Category Archives: Entheogens

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The Toad in the Ointment

By | Black Arts Foundry, Bones & Blood, Entheogens, Flying Ointments, Witchcraft & Magic | 2 Comments

Western Toad (Bufo boreas)

It is warty, chubby, clumsy, adorable, and has a very long history of being associated with witches, the devil, and poison. The toad is a beloved symbol and familiar of we witches. I have long wanted a pet toad, just an ordinary little Western Toad (Bufo boreas, pictured), but have not wanted to tame one and keep it in a terrarium instead of its home in the wilds. I have instead been happy just to encounter them in nature whether saving one who was burying himself in the middle of a trail from being stepped on or catching a huge one by a river who was hiding under the large green leaves of false lily of the valley in spring.

“What d’ye lack? What d’ye lack? I can pound a toad in a mortar, and make a broth of it, and stir the broth with a dead man’s hand. Sprinkle it on thine enemy while he sleeps, and he will turn into a black viper, and his own mother will slay him.” ~ Oscar Wilde

“The toad is one of the shapes assumed by a demon when he sits upon a witch’s left shoulder. Thanks to the two tiny horns borne on his forehead, a toad was recognisable as a demon, and witches took infinite care of him. They baptized their toads, dressed them in black velvet, put little bells on their paws, and made them dance.” ~ Grillot de Givry

Once upon a time I heard a hint of a rumour that toads were used in flying ointments. Considering my reputation with flying ointments and my use of animal bits in magic, I of course found it necessary to research this curious idea and found not only documentation but modern scientific and experiential proof that the toxins contained within a toad’s skin and glands can indeed produce a psychoactive substance.

THE HISTORICAL EVIDENCE

In the Arras witch trials from 1459-60 clerics charged the witches with feeding toads wafers stolen from holy communion and then using the toads to make a sacrilegious flying ointment.

In 1487 the evil Malleus Maleficarum (“Hammer of the Witches”) was published and listed toads as one of the ingredients of witches’ flying ointments.

In 1606 William Shakespeare includes a toad in his witches’ infernal brew in Macbeth: “Toad, that under cold stone days and nights host thirty-one swelter’d venom sleeping got, boil thou first i’ th’ charnel pot.”

In 1611 an elderly Basque woman named Maria de Illara confessed the devil appeared to her as a mysterious man and taught her to pound toads with water and use the results to make an ointment which she and other witches rubbed on their chests, stomachs, and arm pits in order to fly to their sabbats.

In 1615 French doctor Jean de Nynauld noted in his work On Lycanthropy, the Transformation and Ectasy of Sorcerers that toads were often added to the flying ointment recipes of witches and lycanthropes.

In the mid to late 1600s this flying ointment recipe appeared (likely from a witch trial): make an ointment from belladonna, datura stramonium, monkshood, and celery seeds. Add to it one toad and simmer until the flesh falls off the bones. Strain and rub upon the body, arm pits, forehead, and broom to achieve flight.

Later witch trials tell of Spanish witches using toad blood in their ointments, English witches using whole live toads, Swedish witches using the toad’s fat, snake  venom, and herbs, German witches frying whole toads in oil for ointments, and similar tales reaching into the far corners of Eastern Europe.

This is all only European evidence of the use of toads as a psychoactive and ritual substance. There is much more evidence of peoples from South America and Africa also using toads as poison and entheogen, but for the sake of specificity I will keep this piece focused on European tradition.

Witches prepare to boil a toad

SCIENCE (THE BAD NEWS)

Yes, today we know that some species of toad produce an alkaloid called bufotenin which is closely related in chemical make-up to DMT and psilocin (a relative of psilocybin). More interestingly, it is also present in fly agaric (amanita muscaria) mushrooms which may validate our ancestor’s association of toads and toadstools. The bad news is that the common European toad contains only a very tiny amount of bufotenin (0.3% of the dried secretions) and a much large quantity of bufagin, a steroid not an alkaloid, which is an anaesthetic and not a psychedelic. It would still be useful, however, for creating a sleepy, dream-like state when combined with the traditional solanaceous flying ointment herbs. The toads containing the largest amounts of bufotenin are found in the Southwestern USA, Northern Mexico, South America, and China. The only toad which supposedly creates enough bufotenin to be a strong psychoactive is the Colorado River Toad (Bufo alvarius).

