Moonflower is the friend of shamans, healers, and Saturnian witches. She breaks spells sent to harm you and protects you from evil spirits. She’ll even let you borrow her wings to fly and take you to extraordinary places. But she’ll also show you things you wish you hadn’t seen and she’ll make you afraid of her. Sometimes it’s better to to view her from afar and not touch the Moonflower. Sometimes it’s better just to wait for her to bloom on a cool summer night under a full moon and deeply inhale her beautiful scent… and then quietly go back to bed.
Moonflowers are within the genus Datura, family Solanaceae. Many members of the Nightshade (Solanaceae) family have toxic, medicinal, magical, and psychoactive properties. In this family are potato, tomato, eggplant, peppers, tobacco, petunias, belladonna, mandrake, henbane, solandra, and many others. All are beautiful, yet Datura has its own enchantment. Tree Datura, known as Angel’s Trumpets, are specifically classified as Brugmansia. They are similar in nature and appearance to Datura, but are tropical day blooming trees. The two tend to overlap in historical use, as they share the same active chemical components.
These plant spirits have been communicating with humanity for thousands of years. Datura grows nearly everywhere in the world, except for the coldest, most barren regions. Where it grows in abundance there is sure to be folklore surrounding it, and people who have utilized it. It grows readily in abandoned or disturbed areas, and in warm climates it is extremely hardy and tenacious, yet downy and inviting at the same time.
Datura, and many of its relatives have some combination of atropine, hyoscyamine, and scopolamine. In Datura the primary alkaloid is scopolamine. These chemicals induce an intoxication followed by delirious hallucinations which occur during the transition state between consciousness and sleep. This plant has many lessons, most of which can be taught without ever consuming even a tiny amount. Some believe just carrying a small branch on your person is enough to gain its abilities. Growing and interacting with Datura is always a little magical, especially the first bloom on a summer night. The scent is unlike anything else. A sweet, warm, intoxicating, and mythic fragrance.
Magical uses almost always include divinatory properties. However, Datura tends to be associated with darker or baneful magic, probably because of how dangerous and unpredictable it is. It has long been thought that one could acquire enhanced gifts, wisdom, and strength from the plant. It is known to grant the feeling of flight, or the ability to transform the curandero (shaman), or at least his or her spirit, into a bird or other animal, sometimes a wolf or a coyote.
A famous account of this is given by Carlos Castaneda, in which he describes how a Yaqui Shaman, Don Juan Matus, teaches him to make a flying ointment from Datura root and boar fat. After applying the ointment he has a vision of himself as a bird, soaring over the land. Datura has a strong association in many cultures with wind and in general the air element, but also the water element as well. As part of a rain ceremony Zuni priests go into the desert at night and sprinkle a small amount of dried Datura root powder into their eyes and mouth. Doing this they are able to communicate with the Avian world, thus allowing the birds to listen to their songs and prayers and bring rain.
Among European traditions one might find either a Datura species, or another of the Solanaceae family as a primary ingredient in the traditional witch’s flying ointment. Datura and their relatives (Nightshade, Mandrake, Henbane, Tobacco, etc.) have long been associated with sensations of flight. Similar to the Shaman turning into a bird after taking Datura. A typical flying ointment might contain some mixture of the following ingredients: Aconite, fat/oil, soot, Belladonna, Cinquefoil, Hemp, Hellebore, Hemlock, Mandrake, Opium Poppy, Datura, Tobacco, Parsley, Mugwort, Foxglove, and possibly many other things. The idea is that witches then used their besom (broom) to anoint their genitals (mucus membranes) with the delirium inducing ointment.
No definitive recipe seems to exist, bits and pieces of old accounts are all that survived. Reginald Scat’s ‘The Discoverie Of Witchcraft’ from 1584 describes some recipes including one that calls for Deadly Nightshade, among other more unusual ingredients, such as the blood of a flitter mouse. However, any flying ointment that would be effective should be used with extreme caution, and in tiny amounts. Applying too much and then falling unconscious has proven deadly in the past.
Artist: Maxine Miller