The study of baneful herbs, entheogens, and plants known for their poisonous properties are all part of the branch of magical herbalism known as The Poison Path. This diverse subject touches upon many different topics, and is part of the lore of the broad category of plant magick. With roots in pre-history one encounters the practices of ancient shamanic traditions from around the world, which all utilize some sort of sacred entheogenic sub-stance. Entheogen, meaning to bring the divine into oneself is the preferred term to describe these psychedelic, hypnotic and hallucinogenic substances. Entheogens are wildly different from recreational drugs, and have a devotional aspect, used during rites of passage to commune with the spirit world. These are not the giggly, feel good highs of the recreational drug user. They are powerful psychic catalysts capable of unhinging the mind, enrapturing the soul and freeing the spirit in a single night. Their use is not to be undertaken lightly. Properly understanding how to work with these plants is developed over years of study and experimentation, and is still not without risk. These plants have taken the lives of many an experienced witch amd ethnopharmacologist. There are many ways that one can encounter these plants and unlock their spiritual and magickal potential. It is no wonder that entire traditions have developed around single plants and fungi. The Poison Path is one of these traditions.
The Poison Path looks and many different cultures and time periods including modern medicine and bio-chemistry to understand these enigmatic plants and how they may be applied in one’s spiritual practice. There are those who focus on specific groups of plants or traditions within a specific culture. Many practitioners with European ancestry look to those plants commonly found in the history and lore of their ancestors. The Nightshades are the family of plants most commonly found in accounts from across Europe, including archaeological evidence of their use in ancient times as well as medieval materia medica. While the Poison Path is not limited to these plants these are the ones most commonly sought after by witches, pagans and northern practitioners. There are also many plants Native to North and South America that are of interest, showing the commonalities between these plant based practices.
There are many ways that one comes to understand these plants, their spirits and their action on human consciousness. Here are some of the ways that one may work with these plants and come to understand them. Many practitioners will often utilize a combination of the methods described here and are not limited to them. There is also much overlap between these practices. This is my attempt to describe just a few and how they relate to the Poison Path.
The Entheogenic Witch
During the Middle Ages, many of these plants gained a reputation for being plants that were associated with, and even tended by the Devil Himself. These plants, their hallucinogenic and poisonous properties, were cause for their sinister reputation and connection to witchcraft. Many individuals accused of witchcraft were also accused of poisoning or spreading blight by some unseen means. These were plants used in hexing, calling up the dead and love magic. Their lore grew over time, and plants such as the Mandrake were prized for their magical properties, to find treasure or provide the bearer with familiar spirits. Many practitioners of traditional witchcraft come to find the Poison Path because of their familiarity with these plants. These individuals who are well versed in working with both hands find the allure of these plants enticing. The entheogenic witch uses these plants in spell craft, and as plants most commonly associated with malefic magick, they are all too willing to help in these endeavors. The Witches’ Sabbath is a central theme in the practice of traditional witchcraft, and the use of the witch’s flying ointment plays the pivotal role of helping the witch get their. Many witches come to study these plants for their uses in such ointments. Different plants having different effects may be utilized for all forms of ritual trance, spirit flight and astral projection.
The Psychedelic Witch or Psychonaut
These are the travelers and shapeshifters, well-versed in achieving altered states of consciousness. Much of their devotional work and ritual is performed via some type of altered state using a number of botanical preparations depending on the desired effects. This does not mean that these individuals are always high, or need to be under the influence to work their magick. Something as simple as using Rosemary for focus and memory, or using Mugwort to have prophetic dreams is part of their repertoire. There are all manner of plants that alter our consciousness, but still allow us to be in control and go to work the next day. However, these practitioners can be experienced “trippers” and for important rituals may employ more powerful entheogenic allies such as cannabis, psiloscybe or salvia divinorum. Micro-dosing and plant dietas, are techniques used in combination with fasting and ritual to achieve altered states through the influence of these botanical allies without ingesting larger amounts active ingredients. Flower essences are also a safe way of working with the energies of some of the more toxic plants.
While these two categories are different in their desired outcome, they utilize these plants in a similar manner. Taking advantage of the plant’s powers over life and death, they utilize these sacred herbs to make the veil between the worlds thin, to loosen the spirit from the body, and to summon shades from the Underworld. Many of these plants through their myth and symbolism are associated with the powers of life, death and rebirth. They are also sacred to deities of the Underworld and the dark side of nature. These plants can help us connect with these much maligned forces and also with the shadow within ourselves. They can teach us that there is much to learn from the darkness, and from death and that it is only our own fear that keeps us from mastering these primal forces. These plants can help us unlock deep insights within ourselves and through communication with the spirit world bring us new knowledge about life and death, light and shadow.
There is much to be learned from poison and the role it has played in human history. Not only has poison been used for centuries as a form of assassination, but it has also led to the discovery of some of the most powerful medicines that we continue to use today. The Poisoner is part alchemist, ethnopharmacologist, and toxicologist and has an in depth understanding of the active components present within these plants and how they effect the human physiology. These individuals are the potion makers, who extract alkaloids from baneful herbs for the simple joy of their transmutation. They are mad scientists, experimenting on themselves until they find the perfect dosage. They create tinctures and extracts that are potent enough to actually work, but safe enough that they may be used by a wide range of people. They make medicines for healing pain, helping with sleep and soothing anxiety. These are the individuals resurrecting the wonders of these plants, and making them available to the rest of us.
The Love Witch
Venefic herbs get their name from the goddess Venus. This is the other side to the Poison Path. Aphrodisiacs create just as powerful of a reaction in human physiology and brain chemistry. Plants such as Damiana and Cubeb Berries can be infused into wine or made into elixirs to make passions rise. Plants like Mandrake and Henbane, also have an amorous effect depending on the dosage and means of application. They can just as easily stop the heart as well as engulf it with the fires of passion. This is the double edged sword of the goddess who is both life and death, love and lust. In ancient times, words for love potion and poison were often one and the same, just as love can quickly turn sour. These sensuous aphrodisiacs can also bring death.
The Witch’s Garden
More and more people are beginning to cultivate their own witch’s garden, containing many of the plants listed above. The other worldy beauty of these plant’s is undeniable. Their dark green, dusty reds and deep purples are beautiful to behold. There are few places more magical than a witch’s garden under the light of the full moon. Night-blooming Daturas and Moonflowers release their intoxicatingly sweet scent, making it a place perfect for nocturnal meditation and reverie. Those who grow a witch’s garden come to understand these plants most intimately because they get to experience them throughout their life cycle. Starting a plant from seed and caring for it over its life cycle forges a strong bond. The spirits of these plants make willing familiars and have much to teach those who approach them without fear. I highly recommend beginning your own witch’s garden if you are interested in learning more about these plants. The best way to learn about their personalities is from the plants themselves.
These are just some of the roles that these plants play in magical practice. Whether they shift consciousness, feed spirits, or ensnare the senses there is no doubt of the power of the plant world when it comes to the plant’s of the Witch’s Garden. There are many twists and turns on this path, and so much fascinating lore. One thing is to be sure, where you find a mysteriously growing plant with a history of magical lore, you will likely find a witch nearby. As always safety and discretion are paramount when working with any of these plants, and they should not be employed without prior knowledge and experience. These plants should not be feared, but revered and that comes with a healthy dose of common sense when working with them.