John Rave's Account of the Peyote Cult and of His Conversion

narrated by John Rave

Hocąk Interlinear Text

(1:1) It will be about medicine eating. They make ready the lodge. Also the fireplace, they do that then. Everything is made ready, the placement of everything has already been completed — the medicine, the chief’s stick, as well as the beak, and bird feathers, the gourd, the water also, k’āro, they are about to bring them in. They started for the first lodge. They do a circuit around the lodge, and then they enter. (2) Then their chief sits there; they all sit quietly.

Then that chief says, “Let’s turn ourselves loose,” he says. Thus they do. Then they sing. They begin the medicine eating. (4) Tonight we ate medicine. I did five medicines. At midnight I became fearful. A thing, a live thing, had entered into me. This is the way that I was thinking. Why did I do it? Furthermore, I shouldn’t have done it. Now then, I have harmed myself with something. Initially, I thought that I had not harmed myself. Something is going to injure me. Even now it will be that I’ll vomit it out. Even now I shall try. (5) Finally, I gave up. My vomiting I did not do. I gave up and did something else. Eating is begun. (2) “Not a single one of you must go outside. If you go outside, do not go outside needlessly. (3) The way to do it is to sit as quietly as you can. Thus it is. It is started. This is the way that it first began. This is the way that they used to say. This is the way of medicine-eating. (5) By wandering about, I have now harmed myself! What is it doing? And now it is alive within my stomach, it will harm me within my stomach. That’s it. If one Indian had been with me, it would have been good, that’s it. (6) No one will know of me. I have killed myself! Now it very nearly was about to come out, so I used my and and felt for it, but instead it went back in. In the beginning I should not have acted this way, for indeed, it is going to come out, I thought. Jagŭą̄́na, indeed, would I do it a second time? Probably I will die. (7) Finally, continuing on, it became day. We laughed. It had not been possible to laugh, [yet] I laughed. Would I do it a second time? Something had very nearly harmed me. This is the way that I thought.

"Let us do it again." I did seven medicines! The second night we did it. Then here a snake went by, giving me a fright. Again, another one, they were crawling over me. Hagagasgéžą, where are they coming from? (8) Behind me, I thought there was something again. I looked there, and thought it was about to swallow everything. It was a snake with legs, and arms as well — he had legs! — with a long tail. Its end was like a tail. “Now I’ll die,” I thought. Something was nearby this, so I looked, and a man who had horns, with long claws — he had horns! — he had a spear. He jumped for me, and I threw myself on the ground. He missed me. (9) I looked behind me and again it was starting back. Now he directed the spear towards me; I thought he was going to spear me. I threw myself to the ground. He missed me. Now then, I had nothing to fall back on. I thought, perhaps this medicine, it itself is doing this, it itself is doing it. "Help me, you medicine, help me! You are holy, you yourself are doing it. They should not do thus to me. Help me! I would know you. You yourself are doing it." I said it. (10) They let up on me. "As long as that lasts, I will use you." It was daytime, it was night, and a day, again night, that long. Indeed, I had not slept, yet I was not sleepy. In the morning we ate, then we finished eating. "Let's do it again. Maybe it's tonight that I'll get sleepy. Well now, we'll do it." We did it again. I did eight medicines. (11) The Creator of Things is a sky up above, one in the middle of the night. "Father, have mercy on me, let me know this. I have no right to say this given all the sins I have committed, and I am trying to pray to Earthmaker. You Son of Earthmaker, help me; let me know this work. Help me, you medicine, Grandfather, help me, let me know this work. I said it, and sat very quietly.

(12) Then indeed, I saw Morning Star. Looking at its appearance was just as good as it could be, that it was; the light was good. I had been frightened, I became happy. Thus indeed did it become Light. Not a single thing was invisible. Everything appeared. I wondered how things might be at the place where I came from. I looked and the house we lived in was very near, and was good. (13) Then the children at the window were visible. They were playing, but then I saw a man coming there. He brought whiskey. He brought a jug with him. He gave it to them to drink. The perpetrator got drunk. He bothered them, so they ran away. That's the sort of thing they are doing, I thought.