As with herbs, the preparation of the toad is very important. Bufotenin does not work when ingested so no amount of toad licking or potion-making is going to show any results. Bufotenin is excreted through the skin of the toad and so the skin must be dried, powdered, and either smoked, snorted up the nostrils, or rubbed on the skin. Researchers report that some remote tribes cut or burn themselves and then rub a live toad into the wound – though I would not  recommend this method for health and safety reasons.

EXPERIENCE (THE GOOD NEWS)

Despite the disappointing evidence from the scientific community, experiential use has shown different results. One amateur researcher Adrian Morgan reports his successful, if unpleasant, experiments using the European common toad and the European green toad resulting in trailed images, light traces, colour saturation, saliva build-up, and general intoxication. Though he reports mild psychedelic effects with more pronounced anaesthesia, it is likely due to the species of toad used and also the sex as female toads produce twice as much bufotenin as males. He also reports that bufotenin and its relatives can survive temperatures higher than 125°C (257ºF) and therefore can survive being heated in a witch’s cauldron to make a flying ointment. This is very good news.

There are also those who have smoked the skin of Colorado River Toads and Cane Toads and have reported much stronger psychoactive effects. If one were to craft a flying ointment using a toad, it may be wise to use the species that have a larger amount of bufotenin over bufagin.

Western Toad (Bufo boreas)

TOAD PREPARATION

European witches and exotic tribesmen most likely scared or pissed off the toad as much as possible to get it to excrete as much toxins as it could before skinning it or boiling it for their concoctions much like the Haitian bokor would do in order to prepare the infamous zombie poison. One can also milk the glands of a live toad for the toxins instead of killing it, though I’m sure the toad is not appreciative of it. Toads are endangered in North America and increasingly rare due to habitat loss. It’s best to leave the living ones alone.

The most humane way to collect the bufotenin is to collect freshly dead toads. This isn’t as hard as it sounds if you go hunting for dead toads during breeding season or late autumn. Due to the way toads mate (in giant gang banging clusterfucking balls of male toads wrapped around a single female in a pond) many of them drown in the process (especially the female who they’re trying to impregnate but end up suffocating). In autumn, sudden cold snaps can kill off toads before they have a chance to hibernate and you can often find their frozen corpses. How do you know if a dead toad is fresh? Go by the smell.

Take your dead toad home, wash it, and carefully skin it. If the skinning is too much to handle, simply cut of the glands on each side of its head instead. Dry the skin completely and then grind it to a powder with a mortar and pestle. It is now ready for smoking, snorting, or infusing into a flying ointment. If you wish to keep the bones too, boiling the toad will be the quickest way, but also the smelliest – do this outside. The slow way would be to bury it wrapped in burlap in a pot of soil that will be left outside and well watered for 2-5 months (depending on the size of the toad). After this time exhume it, pick out the bones, and wash them.

Added (common sense) note: research the species of toad before you handle it with your bare hands and use it in any way. Some toads are very poisonous and contain more toxins than just bufotenin and bufagin, some of which can be very harmful.

Toad Flying Ointment

A MODERN TOAD FLYING OINTMENT

Using my own knowledge of traditional flying ointment herbs and their dosages, I have taken the 17th century recipe mentioned above and brought it to life by infusing aconite flowers, belladonna leaf and berry, datura stramonium seeds, celery seeds, fly agaric caps (for the association), and poplar buds in sunflower oil and beeswax and to this mixture adding the skin of an already dead cane toad (which are killed by the hundreds as an aggressive invasive species in many countries today).

The result is an updated and more traditional version of my previous toad ointment recipe that can be used for soul flight, shape-shifting, and to aid in work with a toad familiar or any toad magic or rites. It should not, however, be used by those with a serious morphine allergy due to the belladonna content. If you are interested in this ointment it can be purchased here: Black Arts Foundry.

