pretty boring in its abstract relation to the yummy, creamy filling that we actually crave to nourish our souls in our short time on this earth.  If this sparks your appetite, take a bite of the way this spiritually healing earth donut looks, its visual form, the shape of what it is. 
Ink drawing by Raven
Peyote is a mandala, the Circle of Life, with a flower in the center.
There’s an old concept called The Doctrine of Signatures, attributed originally to Paracelsus, who got hip to the idea that plant medicines resemble the body parts and/or ailments for which they focused their healing properties.  This means that a plant with leaves whose shape resembles lungs would heal pulmonary complaints, walnuts for the head and brain, and the like.  (For what it’s worth, one of my hippie postulates is that Everybody Looks Like Who/What They Are.  This might also be a cousin to the universally recognized posit, Dogs Resemble Their Master.)  To my eyes, the shape of peyote tells me that it’s good for everything.  This is how the medicine talks to me.  This green growing guru also has the communication skills sufficient to teach us about other medicines and methods, if we ask respectfully and pay attention.


Like people, all peyote plants look similar but all are unique.  Also like people, the little baby ones are just the cutest little things so that you just want to caress and kiss them!

It is not a loud, large, or proud or even particularly noticeable creature, almost hiding in its lowliness.  Like stars becoming coming out after dusk, it let’s itself be seen by the humble, rewarding the childlike, the down-and-out, the truly devoted seeker, with the strengthening of their walk on this earth. 

Peyote Way Church Ceramic Peyote Drum

Yarn Painting by Leo
I used to think that I was looking for peyote, wanting to find it, to know something of what it truly is.  Now it looks like  peyote was looking for me, wanting me to find myself, to know something of what I truly am.
 Our Huichol elder, Don Jose Matsuwa Rios, would say that when it comes to knowing anything about Hikuri, he was becoming more of a baby, Nu nu'tsi, with age.  The more you think you know, the less you do.
A circle points in all directions.  Peyote sees in all directions.  It also hears us, listening to what we say, then dividing that by what we mean, and multiplying the sum total of truth straight to Creator’s realm.  
Yarn Painted Mirror by Leo
For myself and my brothers and sisters in the sacred circle, this little round and living entity is a far better representation and reminder of Christ in our lives than a cathedral full of bleeding Jesus forever affixed to, and suffering around on a cross.
Peyote Way Church
An old story about how peyote came to the people was through a woman whose brother was lost.  In desperation, she and her nursing child searched but eventually became lost themselves.  With no food or water the mother lost her strength, her milk for her child, and her hope of finding her brother.  She resigned herself to death by dehydration under a shrub, but feeling something cool and moist in her outstretched hands, the woman heard a voice telling her to eat of this, for it is food and water.   
Rejuvenated by the desert manna of this perfectly soft, fuzzy, and moist, spineless cactus, the woman sees where her brother is and she brings him, the sacred medicine, and the ceremony back to the tribe.  In some ways, we are all lost.  In the tipi ceremony, the Morning Water Woman greets us at dawn with food and water, and we are no longer lost, we are back with our tribe.
Oil painting by Raven
Often people ask how much peyote they need to eat to experience whatever.  As westerners, we believe we ingest a substance then something happens.  Maybe the thing we expect to happen after eating peyote is already happening before we eat it.  If you believe in the strength of the subtle, then perhaps eating this medicine with our mouths is not as powerful as taking it in with our eyes.  So my answer to “How much should I eat?” is usually some dumb, crazy-wisdom sounding, but true answer like, “You don’t need to eat any Holmes, just look at it clearly my friend, and let the healing begin!”

Yarn Painting by Raven
 My personal experience is that I don’t trip out from eating peyote; I am tripping out before I eat it.  Its most powerfully reliable effect is then, to make me stop tripping. 
"To be the person you want to be, be the person you want to be.", it says.  "When you get responsible for being here now, then you'll be here now."
Yarn painted clock by Leo
Huichol beaded art
People looking for some psychedelic trip should drop acid or eat mushrooms. People looking for a buzz should drink beer.  If you want to see cool colors and stuff, go see a 3D movie already.

This medicine works on you from the inside out.  The sad fact that peyote is categorized as a Schedule I drug, along with heroin, pcp, and the like is simply a hype-generated bureaucratic artifact from the overzealous 1970’s, J. Edgar Hoover, paternalistic, pink panty wearing War On Vegetables which paves over the sacred and humble things of the earth with the asphalt of the profane.

Incense burner with hikuri designs, from Israel
Gift of the late Eliav Medina

Texas Rock Art


Few plants inspire so much storytelling, music, and art.  I see the universal shape of peyote buttons in everything everywhere, from crop circles to, petroglyphs, to chocolate treats.

Mesquite Yarn Painting by Leo
Clock by Leo
Crop Circle Diagram
“If there’s no peyote button in it, can it really be art?”- my friends have all heard me say this dozens of times.

Crop Circle Diagram

Candle, gift of the late Eliav Medina

To my understanding, this plant loves to be respectfully harvested and eaten.  It loves humans.  It especially loves women and children.
Sunday morning after church

Peyote loves food and music and all-night fire vigils, waiting for the sun.  It finds its larger, non-corporeal form in honest expressions, heartfelt tears, joyous laughter, and community cooperation. 
In many ways I feel that when I’m in a tipi ceremony, I’m once again showing up to make myself, and old man peyote, a little happier.  I relish and need this, the feeling of being silently but sincerely wanted; my attendance and more importantly, my attention being requested.  It’s a perfect circle feeling of getting help and being helpful, intertwined with each other like a DNA helix.
Huichol Yarn Painting

Yarn Painted Mirror by Leo
They say you taste yourself when you eat this medicine.  Its taste always makes me think that I am chewing every taste on the earth.  When I eat enough of it, the taste seems to change from bitter, to what I can only describe as “good for me”.
 Every time we take this medicine in, it changes us in a positive manner.  It is a green light for healing, a red light for negativity, and a yellow warning signal to respect and take care of our earth, ourselves, and each other so our children and their children and their children can live harmoniously, and that it starts with us.
Yarn Painted Clock by Leo
Yarn Painted Clock by Leo



  1. This is the best description of the 'Grandfather' plant that I have read. Thank you for your wisdom and sharing!

  2. Thank you for this truly spiritual description. Far too many people remain ignorant and lost by choice. The medicine opens us to our own possibilities.
    In a good way,
    Jim Owl

  3. Very beautiful narratives in your blog. Inspiring.

  4. Hello, cactus freind! I stumbled upon your blog while trying to identify a cactus. I am still reaping the healing powers of the medicine years after our last meeting. I loose touch with myself and my path now and again but the subtle pull of healing guides me on. After being lost for so many years to have the awakening and remember who I am was the most profound experience of my life. It was not easy, nor without pain and most certainly did not happen over night. But like the Peyote grows, slowly, do I. Many blessings to you and yours!

  5. It is quite something to see through another's eyes this medicine which has also shaped my spirit.