Then my wife came outside through the door wearing a red blanket, and she intended to go towards the flagpole. (14) She thought, "This is the road I shall go on. I might meet people," she thought. "On this other road I was on, I would not meet a single person." I believe that this is what she was thinking. Thus, I pondered the matter.

Yes indeed it is so, it is very well. My brother, my sister, my father, my mother, they were getting along very well. What I saw made me feel good, good indeed.

(15) "You, medicine, are holy; Grandfather, I would like to know your work. I would like to understand. Help me, I give myself to you. I believe."

It became day. Three days and three nights had elapsed since eating medicine, for that long I had not yet slept. Even thus then I was not sleeping. (16) As long as I had thus far lived, not anything holy have I known. This was the first time that I had known a single holy thing. This was the first time that I had known any holy thing. Would that Hocągara knew at least one, I think.

(17) A long time ago I used to be sick. This sickness was going to kill me. I tried the kind of Indian doctors who were good, and furthermore I again tried the white man's doctors. I gave up, I was gone. In the next year, would I still be alive? Thus I thought that I was gone.

Then, eating this medicine, I got well. There was never a second time that I was sick. (18) I have been accustomed to having sickness, my wife as well had similar experiences. I she would have eaten medicine, it would have cured her, but she was afraid. Although she had not even seen it, nevertheless she knew that I had used it, but she acted this way, she was afraid. Then her sickness began increasing. So then I said to her, "You are sick, it's harder unless you eat this medicine, then this is easier, (19) your sickness being difficult; anyhow, eat this medicine and you will get well."

Then she ate. "After eating, wash yourself, comb yourself, you'll get well." She was well. I painted her face. Thus I did, and I took up the gourd. Thus I did, and very much I uttered in the song it began. I stopped. "Right you are, and I am well; it is very true." (20) Even to this day she is well, today she is very happy.

Then again, Wakjĕxisĕpka was having a hemorrhage. "Kará, I would like to eat medicine. I don't think that I'm going to live." "Then really do it; as soon as you eat medicine, you'll get cured." Never had they cured anyone with consumption. This was the first time a consumptive had been cured. (21) To this day, he is living very well.

Every man likes whiskey, and there is this man whom they call, Wąkšĭkstohiga. He chewed tobacco as well as smoking, and he also gambled, and he was also fond of women. Anything whatever that was bad, he did it. Thus he was, but he ate this medicine. He was cured. Whatever bad things he did, he stopped doing. (22) Indeed, he truly had a bad sickness; he even longed to kill humans. To this day, he desires a very good life.

Today, this medicine, however bad he thinks he has there, even he does, if he eats this medicine, he would cease doing anything bad. It is a cure.

In such manner, this day, he who is the Creator of heaven, he only is holy, they say.

(23) Wakšíkstohíwiga said, "Really, I have lived life, how I acted, I did indeed do wrong. I will never do thus a second time," he said, "this medicine is good, I use it alone, I will live," he said, it is said.

And again, John Harrison, a man who thinks himself great in the Medicine Rite, that's the sort of man he is, (24) and again Ahugįgį́ška, they were like these men. They thought themselves big Medicine Rite men. They really said that they knew the Medicine Rite. Both of them were men who won in gambling. They lived. As rich men, that way they lived. Nothing did they desire. Their ancestors were men who gave the Medicine Rite Dance, something they came into possession of, their things, (25) they truly lived well. They thought very well of their selfish affairs, but they ate medicine. Today, what affairs of theirs that they had, they would not repeat such things now. Really, they were afflicted with a bad sickness, and to this day they are freed from this.

If it were possible to judge by the affairs of one of the men, these are three men. (26) Then today their affair, one ought to see how they are today. Even if someone is bland but hears about them, then he knows it is possible. Then they said, "If there i s one good medicine, this alone is good," thus they said.

(27) This medicine cures evil. Before I had knowledge I thought it was not so. Today now I have become knowledgeable. Before I lived as one who was blind and deaf, thus I was like. I felt sorry to hear of my own actions, actions of mine of which kind I would not do a second time. And this is good, this medicine has done good to me. What evil I have done, (28) I have made done with it. Very truly, the one whom we call "Earthmaker," he himself did it, who gives me this, he did it. Today, this is the sort of thing that I know.

