In Peyote Hunt, Barbara Myerhoff fails to make a significant contribution to the study of Native American religions due to four key misunderstandings. Peyote Hunt gives the account of Myerhoff’s relationship with Ramon, mara’akame of the Huichol tribe of Mexico, and an integral tribal event known as the Peyote Hunt. In this text, Myerhoff identifies that her main goal is “to help fulfill Ramon’s most cherished wish … of presenting and preserving … his customs, his symbols, [and] his stories” in a humanistic way (21). Myerhoff’s introduction to the Huichol religion is a non-humanistic one in that it fails to emphasize its cosmology in order to provide insight into the Huichol world view. By applying an analyst’s model to describe aspects of the Huichol religion, she uses ethnocentric terminology that does not accurately express Huichol ideology. She applies meaning and purpose to Huichol symbols and overlooks their functional applications in Huichol rituals. Finally, Myerhoff fails to understand and interpret the Native American concept of Person and how it applies to the Huichol Deer Hunt.

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The first way Barbara Myerhoff fails to make a contribution to the study of Native American religions is in her approach of giving non-Native Americans a humanistic introduction to the Huichol religion. Myerhoff begins by giving the reader a brief ethnographic and historical background of the Huichol tribe and states that because of the evidence of an “incomplete transition” of the tribe from its origin to its current state of being, certain assumptions must be made about their ideology and world views. Myerhoff maintains that this assumption can be accomplished by comprehending what she describes as the “deer-maize-peyote” complex, in order to interpret past and present Huichol views of reality, and bridging the gap between known facts what cannot be determined about the Huichol people. By applying her interpretation to the Huichol religion, Myerhoff fails to give a humanistic approach of where the Huichol people themselves interpret to be the beginning, by considering their own cosmology. By not initializing our understanding with their own creation stories, Myerhoff makes assumptions about the Huichol religion from a Judeo-Christian world view, and constantly juxtaposes what is Native to her with what she is suggesting about the Huichol religion.
Barbara Myerhoff also fails to provide a humanistic introduction to the Huichol religion in her instruction from Ramon, the mara’akame, a man whose character and religious position compromise the non-Native American understanding of the Huichol. As a young man, Myerhoff describes Ramon as being set apart from the rest of the tribe because of a long-term illness and even goes as far as describing him as a “deviant” because of his isolated disposition. Myerhoff also explains that encounters with any of the other tribe members negatively affected her relationship with Ramon, narrowing her influence down solely from him. Because of this unique relationship, Myerhoff allows Ramon to be a conduit for which all information is given to her, providing a non-humanistic condition in which the views and details of the Huichol are given solely by a man who was once questioned other members of the tribe and whose position as mara’akame differentiates him from the rest of the Huichol.
Barbara Myerhoff also fails to make a significant contribution to the study of Native American religions by using ethnocentric terminology to describe aspects of Huichol life. Myerhoff identifies, that for the Huichol, “there is no reliable separation between secular and sacred” (74), and that there is a considerable difficulty in finding the Huichol equivalent of the Western idea of sacred. In spite of the recognition of the complexity of this idea, Myerhoff applies this kind of terminology to many aspects of Huichol religion. In addition, Myerhoff uses ethnocentric terminology such like “magical”, “mystical”, and “sorcerer”, terms which suggest to the non-Native American that the Huichol world view has a lesser degree of reality that that of Western religions. The use of the analyst model to apply ethnocentric terminology to Native American religions reveals that Barbara Myerhoff is unaware of her own ethnocentricity and further the linguistic barrier between the Huichol and non-Native Americans.
The third way in which Barbara Myerhoff fails to make a contribution to the study of Native American religions is by providing an ethnocentric explanation of symbols in Huichol religion. Myerhoff enumerates what she identifies as “deities” in order to project their individual characteristics onto areas of the human psyche, an effort which the Huichol would consider to be a great misunderstanding. She states that the tying of the cord during the Peyote Hunt symbolizes “brotherhood and unity”, which contradicts Ramon’s explanation of ritualistically making the participants of the Peyote Hunt physically one. In her final chapter, Barbara Myerhoff devotes the rest of the text to giving meaning and purpose to the Peyote Hunt by offering an explanation of the significance of Huichol symbols, implications about the psychology of their rituals, and the Western equivalent of elements of the Peyote Hunt. Whether or not these associations are accurate is insignificant because it is not aligned with how the Huichol themselves perceive these symbols. What Myerhoff does not realize is that she is unable to make the connection between the symbol and its effect in Huichol religion which is caused by her consideration of symbols being representative of something intangible. By looking objectively for meaning and purpose behind these symbols, Myerhoff overlooks the fact that Native American symbols are functional, capable of affecting the condition of the world and are integral to the Huichol view of reality. By removing the focus of Native American symbols from their ceremonial context, Myerhoff ignores their cosmological significance and presents explanations in a non-humanistic way.
The final way in which Barbara Myerhoff fails to make a contribution to the study of Native American religions is by her inability to interpret the Huichol concept that all things are Persons, capable of thinking, feeling, and changing the state of the world. An example of this misinterpretation can be seen in her analysis of the Deer Hunt, and event that takes place several weeks after the Peyote Hunt. According to Ramon, the ritual must be practiced with the utmost scrutiny and with an open dialog with the deer because the deer must concede to its life being taken by the hunter. While Ramon considers himself an equal with the deer, Myerhoff states that the Deer Hunt is a way for the hunter to identify with his past practices and is merely a ritualistic procedure. By giving this explanation, Myerhoff is unaware of the fact that the Huichol consider the deer a person, capable of thought and feeling, and does not acknowledge to herself that this ethnocentric association causes her to portray the event in a non-humanistic way.
In the first part of the text, Myerhoff describes her peyote experience and the understanding gained from Ramon. Myerhoff explains her vision and Ramon’s refusal to disclose the meaning but rather to enlighten her to the vision’s beauty. In the final segment of her vision, Myerhoff explains that she fails to receive a definitive message, which she explains was because of her “Western rationality” that was “eager to simplify, clarify, dissect, define, categorize, and analyze” (43), an objective method which she realized did not produce any understanding of her vision. Despite the recognition that an analytical approach would not help her to gain an understanding of the Huichol, she proceeds to apply it to the study of their religion which causes her observations and explanations to be made from an ethnocentric point of view. Myerhoff fails to give non-Native Americans a humanistic introduction to the Huichol religion by making assumptions about their world view and not emphasizing the stories which describe how the Huichol themselves see as the beginning. She creates several misunderstandings by applying ethnocentric terminology to Huichol religious ideals, figures, and symbols, which are inaccurate and further the linguistic barrier with Native Americans. Myerhoff applies meaning and purpose to Huichol symbols rather than recognizing their functional importance and their ritualistic context. Finally, Barbara Myerhoff does not recognize the Native American concept of Person, stating that the concept is merely a way for the Huichol to project aspects of themselves onto, a suggestion which contradicts her original goal of presenting Huichol religion in a humanistic way.
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