To cap off his herbal introduction, Roderick offers us a collection of six poisonous herbs. In magical practice, poisonous herbs traditionally used in witchcraft are sometimes called the “baleful” herbs, which seems very ominous. After all, the word “baleful” means “having a harmful or destructive effect”. The thing to remember is that these herbs are not in themselves evil; it is the user that can put them toward evil ends.
Used judiciously and with training, however, these baleful herbs can help out with advanced magical work. Roderick lists astral travel, shape-shifting (or magical transformation), and psychic development as some positive advanced outcomes of working with these herbs. On a mundane level, using tiny bits of these poisonous plants will sort of send you on a bit of a drug trip. And, like using any hallucinogenic drug, if you simply use it without any magical intent, you’ll have an altered experience, but that experience might not be magical. If you combine them with guided meditations, or sincerely look for magical symbolism, though, you might very well have a deep spiritual experience. Even if you just approach the use
For example, there was one time when my good friend Shea, our friend Liz, and I were driving up to her Shea’s parents’ cabin in northern Minnesota and we passed around a pipe of good marijuana. Now, I will readily admit that I’m not one to readily drink or partake in drug use. In fact, this was the first time I really got the hang of smoking something and could get some decent lungfuls. After a few minutes, I remember starting to feel very relaxed and mellow, and I just sort of fell back into my seat and tuned out of Shea and Liz’s conversation. Shea was playing Moby’s “Play: the B sides,” and I remember that I closed my eyes and really listened to that music with my whole being. I let myself experience it with my entire consciousness, and–so weirdly–I could start to see undulating shapes behind my closed eyelids. Soon, I was seeing and feeling and tasting and smelling the music, and it was so exhilarating, I could not help but wildly laugh with pure joy. It was incredible beyond words.
In the front seat, however, Shea and Liz were carrying on a perfectly mundane conversation. They had just let themselves mellow and hadn’t fallen into an experiential vision. We were using the same drug–and I was smoking a little less than they were–but my approach to the experience gave me a radically different one than what my friends shared. I guess what I’m saying is that if you do choose to use these baleful herbs–or anything else–to alter your consciousness, make a ritual of it. Don’t just dose yourself and carry on with your life.
It is incredibly important, however, that if you do choose to work with these herbs, you do a lot of research into properly handling and using them. There is a lethal potential with each of these, depending on the dose and frequency of their use.
As you can see in the usage chart, several of these baleful herbs were (and are) ingredients in something called a “flying ointment”. This is basically a salve you rub onto your skin, and it delivers the herbs to your bloodstream through your skin. There are older historical accounts of people who used these ointments hallucinating things like flying, changing into animals, attending a Witches’ Sabbat, having sexual encounters with demons, speaking with animals. That’s some…interesting stuff.
There is one witch in the America’s that practically specializes in making flying ointments: Sarah Lawless, the Witch of Forest Grove. Her ointments are all hand made using ingredients she’s grown and wildcrafted. She definitely does her crafting right! Lawless has definitely garnered a positive reputation for her amazing wares. In fact, almost the minute she releases an item for sale on her online shop, it’s snapped up! If flying ointments interest you, and you would like more information on them, I cannot recommend her essay on them enough. It’s some of the best current work we have on the subject. In fact, on the off chance Lawless ever deletes her blog, I’ve saved this essay here.
Roderick does ask us to spend time today familiarizing ourselves with these baneful herbs, to commit them to memory and to devise a spell in which we use at least one of them. After a little deliberation (and a lot of cruising Lawless’s website), I decided that my spell would indeed be a flying ointment. Please be advised that I’m not actually making or testing this ointment, and while it is my educated guess that it would not be fatal (a fatal dose of fly agaric has been calculated as 15 mushroom caps), if you decide to make it, please do your own research and test it in the company of a person who knows first aid and who will not be trying the ointment.
To make this ointment, I would put quantities (I have yet to research what amounts) of fly agaric mushroom caps, dried balm of gilead flowers, dried mugwort, dried sage, dried hyssop, dried yarrow, juniper berries, arborvitae bark, and wormwood together with a quantity of dried rosemary and dried woodruff into an old food processor and grind them all into a fine powder. Then I’d put that powder into a large glass jar and cover it with apricot kernel oil. I would let the herb powder infuse in the oil for 14 days, then I would finish off the infusion with a heat treatment. Most likely I’d set the jars in a crockpot filled with water, turn the setting to ‘warm’ and let it go for a day or two. Afterwards, I would strain it a couple of times through some muslin, measure out the oil, and add 1-2 ounces of beeswax for every cup of oil. I’d heat the beeswax and the oil until the wax melted, then I’d pour the ointment in jars and let it set in a cool place for the remaining days of the moon cycle, moving it to a place at night where it can receive the moonlight.
I chose the fly agaric from this list because I believe it will give the magical oomph required without being lethal. I coupled it with the balm of gilead flowers because of their healing powers, and gave the mixture a wide assortment of plants that contain thujone–mugwort, sage, yarrow, juniper, arbor vitae, and wormwood. Thujone is a psychoactive compound, but it is unlikely to be lethal in the doses you would get from the ointment. Magically, mugwort is used to improve psychic powers and divination, sage to promote wisdom, yarrow and juniper to stave off negativity and to promote psychic powers and courage, arborvitae (a cedar) to protect and provide optimism, and wormwood to promote psychic powers. I added the hyssop because of the pinocampones that affect the nervous system, but–more importantly–because its magical properties inclued psychic protection and aura cleansing, which I felt was important to this ointment. The rosemary is added not only for its protection and healing powers, but also to help the user keep the memory of his flight. The woodruff I added as a reminder that this ointment is to be used primarily to link one to the gods.
I would start (and subsequently finish) brewing this potion at the new moon, since I feel that one of the magic powers of this phase is that it is full of possibility and openness. Nothing is set in stone at this time, and magic influenced by it will help you create new connections and find new insights to current experiences. Since I can’t exactly time the new moon to happen during a particular day, the day is less important to me. However, I would take a moment to ritually begin the infusion during a moon hour of the first day, and to ritually finish and charge the ointment during a moon hour of the last day. Finally, whenever this potion is used, I would take care to apply the ointment during an evening moon hour of whatever day I need to use it.
When I used the ointment, I would take care to couple it with another trance technique like dancing, drumming, or chanting. And I would just let myself open to the experience.