 RESOURCES

Flying Ointment FAQs

Flying Ointment FAQs

By | Entheogens, Flying Ointments | 18 Comments

Sabbat Flying OintmentI receive a lot of questions about my flying ointments via email and social media with many of them being on the same topics so I have compiled ten of the most frequently asked questions about my ointments and their use. If you have any additional questions you don’t see listed please feel free to ask them in the comments and I will do my very best to answer. I’d also love to hear any feedback about those who have used my flying ointments for medicine and magic as it helps me as well as those who would like to give them a try.

 

  1. Which one is best for beginners? I always recommend either the Mandrake or Henbane ointments to those just starting out as they are a gentler and more pleasant experience.
  2. Which one is the strongest/best and will you make a stronger ointment? No ointment recipe is stronger or better than the other, they are simply different as they use different herbs with different effects on different people. One may work great for you, but have no effect on another person. My ointments are made at the strength they are so they are safe for use by the general public. If you are looking for something stronger you may want to try something else instead such as smokable herbs or herb-infused liqueurs – wormwood is a good herb to start with.
  3. Which one is best for divination/spirit communion? Henbane is best suited for the divinatory arts, mediumship, and necromancy. Mandrake can also be used for this purpose, especially when communing with deities or the dead, and also acts as magical protection from unwanted possession.
  4. Which one is best for sex magic? Mandrake as an ancient aphrodisiac is the best for naughty acts as it won’t have any adverse effects with you mucous membranes like some of the other herbs might (henbane can cause skin irritation and abrasion). I highly recommend the Mandrake for sensual body massage as well. Not only is it aphrodisiac, but it will also soothe any sore muscles and increase your energy levels should you have a partner who keeps you up all night. Friends who have used it (especially at Beltane) say the tin should come with a label that says “warning: may lead to orgies when combined with alcohol”.
  5. How much should I use? I recommend that everyone start with a pea sized amount first to test their reaction to the ointment then to use more after. The standard dose for my ointment recipes are 1-2 tsps (5-10 ml) for women and smaller persons and 2-3 tsps (10-15 ml) for men or larger persons.
  6. How often can I use one? They are safe to use multiple times a month, but I wouldn’t recommend daily use unless you are using them medicinally rather than magically.
  7. Can I combine ointments? Yes, but I would recommend only using ones together that are made with a single herb like the Belladonna, Datura, Henbane, and Mandrake ointments. Use half the dose of each to make up a standard dose or a third if you are combining three.
  8. How will it affect me? They effect everyone a little differently, but effects can include inebriation, giddiness, and light-headedness. My flying ointments can be aphrodisiaceuphoricsedativeanalgesic, and psychoactive. Temporary side effects may include blurry vision, dry mouth, dizziness, and loss of time.
  9. Are they dangerous? The only danger of external use comes from allergies and pre-existing medical conditions. If you are allergic to morphine do not apply ointments containing belladonna. Do not use them if you have a heart condition, serious kidney issues, or are on prescription medications already containing atropine, scopoloamine, or hyoscyamine. Overall, they are about as dangerous as alcohol so use similar precautions.
  10. What is the shelf life? My ointments have a minimum shelf life of 2 years, but when stored properly in a cool, dark and dry place they can last up to 5 years. Ointments can be placed in the fridge or freezer to extend their shelf life, but the ointment may liquify when brought back to room tempterature – this is completely normal.

 

medea

Medea’s Ritual of the Mandrake

By | Entheogens, Witchcraft & Magic | 6 Comments

Witch, pharmakon, demi-goddess, princess, niece of Circe, fierce devotee of Hecate, and beloved sorceress of ancient Greek and Roman literature. Whether a fictional or historical figure, Medea has always fascinated me. MandragoraMy favourite tale featuring the witch Medea is Apollonius Rhodius’ The Argonautica from around 200 BC (though its sources are so old as to be indeterminate). This famous tale of Jason and the Argonauts is the only surviving Hellenistic epic. It is hard to say if it is legend or myth, fact or fiction, but the tale has enchanted mortals for millennia.

