Egyptian Woman & Drugs

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Egypt was preeminent in the ancient world for its medical knowledge of drug plants. The goddess Hathor was worshipped as far back was 3000 B.C.. Her temple was the home of intoxication. To appease Hathor, the sun god Ra ordered the fertile soil of the Nile Valley to be created from fermented barley. It was stained red to resemble blood, perhaps by the addition of mandrake or opium poppies, according to one interpretation of a myth inscribed on a tomb dated 1300 B.C. The practice of getting drunk on New Year's Eve is for Egyptian a tribute to Hathor as a goddess of intoxication and joy.

Isis, Egyptian goddess of immortality, was also goddess of fertility, motherhood, and herbal drug cures. She healed her slain brother, Osiris---literally put him back together--- with sacred herbs, spices, and enchantments. Isis worship spread to Greece and Rome by the fourth century B.C., due in part to her resemblance to Demeter.The medieval version of Isis was anima mundi (world soul or witch-goddess; her headdress was decorated with magic herbs, grains, and snakes.

A fourteenth-century B.C. Egyptian wall relief depicting a royal couple was the subject of a recent paper by anthropologist Judee Davidson. Davidson conjectures that the woman, who has been identified by some as Queen Nefertiti, is offering the man, who appears to be ill, two psychoactive plants: mandrake root and blue water lily.

Ha, ha
Give me to drink mandragora
That I might sleep out this great gap of time
My Antony is away.

Her speech in Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra reflects the traditional view of the Egyptian queen as a drug adept. Cleopatra would have been aware that the correct dose of mandrake root acted as a sedative. Like other rulers, she dabbled in the black art poisoning; presumable she tested asp venom on her servants to determine the fatal dosage of the poison she eventually used to commit suicide. But mandragora was her Valium.

Text: Shaman Woman, Mainline Lady: Woman's Writings on the Drug Experience. Cynthia Palmer and Michael Horowitz, 1982.