Daniel C. Swan,
Peyote Religious Art: Symbols of Faith & Belief
(University Press of Mississippi, 1999)

Peyote Religious Art: Symbols of Faith & Belief is not what I expected. I thought it would be filled primarily with full-page photographs of artwork that has been peyote-inspired or that came from peyote visions, such as the paintings in One Nation Under God: The Triumph of the Native American Church.

I could not have been more wrong. The few full-page photographs are of sacred items, such as vests or feather fans, that are part of a museum collection. The paintings and illustrations are of people holding a peyote ceremony or the sacred items. Thus, this is literature about art that is basically devoid of actual artwork.

This book was designed to go with a museum exhibit that attempted to introduce Americans to the folk art and traditional art that Peyotists have created and to have them recognized for their "historical, sociological and religious content." Author Daniel C. Swan stressed that this book was created by an anthropologist working within a museum and not by an active member of the Native American Church or a Peyotist.

Oddly enough, this book does a much better job of explaining about the religion -- the beliefs, the plant, the individual sacred objects and the ceremony -- than many of the peyote books on the market today. It commands far more merit as an introduction to the peyote religion, especially in explaining how the religion moved upward through the United States, than as an art book.

In the introduction, Swan states: "Important to this tradition [the long tradition of artistic enterprise among American Indians] is a long-standing sexual division of artistic labor with respect to the types of artworks created and the motifs and styles employed."

He states, "One of the most noteworthy aspects of the artwork associated with the Native American Church is that it is generally produced exclusively by men. This is particularly interesting in the area of beadwork, most of which is done today, as it was in the past, by women."

I found Peyote Religious Art to be quite interesting and educational. If you are interested in the peyote religion, you really should read this one. It is as solid as any book can ever get as an introduction to a topic. You will not find a better beginning to the peyote religion.

book review by
Alicia Karen Elkins

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