Author of the Month

Gary A. David, Author of the Month for October 2009

The Mothman of Pottery Mound:
the Use of Sacred Datura in Ancient New Mexico (cont.)
By Gary A. David

Many tribes of the western U.S. have traditionally incorporated the Sacred Datura into their religious rites. "Societies in the Great Basin and in much of California also used the plant, where it was commonly employed in vision quests for spirit helpers and in boys' initiation rites… Ritual uses include initiation, divination, good luck, and transport to the spirit world for other purposes. Shamanic healers have exploited the plant's mind-altering qualities to diagnose illnesses in patients." [8]

Grapevine Canyon in the southern tip of Nevada. Datura plant (foreground-left) in front of boulder with abstract petroglyphs, possibly depicting entoptic imagery. (For more photos of the site, see:

Zuni priests of New Mexico used Datura to communicate with birds and petition them for rain. "In 1879 the writer discovered that the Zunis employed a narcotic… found to be Datura stramonium or jimson weed… when the rain priests go out at night to commune with the feathered kingdom, they put a bit of powdered root into their mouth so that the birds may not be afraid and will listen to them when they pray to the birds to sing for the rains to come." [9]

Extracts or derivatives of Datura mixed with the fat of a wild boar are sometimes used in a paste known as a "flying ointment." Anthropologist and author Carlos Castaneda, during his tutelage with the Yaqui shaman and diablero don Juan Matus, recounts his teacher's intimate knowledge of Datura to accomplish psychic flight:

"The second portion of the devil's weed [the root] is used to fly… The unguent by itself is not enough. My benefactor said that it is the root that gives direction and wisdom, and it is the cause of flying. As you learn more, and take it often in order to fly, you will begin to see everything with great clarity. You can soar through the air for hundreds of miles to see what is happening at any place you want, or to deliver a fatal blow to your enemies far away. As you become familiar with the devil's weed, she will teach you how to do such things." [10]

In this case the plant itself is referred to as a feminine ally who is actually conscious. Castaneda asks whether his own body actually flew like a bird, and don Juan replies:

"A man flies with the help of the second portion of the devil's weed. That is all I can tell you. What you want to know makes no sense. Birds fly like birds and a man who has taken the devil's weed flies as such [el enyerbado vuela así]."
"As birds do? [Así como los pájaros?]."
"No, he flies as a man who has taken the weed [No, así como los enyerbados]." [11]
Spiny seedpods of the Datura

Several jimsonweed seeds were actually found in a deeply buried room floor at Pottery Mound. In addition, small ceramic effigy vessels have also been discovered in the region. Conical bumps on their outer surface resemble the spiny seedpods. They may have been used either to store the seeds or as a cup for the Datura brew.

A menacing anthropoid painted on the interior of a different type of flat pottery bowl has a body that resembles the plant's round, prickly seedpod. He has half-moon eyes, a rectangular mouth with teeth, and red hair or headdress. This last feature may correspond to the red headpiece of the first Mothman mural shown above.

Ceramic bowl with "Datura Man."

Members of Hopi Fire Clan (Ko'kop) were also known as 'the redheads'. As the most aggressive Hopi clan, it founded the Warrior Society named Motswimi. According to one historian, these redheads were also the traditional enemies of the Aztecs. [12]

The Fire Clan is furthermore associated with an ominous being named Masau'u, the Hopi god of death, war, and the underworld. The figure depicted on the ceramic resembles some of the Hopi rock art renditions of this god. Interesting in this context is the Hopi word for 'moth': masivi. This word has the same root as the name of the Hopi death god, which literally means 'gray'-the color of moth wings.

One Hopi synonym for 'moth' is even more intriguing: Tsimonmana specifically refers to "a type of moth attracted to jimsonweed." This word literally means 'jimsonweed maiden' [13], thereby echoing the feminine designation of Datura that we find in Yaqui culture. Some Hopi legends do indeed describe pairs of licentious young femme fatales who wear Datura blossoms in their hair while they seduce and harm unsuspecting males. We thus have the moth and jimsonweed contained in the single Hopi word, Tsimonmana.

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  1. Lisa W. Huckell and Christine S. Vanpool, "Toloatzin and Shamanic Journeys: Exploring the Ritual Role of Sacred Datura in the Prehistoric Southwest": Religion In the Prehispanic Southwest, edited by Christine S. Vanpool, Todd L. Vanpool, and David A Phillips, Jr. (Altamira Press, Lanham, Maryland, 2006), p. 150. [back to text]
  2. Matilda Coxe Stevenson, quoted in Alex Patterson: A Field Guide to Rock Art Symbols of the Greater Southwest (Johnson Books, Boulder, Colorado, 1992), p. 80. [back to text]
  3. Carlos Castaneda: The Teachings of Don Juan: a Yaqui Way of Knowledge (Pocket Book, New York, 1977, 1974, 1968), p. 128. [back to text]
  4. Ibid., p. 129. [back to text]
  5. Harry C. James: Pages From Hopi History (The University of Arizona Press, Tucson, Arizona, 1974), p. 27. [back to text]
  6. Ekkehart Malotki, editor: Hopi Dictionary: A Hopi-English Dictionary of the Third Mesa Dialect (The University of Arizona Press, Tucson, Arizona: 1998), p. 631. [back to text]

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