Seven Sisters of Sleep

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In 1860 British mycologist Mordecai C. Cooke presented his fanciful myth of the origin of drugs in The Seven Sisters of Sleep: A Popular History of the Seven Prevailing Narcotics of the World. The goddess Sleep ruled one-third of man's life. When her jealous sisters attempted to usurp her domain, she appeased them by offering powers equal to hers over humanity's waking hours: "My minister of dreams shall aid you by his skill, and visions more gorgeous, and illusions more splendid, than ever visited a mortal beneath my sway, shall attend the ecstasies of your subjects."
Thereafter, each of Sleep's sisters personified a major mind-altering plant drug: Morphina (opium), Virginia (tobacco), Gunja (cannabis, hashish), Sitaboa (betel), Erythroxylina (coca), Datura (datura, jimson weed), and Amanita (Amanita muscaria, the toadstool mushroom). They were destined for use on a global scale.

Thousands and millions of Tartar tribes and Mongolian hordes welcomed Morphina, and blessed her for her soothing charms and ... marvels of dreams.... Four-fifths of the race of mortals burned incense upon [Virginia's] altars... The dark impetuous Gunka... established her throne in millions of ardent and affectionate hearts... Honored by the Incas, and flattered by priests -- persecuted by Spanish conquerors, but victorious, Erythroxylina... received the homage of a kingdom of enthusiastic devotees.

Sleep's other sister-drugs (to which Cooke might have added yage, kava, peyote, and psilocybin mushrooms, had he known about them) were also widely used during the mid-Victorian period, just as they are in the present era.

According to Mary Barnard, writing one hundred years after Cooke, in "The God in the Flowerpot": All are drug plants: they inebriate, soothe pain, or function as mind-changers. Some of them are open doors to the otherworld, and as such they have religious uses. They are sacred plants, magic herbs or shrubs, magic carpets on which the spirit of the shaman can travel through time and space.

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