Category Archives: Flying Ointments

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Insane in the Membrane

By | Flying Ointments, Folk Medicine, Herbalism, Recipes | 24 Comments

It has been over a year since I wrote a blog post and I only wrote three blog posts total last year. It’s pretty unprecedented for me! I have been blogging for 15 years and never have I written so little. Granted I did write a few posts for my wilderness education website and I have been working on my book, but it’s still very little writing for this writer! I have never been the apologetic blogger, my policy has always been to write when I can and not worry about it when I can’t, but it’s gotten to the point people are emailing me to ask if I’m okay! What happened? Go read The Dark Year for perspective (in 2016 I was very ill and lost three people very dear to me all in a row).

In the past four years I had two children, my little boys who are now ages one and four. My heart bursts with love for them and little ones are so freaking cute, but man does having children turn your life upside down! It is hard to run a business, write, and travel to teach when you have babies. You are a caregiver now and it’s not about you. There are a lot of sacrifices and waiting but those times are also filled with lots of time with your beloved partner and tiny cute faces and voices of your little sporelings adorably trying to become human like you. My older son turned out to have multiple health issues that make life more difficult, but my partner and I do our best to keep things silly and keep the kids happy. I am unfortunately in the percentage of mothers with the luck of getting postpartum depression (PPD). It revealed an anxiety disorder that had always been there but was never diagnosed until this past winter.  Depression and anxiety were compounded with severe sleep deprivation. The new baby would not sleep through the night for an entire year. He would wake up every two to three hours like clockwork. I was completely broken. I would cry all day and my nerves were so shot I would have anxiety attacks resulting in vomiting and migraines.

My partner took me to the hospital and had me admitted for a psych evaluation. They prescribed me a week of trazodone for bedtime and to let my partner worry about the baby. We began a brutal couple months of sleep training and emerged broken but victorious. Both children sleeping through the night. With sleep for us adults, the worst of the madness went away. This was in March-April of this year. My health practitioner prescribed me sertraline for the depression but it made things worse and I had all the adverse side effects, so they switched me to desvenlafaxine and after a couple months I feel almost human again. Yes I am a herbalist and I like my medicine natural, but I shut up and I took the damn pills. I was in no place to help myself. My partner Alex has suffered from depression for his entire adult life and has been incredibly supportive through this difficult time. We’d both rather not be on the meds, but understand that the situations in our life making our mental health worse aren’t going to go away for a while and that we need help in the meantime. He has one of the healthiest views on mental health of most people I’ve met in my life and he shines with compassion when things are especially hard.

And they have been hard. On top of all our troubles we also had to deal with my narcissistic ex who is the father of my older son. After moving to Ontario, I had to ask him to leave because he was being abusive on top of not taking care of his health and mental health issues. He did not like this and kept trying to trick his way back into the house. Once Alex and I fell in love, he tried to make life as difficult for us as possible. Living within sight of my house despite the lack of job opportunities in town, threatening my partner to the point the police were called twice, breaking into my garage and stealing, spreading rumours and lies in our small town, and using our son to manipulate and intimidate me; like using visit pick-ups and drop offs with the kid to verbally abuse me and Alex. Typical narcissistic bullshit, but when it’s done to two fragile people with depression and anxiety, the results are not good. We were terrified of him. He had a violent past and he liked to brag about it. You think you know and love someone and then you experience them turning into an unrecognizable monster when they don’t get their way. I was very pregnant at the time and scared. I reached out to a local non-profit women’s shelter and support resource. They gave me a free counselor who really helped keep me sane and helped us write and implement a safety plan as well as encouraged me call the police and take things to family court.

Almost two years ago, I had enough and I started court proceedings over custody and access. I received sole custody with full decision-making powers and he was ordered not to contact me, come to my property, or come near me. Due to his past abusiveness, my ex was ordered by the court to sign up for the local supervised visitation centre for access if he wanted to see his son and if he did so, he could see him a minimum of once a week. If he did that, and there were long-term notes with good feedback from the visitation centre social workers, then my ex could broach the subject of unsupervised visits. It didn’t go so smoothly, of course. Family court is brutal and the case is still not settled. It keeps getting adjourned because he didn’t file his paper work, he waited an entire year to sign up for the court mandated visitation centre, he failed to follow the court orders, and, of his own doing, he only had visits for a few months out of a period of two years so our son has no idea who he is now. It mostly just makes me sad my son’s biological father cares more about hurting me and winning some imaginary battle than actually being a dad to his son.  So, I just keep going to the court dates as, in my opinion, it’s already settled.

