The Hexing Herbs

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Above left: The yellow blossom of the rare variety of Atropa belladonna var lutea. The yellow Deadly Nightshade is regarded as particularly potent for magic and witchcraft.

■Above right: The bell-shaped flowers of the Deadly Nightshade clearly show its membership in the Nightshade family

Page 87above left: The flowers of the Mandrake (Mandragora otficinarum) are rarely seen, as they bloom very briefly and then quickly vanish

Page 87above right: The flowers of the Black Henbane (Hyoscyamus niger) have a characteristic coloring and an unforgettable pattern on the petals. In earlier times, it was thought to be the eye of the devil.

Since antiquity several members of the Nightshade family have been associated with witchcraft in Europe. These plants enable witches to perform feats of occult wonder and orophecy, to hex through hallucinogenic communication with the supernatural and transport themselves to far-off places for the practice of their nefarious skills. These inebriating plants were mainly Ken-bane, Hyoscyamus albus and H. niger; Belladonna, Atropa belladonna; and Mandrake, Mandragora officinarum. All four species have long histories of use as hallucinogens and magic plants connected with sorcery, witchcraft, and superstition. The extraordinary reputation of these plants is due primarily to the bizarre psychoactivity that they possess 1'heir similarity in effects is the result of similarity in chemical constitution.

These four solanaceous plants contain relatively high concentrations of tropane alkaloids, primarily atropine, hyoscya-mine, and scopolamine; other bases are ound in trace amounts. It is apparently scopolamine, not atropine or hyoscya-mine, that produces the hallucinogenic effects. It induces an intoxication fol lowed by narcosis in which hallucina tions occur during the transition state between consciousness and sleep.

Atropine has served chemists as a model for the synthesis of several hallu cinogenic compounds. Their effects— and those of scopolamine—differ from those of the usual natural hallucinogens: they are extremely toxic; and the user remembers nothing experienced during the intoxication, losing all sense of reality and fal'-ng into a deep sleep like an alcoholic delir m

Hyoscyamus has been known and feared from earliest classical periods, when it was recognized that there were several kinds and that the black variety was the most potent, capable of causing insanity. The ancient Egyptians recor ded their knowledge of Henbane in the Ebers Papyrus, written in 1500 B.C. Homer described magic drinks with effects indicative of Henbane as a major ingredient. In ancient Greece it served as a poison, to mimic insanity, and to enable man to prophesy. It has been suggested that the pr stesses at the Oracle of Delphi made their prophetic utterances while intoxicated with the smoke from Henbane seeds. In the

thirteenth century, I shop Albcrtus the Great reported that Henbane was employed by necromancers to conjure up demons.

From earliest times, the painkilung properties of Henbane have been recognized, and it has been employed to re lieve the suffering of those sentenced to torture and death. Its great advantage lies in its ability not only to allay pain but also to induce a state of complete oblivion.

Henbane is best known as an ingredient of the so-called "witch's salve."

When young people were to be inducted into membership in groups dedicated to witchcraft, for example, they were often given a drink of Henbane so that they could easily be persuaded to engage in the sabbat rituals preparatory to the acceptance officially of a place in. witchcraft circles.

Those Mtperiencmg intoxication with Henbane feel a pressure in the head, a sensation as if someone were closing the eyelids by force; sight becomes unclear, objects are distorted in shape, and the most unusual visual hallucinations (ire induced. Gustatory and olfactory hal lucinations frequently accompany the

The Chemistry of Deadly Nightshade, Henbane, and A/landrake

Thfe three solanaceous plants Atropa Hyoscyamus, and Mandragora contain the same active principles: primarily the alkaloids hyoscyamine, atropine, and set diamine. The difference is only one of relative concentration. Belladonna contains little scopolamine, DUt this alkaloid is the main component of Mandrake and especially of Henbane.

The alkaloids are found in the entire plant, with the highest concentration in the seeds and roots. The hallucinogenic effects are due essentially to scopolamine Atropine and hyosyamine are less active under these circumstances aiockoyp1ahc aiockoyp1ahc

Left: According to this llustration from the Juliana Codex, the Greek herbalist Dioscorides received the Mandrake plant from Heuresis, goddess of discovery illustrating the belief that this medicine was a plant of the gods.