Today it exists in the form of numerous movies, tv episodes, children’s books, and even as a video game. The beauty of the survival of such an ancient epic from pre-Christian times are the rituals and magic that have survived along with it. Enshrouded within the pages of The Argonautica is Medea’s ritual of the Mandrake. It is in fact two rituals — one of the harvest and one of the consecration of this famous magical root. Combining the ritual fragments from this epic with other knowledge of ancient Greek magic, one is able to reconstruct these rites so they may be performed today.

The Ritual of the Harvest

In the following excerpt from The Argonautica the witch Medea has fallen in love with the foreigner Jason and decides to betray king and country to aid him in his quest for the golden fleece by preparing a special liniment for Jason to anoint himself with:

“And she called to her maids. Twelve they were, who lay during the night in the vestibule of her fragrant chamber, young as herself, not yet sharing the bridal couch, and she bade them hastily yoke the mules to the chariot to bear her to the beauteous shrine of Hecate. Thereupon the handmaids were making ready the chariot; and Medea meanwhile took from the hollow casket a charm which men say is called the charm of Prometheus. If a man should anoint his body therewithal, having first appeased the Maiden, the only-begotten, with sacrifice by night, surely that man could not be wounded by the stroke of bronze nor would he flinch from blazing fire; but for that day he would prove superior both in prowess and in might.

It shot up first-born when the ravening eagle on the rugged flanks of Caucasus let drip to the earth the blood-like ichor of tortured Prometheus. And its flower appeared a cubit above ground in colour like the Corycian crocus, rising on twin stalks; but in the earth the root was like newly-cut flesh. The dark juice of it, like the sap of a mountain-oak, she had gathered in a Caspian shell to make the charm withal, when she had first bathed in seven ever-flowing streams, and had called seven times on Brimo, nurse of youth, night-wandering Brimo, of the underworld, queen among the dead,—in the gloom of night, clad in dusky garments. And beneath, the dark earth shook and bellowed when the Titanian root was cut; and the son of Iapetus himself groaned, his soul distraught with pain. And she brought the charm forth and placed it in the fragrant band which engirdled her, just beneath her bosom, divinely fair.”

"Medea" by Evelyn de Morgan (1855-1919)

“Medea” by Evelyn de Morgan (1855-1919)

It is amusing to realize that Medea and her twelve handmaids make a “coven” of thirteen at the shrine of Hecate – though having a number of thirteen isn’t stated to be important to this ritual. Comparing this passage to other bits of Greek mythology we find that the “charm of Prometheus” is in fact the mandrake root (Mandragora officinarum). The Titan Prometheus was known as a teacher of plant knowledge and medicine. According to myth, the mandrake sprung up from the ichor (poisonous god-blood) of Prometheus as it soaked into the earth during his torturous punishment by Zeus for gifting humankind with intelligence and wisdom. To the ancient Greeks and Romans, mandrake was sacred to Hecate and believed to grow in her garden, so Medea’s invocation of Hecate before harvesting the root makes perfect sense.

Before harvesting the mandrake root, Medea bathes in the waters of seven ever-flowing streams. Bathing before approaching or working with nature spirits or supernatural spirits is a common practice in animistic and pre-Christian cultures throughout the world. Not only does the water purify the bather spiritually, but physical cleanliness is also a sign of respect and common sense. Many spirits were believed to be offended by the stench of humans and would be able to easily locate and strike down a smelly person.  The loophole one can take here is that the passage doesn’t specify the seven streams must come from different sources. I was lucky enough to find a small nearby mountain with more than seven streams, which never dry out, flowing from its top from the same artesian source. To make this process easier on myself I collect water from each stream, asking each spirit for permission first, and bring the waters home for later use. Don’t skimp out – make sure you collect the waters of all seven streams as seven is an important and repeated number in this rite.

Now that you’re shiny clean and have waited until the last of the sun’s rays have disappeared leaving the world in darkness, Medea instructs to go to the site where you will harvest the mandrake root wearing “dusky raiment” or darkly coloured clothing. Medea’s favourite harvesting haunts usually involve graveyards, but it’s more likely you’ll be harvesting from a pot in your yard or living room. Invoke Hecate seven times, clearly and loudly.

