Following Christianity’s rise to power came the systematic annihilation of all pagan (non-Christian) religions. The church associated certain plants and animals with pagan worship, and claimed they were Satanic in nature.
This same attitude is perpetuated today in America’s longest war, the War on Drugs. The new Pharmacratic Inquisition is a flashback to past injustices. Falsely providing society with convenient scapegoats, while shielding us from the larger, more complex issues at the root.
Entheobotanical (Entheo is Greek for God generated from within) research into Europe’s shamanic past now reconnects us with once this forbidden knowledge.
The Eleusian Mysteries had been celebrated uninterrupted for two thousand years before their destruction by Christian forces in 395 AD. Held annually, the ceremony was open to all citizens. The Initiate was led into the Telesterion (Inner sanctum) where they ingested a hallucinogenic potion called the Kykeon. They left wonderstruck and forever changed.
The ergot fungus (Claviceps purpurea) was responsible for the miracle at Eleusis, and also the plague called Saint Anthony’s Fire, a disease that brought victims on a desperate pilgrimage to the shrine of Saint Anthony for healing. During the Dark Ages, whenever grains became ergotized, (parasitized by the ergot fungus), this terrible fury would be unleashed.
Dictated by seasonal conditions and growing cycles, people unknowingly consumed contaminated harvests. Claviceps purpurea contains alkaloids of the lysergic acid group. Those eating infected grain soon developed gangerous limbs which withered and fell away, along with delusions and hallucinations, symptoms attributed directly to the Devil’s influence.
The Shaman/Witch realized that ergot could also be used for healing, enabling difficult births to be hastened without post-parturition hemorrhage. The key was in the dosages and methods of administration.
Eventually ergot crossed paths with the Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann, who in 1943 synthesized LSD-25, the most powerful hallucinogen then known, launching the psychedelic sixties.
Psychotropic agents, plants used as catylysts for shamanic ecstasy, are a worldwide phenonemon. Unlike the comparitively safe and rich diversity of plants and fungi found in North and South America, psychoactive species available to European Sorcerers belong to the extremely poisonous genus Solanaceae. These dangerous plants feature prominently in Hexen (German Witch) medicine.
The Solanaceae contain tropane alkaloids, atropine, scopolamine, and hyosyamine, compounds which along with hallucinosis can cause death. The “flying ointments” were ungents and salves concocted from recipes long forgotten and shrouded in myth.
Still known are some of the ingredients that went into these compositions; herbs like datura, belladonna, henbane, ergot and even toxic amphibians. Applied topically, these powerful visionary drugs were absorbed through the skin. They were also sometimes applied internally, through the vagina, using a broomstick or other phallic device.
The witches did indeed fly on their Sabbat night, transforming themselves into nocturnal creatures and patron familiars. The pharmacology surrounding these hallucinogens evoked the sensation of fur growing and feathers developing, vertigo and flight, potent inspiration for psychonautic voyaging.
A 1589 manuscript by Porta Giovanni Battista called “Natural Magic”, reveals formulae for transforming a man into a beast or bird. Porta’s recipe produced their effects due to the use of the drugs hyosyamine, scopolamine and atropine within the mixtures.
Henbane is found in uncultivated places, abandoned from past growth, often in castle ruins and monastaries. The seed can remain viable for hundreds of years, one source claims seeds germinated after eight hundred years!
Henbane appears in Homer’s Odyssey, when Circe (Sorcery) the Witch transforms Odysseus’ men into swine with this magical herb. Hermes counteracts Circe’s spell using another infamous plant, Mandrake, to break the hex.
The ancient Eygyptians also knew of Henbane. The Priestess of the Delphic Oracle prophesized under the rapture of its smoldering seeds.
Female devotees of Bacchus, worshippers belonging to the Dionysus cult, Lord of Inebriation, initiated ecstasis with thornapple juice (Datura stramonium).
In spite of great dangers, Datura concotions were often used in love philtres during the Middle Ages. Called “Sorcerer’s Herb” because of its role in the flying ointments, Datura stramonium came to eastern North America with the first European colonists.
Of all the Witch herbs, Datura is amongst the easiest to grow and establish in the garden; once introduced it will appear on its own the following spring.
Atropa belladonna, named in part after the Greek fate Atropos, the inflexible one who cuts the thread of life. This mysterious plant is the embodiment of beauty and love. “…a moving old picture, death and love it represented”.
Belladonna, from the Italian, refers to the wide-eyed, dreamy gaze evoked by the “Witch’s Cherry Juice.” Italian courtesans dissolved the drug atropine in water then instilled drops into their eyes, dilating their pupils to heighten sensuality. In modern ophthalmology, atropine is used for pupil dilation during eye examinations.
Romans dedicated the plant to the Goddess Bellona, whose priests drank the juice of the berry before sacred rites connected with her worship. When Christianity became the dominant religion, the Goddess Bellona was discarded and the plant changed from Bellona’s Herb to Belladonna. Ostensibly a reference to the Virgin Mary, the French scholar Jules Michelet believed that belladonna had been named after the “good women,” that being the wisewomen and witches.
Also known as Deadly Nightshade, this perennial produces a cherry size fruit, blue black in colour. Its purple juice is intensely sweet; a deadly temptation for children. The wines of the Bacchanalian orgies were infusions of psychoactive plants including Belladonna. The plant was used in many Hexen recipes throughout Germany and France.
It was said that Atropa was attended by the Devil himself, who cared for the “Enchanters Nightshade” throughout the year, except Walpurgis Night (November 1) when he returns to the mountain in honour of the Witches’ Sabbat.