Pulled up what I could yesterday. Its trumpet shaped flowers have such a sweet, intoxicating smell. It is sort of funny, I give the plant a wide berth and have a lot of respect for it, which almost borders on the superstitious.
Why? Because it is one of the most, if not the most widely used plants for spiritual and magical purposes on the planet. New world or old world, it has been used for centuries across the continents.
Datura Stramonium is a powerful hallucinogen and anticholinergic. Used improperly, it can be very deadly. I first remember hearing about it when I was in boarding school in 1970. Two kids in the desert died back then after smoking it. They stopped breathing, if my memory is correct. It was a particularly gruesome end.
Jimson weed was a very important part of Southern California native ceremony and culture. The Chumash used it to find their spirit guide, the atiswin, one time only, after an appropriate abstention from sex and meat. It was used to make zombies in Haiti. Believed to be Shiva's favorite potion in India.
It is noted in Beverley's book on the Bacon's rebellion, that British soldiers sent to quell the rebellion ate datura and went completely bonkers for eleven days in 1676.
The James-Town Weed (which resembles the Thorny Apple of Peru, and I take to be the plant so call'd) is supposed to be one of the greatest coolers in the world. This being an early plant, was gather'd very young for a boil'd salad, by some of the soldiers sent thither to quell the rebellion of Bacon (1676); and some of them ate plentifully of it, the effect of which was a very pleasant comedy, for they turned natural fools upon it for several days: one would blow up a feather in the air; another would dart straws at it with much fury; and another, stark naked, was sitting up in a corner like a monkey, grinning and making mows [grimaces] at them; a fourth would fondly kiss and paw his companions, and sneer in their faces with a countenance more antic than any in a Dutch droll.The local natives, the Luiseño or Payómkawichum, also used the datura plant in their rituals. I remember once reading about how their medicine men would rub the roots of the plant on the bottom of their feet in order to gain the ability to fly.
In this frantic condition they were confined, lest they should, in their folly, destroy themselves—though it was observed that all their actions were full of innocence and good nature. Indeed, they were not very cleanly; for they would have wallowed in their own excrements, if they had not been prevented. A thousand such simple tricks they played, and after eleven days returned themselves again, not remembering anything that had passed.
— Robert Beverley, Jr., The History and Present State of Virginia, Book II: Of the Natural Product and Conveniencies in Its Unimprov'd State, Before the English Went Thither, 1705
I thought about this as I handled the roots yesterday. Wouldn't it be wonderful to fly? Datura has large amounts of both scopolamine and atropine, which differ both with the various parts of the plants, its age and the season. They can obviously be deadly. But when I was a kid scopolamine was the main ingredient in Contac allergy medicine and I remember the odd and very pleasant feelings of weightlessness it would sometimes produce.
The following passage is from The Religion of the Luiseño Indians of Southern California, by Constance Goddard DuBois - 1908. This is a recount of religious ceremony of my local Pala Indians, based on an interview with Lucario Cuevish.
The jimson-weed, Datura meteloides, in Spanish toloache, Luiseño naktamush, is one of the most imposing plants of Southern California. Its gigantic bluish-white bell-shaped flowers, opening towards evening and fading when the sun of the following day becomes intense, contrasted with the dull green leaves, attract the most casual notice, as they occur in waste spaces in field and roadside, growing by hundreds where conditions favor their increase. The plant is remarkable in the extent of its distribution. Undiscouraged by the intervening wastes of desert, it appears throughout Arizona as in California.
The roots of the toloache contain a narcotic principle which has a marked effect on the mind; and the taking of this is the center of an important ceremony. It is fifty years or more since the toloache ritual has been celebrated by the Luiseños; but for convenience the present tense is used.
At the time of the Mani, the toloache ceremony, a big fire is lighted at the main place of gathering. They have two places, and the one where they actually give the toloache is at a distance from the other. The places are made ready in the day time, but the ceremony does not begin till evening. In the main place the sacred enclosure of brush, the wamkish, is built in a circle to about the height of a man. On the ground inside are placed the sacred ceremonial objects: the tamyush or sacred stone toloache bowls, large and small,—all but one which is to be used in the other place in drinking the toloache; feather head-dresses and eagle-feather skirts; and the paviut, the sacred sticks with flint in the end.
The tamyush, which since the last celebration of the ceremony have been buried in the ground, in a place known only to the chief, are taken out in good time and freshly painted so that they look nice. They are painted red, white, and black. Of the sacred ceremonial objects the tukmul is not in the main enclosure but at the other place. The tukmul is a flat winnowing basket sacred to the Chungichnish rites. It belongs to the men, that is, is possessed by every initiate, and during every ceremony is placed on the ground containing grain, the sacred stone pipes, or other objects.
When it grows dark the people gather at the main place. The chief has charge of the religious conduct of the ceremony; but to see to the correct performance of every part of it during the four or five days of its continuance, two officers, Paha, are selected, with varied functions.
