Poison Path Reading List

Poison Path Reading List

By September 15, 2013 Books, Entheogens, Herbalism 14 Comments

The Poison Path involves the study of traditional ritual entheogens and their use in magic and witchcraft to aid in the achievement of ecstasy, trance, shape-shifting, soul-flight, spirit-sight, sex magic, prophetic visions, and mystic communion with deity. These plants are also used in incense, ointment, oil, potion, and sabbat wine recipes to aid in ones magical workings and sabbat rites. This path is not for everyone and requires extensive research to prevent harm. Besides reading, one of the best ways to gain knowledge and experience is to grow these herbs yourself from seed to better understand them as well as have the raw materials to work with. I would even go as far as to suggest becoming successful at growing them before using them in recipes and rituals as it is my belief the plant spirits are less likely to cause you great harm if they have a good personal relationship with you. Having said all this there are also milder plants that aren’t as harmful to work with such as wormwood, mugwort, and wild lettuce and you can choose which level of plants you’d like to involve yourself with.

In searching for a reading list of books focused on poisons, entheogens, and witchcraft, I came up empty-handed and so decided it was high time I come up with a list myself for others to use for reference. I hope within this list you find books that call to you and best suit the focus of your interests. If you have any favourites that aren’t listed here, please feel free to add them in the comments!

Encyclopedia of Aphrodisiacs: Psychoactive Substances for Use in Sexual Practices

Encyclopedia of Aphrodisiacsby Christian Rätsch and Claudia Müller-Ebeling (Park Street Press, 2013)

If you are mainly interested in incorporating ritual entheogens into your magical practice for sex magic or you specialize in love and lust magic – this is the book for you. It’s gigantic and it’s pricey (it is an encyclopedia after all), but the research that went into each plant profile is worth it. It is full of traditional rituals, preparations, dosages, folklore, history, scientific data, as well as full-colour images.

Encyclopedia of Pyschoactive Plants: Ethnopharmacology and Its Applications

Encyclopedia of Pyschoactive Plantsby Christian Rätsch (Park Street Press, 2005)

If you wish to follow the poison path, this is your bible. Within this encyclopedia you are sure to find plants native to your bioregion or used by your ancestors for magic, ritual, and intoxication. I’ve spent many a weekend curled up in a chair lost for hours within its pages. Christian Rätsch is a German anthropologist (with a doctorate in Native American cultures), an ethnopharmacologist, and a prolific author on the subject of psychoactive plants (though many of his works are only available in German).  Each entry is full of scientific data and research which is balanced with folklore, magico-religious uses and traditions, as well as recipes and dosages (a rarity among books on entheogens).

Hallucinogens and Shamanism

Hallucinogens and ShamanismEdited by Michael Harner (Oxford University Press, 1973)

Whatever your opinion of Michael Harner, this early work is a very academic collection of articles on traditional hallucinogenic plants used by pre-Christians of Europe as well as animistic cultures who practice shamanism. It is often the only book you will find in a public library on entheogens. If you have no issue wading through academia to get to the gems of lore and experiences, you will be able to glean a lot of knowledge from this book.

Herbs & Things: A Compendium of Practical and Exotic Herb Lore

Herbs and Thingsby Jeanne Rose (Perigree Trade, 1973 / Last Gasp, 2011)

Jeanne Roses’ Herbal is an unexpected treasure that would’ve been lost to the magical community if not for its recent reprint due to her current success as a professional herbalist and author. This unconventional herbal has a good section on aphrodisiacs where she’ll teach you how to make a marijuana tincture and a sweet cocaine oil alongside the more conventional recipes using damiana and yohimbe. Have insomnia or a lot of trouble sleeping? Jeanne recommends tisanes which have belladonna, mistletoe, or hash as ingredients. Within the encyclopedic Materia Medica section you’ll find entries on all the well-known poisons and entheogens and even some you’ve never heard of. Each entry covers medicinal usage and nuggets of lore. Hidden in the back of the book is a section titled “The Secrets” which is full of recipes for poisonous flying ointments (most without dosage), amulets, incenses, as well as rituals for summoning spirits and the devil. An excellent and entertaining book for students of both medicinal herbalism and the poison path.

Magical and Ritual Uses of Aphrodisiacs

Magical and Ritual Use of AphrodisiacsBy Richard Alan Miller (Destiny Books, 1985)

Look past its slimness and tacky cover and you will find a book full of psychoactive and aphrodisiac herbs with scientific data on the chemical constituents, effects and side effects of each plant followed by magical and ritual uses and sometimes dosages and recipes. Worthy of special notice here is Miller’s damiana liqueur recipe – I’ve made it to his specification and, even though my damiana wasn’t the freshest, the liqueur tasted divine and disappeared quickly! I highly recommend it as an aphrodisiac to share with your lover at least 30 minutes before getting down to business. The smoking blend recipe called “Yoruba Gold” is also worthy of attention with its easy to obtain ingredients and euphoric cannabis-like effects. I used to make the blend for sale as an aphrodisiac and many a male customer reported a happy wife and a happy life for him. An excellent book to start with for those wishing to explore plants to use for sex magic.

