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Once upon a time a long, long time ago, a boy called A'neglakya and his sister A'neglakyatsi-tsa lived deep within the Earth. As often as they could they came up to the surface to go on long walks, exploring the land, watching and listening carefully to all and everything they encountered on their journeys. Upon their return they told their mother about everything they had seen. However, one day the twin-sons of the Sun-god grew suspicious of them and they wondered what they should do about the inquisitive pair. Soon after, A'neglakya and his sister were once again on one of their walkabouts, when they came upon the sons of the Sun-god. Casually the twins inquired about their well-being: "We are very happy" was the reply, and A'neglakya told the twins how he and his sister could make people fall asleep and have visionary dreams or let them 'see' the whereabouts of lost objects. Upon hearing this the twins decided that the two definitely knew too much and that they should put an end to A'neglakya's and A'neglakyatsi-tsa's doings. That day the sons of the Sun-god let the brother and sister disappear into the Earth forever. But lo and behold, two beautiful flowers emerged from the ground in just the same spot where the two had vanished. They were the same flowers that the brother and sister had laid on the heads of the people to give them visions. In their memory the Gods called the flower A'neglakya and their children spread far across the Earth - bringing visions to many people.
This Zuni legend about the origin of Datura also provides an insight into the nature of it's essential character. A'neglakya and his sister could 'make people fall asleep and have visionary dreams'. Since time immemorial various Datura species have been revered as sacred visionary plants by practically all cultures who have come into contact with it.
From an anthropological perspective, the use of Datura stramonium by Algonquin Indians of Virginia in their huskanawing ceremony provides an excellent example, of the role of hallucinogens during the liminal period in rites of passage. The concept of liminality was first discussed by Arnold Van Gennep in his Rites o Passaga (1908) and later elaborated on by Victor Turner. The liminal period is one part of rites of passage during which initiates are removed from social space and involved in reflection and learning about their particular society. Victor Turner has pointed to the Importance of studying this phenomenon in order to understand processes of social change generationally within a culture. The use of Datura in this rite provides such insight.
Beverly in his History of Virginia (1705) described the rite of huskanawing. The rite was practiced by Algonquins every fourteen or sixteen years and involved taking the "choicest and briskest" young men of the society into the woods and ritually administering an intoxicating medicine (wysoccan), containing Datura, to them. The rite was necessary if the young men hoped to become great men or officers within their society. Kept in cages or enclosures for several months, the local medicine men carefully fed the boys only wysoccan, causing them to become "stark, raving mad" for a period of eighteen or twenty days so as to "perfectly lose the remembrance of all former things, even of their parents, their treasure, and their language." When sufficient dosages had been administered, the amount was reduced gradually and the young men slowly returned to their senses. But before the potion completely wore off, the boys were brought back, into their village and carefully observed to see if any memories of their former life as boys were discovered. If one did show signs of remembering, the entire ritual had to be undergone again, this time greatly endangering the life of the initiate (Safford 1922:558-9).
While this may serve as a severe example of liminality, the purpose of the rite being one of transition follows Van Gennep's and Turner's theory perfectly. As Beverly describes, the boys are forced to relearn all aspects of their culture, "...thus they unlive their former lives, and commence men by forgetting that they ever have been boys" (Safford 1922:558-9). In order to become fully adult, socialized members of Algonquin society, the boys must leave their former role of boyhood and its accompanying memories behind.