They must go around to the different houses to collect the candidates for the Mani, carrying some of the little boys who may be found asleep. One Paha is detailed to supervise the main place; the other, the place for drinking the toloache. By a well understood law no one is allowed to run around or make any noise. The Paha must be a hechicero, or shaman, of repute; and he could tell by looking at the mother of a boy whether she had been doing wrong in any way. No woman could be admitted to the ceremony who was unclean, unchaste, or menstruating.
It is dark in the place where they take toloache. The large tamyush selected for the purpose is placed on the ground before the chief. It contains the root, previously prepared and dried, perhaps a year before. The chief pounds the dry scraped bark with the stone mano (muller or pestle) to the accompaniment of a curious recitative, not a song: "Chanyoko, yoko," while the boys stand waiting in the darkness. The powder is then placed in a small twined sifting basket and sifted again into the tamyush, which is filled with water. The Paha goes about whispering: "Keep quiet all of you. Do not talk. Everyone keep quiet."
The chief superintends the drinking, and as the candidates kneel in turn before the big tamyush to drink out of it, he holds the head of each with the palm of his hand under the forehead, and raises it when they have drunk a sufficient quantity of the liquid, watching to see that they do not drink too much. They drink from the tamyush in which the toloache was mixed.
They give the toloache to the boys in the dark; and while it is being administered, the Paha goes over to the main place three times in succession, and the third time tells them to get ready, for Mani is coming. He sings a curious recitative.
The men and boys in this ceremony do not wear clothes. Before they start, each man takes charge of one of the boys who have partaken of the drink, and they stand and get ready. Now begins the marching song or recitative as they march to the main place, taking the boys along. The words of this recitative are: "Tamyush noya kwoya, Tamyush walks by twisting." In the early days this tamyush, finely painted, out of which they drank toloache, when it was time to march to the main place, would walk along by itself. This was done with a twisting motion from side to side,—as a heavy barrel is moved.
Tukmul, the sacred winnowing basket, would do the same thing. He would run by himself to the main place; so would the other sacred basket, piavala, a small basket in the shape of an olla. These three, tamyush, tukmul, and piyevala, would have to stop three times on their way to the main place.
The dancers crawled in on their hands and knees, making the noises of birds and animals. They had some secrets about this, shamanistic power, and could talk in the language of these birds and animals, hawks and owls, and ravens and weasels. One could hear this but could see nothing.
Then they march around the fire, and dance singing the toloache song. The boys soon grow dizzy and fall down, and they carry them to the other place and leave them there, under the charge of some of the old people, until the toloache intoxication wears off.
After this come the dances and the Chungichnish songs, and sometimes new songs are composed at this time. Some of the old men have composed them to teach to the boys, and they dance all night long. At daylight they sing the song: "Tukaina wonipa," which means to go off; and they march to the other place where they took toloache, where they remain during the day.
The boys cannot eat anything. The Paha watches to see that they do not eat more than two or three spoonfuls at most; but the others eat.
When night comes each man takes one of the boys to the main place; and before all the people these old men do magic tricks (Pl. 1) to teach the boys how to perform them. In the old days when they took Mani these people could do anything. They could put the feather head-dresses in the fire, and they would not be burned; and they could make the raven talk and everything was done as he said. They were so full of Chungichnish.
Not so very long ago, a shaman cut his tongue off, blood ran all over his breast, and he held it out so everyone could see. Then he put it back and it grew together again. This was while the Indians all lived where Trujillo's land is now. This spot was a prehistoric Indian village site, the author's camping place at Potrero.
In the same place at this time a shaman stood up and another one shot him with bow and arrow. The arrow went deep into his breast, and he vomited blood and fell down apparently dead. The people all began to cry when they saw him shot; but the second shaman pulled the arrow out, doctored him and blew on him, and he got up perfectly well and went on dancing.
One man named Turiyo threw his feather head-dress on the big fire that was burning. One could smell the feathers burn and everyone saw it. He walked around and began looking about and there was the same feather head-dress on the ground.
They would do these things when they got ready to put the fire out, singing the Chungichnish songs and dancing. They wore no clothes but the feather head-dresses and breech-cloths, but they were painted with white clay and black charcoal on their backs to protect them from the heat.
They put the fire out by witchcraft. They would have a very big fire, "as big as a house," and when they got ready to put it out several of the old men would jump right into the middle of the fire and stand there several minutes. You could smell the feathers burn and know that they were burning, but they would jump out again unhurt.
This was not so very long ago. Everyone knows about it. These were the things they taught the boys to do.
The Paha would superintend the putting out of the fire as he did everything else, calling out: "Come up to the fire. Don't be afraid. Don't shirk."
