Part 3 of a 4 Part series involving magic, politics, hallucinogens, and ritual work.
Via Gods & Radicals:
Let’s talk about drugs. Almost all of our drugs, or at least their ancestral form, come from plants, here though I want to talk more specifically about entheogenic plants. The use of plants and fungi (everyone forgets the fungi), have a long and well documented history amongst almost all human cultures for religious and magical purposes. A year ago, a God tried to get my attention and succeeded, and in the intervening time I have come to know him as a God of many things, one of which is ecstasy. As I work in a botanic institution I have access to (probably) the world’s best botanical and mycological library and its resources, so I set out to do some homework. The classic enthogenic plant family is theSolanaceae; the nightshade family which provides us with a dizzying array of food plants (and is the third most important agricultural plant family after the grasses – Poaceae – and the pea/bean family – Fabaceae). In addition to food staples, this family also has some of the most interesting poisonous and toxic plants like Mandragora, Hyoscymusand Atropa. These plants contain a suite of biologically active alkaloid tropane compounds, all of which function by interfering with various parts of the nervous system. As topical salves – the well-known ‘Flying Ointments’ offer a safer means of experimenting and seeing what these plants offer. That said, there are still significant risks to the healthy let alone those with heart or kidney problems. Personally, they aren’t a group of entheogens I think are sensible to experiment with given the safer alternatives.
So, moving on to a different set of plants which also offer something to the budding entheonaut. Thujone is another compound which offers great opportunities for trance work. Thujone is best known as the active ingredient in absinthe, with wormwood being the contributing plant in the absinthe production process. It used to be thought that absinthe induced hallucinations and psychosis and so it was outlawed in many countries, however it seems that this is largely now considered a fabrication as there are no biological actions by thujone of parts of the brain which could be thought of as being hallucination inducing. In addition, from studies and research, there was never that much thujone in the original absinthes anyway. Practically speaking, thujone is found is some pretty common plants; wormwood (Artemisia absinthum), mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris), tansy (Tanacetum vulgare), oregano (Oreganum vulgare) and even mint (Mentha spicata), but the highest levels of thujone are found in common kitchen sage (Salvia officinalis). In Sage essential oil, just over 40% is thujone, for Wormwood and Mugwort, 40% or thereabouts. 30mg/kg of body-weight (3g for a 100kg person) will probably induce muscle spasms, 45mg of thujone per kg of body-weight (4.5g for a 100kg person) stands a good chance of killing them if taken orally, and 60mg/kg will definitely kill. I have been trying out incenses with mugwort over the past 6 months, and have also made use of mugwort salves to aid in trancework. Luckily I work with people open to this and they are happy to join in with the experiment. The results are fantastic; thujone in the form of mugwort salves and incense heighten trance work. Rather than create the experience, it acts more to aid and facilitate the experience, the best way to explain it is to say it acts like the turbo boost on a car engine; giving that extra shove, that extra kick rather than being the engine itself. This is borne out by the way thujone works on the nervous system; it makes nerve transmission easier and interferes with the natural nerve-innervation regulation processes. Bearing in mind the quantities given above, it should be fairly straightforward to experiment with mugwort teas (1 teaspoon in a mug to begin with – use honey or sugar, the tea tastes rank) or essential oils turned into salves or diluted with carrier oils….
As witches, we meet our gods in other places, in altered spaces and strange times. We dance with them, we clap our hands at them and we stamp out feet beside them. We bang out drums, we whoop our voices and we thrash and dance and jump and sway with them. Our relationship with drugs is totally fucked up; we are sold caffeine on every street and yet cannabis is pushed to the street corner or back alley. We are sold all manner of body and mind altering stimulants to keep us productive, to keep is calm, to keep us happy and yet have to turn to the criminal dealers for different types of drugs that do the same thing. I am not suggesting we legalise heroin or cocaine; there is a whole tangled web of exploitation and suffering stretched across the globe within which people find themselves willingly or unwillingly trapped. It is not a simple thing to simply legalise them all. I am however suggesting we begin to mend our damaged relationship with plants and take them with us to the sabbat on the hill, or on the heath or in the cave. Once again make them part of our rituals and let them carry us away to dance with our gods and thunder through the night-time at the heels of the Hunt.