The Sacred Datura plant (Datura wrightii) is known in Mexico as toloache, from the Nahuatl words for “bow the head” and “reverential” (how can you not love this?). Beverages made from this poisonous deliriant induce hallucinogenic visions; when used improperly, even death. It is used for sacred rites of passage by Native American tribes, has been used to hex and to break hexes, to produce sleep and induce dreams, and for protection from evil. It has also been used for divination, to find one’s totem animal, to allow one to see ghosts, for communing with birds, for long hunts and strength, for sharper vision, for sorcery and to increase supernatural powers. Sacred Datura (also known as Jimson Weed or Devil’s Weed [Yerba del Diablo]) is one of the subjects of Carlos Castaneda’s critically acclaimed The Teachings of don Juan. I have personally used it only for photographic power.
Accordingly, a sacred plant commands sacred photographic treatment. I experienced many rejects and failures before I finally landed a successful photograph. Sacred Datura grows in the Chihuahuan, Sonoran, and Mojave deserts and blooms from April through October, rainy season dependent. In clear weather, flowers may open in the morning or evening but close during the heat of the day. In cloudy weather, they may open earlier and last longer. Individual flowers do not last long, timing is everything. In windy conditions – common on the desert during it’s blooming period – flowers can be quickly damaged by wind (folded and bruised flower petals don’t photograph well). Further, wind is often disastrous for large format film photography where long exposures are common and camera bellows become wind sails. My exposures are timed carefully to fall between gusts of wind. Unlike digital photography, there is no instant feedback in film photography – results are not visible until I later develop the film. A second negative is often made to counteract wind movement; one is routinely a throw-away (due to blurring).