One of the most common elements of Native American religions is directed toward achieving good relations with the spirits of the earth, the forests, the streams, and the animals on which they depended. For Native Americans, the purpose of ritual is not so much to control nature but to communicate and establish good relationships with the spiritual beings that share the world with humans. One of the most common elements of Native American religion is the use of tobacco and the sacred pipe in religious ceremonies. Tobacco smoke, a form of incense, is a line with the spirit world. In the past, tobacco was a part of many ceremonies. Tobacco was originally grown and used only for religious purposes by Native Americans. One of the reasons tobacco was reserved for special religious occasions was that it was far too strong to be used more frequently. The tobacco used in religious ceremonies is Nicotiana rustica, which is far stronger than the tobacco used in cigarettes. The fumes of this tobacco are so strong they can be intoxicating.
The ritual tobacco is occasionally smoked in cigarettes rolled from cornhusks, but it is more frequently smoked in pipes. The bowls of these pipes are made from either clay or stone and the stems from reeds. They are often decorated with paints and feathers and, in the past were carried into battle or the hunt as tribal talismans.
The use of peyote in Native American religions has received a great deal of attention in recent years. Peyote is a small, spineless, carrot-shaped cactus that grows in the Rio Grande Valley and southward. It contains nine narcotic alkaloids. Peyote produced profound sensory and psychic experiences lasting twenty-four hours, a property that led the natives to value and use it religiously. One of the alkaloids found in peyote is mescaline. After a certain quantity of peyote is eaten or ingested in a tea, mescaline produces hallucinations and visions.
No particular religion or religious tradition is hegemonic...