Like the beginning of many love stories, I first met Datura when I was but a young impressionable teenager, full of fire and the reckless zeal of ignorant youth, open for any adventure that my path may bring me across. A friend’s older brother had told us stories of how his Elders and Ancestors used the local “Loco Weed”, which blankets the empty roadside lots and hillsides around where we lived, to induce hallucinations. But it was deadly poisonous, so it had to be smoked or made into tea. And even then, you could get deathly sick or go permanently insane. There were even stories of people running away into the wild, shapeshifting into animals and never coming back.
Mind you, he was only a couple years older than us, but at 13 years old, to us, he was the authority on these things. And we knew exactly what our next mission was. At this age, with no real conscience towards magick, no understanding of the reality of other realities, we had no idea that what it was we actually sought was to commune with the spirit of a deadly temptress, a trickster, a gatekeeper between this realm, and the other. We had no comprehension of the sanctity of this great power before us.
And so we met her. Alongside an old blocked off road that ran down and across the canyon green belt that separated the neighborhood we lived in from the next one over, she was there. An entire field of her stretching from the road up the gentle slope of the canyon. Huge glorious plants, their unmistakable scent intoxicating anything and everything that floats or wanders into their midst. Stupefied, we chose one in full flower and began plucking her star shaped, lavender edged blossoms to take home and dry out on a cookie tin on my roof.
We spent about a week smoking her flowers, with no effect. We went back, and harvested her leaves, cut them up and dried those the same. We spent a few more days smoking her leaves, sometimes with mild effects, but nothing like what we had been told of. So we went back. And without ceremony, without prayer or reverence... we sacrificed her. We pulled her from the Earth, chopped off her roots and carried them back to my house, where we boiled them for hours. I could blame the systemic issues of modern societal structures or socio-economic reasons why city kids like us lacked the structure and guidance of a village which we so desperately needed at that time to keep us from doing what we were doing, but the fact is, we were young, ignorant and unconsciously seeking a rite of passage and a connection to something we didn't at the time understand or even comprehend the existence of. And some things are just fated to happen.
I remember the thickest scent I had ever experienced filling the entire house as we boiled our brew down to a thick mucky tea. We poured it into coffee mugs, sat down, and drank it. A few minutes in, we didn't feel much, so we drank some more. My body started to feel like it wasn't mine anymore, my vision began to blur and streak, delirium over came me, then the madness set in. We almost died. At one point I swear we had died. We weren't here anymore, but we weren't there either. My friend disappeared. He was never even here. My Father came home and somehow figured out what I had done. Convinced I was overdosing he sat with me while I convulsed and ranted incoherently until my spirit came back to my body.
Although I was too young at the time to fully appreciate or grasp what happened that day (the after affects of which lasted for many days) and am now old enough to know not to speak of it in great detail, one thing was made very clear to me. There is another realm which exists alongside this one, which is just as real as the this realm we walk in. In fact, we also exist in that realm as well. This is a realization that has obsessed me ever since.
Despite what I felt was a near death experience, I continued smoking her leaves, mixed with cannabis, regularly, but never drinking the tea again, and now affording as much respect as I was capable of to this plant. I didn’t really have a reason or valid benefit for doing so, other than I just liked it and felt a slight connection. It was a strange dance of affection and extreme caution. A bit exhilarating, to say the least.
Years later I’d find myself, while studying horticulture and herbalism, visiting another field of Datura, growing in huge patches beneath the palms, next to the ruins of an indigenous settlement on land now owned by Mission San Luis Rey. I’d park and meander through the field picking a leaf here, a leaf there, a thorn apple or two and I’d think about how she must grow so plentifully here because, before the missionaries came, and cleared the land to build their church on this already holy site, the people who lived here must have tended this very same field with a degree of respect and reverence that isn't to be found in this land anymore. She must miss that. So I tried to tend this little field seasonally.
On your approach to this site there is an old stone wall lined with nopales covered in fruit, with a sign posted in front of them saying “Do Not Pick the Fruit” in english and spanish. Everybody eats the fruit. Here, it’s quite obvious that the church, in it’s pursuit to establish religious dominance over man and complete dominion over the Earth herself, has attempted and exhausted every method of wiping away any traces of indigenous culture, for the fear of any speck or spark of spirituality which may threaten it’s patriarchal supremacy. From continent to continent, from the Celts to the Kumeyaay, entire cultures and ways of existence have been systematically suppressed and their remnants stigmatized out of a fear and hatred for the divine feminine, for the nature of the very Earth that gives them life and the deep truths she holds which threaten to render their claim by divine right, obsolete. Yet what the church has always failed to realize and is unable to acknowledge, is that the Earth has her own religion and that killing her devotees and feeding their bodies back to her, only serves to solidify their ties to the land. And in this little field next to where a horrible massacre must have occurred, where so many bodies must have been left for the Earth to consume, these wickedly charming patches of Datura dance graciously beneath the palm fronds, priestesses of the darker aspects of the Earth’s religion, guarding this sacred space, a testament to the fact that the dead still exist here. Reminding us that death is simply a gateway to what comes next. So, in this sacred space, I treat her accordingly.