Did I mention my ex is a satanic Thelemic witch? So not only do I have to deal with his mundane bullshit (thankfully only through the bullet-proof shield of the Ontario court system now), I have to waste my time smacking down his stupid curses and evil eye every once in a while. Even though he’s a dark, creative curser, I’m lucky that he’s a very lazy, complacent old magician who hasn’t done any real work since the early 1990s. I know what you’re thinking, hot foot powder, right? I was seriously thinking of slipping some in the next court papers I have to legally serve him with… but then a couple months ago he fell from the top of a warehouse at work and broke his hip, an arm, and some ribs I think. I didn’t work any magic, but I have some friends I’m suspicious of. The ex was in the hospital for two months and it was really nice to be able to reclaim space in our little town for that time. But now he’s back, and still within sight of my house. He’s across the creek now though, and it’s pretty hard to throw curses over moving water. I’m not so afraid now, to see that once big, frightening man be sickly, skinny, and limping. In my life I have done very little cursing as I find the people who deserve it the most curse themselves best. They tend to end up alone, broke, ill, and in pain like Aleister Crowley. Even dark familiar spirits will abandon you if you don’t feed them offerings. Having patience while moving on and living your life as best you can is sometimes the most destructive curse you can cast on someone who is bitter.

So the old narcissistic tiger is toothless and limping and this witch is medicated, therapized, and starting to feel more human. My oldest boy will start kindergarten this fall and my one year old will be old enough for daycare in November which will help with our current childcare deficit. Things are starting to look up! The trouble is, sleep deprivation is literally torture. It’s probably number one in the international “how to torture” manual. Me and my current partner’s brains are swiss cheese — they are full of holes. Some of the damage will heal over time, but honestly some of it will not. We are both having severe issues with short-term memory loss. I am a lot slower than I used to be at everything, I can’t multi-task any longer, I can’t remember even the important things. We are both having a lot of trouble juggling a business, caring for young children not yet in school, and keeping on top of normal household chores (dishes, laundry, garbage, recycling, etc). We just move too slow right now and there are never enough child-free hours in a week to get things done. We have two kid-free days a week and that is the only time we have to do all the work we need to for the business. It is insane!

Our broken brains can barely keep up with our current life. This is one of the main reasons we closed our Fern & Fungi online store to focus on teaching foraging and why have pared things down to just making and selling medicinal nightshade ointments (aka my flying ointments – different name, same thing, same dosage). You can find the new home of my ointments here: Medicinal Nightshades. We were really hoping to be able to hire a Canadian manufacturer to make the ointments and a professional shipping fulfillment service to handle our shipping for us… but it’s not meant to be at this time. Because of red tape, no one will make our touch my nightshade ointments until we register them with Health Canada (our FDA) and receive approval and natural health product numbers for each different recipe (NPN). I’ve tried, but I can’t even start the application process until I first add the nightshade herbs to the natural health products ingredients database, but I can’t even start that application because they won’t give me the form and the only link in the internet universe to the form is broken and I have failed to hear back after contacting them about it. So, I’ll have to get back to you on that process later. In the meantime, it is still just me and my partner Alex. I make the ointments and he does the shipping.

So this is my life right now. Keeping the kids alive and happy, remembering to take my meds, remembering to turn the dishwasher on, remembering to water the plants, and trying our best to get orders for the business shipped out within 1-2 weeks of purchase. It’s hard when supply shipments are always late, supplies and herbs are always out of stock, your oven catches fire and dies (it did, two days ago), you forgot to order more beeswax, the kids keep passing on cold viruses to you, it’s monsoon season and the power keeps going out, your printer won’t work, the post office’s online shipping tool is always crashing, you go through three computers which all die… (see what I mean about having to slap down dumb curses all the time?).

How do I deal with all this stress? Going to bed early because I can’t afford losing my mental health from staying up late to work or watch tv. Asking for help from my partner, my family, and any social programs available to me. Lowering my expectations, like really lowering them and being okay with dirty floors and laundry piling up. And honestly, weed. My health practitioner point blank told me to, especially for help falling asleep and preventing panic attacks. Welcome to Canada where cannabis is poised to be sold in liquor stores any time now… any time now. It is a common part of medicine and culture in my area. Bootleg forest weed and whiskey have long histories in my county despite it being a Bible Belt. The weed came with the commune hippies and draft dodgers hiding in the woods here in the 1960s. Farmers do not get paid well for their hard job, so even if they’re not fond of hippies, many local farmers have hidden cash crops to supplement their income from corn and soy. So it’s still here, crossing social and economic boundaries. I had no idea moving from the cannabis capitol of Vancouver that there could be such a prevalent cannabis culture in the middle of nowhere in Ontario. If you ever wondered why Canadians are so chill and polite, now you know. It’s because from coast to coast, we’re all smoking the pot.

