Per Wikipedia, Datura “was known as an essential ingredient of potions and witches’ brews.” The word witch was first coined by the King James version of the Bible, which appeared in the 1600’s. A women’s holocaust occurred in Europe and the United States (Salem, Massachusetts, Abiquiu, New Mexico) in the 16th and 17th centuries when thousands, perhaps a few million rural women of all ages were burned as witches. In a nutshell, women have been healers since ancient times. When men became “doctors” they took over the role of healer from women, and conveniently dispensed with the latter by burning them alive.
Whenever I see the word witch I stop to consider the context because inevitably the word is associated with older or old women who have personal power. Women healers were naturalists who observed, experimented with plants to learn about their medicinal properties, and used these herbs to heal, to birth a child, to abort an unwanted fetus, and to help humans die peacefully at the end of life. It takes a lifetime to acquire the necessary skills, so younger female healers were/are usually apprenticed to their elders and their secrets passed from one generation to another.
Patriarchy continues to dismiss women as needing equal rights, including the right to end life if it becomes necessary. Our need to have sovereignty over our own bodies is a threat to this system of oppression. We are rejected as folk healers, and as leaders, out of fear. If we dare to speak out we become witches, bitches, or nasty old women. We are irrational and emotional, unpredictable, incapable of making sound decisions due to our biology, according to this Patriarchal story. We are also a genuine threat because as thinking/feeling women we can reject the either-or/black or white perspective of Patriarchy and seek “both and” solutions. We are capable of thinking with both parts of our brain and have access to Nature’s secrets because we can develop intimate relationships with plants (and animals). Many women recognize that we are a part of nature and can choose to advocate for the Earth, understanding that to do so is also to advocate for all life on this planet. We can choose not to separate the parts from the whole. Women and the Datura plant belong together because both are potential visionaries.
Datura flowers are startling, huge, trumpet-shaped – pearl white and luminous, tinted with pale to deep lavender around the edges – and in northern Mexico, intensely fragrant after rain. Last summer, like the bees that hummed around the flowers from dawn to dusk, I too couldn’t get enough of the sweet scent of literally hundreds of ruffled white and lavender trumpets that opened each day. These plants are also capable of removing lead from the soil and storing it in their roots and leaves so they are acting as natural eco-feminist agents as they purify the soil!
Native Americans, such as the Navajo, use the seeds of the Sacred Datura for visioning during their ceremonies. It’s important to understand that indigenous people have learned how to detoxify Datura (as women healers have). They are not sharing this information with outsiders.
Curiously Datura can change the size, color, and shape of their individual plants, leaves, and flowers! The plants’ size, shape etc. apparently depends upon the plants’ location. I find the correspondence between the plant’s ability to create visions or to poison, and its physical ability to change its shape, color, size, leaves, depending on location fascinating. It’s as if the plant is advertising its literal ability to shapeshift, to alter its identity in the wild where it can thrive even as a weed. This kind of co-creating between plant and (power of) place is probably much more common than we realize.
If ever there was a time to celebrate “witches” as women of power it is now. We need to gather together with all the other “nasty women” and support progressive leaders. Then we can pick up our prickly Datura pods and soar away into the night on the broomsticks that our distorted cultural story has provided for us!
Postscript: I want to make it clear that I know a number of caring men with great integrity who do not support Patriarchy in its death throes (just as I know many women who do). This country is fortunate to have many such men. We need to acknowledge how critical their support is and how much courage it takes for a man to go against a culture that strives for power over at the cost of losing access to genuine feeling.