December 2008 Artifact of the Month

Artifact: Peyote Loose Feather Fan

Materials: Feathers, hide, glass, cardboard, leather, wood, silver ca 1960



The Native American Church is a combination of traditional American Indian beliefs and Christianity. Within the Church, there are multiple instruments that are used in peyote ceremonies. For instance, one of the most important instruments is a feather fan of which there are different types – flat, loose, and straight up. This particular fan is a loose feather fan. This fan, like all feather fans, illustrates the importance of bird symbolism within Native American tradition and religion.

However, in order to understand the importance of feather fans in peyote ceremonies, it is necessary to have an understanding of what a peyote ceremony is. The peyote ceremonies are conducted during transitional life moments like birthdays and funerals, for Christian holidays, for curing, and for prayer. The peyote - a small, spineless cactus that initially causes nausea, but eventually produces hallucinations - is the sacrament of communion in the Native American Church. Although peyote is considered a controlled substance, the Native American Church has been guaranteed the right to continue their traditional use of peyote in ceremonies by the United States Government.

In a peyote ceremony, the leader or the “Roadman” passes around his fan to others when it is their turn to sing in the ceremony. The fan is believed to have the ability to send songs and prayers to God. The fan is also used to move the cedar smoke from the fire to the members in order to cleanse and heal their bodies. Also, each participant typically has his or her own feather fan with personal significance that they are allowed to use after midnight to accompany the power of the Roadman’s fan.

Come see various feather fans in our exhibit, The Native American Church: Tradition and Adaptation.