Recipes For Calming the Fuck Down

In case you are feeling insane in the membrane too, here are some recipes to help you chill out. You don’t have to be part of cannabis culture to enjoy and benefit from the plant and its effects. If you live in a state or country where it is legal, why not see if cannabis can help you? There’s not much to lose as the effects wear off in 1-3 hours. Don’t try it if your employer has a zero tolerance policy and drug testing, however!

A note on making herbal preparations with cannabis:

You will need a small scale to weigh the herb. If you’d like to make these recipes medicinal for pain management, select a high CBD strain. If you want your oil or liqueur to be psychoactive, then choose a high THC strain, such as a hybrid or an indica, and make sure to decarboxylate it before adding it to any edible or topical herbal recipes. To do this, spread the flowers out on a baking sheet and place in the oven at 225°F for 20 minutes. Allow to cool, and then the flowers are ready to grind and use.

Cannabis Flying Ointment

7-15 grams cannabis flower, decarboxylated
500 ml vegetable oil (coconut, almond, sunflower, grapeseed, olive)
60 grams beeswax, chopped or pastilles

Place oil and herb in a double boiler on low heat for 5-8 hours, stirring every 30-60 minutes. Remove from heat and strain out the herb. Add the strained oil back to the double boiler in a clean bowl and add the beeswax. When the beeswax melts, pour the ointment into jars and allow to fully cool for a few hours before putting on the lids. Do a patch test with a pea-sized amount of the ointment and wait four hours for all the effects to be revealed. Then try using larger amounts. After you’ve made it once and know how it effects you, try making it again and adding your favourite essential oil blend or other herbs.

Cannabis Smoking Blend

3 parts cannabis flower
1 part dried motherwort leaf
1 part dried rose petals
1 part dried spearmint leaf
liquid honey to blend herbs

Pick through the dried herbs and remove any stems and hard bits that won’t break down. Then rub the herbs with your hands until they break down but are not a powder. Drizzle a few spoons of liquid wildflower honey over the herbs and then mix them with your hands, rubbing the mixture between your hands, until the honey is completely blended in. The honey moistens the smoking blend and prevents it from having a dry, harsh smoke. When it is blended, store in an air tight container until use. It can be rolled with papers into herbal cigarettes or smoked in a pipe or with some vape pens.

Cannabis Elixir

15-30 grams cannabis flower, leaf, and/or stems, decarboxylated
15 grams dried damiana
one handful of ground, raw cacao beans (optional)
1/4 of a vanilla bean pod or 1/4 tsp of vanilla extract
3 thick slices of fresh ginger
1/2 cinnamon stick, crushed
500 ml of dark rum, bourbon, or brandy (don’t cheap out!)
1 cup unpasteurized honey

Smash up the herbal and spice ingredients, but don’t grind them to a powder. Place it all in a canning jar, seal the lid and leave it for 7-10 days to infuse, do not leave it for longer or it will be bitter and undrinkable. Shake it every day, as many times as you can remember to. When it’s ready, taste it. If it tastes a bit too strong, strain it quick! If it tastes weak, wait another couple days and taste it again. Strain out the herbs and put them in a canning jar and add 500 ml of water and seal it. Shake it every day for three days. Strain out the water and mix it with the alcohol extraction. Add more honey at this point if needed. Allow to further infuse, rest, and clarify for 2-4 weeks. It’s important you do not shake it anymore during this period. After the time has passed, pour your finished liqueur off of any herbal sediment on the bottom of the jar and into a new, clean jar or fancy bottles. It’s ready to drink or gift but will improve with 4-8 months to age. The resulting elixir will be around 20% alcohol. Dosage is 1-2 shotglasses (with a shotglass being 1 fluid ounce or 30 ml).

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On Flying Ointments as Medicine

By | Flying Ointments, Folk Medicine, Herbalism | 8 Comments

“I ha’ been plucking plants among
Hemlock, Henbane, Adder’s Tongue,
Nightshade, Moonwort, Leppard’s-bane
And twice, by the dogs, was like to be ta’en.”

