The Inception of the Apothecary
I started writing for Patheos Pagan nearly two years ago, but the foundation for my writing career was being laid well before I realized that that was the path my journey would take. Like many passionate young witches and occultists, the seductive idea of opening a magical supply store was a dream for me too, however it was one that I felt would always be out of reach, and not practical for obvious financial reasons. My passion for wanting to live and breathe my magical practice on a day to day basis while sharing it with others and helping them along their own paths was focused into new avenues. I have always been an avid student, gifted at research and the quest for knowledge. I have a gift for investigating a topic of interest and re-presenting that concept after digesting it in my own psyche and drawing my own connections.
When I started my blog my main area of focus was traditional witchcraft and the Poison Path. I was just coming off of a two year investigation of American Folk Magic specifically Hoodoo and Rootwork practices, and this created an intriguing synthesis within the Crucible of my psyche. I wanted to continue my study of folk herbalism, backing up my findings with connections to the Grimoire Tradition and European Witchcraft. In a way, I was looking for the “hoodoo” of my European ancestors, whose brands of magic did not cower in the face of darker workings, but incorporated both sides of the Path. I found what I was looking for in the concept of traditional witchcraft practices based on customs tied to the local land.
Due to my initial focus on the entheogenic plants of classical witchcraft, it seemed appropriate to name the blog Poisoners Apothecary. It has grown to encompass not only my own thoughts and experiences with the plants of myth, but my exploration of entities with an affinity to Witchcraft in particular and the myths and symbols that contain them. The apothecary is not just an herbalist, they are an alchemist and architect of arcane objects, experimenting with magic in new ways to share with their brethren in art. Trafficking in spirits and providing wares for sorcerer’s working with both hands puts the Apothecary at a kind of crossroads. They are the mad scientist of the alchemist’s art, collecting bits and pieces of magic from around the world and synthesizing them in new ways to further our evolution as worker’s of magic.
Entities and Forces Aligned With Witchcraft
Plants and humans have much in common, from the way that we grow, develop, and reproduce while synthesizing and consuming energies. Both plants and animals share affinities and aspects with all four elements. A balance of all four elemental energies is manifest in sentient entities that synthesize life force. There are times when one element may take predominance, and just like humans and animals, plants are influenced by the celestial dance of stars and planets which affect how they will behave. Learning to speak the language of these unseen forces is paramount to understanding the underlying relationship between all things.
There are certain elements that share an affinity with one another because of what they hold in common. These connections are reinforced over time by layers of myth and lore. Over the millennia certain entities have allied themselves with the practice of magic due to a resonance within their essential nature. There are magical and occult aspects to all things, however there are certain forces that align more seamlessly with the work of magic than others. In my personal practice, there are three main archetypes or forces which act as the collective container, or primal manifestation of numerous entities associated with magic and the occult. Three-fold imagery seems to apply the best when it comes to a magical world view since there are three main divisions to our reality. These planetary images or archetypes act as boundaries for these different qualities, but they influence one another in different ways creating numerous manifestations.
Venus, Mercury and Saturn are the trinity of planets related most directly to magical practice and contain the archetypal forms of Witchcraft. The forces that are mitigated by these primal entities are sympathetic and supportive of the current of Witchcraft, and act as allies and teachers to the Witch. While the outer planets have very esoteric and metaphysical associations, and Pluto being the ruler of the Underworld we treat these planets a little differently than the inner planets. I like to reserve the outer planets for additional insight into what the inner planets tell me. Saturn acts as the boundary between the inner and outer planets. The inner planets rule our personal sphere while the outer planets rule the larger social sphere. I think of the inner Elder Planets as those with the most physical manifestations. Their energies are more concentrated and more directly concerned with the Middle Realm or material plane, the realm of forms. This boundary can also be correlated to the Witch’s Circle.
The planets within the circle serve practical purposes, like love, money, protection or communication and other personal concerns. While the inner planets are focused on the personal path of the witch, the outer planets give us access to Otherworlds, including concepts of dream, illusion and spirit travel. The inner planets could be considered more elemental by nature while the gas giants have a quality that is more mutable.
