I left you all at a juncture in my story “The Club 66.” So, it’s time to circle back a little. If you don’t remember, check out the last couple of paragraphs.
Disclaimer: I don’t recommend that anyone participate in such a ceremony without proper guidance, intent, and knowledge. Also, since we are all individuals, creatures with complex chemical-electrical systems, there is no way to predict how ingestion of any substance might affect someone. To either their benefit or detriment.
Nor can I offer any guidance in how to interpret such an experience. Words fall far short.
October ’78. The week was winding down with a Friday the 13th. So many people fear these days. Superstitions and all. But for me, the number 13 was always a lucky one. On a Friday, a luckier one. And with a full Moon, even better.
This year, on that date, GrandMother Moon would be a Waxing, Gibbous moon. The full Moon would come three days later.
But I knew he was on the road. Coming to meet me.
This was long before cell phones, and my location varied daily. No land lines at my disposal either. And I wouldn’t have known where to call another body in motion anyway.
No way to communicate . . . except by intuition and telepathy.
I had prepared a campsite in Coconino National Forest. The Ponderosa Pines formed a perfect circle around the spot I chose. Like these majestic trees had reached out and held hands. Then stepped back a few paces until their arms were fully outstretched. And then planted themselves.
The Guardians of the Arena.
The lowest branches on these tremendous growths were about twenty-five or thirty feet up. Perfect height for the fire pit I had built. A sort of cross between a pyramid and a cone. Narrowing at the top.
It’s dry out here, even when the snow falls. I tapered the opening of the pit to prevent any embers from escaping. Swept the surrounding ground of pine needles. I’d control that fourth element. Put it to work for us.
The arrangement of those branches was perfect. They formed an interlaced solid canopy that reflected the fire’s light downward, illuminating that campsite. A perfect circle of light on the ground.
I had prepped this site for a week now. Laid in a load of firewood. Gathering what was dead and fallen. Not disrupting the living growth. Didn’t have to worry about any of it disappearing. About anyone ransacking it. To get to that site you had to drive off-road. Deep into the forest. You’d have to be hunting for it and most people weren’t out exploring these depths.
As I collected the wood, I had a visitor.
The desert tarantula, Aphonpelma chalcodes. A male, mostly black with a reddish abdomen. He peacefully marched through the center of my camp. I watched him intently.
The Spider carries with it a lot of symbolism. It is said to be the weaver of fate, as well as the weaver of dreams and of illusion. To Native Americans, it is a GrandMother, a link to the past and the future. It awakens creativity.
Situated in its web, it reminds us we are the center of our own worlds. Reaching outward with luminous filaments. Arms to embrace. An extended network of perception. It is the guardian of ancient languages and the primordial alphabet, and considered to be the teacher of the magic of writing.
Language, creativity, past and future. The web of life. All time and space interconnected. What an omen for what was about to transpire.
Yes, I knew he was on the road. My brother.
The details of who, what, where, when, or why really aren’t that important. I had acquired some Peyote. And I wasn’t about to go about this in the wrong way. You better approach such matters with respect. There are Spirits at work here. Ancient ones.
This is not frivolity. This represents a serious spiritual journey. Those who think this is play may be headed for a rough experience.
The problem was, I had no formal introduction to the proper Ceremony. How to properly respect the Native beliefs and culture surrounding the Ceremony. But I, and my brother, would do our best.
There is usually an experienced Roadman to lead the service. Offering prayers. Burning sage. Singing songs to the drumming. The ceremonies are often called for a specific purpose. To seek spiritual assistance for a struggling tribe member or for a greater tribal issue.
The ceremony aids with communion with sacred Spirits, and can give power, authority, guidance, and healing – physical or spiritual.
The Roadman calls out incantations, adds cedar logs to the fire as he shapes it. Some ceremonies incorporate the sweat lodge.
The famous quote of Quanah Parker comes to mind, “We do not go into Ceremony to talk about God. We go into Ceremony to talk with God.”
To my surprise, when my brother arrived on the 13th, right on time, he had brought a friend. A friend who was not so respectful. A person who thought such journeys were just a night of entertainment. Nothing holy or reverent about his presence.
While I was unsure of why my brother brought him along, we found our way to the campsite I prepared and we began.
Fire burning, GrandMother Moon rising, we laid out the cacti on a tray and sliced them horizontally into “buttons,” taking care to remove the outer skin and any “tufts”- what represent the spines or thorns. The tufts are actually soft and fibrous, not the traditional thorns you find on cacti. I’d heard at the time, although I haven’t confirmed, that these tufts contain strychnine. If true, another good reason to remove them.