~ Ben Johnson

I have been growing henbane, datura, and brugmansia plants from seed since late winter. I have been harvesting wild mugwort and wild lettuce. I have planted wormwood, belladonna, and datura inoxia in the garden behind the raspberry patch. I am waiting on a new crop of dried henbane leaf from my local supplier which should arrive from Toronto soon. I have been writing about flying ointments for publications and researching their solanaceous herbs of belladonna, datura, henbane, and mandrake to compose detailed monographs, I have been interviewed on flying ointments by a journalist, and I have been talking about them at local events and will soon talk about them at the Herbal Resurgence Conference in New Mexico. What I have not done is make any of this more up-to-date information available to the general public… time to remedy this!

below: pallid henbane baby plants and a datura inoxia seedpod

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A Witch Who Cannot Curse Cannot Heal

A poison that can harm is often also a medicine that can cure. Journalist Chas S. Clifton interviewed me about flying ointments recently and I admitted to him that after all my research and experience making and using these ointments it is my impression they survived as medicine, not as ritual entheogens. Right now I know there is a granny in Germany who makes a wild henbane leaf oil for her arthritis and sells it to her townsfolk just as there is a herbalist at a market in Mexico at this moment selling peyote and datura salves for pain made with pig’s lard. Perhaps the line between medicine and magic used to be more blurred and perhaps the psychoactive effects were once thought to be part of what made the medicine work. Perhaps it really is why the medicine is so effective and future scientific research will reveal this.

I think modern occultists tend to compartmentalize too much and be too serious — flying ointments can be medicine, intoxicants, and magic all at once with no need to separate out each application. Occultists and scientists have been trying to “recreate” flying ointments for centuries usually using instructions from a “common person” as with Agrippa and della Porta. This tells me they may have been in use all along, but the actual makers and users were likely just taking advantage of the psychoactive effects of a common medicinal pain ointment to achieve trance or soul flight the same way a group of pagans would get a bit drunk on wine during an ecstatic rite.

Henbane

above: black henbane blooming in my garden

It is my own conclusion that “flying ointments” are indeed real and have a historical basis in medicine, ceremony, and for recreation, but they would definitely not have been called flying ointments or witches’ ointments and would only have been used for astral flight by a teeny tiny percentage of the population at any given time in history… but who very likely did not identify as witches. When the solanaceous ointments were used, it was probably for medicine, otherwise our ancestors were much more likely to have been smoking or drinking them to become intoxicated for the pleasure of it alone. Granted, we now know ingestion is not a good idea as the toxic tropanes build up in your system, your heart doesn’t gain tolerance, and you will eventually wear our your body from heart and/or kidney damage… So as much as it is my goal to help revive the traditions and preparations surrounding European entheogens, it’s usually best to stick to external use only.

Datura inoxia

above: datura inoxia in bloom, below: double trumpeted white datura seedpods

datura seed pods

A Resurgence of Old World Medicine

Belladonna, datura, henbane, and mandrake have a storied mythology as baneful herbs of witchcraft, poison, madness, and death thanks to the tales spun in literature by the ancient Greeks and Shakespeare to today’s fantasy fiction authors. In having spent the better part of the past decade growing, preparing, and using these plants in my herbal practice I have found they do not deserve their tarnished reputation and instead should have a place of honour at the table of respected plant medicines. I argue that the witches’ flying ointments of Europe’s Early Modern Period are largely just the church propaganda and fear mongering of the times. Flying ointments were just medicine, powerful and intimidating yes, but medicine nonetheless. The recipes for witches’ flying ointments are uncannily identical to the recipes for soporific sponges in common use of the physicians of the same era for anesthesia during surgery: opium poppy, mandrake, and henbane and sometimes belladonna and cannabis in even older recipes.

The medicinal members of the nightshade (or solanaceae) family are some of the most potent drugs we have available to us on the planet and extracts of their alkaloids such as atropine are still incredibly important in modern medicine for which belladonna, datura, and brugmansia are grown on an industrial scale to be turned into pharmaceuticals.  The herbs I use in my ointments (belladonna, datura, henbane, and mandrake) are aphrodisiac, analgesic, anti-inflammatory, antisialagogue, antispasmodic, anticholinergic, euphoric, hypnotic, narcotic, and sedative. It is a very incredible range of actions which makes them a great resource for herbalists if they are able to grow their own for apothecary or clinic use.

