Ritualized Peyote Use Can Facilitate Mental Health, Social Solidarity, and Cultural Survival: A Case Study of the Religious and Mystical Experiences in the Wixárika People of the Sierra Madre Occidental
Luce, Nathan William
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CitationLuce, Nathan William. 2020. Ritualized Peyote Use Can Facilitate Mental Health, Social Solidarity, and Cultural Survival: A Case Study of the Religious and Mystical Experiences in the Wixárika People of the Sierra Madre Occidental. Master's thesis, Harvard Extension School.
AbstractThis paper examines how the Wixárika, or Huichol, as they are more commonly known to the outside world, have successfully engaged in a decade-long struggle to save their ceremonial homeland of Wirikuta. They have fended off a Canadian silver mining company’s attempts to dig mines in the habitat of their most important sacrament, peyote, using a remarkable combination of traditional and modern resistance techniques. This thesis proposes that a significant actor in their successful resistance and cultural survival is the regular, ritualized consumption of peyote that has provided the Wixáritari with psychological and social benefits. Specifically, recent research has shown that supported psychedelic use aids in novel problem solving and resilience to stress, increases feelings of connectedness, and stimulates noetic insight, and these benefits appear to support the Wixáritari's fight against a multinational corporation which has the support of the federal government.
The thesis then broadens its scope to explain the relevance of the Wixáritari case for social theory more generally. I describe how the recent neuroscientific paradigms which are resulting from this research such as that of the “entropic brain” cohere well with anthropologist Victor Turner’s conception of structure and anti-structure. The thesis then goes one step further to suggest that all societies once had methods of inducing this type of anti-structural/entropic experience as a means of ensuring psychological and social health, and that the Wixáritari are just one example of a culture which has maintained these rituals into the present day. It then speculates that these ritualized uses of psychedelics may point to a biological and cultural basis for the foundation and persistence of religious and mystical experience in general, as a producer of social solidarity and inhibitor of mental illness, and a means for ensuring flexible and creative solutions are crafted against whatever existential or environmental threats may arise in human experience.
Citable link to this pagehttps://nrs.harvard.edu/URN-3:HUL.INSTREPOS:37365056