Insights from the Poison Path

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In antiquity, powerful plants were used as both medicines, weapons, and the means of delivering powerful magics.  Laws were enacted in Rome and other parts of Europe specifically because of the prevalence of these plants, and the individuals that had knowledge of their secrets.  These plants were known for their use in powerful love potions known as pocula amatoria, which when employed properly would spark desire in the one they were given to, used improperly they often resulted in madness or death.  Many superstitions arose around these mysterious plants, especially in the Middle Ages during the witch trials.  There are some instances in which the witch panic in specific areas was the result of mass hallucinations due to eating these plants.  Stories of strange plants being tended by the Devil himself, contained the power to summon spirits, find treasure and make one invisible circulated during this time.  It was then that the concept of the “witches’ flying ointment” took hold.  Ointments, salves and unguents were a popular means of applying botanical methods and preserving them for longer periods of time, so the idea of an herbal salve was rather common during this time.  Stories of seductive women covering themselves with ointments containing noxious ingredients in their sexual rites titillated the puritanical societies in which they were told.

 

Belladonna Flower. Nachtschattengewächs Maxpixel.com

 

Today, witches, alchemists and herb crafters are rediscovering the knowledge that has been lost over time in regards to these plants.  Looking to their pre-Christian roots we find that prior to medieval superstition these plants still had a widespread ritual use, and show up throughout pagan mythology.  This combination of folk lore, botanical sorcery and ethnopharmacology has become known as veneficium or the Poison Path, the herbs known as baneful herbs and entheogens.  The plants, many of them considered to be poisonous to a certain degree are being utilized by modern practitioners in the context of ritual trance and spirit work.  Many of them are potent magical catalysts with a long list of fantastic magical and psychic uses.  The spirits of these plants are being sought after, and worked with on a personal level becoming familiar spirits to practitioners of traditional witchcraft, pagan mystics and psychonauts who utilize these altered states to gain knowledge.

 

The Nightshades, or Solanaceae are a family of plants that make up a large part of the category of baneful herbs.  Well known for their infamous reputations, herbs like Mandrake, Deadly Nightshade, Thornapple and Henbane are the kings and queens of this diverse family of plants.  Entheogenic herbs are not just limited to Europe and its indigenous magical traditions.  They can be found all over the world in different forms and from different families.  There have been many books written by ethnographers and ethnopharmacologists investigating the traditions surrounding these plants.

 

 

Plant Belladonna Nachtschattengewächs Max pixel.

 

I recently did an interview with Ian Vertel, a fellow poisoner, who runs Of the Nightshades where he creates various herbal extracts, oils & tinctures using these very plants.  You can find the entire interview at my blog Poisoner’s Apothecary on Patheos Pagan.  In the interview we discuss the perception people have of poisonous plants, how they are employed in ritual and what they are able to teach us.  Ian offers insight into his own personal practice and experiences with these plants.  One of his favorite plants to work with is Atropa belladonna, known as Deadly Nightshade.  I asked Ian to expand on some of the teachings he has received from this plant is regards to overcoming one’s fears and not allowing them to have power over you.  I know from personal experience that Belladonna forces us to face the dark side of ourselves and the world around us.  Belladonna is known for causing visions that are dark and demonic when taken in hallucinogenic doses.  However, she is also associated with the bravery and battle prowess of the war Goddess Bellona and other fearsome female deities.

 

Here is what Ian had to say on the topic of Belladonna and fearlessness. (not included in original interview)

 

Ian Vertel Of the Nightshades

Belladonna suspends inhibitions (scopolamine and atropine) and guides in surrendering and confronting personal fears and darkness (shadows of the subconscious). It is a visionary narcotic, it teaches how to move through these fears without being affected or controlled by them. The drug suspends the hysteria of fear, and allows for seeing something for what it is, instead of what is feared about it. Belladonna is very closely associated with the dark goddess, and there is overlap here. As the dark goddess teaches us to confront our darkness, so too does belladonna. In my practice, belladonna IS the dark goddess.”

 

I also asked Ian to elaborate on the local traditions of his part of the country, after relocating from Michigan to Arizona, he has some interesting perspectives on the plant life and folk magic of both parts of the country.  