Belladonna

belladonna flowers

atropa belladonna in bloom

In having built up a goodly amount of first and second hand feedback on my flying ointments over the years, I have found that the majority of my patrons who purchased my ointments for ritual almost always end up using them medicinally or recreationally instead… mimicking our ancestors’ preferences perfectly. People of all ages and walks of life are using these ointments, it’s not just traditional witches or even necessarily witches at all. They are powerful medicine and everyone is drawn to them because of it. I have baptist grannies in town using my flying ointments to relieve their arthritis (including my own mother), the florist is using them to help her with her insomnia, a friend to cope with the pain of her cancer, a lady the next town over to relieve the pain of bruising after hip surgery, and they’ve made both christian and pagan sufferers of fibromyalgia incredibly happy.

The solanaceae aren’t just medicine for physical pain, they are also medicine for the soul. Friends and patrons alike use the ointments to treat anxiety and depression. Scientists are still trying to figure out why botanicals with both psychoactive and pain relieving properties are so effective in managing mental illness. Not nearly enough studies are being performed with cannabis, magic mushrooms, medicinal nightshades, and other euphoric analgesics.

I got into this because I was fascinated with flying ointments and the sabbat imagery. I wanted to help people achieve trance and soul flight, and I most definitely have, but these plants have taught me so very much they’ve humbled me and turned me into a healer on a scale I would never have predicted or sought out. As the solanaceae continue to reveal their seemingly limitless power and potential to me, I am ever more in a state of awe. It is my goal to continue making these ointments, but with a heavier focus on their varied medicinal applications, and to teach as much as I can about them so their uses can be reconstructed within modern herbalism to the point we regain the lost knowledge of our ancestors regarding these powerful healers.

Nightshade Ointment FAQs

1. Yes I still make and sell them!

2. No, they are no longer labelled flying ointments because my customers use them for so many different purposes (mostly pain & sleep), and I do not like people treating Fern & Fungi like a head shop. I am a herbalist, not a drug dealer.

3. They are not consistently available in the shop because the herbs are difficult to get firstly because they are rare, and secondly because crop failures are common. The nightshade ointments often sell out before we have herbs to make more or are able to finish new batches… which often makes it appear as if they are always sold out.

4. If you want to be notified when “flying ointments” are restocked, I cannot send out individual emails to people so please follow my personal facebook page (facebook.com/sarahannelawless), the business facebook page (facebook.com/fernandfungi/) or sign up for the newsletter (sign up is at the bottom of every page of both my Sarahannelawless.com and Fernandfungi.com websites).

5. If you’re not into that check this shop section regularly: fernandfungi.com/collections/medicinals

6. Head’s up: I’ll likely only be making simple recipes from now on! I have moved to a bible belt and can’t get away with products named “Witches’ Flying Ointment” or “Saturn Flying Ointment” at my farmers’ market booth. Look for: Belladonna Herbal Ointment, Datura Herbal Ointment, Henbane Herbal Ointment, Mandrake Herbal Ointment, and Wormwood Herbal Ointment. Massage oils may become available as well.

7. Do you miss my witchy instructions and write ups about the plants? I’ve included links below to my current body of public writings on nightshades (please note that any shop/product info in these posts is outdated). You can also search for their names in the entheology.com database for good, solid articles or use Erowid – both are free and online.  If you are as passionate about these plant healers as I am you can read up on them using books recommended in my Poison Path Reading List.

Writings on Nightshades & Flying Ointments by Sarah Anne Lawless

Flying Ointment FAQs

Introduction to Flying Ointments

The Making of a Flying Ointment

The Toad in the Ointment

The Ritual of the Duck

Entheogens & Self Control

Moonflower (Datura)

Solanum: The Poison Plants of Witchcraft

Weeds for Witches: Bittersweet Nightshade

If I missed anything, let me know in the comments!
Love to you all!
Sarah

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The Evolution of the Apothecary

By | Bioregional Herbalism, Flying Ointments, Folk Medicine, Herbalism | 8 Comments

Once upon a time I lived in the Pacific Northwest rainforest at the foot of a mountain, the city on one side, a sea inlet on the other. I could step out my front door into groves of impossibly tall red cedar, douglas fir, and western hemlock trees. I went into the woods every day and foraged often, making friends with the local plants and trees and leaving many offerings. I turned my wild harvested plants into magical and medicinal goods to sell in my apothecary. I loved my mountain, I loved my home, and I loved my business… but I left my partner at the time and consequently lost all the things I loved and had to move to an apartment in the city.