“Hekate Einodia, Trioditis, lovely dame,
of earthly, watery, and celestial frame,
sepulchral, in a saffron veil arrayed,
pleased with dark ghosts that wander through the shade;
Perseis, solitary goddess, hail!
The world’s key-bearer, never doomed to fail;
in stags rejoicing, huntress, nightly seen,
and drawn by bulls, unconquerable queen;
Leader, Nymphe, nurse, on mountains wandering,
hear the supplicants who with holy rites thy power revere,
and to the herdsman with a favouring mind draw near.”

— Orphic Hymn to Hecate (2-3rd Century BC)

After the invocation, Medea pulls up the mandrake root. If the ground is dry and hard, water around it first to make the root more easily let go of the earth. Once pulled from the ground, Medea stores the root whole in a “hollow casket” — a chest or box to keep it in a cool, dark place for storage. When needed, Medea takes it out and  juices the root. Mature mandrake roots are tough and not so easy to juice so it’s likely she used a mortar and pestle of some kind. She puts the juice in a shell from the Caspian sea, but any non-metallic vessel would do. It’s likely she also places it in a sealed vessel after for easier storage and transport to deliver it to Jason.

And so ends the first half of the ritual. I have also used this part of the rite to cleanse myself before handling dried mandrake root to be used after in the making of magical potions and ointments. I recite the Hymn to Hecate once and then call her name seven times. The concoction is set to infuse that same night and the following night (or a few days or weeks later) the second half of the ritual is performed to consecrate (or “activate”) the magical substance for use.

The Ritual of Consecration

The second half of the ritual is no less easy and a lot more gruesome. The rewards, Medea says, are power and strength to match the Gods themselves. From my own experiences with mandrake, I can say with certainty that it does give one unnatural stamina and energy making it excellent for sex magic or ecstatic rituals lasting all day or all night. Medea gives the fresh mandrake juice “charm” to Jason with the following instructions:

“Take heed now, that I may devise help for thee. When at thy coming my father has given thee the deadly teeth from the dragon’s jaws for sowing, then watch for the time when the night is parted in twain, then bathe in the stream of the tireless river, and alone, apart from others, clad in dusky raiment, dig a rounded pit; and therein slay a ewe, and sacrifice it whole, heaping high the pyre on the very edge of the pit. And propitiate only-begotten Hecate, daughter of Perses, pouring from a goblet the hive-stored labour of bees. And then, when thou hast heedfully sought the grace of the goddess, retreat from the pyre; and let neither the sound of feet drive thee to turn back, nor the baying of hounds, lest haply thou shouldst maim all the rites and thyself fail to return duly to thy comrades. And at dawn steep this charm in water, strip, and anoint thy body therewith as with oil; and in it there will be boundless prowess and mighty strength, and thou wilt deem thyself a match not for men but for the immortal gods. And besides, let thy spear and shield and sword be sprinkled. Thereupon the spear-heads of the earthborn men shall not pierce thee, nor the flame of the deadly bulls as it rushes forth resistless. But such thou shalt be not for long, but for that one day; still never flinch from the contest.”

"Jason et Médée" by Gustave Moreau (1826-1898)

“Jason et Médée” by Gustave Moreau (1826-1898)

Again, dress yourself in darkly coloured clothing and venture out alone at midnight. Bathe in a stream or river that never dries up or use the waters of seven streams you have collected. The Argonautica passage does not say so, but I would highly recommend invoking Hecate again, seven times, before proceeding. It doesn’t have to be at a crossroad, but one would be a perfect location for an offering to Hecate. After bathing and invoking, dig a round pit in the earth and slit the throat of a female sheep so that its blood flows into the hole and then place the body on a “funeral” pyre of wood right next to the pit. Light the pyre and let it burn well.

I realize this part is very unlikely to happen today unless you should be a sheep farmer devoted to Hecate. In records of other rituals and offerings to Hecate, it is clear she simply likes blood. You could spill a few drops of your own or some pig or cow’s blood from a butcher, burning it on a charcoal in a censer with an incense made with juniper (a traditional ancient sacrifice and funerary wood – also sacred to Hecate) instead of a large pyre. If you’re still too squeamish for that, try red wine or pomegranate juice instead, though the results may not be the same. Next, pour a cup of good unpasteurized honey into the pit.

