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Theory of Colours

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

The Story of Doctor Dolittle

Hugh Lofting

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

Lewis Carroll

The Picture of Dorian Gray

Oscar Wilde

Mescal buttons

by D. W. Prentiss


Physiological Action. — In connection with the physiological action of the mescal, its use by the Indians is of great interest. The Kiowa Indians and their associated tribes, formerly ranging from the Arkansas River southward into Mexico, have, from the earliest period, made its use a regular part of their religious ceremonies. When finally gathered upon the Kiowa reservation in Oklahoma, which they now occupy, they continued the use of the buttons in their ceremonies, the demand being supplied by traders who obtain it from the valley of the Rio Grande. Its use has spread to such an extent that the rite has become the chief religion of all the tribes of the Southern plains. Complaint being made to the government authorities at Washington by missionaries and others, the eating of the drug was rendered unlawful and was forbidden under severe penalties. Nevertheless, the use of the mescal has persisted to the present time.

The religious ceremony, as described by Mr. Mooney, who has participated in it several times, usually takes place on Saturday night. The men seat themselves in a circle within the tent, around a large 1 The writers, in Therapeutic Gazette, September, 1895.

fire which is kept burning brightly. After a prayer the leader hands each man four buttons, and each, having been freed from the tuft of hairs, is put into the mouth and, after it is thoroughly softened, is ejected into the palm of the hand, rolled into a bolus, and swallowed. At midnight each man calls for as many mescals as he wants, and in this way ten or twelve of the buttons, as a rule, are taken at intervals between sundown and daybreak. They sit quietly throughout the ceremony, while the fire is kept burning brightly and a continual singing and beating upon the drum is kept up. Most of the time they are in a state of reverie, the intoxication of the drug showing itself in the visions of color and other manifestations which will be described later. The hours are interspersed with songs, prayers for the sick, and baptismal rites. They sit thus from sundown to nearly noon of the next day. At the close of the ceremony they go out, it is claimed, without the slightest depression or unpleasant after-effect. Upon the day following the ceremony they carefully abstain from the use of common salt with their food; this, it seems, for a religious reason, and not because of any incompatibility of salt with the drug or its effects.1

To determine the physiological action of the crude drug — the mescal buttons themselves — upon the human system, they were administered in varying quantity to different young men who kindly volunteered their services for the purpose". Eight of these experiments were made, and in each enough of the drug was given to produce decided characteristic symptoms. Observations were taken at frequent and regular intervals to ascertain the effects upon the different portions of the body. Most of these experiments have been reported in full,' but time does not permit

1 See also "Mescal Plant and Ceremony," James Mooney, Therapeutic Gazette.

'Therapeutic Gazette, September, 1895.

us to give a detailed account of them. The following are briefly the results obtained:

The most remarkable of the physiological effects of the drug was the production of visions. These appeared in most cases after three of the buttons had been taken. The visions ranged from ill-defined flashes of color to most beautiful figures, forms, landscapes—in fact there seemed to be absolutely no limit to the variety of visions which the drug could produce. They could in but few cases be seen with the eyes open, but upon closing them an ever-changing panorama appeared. Drumming, or otherwise marking regular time, had a marked effect upon the visions— much enhancing the beauty and variety of the objects seen. The fact is of interest in connection with Mr. Mooney's statement that during the eating of the mescal by the Indians there is kept up a continual beating upon the drum. In three cases the visions were under the control of the will, and in two they were subject to the suggestion of others. The effect of the drug in the production of visions is probably due to stimulation of the centres of vision in the brain. The persistent ache and feeling of exhaustion in the occipital region, which persisted for several days after one of the experiments, is of interest in this connection.

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