Then come what may, men and women whatever affairs you like, they bring that kind along with them. Whatever sickness you have also comes anyhow. When you come here, you will get well. (29) It's true that it's very pious. Whatever inhibitions you have necessarily will come with you, then come and eat this medicine and also drink if you wish. Then good comes. It is a good life. This affair is your life. You will learn all about yourself. Come even if you're not told, in any case you will learn for yourself. Then whatever sicknesses come on, this medicine cures the sickness, whatever sickness you have, (30) then come on, this medicine you will know to eat. Learn for yourself once and for all.

If they told you anything, if you hear it, that's all there is. If you don't hear it, you will never know about it. Once and for all, do it and know. You have never known anything of the kind of thing you would know, you have never been happy. (31) If you do this, this only is true: you would feel happy. You have never known this sort of thing. If you would know anything good, this they think of you. If in time you first learn one good thing, this is it. Then do it anyhow, and if it would be something difficult, again it is also that.

However it is, it causes you not to do it in your mind. All to not do good, that it would. (32) It appears real. That's why you're that way. And if you do it, then it is still very uncertain. Then you would be thus, he would think, "It is good to be alive, so I am good enough." So indeed then, you would rather I did. If you do, thus you would see that they are digging a grave. Therefore you would think that you are about to die, so you would not want to take it a second time. You would think that it was bad. (33) If however, you would die. Now you may know the reason it happened to you; but then if I could see more, if you wish, the coffin will be set before you. When it is thus, you will see your body there exactly. Indeed still more, there exactly you will know where you are going.

This is something you do not know about. There are two. There is a hole in the ground, (34) and again a road that goes up above, that is it. What you would learn is something that you've never known. One is dark, one has daylight. You will choose for yourself while you are alive how you will be, if you would be wicked, or if you will cease from it. These are the two things. So thus they say that this is what medicine eaters see. (35) They say that if you do crying, you will learn. Thus if they do it, they would like it. It will only be this way if you yourself know it. They say that if you are merely told, you would not truly believe it, thus they are to see something. That is what you hear. The reason you do this, you are not doing this medicine, no other of this kind is able; this is the only medicine that they eat. (36) It is medicine: if you eat it, you will live. Thus, they have done their affairs up to this time. They place everything aside; they really understand it.

It is a good rite. Then reality, and those holy things, that's the sort of thing that you would learn. Truly they say, things as they really are, that you have not seen, you would see in your mind, you will see it. These are what I'm trying to learn.

(37) Now three and twenty years I have been taking it and I am still doing it. It was thought that I would learn to do it. I thought that this was the way in which I was going to learn. Truly I am about to learn.

I wanted very much to kill my brother, and furthermore, I did not like my sister. Then only, I would have liked one of them to die. Thus was this heart. I constantly wished for a warpath. That is what I knew. (38) He was the one who was doing it. The Evil Spirit lives in me. Thus it is that I am so, but I am over with this. A bad disease was in me. I even wished to kill myself. The Bad Spirits themselves were still doing it. I ate this, this medicine, and thus far I have learned this: my brother whom I longed to kill, I now wanted to live; I have pity on my sister. (39) My heart felt sorry for her. I thought, feeling heart-sorry, I would have my sister live. I desired that our good children should live. Today this medicine has done thus to me. Now I have come to know, thus I think.

Whoever eats this medicine, he will be that way. Thus this is, I think that this medicine is a good thing. (40) I mean that I know, that kind did for me. Thus however it is bad to you in your mind, thus to you as well it would do; it would cure you. This medicine is a cure. And whatever sickness did, I think that kind would cure him. He who rules up in heaven did it, thus it has cured whatever evil there was in me. Therefore, this day I am thankful. My wife and our children nowadays live very quietly. Thus my mind is happy within me. (41) It means this today. I learned this truth: Love. Formerly in my life, I think the sort they meant about me was the one called "Trickster". This I learned: so in the future indeed I shall not do a second time anything single foolish thing. I am thankful. I attribute it to Earthmaker. Not any man me made could I say he was that kind. Rather, he made a holy thing.

Thus he is today. This is one man who is thankful. (42) Anyone would say, "It is I," I think. Men and women of that sort learned. Anything less and it would not be quite so. There would be very many different speakers. It is true, I think, that today therefore this is the way they are.