My brother and I chanted. Offered the plant to the four sacred directions. Asked for guidance with the journey upon which we were to embark. And generally acknowledged our limited stature with such culture and traditions. We asked for Great Mystery to speak to us and protect us.
My brother’s friend declined to participate in any ritual offerings or show this plant, the Spirit in the plant, or Mother Earth, or Great Mystery any respect. And the results of his transgressions couldn’t have been more pronounced.
While my brother and I began to experience some euphoria of the climb into the upper atmosphere, his friend began to contort and doubled-over on the ground. It was clear he was in agony and he began to mumble, “I know I should be feeling great, but something’s not working.” He rolled around on the ground for a while in apparent pain and climbed into his sleeping bag to hide for the remainder of the night.
I had wandered off into the Forest on my own. Had found a spot where I could see the sacred San Francisco Peaks in the distance. And took in my surroundings. Nothing was moving or spinning or transforming. No vivid hallucinations. But, a clarity of mind was rising. Then I felt a brief quip of nausea.
This is to be expected with Peyote. In fact, vomiting is considered part of a purification process. Riding your body of negative energies. And puke I did.
But if I had to describe it, it was the most pleasant puke I had ever experienced.
There is a narcotic property to the plant, so I felt no discomfort. No abdominal cramping, no esophageal spasm. No acrid after taste. I simply opened my mouth and all of my stomach contents exited. And that feeling of nausea passed instantaneously.
It was after this purification, when I looked up, that the entire Universe was moving, vibrating, undulating. Everything revealed its life force. The trees, the rocks, the mountains, the fire. All alive. All communicating in a way no one can really imagine. Or describe.
Auras of life intermingled.
The Mountain Peaks were, for lack of a better description, dancing. Magically.
I felt, or heard, a voice ask me: “What is it you want to know?” This took me back a little, because I wanted to think of something important. Not waste the guidance being offered. I sat down at the base of one of those massive pines, and I asked, in my mind, “How did I end up here? Am I where I belong?”
No answers came in in the form of language. It was as though a slide show started in a large auditorium. A series of images began to flash in my mind. Persons, places, events. All leading to the present moment. All of the dots connected. I understood.
I also felt reassured that the Universe, Great Mystery, always has a place for us. We are, at any moment in time, exactly where we need to be.
I have no concept of time passing this night. At some point I rejoined my brother at the fire and we danced around the pit and sang songs we didn’t know. The night’s darkness evaporated with GrandFather Sun’s rising. A most beautiful dawn.
I’ve no idea what my brother personally experienced. If he told me that night, I have no recollection of it. I do remember his friend was in bad shape. Like he been mugged and beaten. After only a day in Az, he elected to go home. He knew he had violated something beyond his comprehension and felt threatened. We put him on a train headed East. Perhaps his example was the purpose of his tag-along.
People can say what they will about what they don’t understand. Vilify whatever they fear. Believe that ancient traditions lack a scientific or religious underpinning.
I can only speak of experience. With the limited ability of language. I can tell you that magic exists. That beauty surrounds us. That life force pulses in absolutely everything. That Spirit Soul is true.
Like the Spider, you’ll have to spin your own web of understanding.
Photo: This is not the Tarantula I saw back in ’78. After all, I had pawned my camera back then for food. I took this pic many years later in a different part of Az. I do believe it’s of the same species based on pics on the Net. But can’t say for sure. The spider I remember had a much redder abdomen than this one. A bit more than just the reddish hairs.
See My Prior Posts for Other Connections to the Spider:
Title: I was inspired by, or stole, depending on how you look at it, most of these words from Leo Kottke. Specifically, from the lyrics to his song Lullaby. I like the image of Mountains dancing. On tiny feet. Perhaps on the legs of that Spider as it spun its web.
Peyote: Lophophora williamsii. Active compound: mescaline (3,4,5-trimethoxy-B-phenethylamine); C11H17NO3.
There is plenty of source material on the Web if you’d like to know more about Peyote and the Native American Church. I pulled this quote from Aldous Huxley from one of those sites:
In the same year , Aldous Huxley first tried mescaline under the supervision of psychiatrist Humphry Osmond, an experience he described in The Doors of Perception as more valid than consensus reality—showing him “for a few timeless hours the outer and the inner world, not as they appear to an animal obsessed with survival or to a human being obsessed with words and notions, but as they are apprehended, directly and unconditionally, by Mind at Large … an experience of inestimable value to everyone and especially to the intellectual.”