Essay, Research Paper: College Paper On Religion


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Chal the main character was born into a time and place where his culture was
being destroyed. His blood is not pure Osage, mixed with white, but the Indian
blood is powerful inside him. The blood that runs through him takes him to days
of the past, days lost, heritage lost, role models lost, and a dying culture.
Chal is a perfect example of a lost sole. Throughout this book, Sundown, by John
Joseph Mathew, Chal is faced with choices. Challenges, may be the right word
though. His father John named him Chal, short for challenge, "He shall be a
challenge to the disinheritors of his people," (Pg. 4). Maybe his name led
his life in other directions, and challenges were to fill his life. In his
choices he is torn between the mixed bloods that are running through him. The
Indian blood and culture, in the expanding, dominating, white mans society. Chal
is filled with confusion, it the theme of the book and his character. He
represents that generation of turmoil. The transition to white America, through
his euro-american education and loss of the warrior role has clouded his mind.
The novel starts with Chal as a young child daydreaming of fighting the English.
He is a General, a warrior, leading the charge and then giving an inspirational
speech to his men. Chal knows only the stories of the past, going on hunts and
wars against "England." The wars against England taught to him by his
father. He knows nothing of the roles of the future because his culture has no
role models of Eastern white dominated society to come. He hasn't grown up with
the Eastern white society role models. Chal sees his father trying to be a
businessman, and he enjoys listening to that kind of talk throughout his life.
It may be because his father is the only role model he has seen. For the most
part though while he is young and throughout the book he looks to the past,
those glorious stories of the past. Chal is educated in the euro-american way
trying teach the Indian out of him. He is confused of what his glorious past
really was. Were his people really the savages and pagans he grew up hearing
about in school. He grows up ashamed of his Indian blood, and tries to adapt to
the white society. Chal's friends at college embarrass him. His friend, Son on
His Wings, accepts his Indian and is proud. Chal joins the Air Force because
that is American and it may replace some his lost feelings of the warrior role,
but he is still filled with torment. Toward the end of the story you believe
Chal may finally be all right when he visits the sweat lodge with Son on His
Wings. It is there when Chief Watching Eagle spoke of the "roads" to
White Deer during the sweat lodge ritual. He was not only trying to ease the
pain of the loss of Running Elk, White Deer's son; he was explaining the choices
one must make according to their heritage or blood. It was as if he was speaking
to Chal directly. "Long time ago there was one road and People could follow
that road. They said, 'There is only one road. We can see this road. There are
no other roads.' Now it seems that road is gone, and white man has brought many
roads. But that road is still there. That road is still there, but there are
many other roads there too. There is a White man's road, and there is road which
comes off from forks. The bad road which no white man follows - the road which
many of the People follow, thinking it is the white man's road. People who
follow this road say they are as the white man, but this is not white man's
road. People who follow this road say that road of Indian is bad now. But they
are not Indians anymore, these people who follow that road…The road of our
People is dim now like buffalo trail across the prairie…" (271). Watching
Eagle was not only speaking of Running Elk, but of all Indians. This directly
applies to Chal. Obviously there was a great problem with the men of that age,
not having direction. Running Elk was Chal's boyhood friend and schoolmate who
had the same problems with the changing times. They had lost their warrior role;
they only had dreams of the past. They did not have the guidance they were
confused by the "roads." Chal should have been listening to this for
himself; he needed this advice or knowledge. The sweat lodge ritual was a
cleansing process the night before Peyote Church. Chal participated in this with
Sun on His Wings. In many ways this cleansing process helped, he was feeling
good and comfortable with himself. Within a few days though his old friends had
brought him right back to the bad road. Chal needed something to let him know
who he was, where he was, and where he was going. Son on His Wings offered him
this. The Peyote Church, Peyote Religion, or Peyotism, all names of the practice
which has been healing the North American Indians for over one hundred years. It
has been a way the North American Indians have been healing themselves not only
medically but also spiritually. Through peyote they are able to get in touch
with what has been lost, where their at now, and what is to come. The use of
peyote has only been helping North American Indians for over one hundred years,
but peyote use in Mexican tribes is believed to be thousands of years old.
"The religious use of peyote is very ancient. One cache of dried peyote
found in a Texas cave, has been dated at approximately 7000 years old. The use
of peyote in ceremonies among Mexican tribes was a well established tradition by
the time of the European entrance into the continent," (Ref.1, pg.1). It is
believed that the peyote did not spread North until the early to mid 1800's.
Coincidentally this is parallel to the genocide that was taking place to the
Native American population. This came at a time when the indigenous people were
in dire need of spirituality, guidance, and some cultural strength. "It was
the Kiowa and Comanche Indians, apparently, who in visits to native group in
northern Mexico, first learned of the sacred American plant. Indians in the
United States had been restricted to reservations… and much of their cultural
heritage was disintegrating and disappearing. Faced with disastrous
inevitability, a number of Indian leaders, especially from tribes re-located in
Oklahoma, began actively to spread a new kind of Peyote," (H & S pg.4).
