Sarah’s got a great post about flying ointments up on her blog.
I read through, and nodded, because working with plants who give that sensation of extra perception or flying or of a door being opened is a decidedly acquired taste and let’s face it.. talent. As I was reading I thought to myself, this is such a comprehensive post, but I wonder how many newer crafters will catch the subtext and admonitions, and actually heed them. Crafting supplies, and unguents, and the like are the one area in which the customer is probably not right, and should never be assumed to be right, if they are expecting a product to do something specific and it decides not to deliver on that. The various plant vaults at Erowid are awash in such thrill-seekers, and jackasses. The whole, “Well, I ate 10 jimson weed seeds and nothing happened, so then I smoked a joint and ate like 100 more and shit, I am never doing that again” instant gratification itch which some are not lucky enough to survive.
I have a jar of Sarah’s Medea’s Unguent, for example, which contains mandrake, but it is not something I approach casually, like, “Dude! I wonder what’ll happen if…” Truth be told, I have not used it yet, because the time is just never correct. Which tells me (among other things) that one of my few talents lies in timing and knowing when to proceed with a working or ritual, or when to just put the unguent away, and get back to meditating on why I’d use the unguent in the first place. And just for a different example of this, I was nudged to put away the mugwort dream pillow after working with it for afternoon naps for a brief period of time during which I, 1) met puzzling spirits on a bus, 2) visited places I’ve never been and found them familiar, and experienced very strange lucid but light sleep whereupon awakening I was exhausted. Chalk that up to the thujones, boys and girls, and the plant itself giving ME a whirl to see what I was about, as I was attempting to do the same with IT. Brings new meaning to “pick your poison”.
And it is a great reminder that plants are not necessarily allies to all of us, and they are certainly not there just to be used and exploited for other purposes. Take my word for it when I opine that even the plants you think are your allies are not terribly concerned with your welfare if you are naive enough to trust them to not mess with or poison you. They are that they are, and they were here before we upright-walking apes came along to mostly take them for granted.
I grow diviner’s sage, but have yet to work with it beyond eating a few leaves last year and feeling more grounded than grounded. And it was such a mistake eating the leaves then, the way I did. The plant was teasing and testing, and my logic that the plant is not toxic overcame politeness and proper procedure, “Come on, you could use some greenery to munch on…”, “Uh…. okay!” Wherein I spotted another weird skill of mine, knowing when a plant is potentially messing with me (after the fact, but at least I know what that nudge feels like, and I am lucky it was not something that would deep six me and shrug, “Eh, these stupid apes…”)
I’ve had conversations with Harry about plants and their demeanors. Belladonna is tricksy and cannot help but shove the susceptible ones over that tipping point when it comes to the berries and people thinking that smoking the leaves would be a good idea; that’s what it does. Read books like Healing and Ancient Brews and it becomes clear that a great many people are susceptible to the lady in red, and that a lot of the same uncredited information is available in many places. Buchner refers to the juice of the berries (sans seeds, please) as being incredibly sweet, but with a sinister hint to it, redolent of the poisonous seeds. I’ve seen that description in at least two other places. If you read Dale Pendell’s account of belladonna seed tincture, the 8 drops of it at Burning Man with Daniel Schulke (yep, THAT Daniel Schulke), and the writhing dancing girl in front of the writhing undulating whale (and what these things looked like the following morning when the effects had worn off), it becomes clear that belladonna has things to show people. Are people really capable of grasping those things? I’m not sure there’s an answer for that, but it leads directly into another question on whether all witches need to be working with poisonous plants at all, be that ingestion, rubbed into the skin, brewed up as tea, smoked, inhaled passively. This is where modern knowledge of plant chemistry and classes of poisons comes in handy, and where it bumps up against tradition as witnessed in ancient texts and practices, although… knowing that atropine acts by blocking acetylcholine from its receptor sites in nerve cells is certainly interesting.
There’s a reason this is loosely referred to as The Poison Path, after all.
My unpopular opinion is that not everyone has the chops to handle plant work when it comes to the banefuls as well as the medicinals, edibles, and herbals. Nor is everyone supposed to cross the hedge. I’ll put it this way: just because Silver Ravendrool has penned words on paper on the hedge, doesn’t necessarily make it accessible to everyone. Hell’s bells, I am still wondering if I am cut out for plant work, given how I had crop failures with almost everything important this year, such as the daturas, the mandrakes, and then slews of edibles. The only good crop was breadseed poppy, and this plant is just so friendly and personable, it almost made me forget about the less than exemplary crops. No, I’m not a straw tea drinker; I really did grow these for the breadseeds, and, well, for Hekate as well, and for every ancestor ritual I do, and every chicken we cull for the table.
I don’t want to take Scylla’s brilliant post about obligation out of context, but one does this because one is obliged to do it. This is not a universal path. A practitioner who works with plants and unguents or potions is not a hyperbolically motivated Hermione Granger, holding a clipboard with a class list and projects list, checking off each item as an achievement or notch on the belt, in one’s own blood. And witching is not about bragging rights, either (I’d wager those who go into this with that intention are the first to go mad after several hundred “Holy shit! This is real!” moments.) It is not a rationalization for writing erudite-sounding posts on things one has not experienced, in some undeclared contest of trying to be what one is not, in order to fit in somewhere… anywhere…
Much better to be skilled and competent with a few things, than to be a jackass of all trades and mistress/master of none of them, right?