I add another step here when I am making potions, ointments, or charms from mandrake root using Theocritus’ words from his 3rd century BC poetry to consecrate the creation. I present it to the pit and recite:

“Moon, shine brightly; softly will I sing for you Goddess, and for Hecate in the underworld — the dogs tremble before her when she comes over the graves and the dark blood. I welcome you Hecate, the grim one, stay by me until the end. Make this magical substance as effective as that of Circe, of Medea, and of the blond Perimede.”

Now you fill in the pit and walk away without looking back. You must NOT look back not matter what happens or what you hear. This is a recurring theme in Greek myth and rites — especially when it comes to leaving offerings to underworld deities. Horrible things happen to those who look back… usually involving an untimely and gruesome death for insulting the Gods (remember what happened to Orpheus?). You might be lucky to escape with insanity, however. When the sun rises, Jason mixes the mandrake juice in a cup of water and covers his naked body in the mixture. Note that he uses it externally and does not drink it. With its help he succeeds in his quest to steal the golden fleece and bring it back to his homeland, taking Medea with him as his new wife. When the sun rises, use the mandrake potion or ointment you have made or wear the mandrake talisman. According to Medea’s instructions, the effects will last for the day until sunrise the following day.  The effects of an external application of potent fresh mandrake could easily last for 12-24 hours.

Medea’s potion, being fresh with no preservative measures taken, had no shelf-life and had to be used right away. If you have used this ritual to consecrate a jar of mandrake ointment (usually with a shelf-life of 1-3 years), then the time period for its magical potency will be for whenever you actually use it, rather than only the day following the night you performed the ritual. Be careful what you use it for and be respectful and responsible in wielding the power of the mandrake which is also the power of the Titans Prometheus and Hecate.

Further Reading:


Article © 2013 Sarah Anne Lawless. Do not copy or use this article without the express permission of the author, but sharing the link is welcome. All images used are in the public domain.

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Poison Path Reading List

By | 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:

Aleister Crowley

Feast of Liber Al vel Legis

By | Entheogens, Events, Witchcraft & Magic | 7 Comments

This year I made sure to attend my Thelemite friends’ annual three-day feast of Liber Al vel Legis, The Book of the Law. It happened to fall right on dark and new moons and at the full dawning of spring in her sensuous glory. Magicians and mystics came from all over the Lowermainland, each choosing to spend three week nights in a row attending the feast. On day one we eat of rich and luxurious foods; cheese, fatty cured meats, figs, berries, and chocolate. We partake of sacraments of Saturnian sabbat wine and apple port and smoked sacraments of herb and resin. We breathe, relax, open up, and close our eyes. Tyson reads the first chapter strong and passionately. Sloan brings out a well-worn Thoth deck and we each pull a card for each day of the feast to receive advice or catch a glimpse of the year to come. I cut the deck. The four of swords. I whisper to the yawning boa constrictor. I dream of black serpents that night.

For he is ever a sun, and she a moon. But to him is the winged secret flame, and to her the stooping starlight.” Liber Al vel Legis 1:16

Be goodly therefore: dress ye all in fine apparel; eat rich foods and drink sweet wines and wines that foam! Also, take your fill and will of love as ye will, when, where and with whom ye will! But always unto me.” Liber Al vel Legis 1:51

Day two of the feast of Liber Al vel Legis. Towering conifer mountains dusted with snow and shrouded with smoke loom in the North. The lush verdant greenmantle pushes up from the black earth, erect and pollen-covered. Fat juicy rain drops fall despoiling virginal flower petals with sky-god semen. The air is heavy with the sticky, sweet, amber smell of balm of gilead, redolent and thick like incense burning in a courtesan’s bed chamber. We come together again, right before the setting of the sun. We speak of the troubles of growing belladonna and the stone carver shows his pipes of dragons and serpents in hard stone leaving us wide-eyed. There are sacraments of cinnamon liqueur and wines with a savoury feast of peppered chicken, hummus, salt and crunch, ginger cookies and cake. The smoke of tobacco and herbs curls around us. The words of the second chapter are read by Holly this night in her singsong voice. Sloan shuffles the Thoth cards, places them before me, and I cut to reveal the five of disks.

