Use and abuse of Datura species from ancient times to today.
Several Datura species of the USA, Central– and South America have been used as healing plants and as hallucinogenic plants. This usage of these plants is not new. It goes far back in time and vanishes in the darkness of the times before recorded history. The use of these plants in the old world apparently is fairly new and can be dated back to the fifteenth century.
The medicinal and hallucinogenic effects of the Datura species are caused by Tropane alkaloids, Atropine, Hyoscyamine, and scopolamine, which are mainly stored in the plant juice. When taken inside, these alkaloids produce several effects typical of the Tropane alkaloids. Taken in small dosages, they are excellent in removing the annoying symptoms of Asthma, motion sickness, and also to calm the nerves, but taken inside in large quantities, the alkaloids have a very harmful effect causing delirium, loss of body control, cramps, and eventually death.
If You have ever gone through an eye examination in the local hospital, I think, that You have experienced the side effects of Atropine. Maybe You found it impossible to read the newspaper several hours afterward.
Or maybe You have heard of the Asthma-cigars, which could be bought in any well-assorted pharmacy shop. The packet contained “Folio Stramonio” and these cigars not only relieved asthma, they also caused dizziness, disorientation, and aching throat. These are the side-effects of Hyoscyamine.
Scopolamine is widely used today in pills against motion sickness. The side effects are similar to those mentioned for Atropine and Hyoscyamine.
When taken in considerable amounts, the alkaloids have an entirely different effect. In his book “Danske Hallucinogener – i fortid og nutid” (“Danish Hallucinogens – in past and present”) (Olsen, 1971) Henrik Olsen, who is also a friend of the author, has among other plant species described the use of the Nightshade species in relation to religious experiences and the occult. About the Hallucinogenic effects of Atropine and Scopolamine he writes (Transl. from Danish to English by the author):”Atropine evokes a delirious state of mind and is accompanied by severe confusion. Usually, actual hallucinations occur. To a spectator, this condition would remind him of insanity. Also, cramps occur and sometimes actual attacks of furious rage. The condition is not the most wanted. It is the following state of deep sleep, which sends the soul out on long-distance travels in the realms of darkness. The dreams are strongly erotically colored.”
Scopolamine usually evokes a state of mind, wherein the aroused person finds himself within a half-awake and half-sleeping state accompanied by hallucinations. The aroused person is said to be doing weird things, but in my experience, Scopolamine is a comfortable drug, which induces flowery-light hallucinations”.
However promising words to a would-be occultist, the use of the strong Hallucinogens must not be taken lightly. I must strongly advise, that any serious student of the occult arts bear in mind the words of the Danish authority on magic and Satanism, Erwin Neutzsky-Wulff (Okkultisme, 1985), who recommend, that magic rituals may be celebrated without the use of hallucinogenic drugs and adds, that the goals of the ceremonies will –due to training of the mind – be attained by the means of a purely intellectual effort.
Pre-historic usage of Datura species
Mankind has known Datura since ancient times. Yarnell (1959) writes, that archeological excavations on ruins found in the South-Western USA revealed, that pre-historic Pueblos kept within their houses Datura seeds.
The first meetings between Man and the Datura species properly occurred, when primitive societies of gathers and hunters were exploring new American and Mexican territories and by the trial and error method was searching for edible members of the plant kingdom.
Animism and Datura
To some of the Indian tribes native to the South-Western USA and Mexico, the Datura species are not merely useful plants of medicinal value. These species have also received status as supernatural beings. In some myths, the Datura plants were created by the Ancient Gods. In another mythological context, the Datura plants represent a connecting link between Man and his Gods and play a role similar to that of the Soma-drink of the Rig-Vedas. They are considered to have a personality or a soul as well. Sometimes this personality is regarded to have female characteristics and the Datura plant itself is considered merely to the worldly garments of a supernatural entity. In the center of Mexico, children are not allowed by their mothers to go anywhere near these plants or even to look at them at a far distance, because it can result in the most harmful consequences for the child.