Steeped in her own magick and delicately wrapped in ages of ever increasing magick woven around her from the lore and tales of her, spoken across space and time. Her name, spoken in a plethora of different native tongues throughout the world, uttered through the lips of only her most disciplined and studied apprentices. Of the royal and powerful family of Solanaceae, sacred to Hecate, Goddess of Night and keeper of the key to the gateway between worlds. With her Saturnian sway and seductive notes of what I sense to be subtle hints of Venus, she easily allures and captivates the senses of all those obsessed by, or in tune with, death.
Brilliantly displaying a wide variety of separate and unique species, partial to anywhere from semi-arid to semi-tropical regions, she prefers disturbed, depleted or even toxic soil but there are very few places where she will not grow. Where I live you can find her clinging to rocky outcrops in the inland foothills or spreading out from where the road meets the sand at the beach. And there isn't a single place she grows that she isn't revered as holy, and respected as deadly, by the local cultures.
The fact that the name we commonly know her by today comes to us from the Sanskrit “Dhatura”, before being latinized by Carolus Linnaeus, further exemplifies the ancient and intimate relationship she has shared with our kind since the awakening of our consciousness. The Mexica called her Toloatzin meaning “inclined head”, the Maya referred to her as Xtohk’uh meaning “toward the Gods”, She was affectionately referred to in India as “tuft of Shiva” and to this day Datura blossoms and garlands of thorn apples are left as offerings to Shiva “the destroyer”. She is considered sacred in China where it is believed that when the Buddha was preaching, dew from heaven sprinkled down and settled upon her leaves.
Most likely finding her way into Europe in the belongings of Arab physicians (who had recorded her into their medical sources as early as the 9th century), spice traders and students migrating to, the then thriving and world renowned, cultural hub and learning centers of Spain, she found her way into certain recipes for the famous flying ointments believed to have been crafted and used by Witches wishing to travel throughout, and meet to perform rituals and ceremonies in, the astral realm. In the American Southwest the Zuni rain priests utilize her in a ceremony in which they make requests of the dead to negotiate with the spirits to bring rain. The Chumash people of California know her as Momoy, one of the First People in their creation myths who undergoes metamorphous to become the Datura plant during the great flood. She is believed to have the power to foresee the future and her seeds are given to young men at the time of their initiation into manhood, in an extremely important ceremony where they are believed to meet their spirit guardian who will provide them with guidance throughout their adult life.
Witch’s Thimble, Moonflower, Sorcerer’s herb, Devil’s Apple, Ghost Flower, Yierba del Diablo, Mad Man, Devil’s Trumpet. Each and every one of these names and ancient traditions speaks to her undeniable role as the gatekeeper. So sacred is she that in many cultures only those fully initiated into her cult are allowed to handle her. Among the Zuni, only rain priests are allowed to collect her roots. There are writings of an ethnobotanist working amongst the Yaqui who the natives refused to speak to for days after having collecting specimens of her, disregarding their warning that he would go crazy and die for mistreating her. So deadly poisonous is she that to interact with her is to flirt with our own mortality. Yet she calls to a part of us that we have buried. A part of us we no longer control. The part of us that exists in her realm. A part of us that can only be seen by looking through her eyes. Yet, at what cost? And under who’s guidance?
It’s now been years since I've tasted her on my lips or smelled the comforting aroma of her leaves in my smoke. I’ve become content simply enjoying her presence, and relishing in the veil piercing magick that wafts from her blossoms at night. Other than a blossom or thorn apple here and there, plucked tenderly out of pure admiration and sentiment, I no longer harvest her for my own recreational consumption. She has become a guide to me, a deliverer of omens. Watching how and where she grows and when she dies tells me of things that are happening and of things to come. I never fail to be amazed when she appears out of nowhere when it comes time for me to make a critical decision, waiving at me from my peripheral or jumping right out in front of me. And I always know, immediately, what to do. So, her seeds line the bottom of my drawer where the thorn apples I've endearingly collected have dried and split open, protecting my home and family and providing me with a quick remedy to break any hex placed upon me. A blossom of hers lays next to my bed to help me sleep. And I always greet her warmly wherever she meets me.
Not long ago I was called upon by my mentor to journey, in another reality, back in time to a point in my life where I was troubled, to find myself there and to find what plant was there watching over me. It wasn't an easy journey in the slightest and took many painful twists and turns before finally arriving at this pivotal point in my development. But when I did finally arrive, there I was, I could see myself clear as day, on the side of an old blocked off road in a canyon, pulling an already plucked bare Datura plant from the Earth, roots and all. And who was there watching over me? She was. Who else? However, as disgustingly horrible as I felt to watch myself committing such an atrocious and irreverent act... She wasn't in the least bit upset. In fact, while the rest silently watched, she gave herself to me, willingly, knowing full well that the result of her sacrifice would mean either my awakening, or my death.
And while I stand here today, humbled before her power and grateful to be able to continue on my journey with her. In honor of the lessons she's taught me, I will always remember, to be gentle in my dance with the gate keeper.
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