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55
MESCAL: A STUDY OF A DIVINE PLANT.

an allied Indian tribe who call it hikori and worship it as a god. This account furnishes a few supplementary details to Diguet's narrative of the expedition. We are told that as the Indians approach the plants they display every sign of veneration, uncovering their heads. Before gathering them they cense themselves with copal incense. They dig out the cactus with great care, so as not to hurt it, and women and boys are not allowed to approach the god. The plants are kept in jars in caves, and offerings of food and drink made to them. Even Chiutian Indians regard hikori as coequal with their own divinity and make the sign of the cross in its presence. At all important festivals hikori is made into a drink and consumed by the medicine men, and certain selected Indians partake of it, singing invocations to hikori to grant a 'beautiful intoxication.' A rasping noise is made with sticks, while men and women dance, the sexes separately, a picturesque and fantastic dance, the women in white petticoats and tunics, before those who are under the influence of the god.

 
III.

We have now to consider what are those special virtues which have caused this insignificant little cactus, hidden away among almost inaccessible rocks, to be surrounded by so splendid a halo of veneration.

The first really scientific attempt to ascertain the nature of the peculiar effects of this drug on the human organism was made by Professor Prentiss and Dr. Morgan in their investigation, already mentioned,[1] of the mescal buttons obtained by Mr. Mooney among the Kiowa Indians. These observers administered the drug, in what I should consider extremely large doses (in one case as many as seven buttons), to several subjects whose symptoms were noted and their color visions briefly described. These investigators made no observations on themselves. In the following year, however, Dr. Weir Mitchell, attracted by their account of the effect of the drug, obtained some of the extract from them and made an experiment on himself, taking a large dose. Dr. Weir Mitchell describes himself as a good subject for visions, and his vivid and elaborate account of his experiences, as read before the American Neurological Society,[2] furnished the first really full and instructive description of the artificial paradise of mescal. In the early part of the next year, having been greatly interested by Dr. Weir Mitchell's experience, and thinking that this drug might help to throw light on various matters which I was trying to account for, I succeeded in obtaining a supply of mescal buttons in England and experimented on myself. As these observations, the first made outside America on the psychic effects of mescal, covered the same ground as Dr. Weir Mitchell's, while at the same time revealing new classes of


  1. Therapeutic Gazette, September 16, 1895.
  2. Reprinted in the British Medical Journal, December 5, 1896.