I found that it was very hard to find the time to forage when the forest wasn’t right outside my door. I was only able to get back to my mountain a couple times a year to visit and harvest.  I ended up focusing on my flying ointments and my artwork instead. It was rewarding, but I missed foraging, I missed gardening, and I missed being cloaked in a mantle of green. I urban foraged for myself and friends, you can find some really cool things like wild plums, hawthorn trees, escaped thimbleberries, wild fennel and white yarrow… but it’s not the same as walking through the deep wood of native plants and trees. How I longed for tall red alder trees, sweeping hemlock boughs, oemleria, and devil’s club. I craved wild things, a lack of people, and a lack of the noise of civilization.

Foraging in a red pine and oak forest Round Lake, Ontario in winter

So here I am in rural Ontario and loving it –even near the tail end of a snowy Canadian winter. It is very different out here. There are no tall jagged mountains, no vast ocean and sea inlets, no impossibly tall trees, and all four seasons exist with gusto. Here the land is a shield of rock with stunted trees, rolling hills of green, beautiful farmers’ fields, vast lakes, rushing rivers, and wild forests. There are sugar maples instead of big leaf maples, balsam fir instead of douglas fir,  and many more deciduous hardwoods by far: ashes, birches, basswood, beech, elm, oak, maples… It is a land of forgotten ghost towns, abandoned farms, old log cabins, long-quiet saw mills, and forests young from over a century of logging.

Our goods at the local farmers' market

I cannot really garden here until the weather cooperates in the first week of June, but I have already been foraging and plan to do it as much as I possibly can this year. Alex and I have been making arrangements with multiple homesteaders to forage on their acreages. The bigger variety of herbal goods introduced to the online shop in the past few months is a reflection of the wild bounty available here. It has been so rewarding and happiness-inducing to collaborate with my forager and product gnome Alex, making goods for the apothecary out of the freshest and best quality botanicals possible because we harvested and prepared those botanicals ourselves. It is hard to beat the amazing fragrances of balsam fir, eastern hemlock, and spruce and pine resins which have filled my kitchen all winter. There is always chaga being cut and ground by hand, conifer branches hanging to dry, and bags of divinely scented wild harvested pine and spruce resins waiting to be turned into incense and ointments.

spring-break-blue2 spring-break-blue1

The wild changes will continue as I adjust to my new life in the Ottawa Valley and continue to discover the amazing medicinal and edible plants now at my finger tips. I merged my local apothecary of wild medicine with my online magic shop to make my life easier and things less confusing since becoming a regular vendor at the local farmers’ market and having the plan to do so for the foreseeable future. I’ve also had a good handful of locals coming to the door to purchase medicines. The Fern & Fungi Apothecary now has it’s own blog of foraging, cooking, and herbalism posts and will feature articles from our other team members in the future. This is to provide a writing space to really feed into those passions of foraging, feasting, and folk herbalism with a big emphasis on bioregionalism and terroir.

I will still blog as often as I can on my own website, but with more of a focus on animism, witchcraft, every day life, and any adventures I have. Sarahannelawless.com is my personal portfolio of my artwork and writing and will continue to be so. I do not like duplicates, so I will likely not cross-post on both sites. If you want to make sure you get writings from both my personal website and my business, be sure to follow both facebook pages (Sarah Anne Lawless and Fern & Fungi) and/or the newsletter.

Fern & Fungi goodies Spruce amber resin and balsam fir ointment

I will still be making my flying ointments. I may always do so. They are so pleasant and so very effective for pain and sleep issues… This winter there has been a big mandrake, henbane, and datura shortage with suppliers so recently I’ve only been able to keep ointment recipes made with belladonna in stock. If the ointment section seems sparse, this is why! Do not despair, I should be able to get my hands on more henbane in a few weeks, more datura in the spring, and more mandragora officinarum root in a couple years if Molly, my solanceous herb grower in Michigan, is successful with her crop. When spring comes I will of course be trying to grow all the nightshades and aconites I can fit into my yard. There is just no comparison to working with lovingly grown, freshly harvested medicinal herbs! Hopefully I can grow a large enough quantity on my own to preserve enough flying ointments herbs to last us through winter supplier shortages in the future. *crosses fingers*

I am making plans to expand how much I teach this year. I will be teaching herbal workshops and plant journeys out of my home and yard, plant and tree identification walks in the area, and hosting workshops and rituals at Raven’s Knoll events. Keep an eye on the websites’ events pages once spring comes around for good! I thank you all for your patience with me in all the changes I’ve been making since my big move out East. I hope you will continue to join me on my journey to rewilding myself and my herbal practice.

Blessings of the deep and the wild,

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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.