"The Mandrake is the 'Tree of Knowledge' and the burning love ignited by its pleasure is the origin of the human race." —Hugo Rahner Greek Myths in Christian Meaning (1957)

God And Goddess Witchcraft

Above: The ancient goddess of witches Hecate, lords over the psychoactive and magical herbs, particularly those in the Nightshade family. In this colored print by William Blake, she is depicted with hershamanic animals.

Page 89 below right: The design for the cover of a book about medicinal plants depicts the anthropomorphic Mandrake intoxication. Eventually sleep, disturbed by dreams and hallucinations, ends the inebriation

Other species of Hyoscyamus have similar properti s and are occasionally used in similar ways Indian Henbane or Egyptian Henbane, or H muticus, occurring from the deserts of Egypt east to Afghanistan and India, is employed in India as an intoxicant, the dried leaves being smoked. The Bedouins particu-1 .rly employ this intoxicant to become drunk, and in some parts of Asia and Africa it is smoked with Cannabis as an inebriant

Belladonna or Deadly Nightshade is native to Europe but is now spontaneous as an escape from cultivation in the United States and India. Its generic name, Atropa, comes from the Greek

Fate Atropos, the inflexible one who cuts the thread of life. The specific epithet, meaning "beautiful lady," recalls the use of sap of the plant to dilate the pupils of the eyes among the fine ladies of Italy who be ieved that the dreamy, intoxicated stare thus produced was the height of fetching beauty. Many vernacular names of the plant refer to its intoxicating properties: Sorcerer's Cherry, Witch's Berry, Devil's Herb, Mur derer's Berry Dwaleberry (dwale in English deriving from the Scandinavian root meai ing "trance").

The maenads of the orgies of Dionysus in Greek mythology dilated their eyes and threw themselves into the arms of male worshipers of this god or, with "flaming eyes," they fell upon men to tear them apart and eat them. The wine

Left: The magical conjuration of the Mandrake is a durable theme in European literature and art history. Here is a scene from a modern comic, Ca^a

Below right: "Witches" persecuted during the Inquisition were often accused of using hallucinogenic plants of the Nightshade family, in particular Henbane and Mandrake. For this many were tortured, murdered, and burned.

Left: The magical conjuration of the Mandrake is a durable theme in European literature and art history. Here is a scene from a modern comic, Ca^a

Hallucinogenic Tree Sap Africa

Below right: "Witches" persecuted during the Inquisition were often accused of using hallucinogenic plants of the Nightshade family, in particular Henbane and Mandrake. For this many were tortured, murdered, and burned.

of Bacchanals was possibly adulterated with juice of the Nightshade. Another belief from classical ùmes maintained that Roman priests drank Belladonna before their supplications to the god dess of war for victory.

It was during the early Modern period, however, that Belladonna assumed its greatest importance in witchcraft and magic. It was one of the primary ingredients of the brews and ointments employed by witches and sorcerers. One such potent mixture, containing Be 11a donna Henbane, Mandrake, and the at of a stillborn child, was rubbed over the skin or inserted into the vagina for absorption. The familiar witch's broomstick goes far back in European magic beliefs. An investigation into witchcraft in 1324 reported that "in rifleing the

Top: Amphibians, especially frogs (which often produce poisons in their bodies), have always been connected wth witchcraft and magic in the Old as well as the New World. These animals were occasionally added to potent witches' brews in Europe. They have also figured significantly in certain New World cultures in connection with hallucinogenic activities.

Top: Amphibians, especially frogs (which often produce poisons in their bodies), have always been connected wth witchcraft and magic in the Old as well as the New World. These animals were occasionally added to potent witches' brews in Europe. They have also figured significantly in certain New World cultures in connection with hallucinogenic activities.

Above left: The delightfully scented fruit of the Mandrake (Mandragora officlnar-um) are also called Apples of Love and are identical to the golden apples of Aphrodite.