And that kind of medicine-eaters when they eat medicine, if they had not told of it, one here would act, and they would tell you by showing. (43) If they tell you with their mouths, you would not learn quite as well. And this medicine is the one doing it. A man would act. Then he would come to the fireplace and begin to make motions. He would begin to tell you what you should do. He prays not saying in words, you would understand how he means this. Therefore, watch him, look at him, as he means to show you something. You would get tired. It is you yourself who is at fault. Thus, you will not learn. You are tired of what you will be told; (44) listen to what he is doing, try to catch some of it. Only by this means will you learn what they are teaching. You will think that they are engaged in crazy acts, you alone, you are thinking only if it is knowledge. Thus you are doing. You are not accepting it when you try to tell something. Thus they say. "Turn yourself loose," they say. This is the only way that you will understand. It is something hedged in that is spoken of, (45) that is the one doing it.

That will be all. We are going to stop. We will use the last two songs, we will do them to rest. They have gone after water. They have returned with it. It will be the time when we stop to eat. Then we will scatter home. That is it, it is ended. Then we will all rise. We will pray to the Creator above to plead for ourselves; we will plead for gatherings. It is very good that we all come again in the future. Thus we will do. They all did this rite of Earthmaker. Thus also we are made, so we do so. Let us be ruled by Him. If we do that, then He himself will do good to us. This we can expect from him. To you, the Creator, we pray. It is done.1

Commentary. "John Rave" — "John Rave, the Winnebago who introduced the peyote, was always the leader whenever he was present."1 Oliver LaMère gives this account of John Rave:

  BAE 37
  John Rave

John Rave belongs to the Bear clan, the members of which had the functions of what might be called sergeants - at - arms. He and his ancestors used to be in charge of the manupetci (i. e., the sergeants-at-arms lodge),2 to which all malefactors would be brought for punishment. Rave, although he belonged to this highly respected class of people, was a bad man. He roamed from place to place. He has participated in all the ceremonies of the Winnebago, the medicine dance alone excepted. He had been married many times. Up to 1901 he was a heavy drinker. In that year he went to Oklahoma and while there ate the peyote. He then returned to the Winnebago and tried to introduce it among them, but none with the exception of a few relatives would have anything to do with it. This did not in any way discourage him, however, and he continued using the peyote, now and then getting a few converts. There was not very much religion connected with it in the beginning and the reason people drank it was on account of the peculiar effects it had upon them. Nevertheless these Peyote people preached good things and gradually lost all desire for intoxicating drinks or for participating in the old Winnebago ceremonies. Then Rave began to do away with the old Indian customs. About four or five years ago the membership in the Peyote religion began to increase, for many people now noticed that those connected with the Peyote cult were the only people in the tribe leading a Christian life.3

  U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service   Manuel Almagro Rivas
  Peyote Buttons   The Molecular Structure
of Mescaline

"medicine eating" — the medicine to which he refers is peyote. Peyote is a cactus, Lophophora williamsii, whose range is primarily restricted to northern Mexico, where it is called peyotl (in Nahuatl). The cactus has no spines and forms what are called "buttons," which are harvested for their psychoactive components. Peyote is generally eaten, and occasionally soaked in water which is, after an appropriate period, drunk. It has a bitter taste, and today is usually taken as a large capsule in association with a drug like Dramamine in order to suppress nausea. Its active psychedelic constituent is mescaline, which in my youth, in and out of the Army, I have taken myself. Its effects are typical of other psychedelics like LSD and the psychokinesis mushroom, inducing periods of fascination augmented by illusions of ordinary colors becoming iridescent, sometimes accompanied with apparent motion or waving. Higher doses can lead to hallucinations. It is not surprising, therefore, that peyote was used by shamans in a number of Mexican cultures.