Magical and Ritual Uses of Herbs

Magical and Ritual Use of Herbsby Richard Alan Miller (Destiny Books, 1983)

This innocuously titled book was once subtitled “A Magical Text on Legal Highs,” and is a perfect beginner’s book to the poison path. Its one flaw is that its focus is mainly on exotic and New World herbs many people may not be able to obtain or be interested in using. What sets Miller’s books apart from others are the sections for each plant on its chemistry, effects, and side effects as well as sections on preparation and ritual use — he goes much further than most authors in his research. At the back of the book is a very useful reference chart which lists the active chemicals, the best preparation methods (tea, tincture, external, etc), and the type of effect (euphoric, hallucinogen, sedative, etc) of many more plants than are covered in the materia medica section (including the solanaceae family). Overall, this book is a practical guide one can actual apply to their magical practice making it worth tracking down a second-hand copy.

Mystic Mandrake

The Mystic Mandrakeby C. J. S. Thompson (University Books, 1968)

Some people are just mandrake people, enamoured as they are with this plant, they enter into a monogamous relationship with it as their only poisonous plant ally.  As someone who works with mandrake, I can see why, it is the most pleasant and less dangerous herb of the solanaceae family. If you are in love with mandragora officinarum, this is pretty much the only book in existence dedicated solely to its study. It is not a practical book, so do not expect dosages, recipes, or rituals. The Mystic Mandrake is a purely academic work focusing solely on Mandrake’s history and folklore written by the once curator of the Royal College of Surgeons Museum. Despite its impracticality, it is still an excellent source of lore on ancient uses of the mandrake in magic and medicine that will take you on a global trek of this infamous root’s history. The only other book devoted solely to the mandrake is Scarlet Imprint’s Mandragora anthology mentioned below.

Pharmako/Poeia, Pharmako/Dynamis, and Pharmako/Gnosis

Pharmako/Poeiaby Dale Pendell (North Atlantic Books, 2010)

Pharmako is the root of pharmacist from the ancient Greek – the Greeks used it to mean herbalist or witch. I describe Dale Pendell’s Pharmako trilogy as an alchemical poetic treatise on the psychoactive properties of plants. In Pendell’s world plants are living breathing sentient beings much wiser and older than ourselves who should be treated with respect and honoured as elders.  This trilogy is about Pendell’s own trip down the rabbit hole speaking from the point of views of the shaman, apprentice, and plant spirit. These books themselves are mind-altering — you must change your perception of a book to read them — and you do not come away from reading them unchanged. I consider this series essential to those who would be green or hedge witches and walk the path of poison as they will make you question if you truly wish to do so. As Victor Anderson said “everything worthwhile is dangerous”.

Sacred and Herbal Healing Beers: The Secrets of Ancient Fermentation

Sacred Herbal and Healing Beersby Stephen Harrod Buhner (Brewers Publications, 1998)

Alcohol is its own poison. If you are a home brewer on top of being a herbalist and follower of the path of poison – this will likely be your favourite book. Being all three myself, I couldn’t put it down as soon as I bought it from the bookstore, ignoring the friends that were with me and randomly shouting out things like “oh my gods, there’s a mandrake beer recipe!”  There’s actually an entire section on “Psychotropic and Highly Inebriating Beers” full of recipes using clary sage, henbane, mandrake, wild lettuce, and wormwood. This book isn’t just about beer, it also covers meads and wines, the recipes and rituals of surviving indigenous cultures, as well as a good chunk of lore on the history of fermented beverages used as ritual intoxicants. If you like beer and mead, herbs and magic, get this book.

The Long Trip: A Prehistory of Psychedelia

The Long Tripby Paul Devereux (Daily Grail Publishing, 2008)

I haven’t read this book yet, but it’s high on my wanted book list as a work focusing on the ritual and spiritual uses of psychoactive plants by prehistoric peoples. From the back cover: “Using a slew of disciplines – including archaeology, anthropology, linguistics, ethnobotany, biology and other fields – The Long Trip strips bare the evidence for the psychedelic experiences of various prehistoric societies and ancient, traditional cultures. It is probably the most comprehensive single volume to look at the use of mind-altering drugs, or entheogens, for ritual and shamanistic purposes throughout humanity’s long story, while casting withering sidelong glances at our own times”

Update: I finally purchased this title and it is everything I could’ve hoped. Engrossing, fascinating, full of wonderful history, archaeological finds, and lore. The focus is more on the ritual applications of the plants rather than recreational use.