The Datura species are regarded as Holy plants given to Man from the Gods. In some Indian societies today, the Datura species are treated with all the rituals and respect proper for a divine entity. According to Ernesto of Mexico D.F. – who is also the collector of DATU-30 – it is strongly recommendable, in order not to offend this entity, to employ an old ritual still employed among the Tarahumara (Corymas) people in the north of Mexico. The technique is, in all its simplicity, to:” …talk to her slowly, with respect and with kindness.”
When she – the plant entity – is assured, that no harm is intended, she will in return be kind, gentle, and cooperative herself.
Since the dawn of ages D. stramonium, D. inoxia, D. meteloides and D. wrightii have been used by Indians of the American continent as a means of transportation, that enabled them to visit strange worlds or what Carlos Castaneda refers to as “separate realities” (Castaneda, 1968). The plant parts used were seeds or roots or a mixture of both. At first, the ingredients had to be gathered in the desert and afterward ground for several hours in boiling water and drunk, when the extract had cooled off. Other plant parts, as for instance the leaves, were used to relieve pain fever, and other ills. In contrary to the seeds, leaves, and roots, the flowers – it is said in Mexico – is only used to turn people raving mad., – hereof the names Raving Nightshade or Torna Loco.
This assumption is largely confirmed by the use of Datura flowers in a religious context in Haiti and Brazil, the creation of a “Zombie”.
In its origin, it is an old religious ceremony, which dramatizes the myth of death and resurrection – and it has several parallels to both the death and resurrection myth of the New Testament and also the old legend of Demeter, who travels to the Underworld to bring her dead beloved back to the world of the living. During the ceremony, the candidate is given a poison, which among other ingredients contains extracts of the skin of a very poisonous pufferfish.
The mental effect of this poison is, that the candidate enters a deep, trance-like state and the physical effect is, that all his body functions are reduced to a minimum so that he appears to the spectator to have died. At that stage, he is buried, but the next day at dawn the coffin is lifted out of the soil and the candidate is resurrected by giving him an antidote against the Puffer-fish poison, and in the short time he has recovered fully to normal conditions.
Unfortunately, this ceremony has been misused to create “Zombies”, in that the candidate, after he had received the antidote also receive a potion made of Datura flowers. This is the cause of the “robot-like” state of mind, which always seems to accompany the “afterlife” of the “Zombie”. It is, however, not an irreversible state of mind, because it has to be maintained by repeatedly mixing ground Datura flowers in the victim’s food.
Datura species is also associated with the Magic of the Western Tradition. From the seventeenth century and up to our time, Datura has been frequently mentioned in several magical works. One of the maybe best authorities of Western Ritual Magic, J. K. Huysmans, described in his key novel “La Bas” (Huysmans, 1819) – English translation by K. Wallis, (Wallis, 1958), how a mixture of rue, myrtle, dried nightshade, henbane and thorn apple (D. stramonium)
In Satanism Datura has also found its use. In a ceremony of Demeter, she (the candidate) is visiting the underworld to free her beloved (the candidate’s soul), and here Datura is sometimes used to unlock the door to the astral plane ( Ref.: the personal and collective unconscious of C. G. Jung). During the ceremony, Demeter (the candidate) enters seven doors, and to pass each one she has to take off a piece of her garment (the garments is not garments of the candidate’s body, but of his psyche, such as perception of cause and effect, time, space, identity) and leave it at each of the seven doors. The Demeter ritual – as conceived by the layman – has also given origin to strip-tease, which in several centuries has been popular nightclub entertainment.
Datura and drug abuse
Datura species has also a worldwide use as plain drugs. In the USA, Mexico, and Europe, Drug addicts have been misusing Datura roots, leaves, and seeds to “get high” as they put it. Only a few years ago, a tragic event happened in Southern California. It is described by W. P. Armstrong (Armstrong, 1980), how a young man died a horrifying and violent death in a hospital after he had been drinking a potion of Datura roots mixed with orange juice in a blender. One of the doctors, who helplessly watched the young man die said afterward, that he had never experienced anything as terrifying as that, that he just had witnessed.