Above middle: The ripe black berries of the Deadly Nightshade (Atropa belladonna)

Above right: White or yellow Henbane (Hyoscyamus albus) was consecrated to the god of ora cles, Apollo.

closet of the ladie, they found a Pipe of ointment, wherewith she greased a staffe, upon which she ambled and galloped through thick and thin, when and in what manner she listed." Later, in the fifteenth century, a account stated: "But the vulgar believe and the witches confess, that on certain days and nights they anoint a staff and ride on it to the appointed place or anoint themselves under the arms and in other hairy places and sometimes carry charms under the hair." Porta, a contemporary of Galileo, wrote in 1589 that under the effects of a potion of these solanaceous plants a "man would seem sometimes to be changed into a fish; and flinging out his arms, would swim on the ground; sometimes he would seem to skip up and then to dive down again. Another would believe himself turned into a goose and would eat grass, and beat the ground with his teeth like a goose; now and then sing and . . clap his wings "

Mandrake became famous in magic and witchcraft because of its powerful narcotic effects and the bizarre form of its root. It would be difficult to find a bet. ;r example or the application of the philosophy of the Doctrine of Signa tures. For the root of this herbaceous perennial, unassuming in its growth appearance, is so twisted and branched that it occasionally resembles the human body. This extraordinary resemblance led early to the belief that it exercijed great supernatural powers over the human body and mind, even though actually its chemical composition gave it no greater psychoactivity than some other solanaceous species.

From earliest times, curious beliefs about the need to exercise great care in harvesting the root grew up. Theo-phrastus in the third century b. c. wrote that collectors of medicinal plants drew circles around Mandrake, and they cut off the top part of the root while facing west; the remainder of the root was gathered after the collectors had performed certain dances and recited special formulas. Two centuries earlier, the Greek Pythagoras had described Mandrake root as an anthropomorph, or tiny human being, In Roman times that magic began extensively to be associated with the psychoactive properties of the plant. In the first century a. d., Josephus Flavius wrote that there grew a plant in the Dead Sea area that glowed

Above left: In the Temple of Apollo at Delphi, the "navel of the world," the Sibyl and prophetess informed the Pythia of her oracle after she had inhaled the smoke of Henbane.

Above middle: The root of the Mandrake (Mandragora officinarumi

Above right: The Ginseng s (Panax gin seng) root is not only similar to the Mandrake but in Korea Ginseng root is also attributed with secret and magical powers.

Below left: The sun and oracle god Apollo at a libation in front of a raven (Discovered at Delohi).

red at night and that it was difficult to approach the plant, which hid when a man drew near it; but it could be tamed if urine and menstrual blood were sprinkled on it. It was physically dangerous to pull the plant from the earth, but a dog, ned to the root, was em ployed to extract the root, after which, according to belief, the animal usually died. The myths surrounding Mandrake grew, until it was said that the plant hid by day but shone like a star at night, and that when being pulled from the ground the plant let out such unearthly shrieks that whc^ver heard the noise might die. Eventually, only black dogs—a color denoting evil and death—were employed. Early Christians believed that the Mandrake root was originally cre

ated by God as an experiment before he created man in the Garden of Eden

When, later in the Dark Ages, Mandrake began to be cultivated in centrai Europe, it was thought that the plant would grow only under gallows where urine or semen from the condemned man fell—hence the common German names meaning "gallows man" and "dragon doll."

The apogee of Mandrake's fame seems to have occurred in the late sixteenth century. At this time, the herbalists began to doubt many of the tales associated with the plant. As early as 1526 the English herbalist Turner had denied that all Mandrake roots had a human form and protested against the beliefs connected with its anthropomorphism. Another English herbalist, Gerard, for example, wrote in 1597: "All which dreams and old wives tales you shall henceforth cast out of your books and memory; knowing this, that they are all and everie pari: of them false and most untrue. For I my selfe and my servants also have diggcl up, planted and replanted very many . . ." But many superstitions surround! h-', Mandrake persisted in European folklore even into the nineteenth century

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  • Poppy Grubb
    How to use atropa belladonna for hexing?
    8 years ago

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