Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Nature's Naughty Herbs - the baneful components of magick

The Usage of Baneful Herbs & Curios…

    This is a cautious journey into the darker side of Nature and her fiercer aspect as manifested in the so called ‘baneful’ herbs.  While there are as many ethical codes as there are types of Witches, remember that every herb has its own blessings and curses.  For instance, you might regularly sprinkle nutmeg on your pies yet if you were to consume a whole nutmeg pod, you most certainly would die a painful death!  You must decide for yourself if your usage is educated, just, and worth the risk.  Baneful herbs tend to be toxic, making them stronger and faster acting both physically and spiritually. 

    Until the mid 1900’s most of these herbs were widely used in pharmaceutical and folk magic practices.  Marijauna infusions, belladonna eye drops, cocaine cough drops, and opiate elixers for female remedies could be found at any common drug store. However, due to their toxic and addictive nature many of these plant based products are very difficult to find today in medicinal, dried, or seed form.  Some common herbal ingredients from earlier times such as marijuana and fly agaric are simply outlawed in most countries now.  Others, such as belladonna in pinkeye relief drops, are still used in very limited circles. As the number of synthetic medicines grow and regulations against homeopathic healing continues, the availability and usage of baneful herbs in traditional folk magick and healing has also waned.    
 Vintage medicine labels showing the usage of baneful herbs & modern illegal substances.
Considering the potential health and legal risks of using baneful herbs, why would any practitioner do so?  Used in magick and medicine for centuries, these botanical curiosities can lead to hallucination, coma, or painful death if not applied properly.  Then again, so can the misuse of modern pharmaceutical medicines.  For those of us who are drawn to traditional hedge witchery, herb craft, and the Green Path, to not seek these herbs and their wisdom leaves a void in our practice… maybe in our very energy, our ability to heal, and the possibility to communicate with the spiritual Green. The symbolism and spiritual power of these plants is derived from humanity’s oldest consciousness and relationship with our environment.  Before grocery stores, before even farms, we foraged ALL of our medicines and food from the Earth.  The loss of this relationship and level of knowing pains many of us. 

"Upon the poison path, we may speak of many 'firsts'- the initial sting or bite of a poisonous animal; the first adverse reaction from a prescription drug; the first experience of anesthesia;  the first apparition borne of an hallucinogenic substance.  This inceptive consciousness may also be applied to Astral Poison: heartbreak, betrayal, emotional violence, nightmare.  Each situation may be regarded as initiatic..."  
-Daniel A. Schulke 'Veneficium: Magic, Witchcraft, and the Poison Path'
Beyond the health risks, some practitioners find themselves in dread of any herb termed ‘baneful’, actually considering these plants to inherently carry evil spirits or negative properties.  Traditionally some of these herbs are used to draw spirits (datura) while others exorcize them (larkspur)- some are employed to do both (wormwood).  They may be used to sow discord or confusion (poppy seed, devil's shoe string). Certain herbs are said to be able to possess a lover to the heights of passion while others destroy a couple’s relations or cause impotency and infertility.  Visions, a sense of flying, and hallucinations of dancing hoards are said to be invoked by certain botanical applications. Hexing, cursing, tricking, goofering, domination, or bending over are all ways of describing the darker affects of baneful herbs.  There is a real fear among many spiritualists of opening a dark door that cannot be closed again… of somehow drawing malignance and danger to oneself with these plants.  However, others feel that how the herb is approached and the intention of the user is what actually determines a baneful or beneficial working.  The study of cursing does not necessarily mean one practices willful malignancy.  A doctor must know the poison to provide an antidote and so to a Witch must know how a curse was cast and even use a bit of the same ingredients in the undoing.