I am the Snake that giveth Knowledge & Delight and bright glory, and stir the hearts of men with drunkenness. To worship me take wine and strange drugs whereof I will tell my prophet, & be drunk thereof! They shall not harm ye at all. It is a lie, this folly against self. The exposure of innocence is a lie. Be strong, o man! lust, enjoy all things of sense and rapture: fear not that any God shall deny thee for this.” ~ Liber Al vel Legis 2:22

Who am I to deny the words of the Book of the Law? The Poisoner comes home with me. The moon is dark and the spirits are restless and hungry. Sometimes they crave something more primal and the offerings of sweet incense, liqueurs, honey, and sticky tobacco aren’t enough to sate them. The deep rhythms of Wardruna play softly. Rose incense burns. Anointed with oils of amber and sandalwood I recline in front of the altar and the silver words of Valiente’s invocation pour off my tongue. “Thee we invoke by the moon-led sea, by the standing stone and twisted tree. Thee we invoke where gather thine own, by the nameless shrine forgotten and lone…” And there he is at my feet with a satyr’s debaucherous grin. His voice of growl and smoke recites Crowley’s hymn of Pan to Artemis in reply. He kisses me for each stanza, starting at my feet, sliding between my legs to kiss my thighs and breasts, and then lastly a full kiss on the lips. We take our fill of pleasure with each other until we are sated, exhausted, and the hungry spirits too are silent.

“By the force of the fashion
Of love, when I broke
Through the shroud, through the cloud,
Through the storm, through the smoke,
To the mountain of passion
Volcanic that woke —
By the rage of the mage
I invoke, I invoke!

By the midnight of madness: —
The lone-lying sea,
The swoon of the moon,
Your swoon into me,
The sentinel sadness
Of cliff-clinging pine,
That night of delight
You were mine, you were mine!”

On day three of the feast of Liber Al vel Legis we share sacraments of smoke, mead, and wine. My senses are a swirl of rose mead and vetiver, ambrosia and dark chocolate. The Book of the Law is read by Sloan, loud and fearsome.  After, he draws us each a third and final tarot card from the Thoth deck. He interprets them all for us as we feast. The last card I draw is Art. His reading is blunt and dead on though he couldn’t have seen inside my head. The advice is good and I will take it. I was sad when the feast was ended – it is a joyful thing to see your friends and eat and drink with them for days in a row. We all stayed a bit later on the last night I think, saying our farewells until Beltuinn is upon us and we meet again for magic and mischief in the wild wood.

For perfume mix meal & honey & thick leavings of red wine: then oil of Abramelin and olive oil, and afterward soften & smooth down with rich fresh blood. The best blood is of the moon, monthly: then the fresh blood of a child, or dropping from the host of heaven: then of enemies; then of the priest or of the worshippers: last of some beast, no matter what. This burn: of this make cakes & eat unto me. This hath also another use; let it be laid before me, and kept thick with perfumes of your orison: it shall become full of beetles as it were and creeping things sacred unto me. These slay, naming your enemies; & they shall fall before you. Also these shall breed lust & power of lust in you at the eating thereof.” ~ Liber Al vel Legis 3:23-27

I go into a trance-like state when the book is read. Some parts stand out more than others. The third chapter stood out the most for me like a raven’s call in a forest.  It is dark with the voice of a heartless warrior mingled with wafts of Babalon’s perfume.

But let her raise herself in pride! Let her follow me in my way! Let her work the work of wickedness! Let her kill her heart! Let her be loud and adulterous! Let her be covered with jewels, and rich garments, and let her be shameless before all men!” Liber Al vel Legis 3:44

Did you burn your first copy like throwing spilled salt over your shoulder to avert a curse, black heretical ashes staining your fingers?

There is no law beyond Do what thou wilt.
Love is the law, love under will.