Toads and Toadstools:  The Natural History, Mythology and Cultural Oddities of This Strange Association

Toads and Toadstoolsby Adrian Morgan (Ten Speed Press, 1996)

This is a coffee table quality of book for lovers of toads and poisonous mushrooms filled with beautiful colour illustrations and more lore than you can handle. It is full of information on poisonous and hallucinogenic mushrooms, their magical and ritual use, witchcraft associations, and folklore. The toad also gets its own chapters which are the most comprehensive and detailed magical and folkloric sources on toads that I have found. Fly agaric receives its own chapter as do the toadstools of the Old and New Worlds. There is an entire section on flying ointments as well. The added bonus of this book is that the author covers their own experiences in working with the poisons of toads, mushrooms, and ointments on top of covering historical and magical lore. I wish this were available as a hardcover, but the paperback is so beautiful I easily forget my wishful thinking.

Uses and Abuses of Plant-Derived Smoke: Its Ethnobotany as Hallucinogen, Perfume, Incense, and Medicine

Uses and Abuses of Plant-Derived Smokeby Marcello Pennacchio, Lara Jefferson, and Kayri Havens (Oxford University Press, 2010)

This is purely an academic reference book, not meant to be read cover to cover, but to use when looking up a specific plant. It is a slim and pricey hardcover, but, if your poisonous interests lay more in the crafting of incense and smudge, it is worth owning. I’ve found some gems of traditional European incense recipes used for magic. It is also full of the historical uses of witches’ favourite psychoactive herbs as incense and fumigations.

Veneficium: Magic, Witchcraft and the Poison Path

Veneficiumby Daniel A. Schulke (Three Hands Press, 2012)

This is one of the very few works out there purely focused on the poison path and the use of poisonous plants in witchcraft, written specifically for practitioners. That said, it is not a functional grimoire like Schulke’s other works, but a book exploring the history and lore of the poison path as well as some of the author’s own experiences (Schulke is known for his love of belladonna). Of particular interest to me is the highlight on Hekate and the poisons associated with her and her worship. Veneficium could be better organized and it is a difficult read, following the tradition of sabbatic witchcraft authors (you may need a Latin dictionary), but I believe it is meant to be more abstract than practical with each chapter presented as a unique essay. However, if you are a fan of works by members of the Cultus Sabbati, this will be a must-own book for you.

Witchcraft Medicine: Healing Arts, Shamanic Practices, and Forbidden Plants

Witchcraft Medicineby Claudia Müller-Ebeling, Christian Rätsch, and Wolf-Dieter Storl (Inner Traditions, 2003)

This book is a witch’s dream, especially those who practice ancient Greek magic as the authors give full correspondences from the ancient Greeks for their deities along with traditional ointments and incenses used in ritual to invoke and give offerings to gods. Witchcraft Medicine doesn’t just focus on the Greek however – it also focuses on Celtic and Germanic plant medicine – on the whole, the book covers animism, shamanism, and witchcraft and how they are related. The gem of this book for me are the sections that detail which herbs (including many poisons and entheogens) were sacred to which ancient deities as well as how they were used and descriptions of the rituals. All of the authors have Ph.D’s in their respective fields making this book as full of excellent research as it is beautifully laid out with illustrations and photographs. The only issues with this book are some goddess-worship fakelore incidents (mostly in Storl’s chapters) and a tendency of the authors to make leading or opinion-based statements as facts — though these are few throughout the book. This is more of a coffee table book on witchcraft and ritual entheogens, but much lore can still be gleaned from it and applied to one’s practice.

Books For Pleasure:

Datura: An Anthology of Esoteric Poesis

DaturaEdited by Ruby Sara (Scarlet Imprint, 2011)

This is a swoon-worthy collection of essays, poems, and prose by various well-known authors in the occult community focusing on datura, ecstasy, intoxication, and the creative process. I have to admit I’m not the biggest fan of modern poetry, I prefer my Tennyson and Keats, but the poems within Datura had my spirit soaring, heart racing, and mind swooning. This is an anthology for artists, poets, magicians, and lovers of the datura family. You will not go unmoved.

Mandragora: Further Explorations in Esoteric Poesis

MandragoraEdited by Ruby Sara (Scarlet Imprint, 2012)

Because I fell so in love with their previous poetic anthology, Mandragora is at the top of my list for the next book I purchase. I even wish I’d found out about it in time to submit a piece of my own.  From the publisher: “the poetry in Mandragora drives deep into the humus heart of experience – spellwork, praise, story, song. From the breathless brevity of haiku through the humming rhythm of the long meditation the thread of hidden history runs, telling in mosaic the story of the occultist, the witch, the worshipper, the scholar and the celebrant.”