They put the fire out by pulling the burning logs out and stamping on them and putting them out by witchcraft. The chief would not let anyone come near with water, as the hot steam would burn. They would tramp with hands and feet, and had the Chungichnish sticks. In the early days they would not feel fire.
It is the men of the same village where the boys live who give them toloache; but the next day, perhaps, the people from another village will come; and their chief men will take the boys and teach them their ways and ceremonies, and dance all night long. The men that take the boys to instruct them will talk to them and tell them how they must behave. These men bring the dancing feathers, tukmul, and other objects belonging to Chungichnish. During the time they are teaching the boys and giving them presents of the feathers and objects, the fathers and mothers of the boys give back the same value in baskets and other possessions.
Then the instructors dress the boys in the feathers, paint them all over, give them the wonder-working sticks, and go home.
Next day the men of another village come and do the same thing, and so on for four or five days, different parties coming and going.
The boy has to fast from salt and meat for two or three weeks.
Then they use Wanawut, and the boys all jump. (The account of the rope ceremony is given below). If anyone should fail to do it rightly he would not live long. When he comes through this he is free. He joins Chungichnish. (The narrator stood and reverently pointed upward. "The spirit is always sent up.") They have Wanawut for long life, and the boys must believe in it, and obey the rules.
After the fasting is over, they make the sand-painting. (The description of this is also given below.) The instruction is then given in the proper rule of life for the initiate, the Chungichnish rule of life:
No one must eat immediately after rising. They must wait so long that their spirit may return to them from sleep, and then they can eat. In the same way they must not eat immediately upon their return from a journey among the hills. They must wait for their spirit to return to them. They must not eat before the old people have eaten, and no young person can eat the last of the seed or grain, the harvest of the previous year. This must be kept for the old. A boy may eat deer's meat when he has grown to the height of his father's shoulder and not before. They must eat sparingly and observe all these rules so that they will live long and have sons and grandsons to perform the ceremonies at their death and to burn their bodies. In the old days they lived to be so old that they became like little babies again, and would lie down and die of old age. Now they eat too much, and they have no rules for eating, and they die young.
They must be kind to the old and not turn their back upon a stranger when he comes to their house. They must not whip their children, for the spirits will be about and will steal their spirits away so that the children will die.
A bath must be taken every morning.
There were many other rules pertaining to the rites and ceremonies and the requirement of secrecy.
If any of the rules were disobeyed, Chungichnish would send the bear, mountain lion, or rattlesnake to bite, and stinging weeds to injure the transgressor. Sickness would come upon him. The earth would hear, and the sun would spy out the guilty by day and the moon by night.
Sage seed ground and mixed with salt is made into a lump, and with this the chief touches the forehead, shoulders, breast, knees, and feet of each boy in turn, telling him that whenever the sun rises he must make the sort of invocation used at this time, sending his spirit towards it,—in an indescribable sound, for which we have no word. Three times this is done,—Ugh-ugh-ha-a-a.
The lump of sage-seed and salt is then put into the mouth of the candidate, who bends over the sand-painting, kneeling before it with arms extended one on each side of it. He spits the lump into the central hole, which is then carefully covered by the old men, who obliterate the sand-painting by pushing it from the circumference towards the center. (See again the special account of the sand-painting below.)
This ends the first part of the toloache ceremony. It is probable that a race was made by the boys and that a rock was painted as is described in the account of the ant-ordeal, and in the girls’ ceremony; but my authorities did not mention this here.
The chief has to take care of those who are under him, and he must save all he can in food and valuables and plan to finish the whole ceremony, notifying his people when it is time to burn the sacred enclosure, which is done four or five weeks later to end the Mani.
The sacred enclosure (Luiseño, wamkish or hotahish; Spanish, casa grande) is made in a circular form of willow and other brush. The ceremony of burning it is performed in the day time. First the Paha takes the food collected by the chief and distributes it among the different houses to be prepared for eating; then when all is ready he brings it to the main place, where they have a feast.
Instead of burning the whole of the sacred enclosure, a part of the brush is taken from it and this is burned while they dance and sing the appropriate songs.
This ends the ceremony of Mani which came to the mountain people from San Luis Rey. They do not have it regularly, perhaps every two or three years. During the march which ends the ceremony the mothers of the initiated boys throw away baskets and other valuables among the guests.
The following comments on the toloache fiesta are by Salvador Cuevas: Mani was a training for boys. In it they were told how to act in all ways, to old people, to be kind to strangers, not to eat too much, so that they could run miles and miles, and could live long. They were instructed how to dance and how to perform the ceremonies.
Part of the ceremony Salvador hesitated to describe as it was too sacred to be told; but having confidence in me he was willing to do so if I would promise not to repeat it to the Indians. He was willing that I should give it to the white people.
Many garden books suggest that one only handle the plant with gloves, so as not to absorb any particulents through your skin or lungs. I don't, preferring to be barehanded. If it is my time to fly, it is my time to fly.