There are certain images and themes that recur when you look at the mythology and folklore of witchcraft and magic. Mercurial spirits have always allied themselves closely with those who traffic in the spirit world, the image of the Magician is described in Mercurial terms. The ceremonial magician uses the arrangement of words and letters to create magical squares and circles of evocation, their art is precise and based in mental processes, symbolic associations that connect to points of power within the sub-conscious. Mercury is the messenger and as such is directly involved in spell work, specifically complex written ritual and chanting, using communication to channel energies. He is also the trickster, and like his counterpart the Witch has both dark and light aspects. As spirits of invention and technology they rule over magical artifice, which is the creation of spirit inspired instruments for magical operations. The Magician channels qualities of Air and Fire, accomplishing his ends by Word and Will.
Venus sits on the feminine end of the magical spectrum, and also has both light and dark aspects. She is both Goddess of Love and Queen of Witches, Noctifer and Lucifer, she appears as both morning and evening star. The spirits of Venus rule over plant magic and the green realm of spirits, having the power to create enchanting aphrodisiacs as well as powerful poisons. Her powers can be called upon to assist in primal rites of old style craft based on instinct and intuition. She helps us connect with the magical knowledge hidden within our ancestral vault accessed by descending into the earth, and showing us the secrets that lay beneath the murky waters of our subconscious. Her transition from morning to evening star, the pentagram traced in the sky by her path, and the phases like the phases of the moon contain rich vein’s of witch lore that can be tapped into.
Saturn, aside from his connections to malefic witchcraft has much to teach those with the ability to see. Perhaps the most adversarial of all the planets; Saturn acts as the adversary within, honing the iron of the soul by putting it through the trials of the forge. The adversarial energy of the planet Mars, the Lesser Malefic is an outward expression of volatile force, while Saturn is cold and restrictive, it contains and isolates. Saturn acts as the other, he is an outsider, a liminal being that exists between the threshold of the inner and outer solar system. There are numerous intriguing connections between this gas giant and the Horned God who has been worshipped in many forms over the centuries. He is the reaper who comes with the scythe to harvest the fruits of out labors.
Magic as Art and Science
There is magic meant for practical purposes, meant to make life a little easier; folk charms, spells, and traditional cures can be used by anyone regardless of their spiritual path. Oftentimes the two go hand in hand, as one’s spiritual beliefs explain how the magic works. For much of its history, magic, specifically of the folk variety was used for purely utilitarian purposes, and in the modern age they have evolved into two parts of a cohesive system. In this guidebook a seek to present some beneficial concepts to further one’s magical practice. Magic can be an artistic expression of our inner spiritual cosmology, and it can act as a kind of experimental science testing different energies and techniques and analyzing the results to add to that spiritual cosmology. Magic like the true state of the Universe is random and chaotic, it has certain governing rules as to how it operates within our Universe, but by its very nature there are somethings that cannot be explained or understood. The complex nature of relationships within our Universe informs not one cause and effect but multiple causes with multiple effects that often happen simultaneously, which explains while some spells don’t duplicate in the way we expect it to. Magic is as much an art as it is a science, and unpredictability is one of its quintessential characteristics.
Over the years I have been drawn to many diverse and seemingly unrelated topics when it comes to magic and witchcraft. It has proven to be true with many other esoteric systems that the deeper you go the closer you get to that primal and universal root, and therein lies each system’s interconnectedness. I have compiled research on plants traditionally associated with witchcraft and sorcery, and have presented them in a new way that utilized creative techniques for exploring the individual spirits of these plants. The plants that were chosen for this volume were chosen because of their affinity for magical workers as plant teachers and allies. For example, not only infamous plants like Nightshade, but also herbs with extensive historical uses in magic. An herb like vervain, while not an alkaloid containing entheogen is a well known herb of enchantment with a wide range of uses and effects. Understanding the proportions and interactions between different elemental and planetary forces within these plants has led me to find new and innovative uses for these magical catalysts.
I also expand on the folklore and usage of plants within the Nightshade Family as part of my study on baneful herbs. Instead of presenting them all at once, I wanted to do a gradual and thorough presentation so that each one can have the attention it deserves. In my personal practice I have learned to work with these Saturnian plants gradually over long periods of time to fully integrate their lessons, and that is how I wanted to present them. In addition to magical lore on the herbs and their various uses in ritual I have also collected a number of talismanic devices that can be repurposed to benefit one’s work with baneful plant allies.
One of the main components of this path is to connect with and work with the individual spirits that reside within these plants. There is a focus on working through spirit contact and ancestral streams to connect with various tutelary entities that have been known to assist magical practitioners.