Also the Datura species of sect. Brugmansia presented an irresistible attraction for a group of drug addicts in Sorø. According to Høst Duedahl-Andersen – the 85 years old owner of the “Sorø Botanical Plant Center” – more Datura trees was 1989 stolen from outside the local pharmacy shop in Sorø Main street by drug addicts. The reaction on this of the old Horticulturist was never more to sell Datura trees again from his Plant Center. He briefly commended, that he did not want – by selling these poisonous trees – to encourage anyone to abuse these plants again. A short vile after this event, Mr. Duedahl-Andersen entered a team under the direction of the Sorø County City Hall to exterminate poisonous plant species in the county, especially specimens of D. stramonium, which are naturalized in these areas.
In 2001 also The Datura Collection International became a favored target for some unknown inhabitants of the Soran Community. That it wasn’t planted hunters frequently visiting The Datura Collection International Gardens by night became evident in daylight, because the plant materials appeared to be randomly removed from the live collection. Such things as leaves, sometimes the tips of the branches was suddenly missing and the seedpods occasionally removed with uttermost care turns always nearly out to be too immature to contain viable seeds. The nightly visitors could be identical to the same referred to above by Høst Duedahl-Andersen, but it could also be someone doing moonlight vacations in the garden trying hard to collect cut plant materials for his Moonflower Herbarium.
Among several of the garden growers, with whom I have discussed Datura, these plants are notorious for their poisonous properties. The fear and respect, that the Datura species are regarded with stems not from accidental poisonings from these plants, as none of the people, with whom I have discussed this subject, have in any way been exposed to the ill-effects of these plants. In some cases, the fear of these plants could be related to newspaper articles of the more sensational kind. In other cases, it was entirely based on rumors.
Datura and the plant industry
Several herbaceous Datura species and practically all known species of sect. Brugmansia shares a long history as garden ornamentals.
Both types were introduced to Europe in the fifteenth century and especially the species of sect. Brugmansia became popular among the upper classes of that time’s society. In Europe, the arborescent species were grown in large pots and in the summer placed in the patio or directly in the garden and in the winter stored in greenhouses, which were constructed in connection with the houses.
In our time the herbaceous Datura species are as popular as the arborescent species were several hundred years ago. Especially D. inoxia, D. meteloides and D. wrightii are highly regarded as garden ornamentals. Several different garden selections have been made from these species.
One selection, which belongs to the taxa D. inoxia, is sold as D. metel “Belle Blanche”. Another selection of D. meteloides is known under the name D. innoxia “Grandiflora”. Of D. wrightii I know only of one garden selection called D. meteloides “Evening fragrance”. Also, the double-flowered varieties and forms of D. metel is in high demand.
Also, less conspicuous Datura species is commonly grown in our gardens. In Danish gardens, for instance, D. stramonium and D. tatula is as popular as their large-flowered relatives. These species were properly – together with D. bernhardtii, which was observed in two different Soran gardens in 1997-2001 – introduced to Middle Europe in 1850, and already 50 years later, the same species reached through to the gardens of Scandinavia.
Mr. Thomson from Sorø has grown D. stramonium in his garden for several years. His specimens originate from seeds collected by his grandfather in the industrial gravel, where he was working as a young man.
In 1993 Johannes A Jørgensen, who is also of Sorø, grew a large, beautiful specimen of D. tatula in his herbal garden. According to Mr. Jørgensen, the seeds have originated from a packet of spinach seeds bought in a nearby supermarket. When the plants grew up, he was at first a little surprised by the size and the looks of some of the spinach plants: ” …at first I did not notice anything, but a month or so after sowing the seeds I started wondering, what kind of spinach would grow to such size. I decided to wait and see, what would come out of it. This spinach grew many strong branches carrying lilac flowers and prickly fruits. Then I knew, it could not be spinach… ”
Today an industry has built up around the production of Datura plants and seeds for wholesale. Each year immense quantities of plants and seeds change hands with dollars. In 1993, Broch`s Greenhouses in Denmark produced no less than 63.000 Datura plants from seeds to be distributed for sale in Germany, The Netherlands, and England as garden ornamentals.
In memory of Tony Surrow Hansen
In 2002 there where still confusion about the difference between Datura and Brugmansia.