The Poison Diaries

by Jane, Duchess of Northumberland, illustrated by Colin Stimpson (Harry N. Abrams, 2007)

The Poison DiariesA gorgeously illustrated children’s book that is just as delightful for adults. It tells the story of a young orphan boy named Weed who is taken in by his uncle, a very unpleasant man who happens to run an apothecary. Weed discovers his uncle’s secret garden full of poisons and the plants proceed to teach him about themselves, their uses, and the different ways they kill people. The author also happens to run the Alnwick Poison Garden and her love and familiarity with these plants shows through in her writing. I was impressed with how she portrays each plant’s personality, which were pretty accurate for me — friendly and helpful, but still willing to kill you for shits and giggles if you don’t keep your wits about you. The talented illustrator Colin Stimpson does an amazing job with each plant — creating one traditional botanical illustration and one of the plant’s spirit for each poisonous herb. It is recommended for ages 8 and up, but the content is pretty dark and it is not a happy tale with a happy ending, in the gothic Victorian tradition, so it’s up to you to judge if your child is mature enough to read it.

Wicked Plants: The Weed That Killed Lincoln’s Mother and Other Botanical Atrocities

by Amy Stewart (Algonquin Books, 2009)

Wicked PlantsThis little book is not useful or witchcraft-focused, but it is still a cute and enjoyable read (I get the impression this is the book poisoner’s keep in their bathroom). It is largely anecdotal, but would be a good way to begin teaching children about poisonous plants and just why they shouldn’t touch them or put them in their mouths. It was given to me as a gift, and while there are some unsubstantiated bits presented as facts, overall it is a good read with good research and the bibliography gives you many more resources to track down. If you’re a home brewer this book also has a companion volume by the same author titled The Drunken Botanist.

Online Reading:

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Join the discussion 14 Comments

  • Kim says:

    Oh Sarah! What a wonderful gift. Thank you. I knew of some of these but not this many. Now my Wish List just tripled

  • Megan says:

    Wonderful! Thank you so much for posting this. I can’t wait to dig in!

  • Todd says:

    Thank you for making this list. I’m currently reading Veneficium: Magic, Witchcraft and the Poison Path by Daniel A. Schulke (Three Hands Press, 2012). Execelent book, (what I’ve read thus far anyway). I would also recommend Schulke’s other works too. Ars Philtron and his Viridarium Umbris – The Pleasure Garden of Shadow are both great books. Though maybe hard to lay your hands upon.

  • Gill Denham says:

    Great article, I have a couple of the books mentioned and am lucky in that I live not far tfrom the physic garden at Alnwick

  • Yvonne says:

    Yay! Thanks for this fantastic list.

  • Lucy reid says:

    Fantastic list of reading material, thank you Sarah.

  • Sonya says:

    Sarah…you have, by the power of research and your willingness to share…inspired me to completely annihilate my ‘pocket money’…haha
    A few of these were already on my lust list…which has now grown considerably. Thanks!

  • Christina says:

    Wow! Thank you! I book lists 🙂 I have a few of the list, but I have never even heard of a few of these, and that’s really unusual as an herbalist and book-a-holic, I usually know about the good books even if I don’t have them already. What a gift. Thank you again.

  • Lee says:

    Great resources I will pass on to my herbalist friends.

  • I was just asking my wife, who is the resident medicinal herbalist about this side of things… so perfect timing.

    I love that you include Jeanne Rose. She was my intro to herbs, and was my main source for a long time in my 20’s for self medication info. I used stuff I learned from Herbs & Things to help with insomnia, stop a nasty infection or two, and many other issues less memorable. I also appreciate how normal and sensible she makes things, somewhat like Ina May Gaskin did with childbirth in Spiritual Midwifery.

    Thanks for adding to the endless book list (again)!

  • Jen says:

    I have a few of these. I can see a few more are going to be added to my “books desired” list. I’m a grower myself. And a curious wanderer in the hills. I love to ID and research, but I prefer to leave the crafting of the more poisonous plants to those of you who create so beautifully (and safely) with them. I’ll continue to buy your gorgeous flying ointments and I will be found out in the garden hanging out with the giant mugwort.

  • Jon says:

    This is terrific, Sarah! Many of these are already in my library, but I’ve made a couple of new purchases and added a few more to my rainy day list.

    Thank you for sharing!

  • Rachel says:

    Wonderful! Thanks for yet another awesome reading list, and as every other reader has stated, my wish list as now significantly increased in size!!! My Yule list will be fat this year 🙂

  • Amanda says:

    I just finished Witchcraft Medicine and I loved it, I plan on starting to reread it right away. Now it looks like I have some stuff to order from Amazon after reading this, several titles looked pretty awesome. Thanks!