    You can work with any plant’s energies and symbolic properties for positive goals.  Developing a relationship and educated familiarity with any plant can lead you to an awareness of its ‘spirit’ or ‘familiar’.  These beings may then choose to aid you in your workings and journey if tended to properly. You may try creating talismans, coordinating the planetary associations of specific plants with various sigils, stones, and days. Roots, leaves, and berries can be added to medicine bundles, mojo bags, or gris gris bags.  You could craft a spell bottle to enshrine the plant's spiritual anima.  Certain herbs lend themselves well to poppets as the heart or stuffing of the doll.  Additionally glass pendants or tiny bottles of various herbs may be worn to invoke their specific power.
In popular American magickal practices, many commonly speak of meeting 'animal spirits' but fewer acknowledge a genuine consciousness emanating from plant life.  There are many older traditions to look to in reawakening this connection.  Dryad traditions throughout Europe, many of the Devi beings in Asia, and certainly the seguro plant spirits of Andean culture's can help in this work.  In the later case:

"Always on altars are seguros, magical amulet bottles filled with perfume, plants, and seeds...
(this is then) a "friend" or "ally", someone you can turn to for advice and information, who will listen and share your problems.  (These are) plants chosen for their specific healing and spiritual qualities. A seguro can help you maintain and deepen your link to the sacred because, of course, it contains your plant ally. If there are other plants you have journeyed to or would like to learn from, these can be added to the seguro as well and, when you know the language of your ally, this plant spirit will communicate your desire to the other plants, which will also offer their healing and support. You therefore gain access to the natural world and its powers more widely" 
Above: found on Pinterest, original artist unknown (let me know if you find the source)
Sealed baneful herb spirit bottles with Datura, Bittersweet Nightshade, Mandrake, Fly Agaric, and Black Henbane
The List
A variety of common baneful herbs and substances used in the magickal process. There are of course many more that could be added based on historical symbolism or toxicity.

Abrus, also called Rosary Pea, Precatory Bean (Abrus precatorius)
Bats Head Root
Blood Root
Castor Beans
Chine Berries
Cinquefoil, Witch’s Grass
Datura, Jimsonweed
Devil’s Shoestring
Fly Agaric
Foxglove, Digitalis
Guano, Bat  excrement
High John the Conqueror
Lemon Verbena
Licorice Root
Lily of the Valley
Mandrake, European
May Apple Root, American Mandrake
Nightshade, Belladonna, Monkshood
Poison Arrow Plant (Acokanthera species)
Poison Hemlock
Poke Root
Rue, Ruda
Sulfur, Brimstone
Tonka Bean
Vandal Root
Wolfsbane or Monkshood, Aconite (Aconitum species)

The List of Nots!

-This is NOT a medical document and in no way suggests the consumption or medicinal usage of said herbs. 
-This is NOT an approval of recreational drug usage or the acquisition of illegal substances. 
-The author NOT in any way responsible for the use or misuse of any herb nor is she responsible for any allergic reaction. 
-Additionally, this is NOT an exhaustive list of every toxic plant in the world.  Many ‘nice’ herbs may also be problematic if misused.  The practitioner takes upon themselves all magickal and physical risks associated with the handling of these plants or formulas.  These substances are potentially toxic and deadly. 
-The author also does NOT guarantee the outcome of any specific spell and offers these materials as curios only.  The success or failure of any magickal working is dependent upon the practitioner’s own belief system.

Notice to Reader!
    If you do choose to work with baneful herbs, avoid burning the plant material for this can cause toxic fumes.  The chemical properties can also be absorbed through the skin by direct contact and heavy smoke.  Do NOT ingest or smoke these!  Consider wearing gloves and especially avoid contact with open cuts or abraded skin.  Thoroughly washing hands, face, utensils, and vessels after handling these plant products. Clearly label storage bottles!  Keep out of reach of children or pets!

    Another point to consider, many baneful herbs are sacred to darker chthonic entities who will expect an offering for the collection and usage of said plants. Carefully consider these deities, your own ethics concerning self defense and attack, and the greater Web of being before proceeding.  Many witches, herbalists, and shamanic practitioners never feel capable of handling such fire… are you really ready?

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