The spreading of peyote usage promoted the American government, like the
Spaniards earlier, to take notice. The use of peyote was being adopted and
integrated into Christianity. There was a strong opposition from missionary and
governmental groups. This caused legislation to be produced to repress the use
of peyote. That was when they organized it as an official religion "Native
American Church." This religious movement, unknown in the United States
before 1885, numbered 13,300 members in 1922," (H & S pg.5). The
membership now in NAC, Native American Church, is over 250,000 members. The
Spaniards outlawed peyotism because they linked it with "cannibalism and
witchcraft," (James pg.2). Today, there are still challenges of the use of
peyotism, but surprisingly, it has been held as a religious freedom. Much of the
conflict comes from the idea that it is abused and it is compared with LSD.
"Peyote contains more than fifty psychoactive ingredients, the most
powerful of which is mescaline… peyote and mescaline are best known for their
unique hallucinogenic properties, which many users report as less
disorienting-and hence more manageable-than LSD and other synthetic
psychedelics," (James pg.3). Peyote, Lophophora Williamsii, is a small
cactus that looks like a button, it is dried, and that is what is eaten. The
Peyote Religion believes that special powers are given to the users. An ability
to get in touch with a spiritual power a guidance, true sight of what is reality
that may be blinded by outside distractions. The ceremony is most often drumming
mixed with music and prayer in a ceremonial dwelling, house, or at a sight. The
experience is lead by the Road Chief or Road Man who oversees the group. He
leads the others "On the Peyote Road, the way of learning to live life
well," (Ref.1, pg.1). In Sundown this was Watching Eagle. The sweat lodge
ritual from Sundown resembles very much the actual ritual from the account of
"Peyote Night," by Humphry Osmond. This was an article written of the
true happenings of a peyote ritual. This story is a walk through a peyote ritual
from a man experiencing it with a congregation of the Native American Church of
Canada, the Red Pheasant Band. The similarities between the two are very
interesting. The purging of themselves through drink releasing the evils, the
Road Man leading it, and the healing done by the Road Man took place in both of
the stories. An amazing thing that struck very similar was in the healing story
of the young man in Osmond's "Peyote Night". "I watched the young
man, and I think I experienced some of the queasiness that peyote induced in
him. Like most young men, he longed for a life that meant something-a life of
action, danger, pain, defeat, torture, and death at the hands of his enemies if
necessary. A life like that of his ancestors who live on the prairies for
centuries before. Anything rather than the humiliating meaninglessness of the
present. But the drumming told him, "You cannot go back. You can go
forward. It will be rough, but it can be done." It is sad to be a warrior
from generations of warriors with nothing warlike to do-an Achilles without
Troy, staying at home among his mother's spinning women…The young man still
cannot bear his fate. All the warrior in him is assailed by it and revolts
against it. But he must listen to the voice of music, which is greater than man.
He sings again, this time in high falsetto. There is a note of triumph in it,
perhaps peyote has dissolved the aching in his heart, (Osmond pg.6). Healing,
Running Elk needed healing, like that given to White Deer. Chal will follow the
same bad road if peyote healing is not found, if he does not accept it. Chal is
confused like the young warrior of the Red Pheasant Band. The loss of the
warrior role, the changing times. He fights himself, trying to adopt white mans
society, abandoning his blood, embarrassed. Peyote is a way of healing ones soul
but also brings closeness, a feeling of belonging, and a brotherhood to many.
"Subjective effects can include rapid changes in mood, feelings of empathy
and kinship with others…and deeply moving, even profound, introspective
spiritual experiences, (James pg.3). Chal has never felt that feeling of
belonging it talks about, that kinship. He has always just slipped in and out of
his relationships in life. The one thing that may save him is he has returned
home. Chal is a lost soul, a mixed blood full of confusion. He was born in a
time of turmoil for not only his people but also all Indian people. Their
traditional roles were gone and the next generation was supposed to either
assimilate or fail. That was the government's idea with such things as the Dawes
Act. Out of that disheartening strife came an answer, a way to see the road; the
road that had been covered by so many wrong roads or bad roads. Watching Eagle
said "We cannot fight white man, but we are Indian; we cannot be white men.
We must use our time to fight our troubles. To fight the evil which comes on
inside of us," (pg.277). Peyote could have brought Chal the answers like it
did so many others, but he refused. A Challenge was what his life was, and that
is what it was to be.BibliographyThe Peyote Religion, "The Tracks Of
The Little Deer". Schultes Richard, Hoffman Albert. Their Sacred Healing
and Hallucinogenic Powers. Healing Arts Press, 1992,Vermont.
Divine Cactus. James Jennifer.
"Peyote Night". Osmond Humphry. Tomorrow, 1961,
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