 

“I believe that geography, environment and the spirits inform craft. I had to adapt a mostly European magical practice to life in Arizona. There were some familiar allies, but many were new spirits. I studied local lore and learned how to use the plants and trees around me. I studied native traditions and Mexican folk magic, and learned how the people of this area use these plants. They offered references for developing my own understanding. Most of all, I directly consulted these spirits, asked them how to make certain substitutions and replacements. I don’t really believe in lists of correspondences, so all the stories and traditional medicinal uses helped reveal magical properties and potentials. Eventually it became effortless because my magic was tied to the land. Some examples: Copal and apache pine resin were used in place of classic cleansing and consecrating resins like frankincense. The Elder, traditionally Sambucus nigra, was a very important part of practice in the Midwest. But since S. nigra does not grow here, I found the Mexican elder, S. mexicana. Through stories and personal seeking, I learned this species also embodies the Old Lady, the Elder Mother. I use S. mexicana the same as the traditional S. nigra in both magic and medicine. Mistletoe (Viscum album) is another very important plant in my practice, but out here in Arizona, I substitute for desert mistletoe (Phoradendron californicum). Cactus spines could be substituted for thorns. Rosemary and rue thrive here, and they are used similarly here as they are in Europe, as well as the diversity of salvia species that have a use for everything. On May 1st, we still tie our red ribbons in the branches of local tree species. The spirit of the old traditions is continued but given new life here in the desert. My practice is always growing and adapting to become more and more rooted in its environment.”  

 

Belladonna Oil – Of the Nightshades.

  

 Check out the full interview here: Of the Nightshades: Interview with Ian Vertel

You can follow Ian and check out his products on Facebook and Instagram @of_the_nightshades

Read more about the Poison Path and the plants along the way at Poisoner’s Apothecary!

Check out the ritual jewelry inspired by the plants of the Poison Path at Poisoner’s Apothecary!

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Coby Michael Ward
,
I am a practitioner of traditional witchcraft, proud armchair occultist, and cultivar of baneful herbs. I have a passion for potion-making and arcane artifacts. I love researching and writing about the history of magic, occult philosophy, and the Pagan practices of Germanic/Norse traditions and the British Isles. As a writer, I have been working for about two years, and have taught workshops on esoteric herbalism, witches’ flying ointments, and the Poison Path. I recently self-published a zine-like booklet called “The Poisoner’s Pocket Guide” a collection of baneful plant lore and witchcraft. I have been growing a Witch’s Garden for about six years consisting of various plants commonly associated with witches and sorcery. I have been studying magic and the occult for a number of years. I later decided to go to school for religious studies, which helped me with my writing. Arizona State University is where I studied religion with an emphasis on religious text and ritual. I became interested in poisonous plants and traditional European witchcraft via my studies of American Folk Magic and African American Hoodoo, which introduced me to the grimoire tradition and eventually Sabbatic Witchcraft. In my writing I look to draw new connections between ancient mythology, symbolism, astrological correspondence and traditional witchcraft practices like spirit work, herb craft and soul flight.
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Coby Michael Ward
,
I am a practitioner of traditional witchcraft, proud armchair occultist, and cultivar of baneful herbs. I have a passion for potion-making and arcane artifacts. I love researching and writing about the history of magic, occult philosophy, and the Pagan practices of Germanic/Norse traditions and the British Isles. As a writer, I have been working for about two years, and have taught workshops on esoteric herbalism, witches’ flying ointments, and the Poison Path. I recently self-published a zine-like booklet called “The Poisoner’s Pocket Guide” a collection of baneful plant lore and witchcraft. I have been growing a Witch’s Garden for about six years consisting of various plants commonly associated with witches and sorcery. I have been studying magic and the occult for a number of years. I later decided to go to school for religious studies, which helped me with my writing. Arizona State University is where I studied religion with an emphasis on religious text and ritual. I became interested in poisonous plants and traditional European witchcraft via my studies of American Folk Magic and African American Hoodoo, which introduced me to the grimoire tradition and eventually Sabbatic Witchcraft. In my writing I look to draw new connections between ancient mythology, symbolism, astrological correspondence and traditional witchcraft practices like spirit work, herb craft and soul flight.

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