"fireplace" — Radin has this to say about the fireplace:

Whenever the ceremony is performed in the open a fireplace in the shape of a horseshoe is made. At one end of this fireplace is placed a very small mound of earth, called by Rave "Mount Sinai," and in front of this a cross is traced in the earth. Upon the small earth mound are placed the two “chief” peyote, the Bible and the staff. The latter, called by Rave the shepherd's crook, is always covered with beadwork, and generally has a number of evenly cut tufts of deer hair on the end and at intervals along its length. The sacred peyote, known as hunk[r]a (i. e., “chief ") are exceptionally large and beautiful specimens. They are regarded by a number of people, certainly by Rave, with undisguised veneration.4

"everything" — Radin lists these items: "In addition ... there is found a large eagle feather fan, a small drum, and a peculiar small type of rattle. To my knowledge, this type was unknown among the Winnebago before its introduction by the peyote eaters."5

"Earthmaker"Mą’ų́na. The supreme god of the old religion, he, like Yahweh, was a creator god as well as a chief god, and was easily identified with "God the Father." However, the Hebrew stories of Yahweh make him a rather violent and peevish figure, compared to the wise and restrained character of Mą’ų́na.

"Son of Earthmaker" — this would be Jesus. This seems to be his only reference to Jesus. To traditionalists, Jesus was a competitor of Hare, as both had a mission to show people how they should live.

"Wakjĕxisĕpka" — Black Waterspirit, obviously a name in the Waterspirit Clan.

"consumption"maįnasára, the old term for tuberculosis. Jipson records the term as mąnasara.

"whiskey"pejᵋnína, literally, "the fire water."

"Wąkšĭkstohiga" — "He Who Gathers Men Together," a leadership name suggesting that he is a member of the Upper Moiety (Bird Clan).

De Lancey W. Gill  
Captain John Harrison, 1909  

"John Harrison" (1847-ca. 1916) — a member of the Thunderbird Clan, whose clan name was Wakąjakiriga, "Thunderbird Coming." In his youth he was a member of Company “A” of the Omaha Scouts, and later rose to the rank of Captain of the police. He was a source for Dorsey, Gatschet, and Radin. For his stories in this collection, see Contributors.

"Ahugįgį́ška" — "Squeaky Wings," an Upper Moiety name, probably of the Thunderbird Clan.

"rich"itajĕ́, itacĕ́, which mean, "blow-mouths," that is blowhards and blabber mouths. Connected to this word, someone in the MS wrote in the words "big mouth".

"three and twenty years" — at the upper left corner of the page, Radin writes down a subtraction of 24 from the year 1908 to derive the year in which Rave first took peyote: 1884.

"Trickster"Wakjąkắga, a demigod, the first such created by the hands of Earthmaker himself. His mission was to show humans how they should live, but he was of a foolish nature, and had a character the opposite of that required to succeed in his mission. As the personification of trickery, he was both the perpetrator of scams and, paradoxically, the victim of them as well. Rave paints himself as an object of ridicule when he thinks of himself as being like Trickster.

Notes to the Commentary

1 Paul Radin, The Winnebago Tribe (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1990), 389 (1923 ed.).
2 this is the Mą̄́ną̄́pe Cī, the Bear Clan Lodge. The members of the Bear Clan were mą̄́ną̄́pera, which is to say, the police. Their clan lodge served as a prison. Prisoners of war, for instance, who kept under guard there until they were disposed of. The Mą̄́ną̄́pe Cī was located right across from the Thunderbird Clan lodge, which was also opposite in function: anyone entering this lodge was automatically given amnesty. See Bear Clan Origin Myth.
3 Radin, The Winnebago Tribe, 394 (1923 ed.).
4 Radin, The Winnebago Tribe, 389 (1923 ed.).
5 Radin, The Winnebago Tribe, 389 (1923 ed.).

Comparative Material. ...

Links: Trickster, Earthmaker.

Stories: about the Native American Church: White Shirt, The Death of Henry Harris’ Daughter, A Peyote Vision, A Peyote Story, Peyote as an Evil Spirit, The Arapaho Girl, Pete Dupeé and the Ghosts.

Themes: someone takes peyote and has visions: A Peyote Vision, White Shirt.

Notes to the Text

1 "John Rave's Account of the Peyote Cult and of His Conversion," in Paul Radin, Winnebago Notebooks, Winnebago I, #1: 1-46 (phonetic interlinear text), Freeman #3878; Notebook 15 (original phonetic interlinear text) (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society), with an English translation at Paul Radin, The Winnebago Tribe (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1990 [1923]) 341-346 [1923 ed.: 389-394].