|The Danse Macabre.|
It was his article about flying ointment that caught my attention. Why? It's a prickly subject, and one I've noticed resurfacing a lot in the Pagan communities. To refine some points here I think that part of the attraction to banes is something our own culture causes itself. If you were to list "witch herbs" the top slots will probably belong to Belladonna, Mandrake, Wormwood and White Sage. None of these are particularly good to ingest.
Part of it is that yearning for "authentic witchiness" that affects some of the Elders just like the Youngers. There's a lot of whimsy and a bit of personal satisfaction when I take a good look at my herb cabinet, I'll admit. Why else would I have hand-labeled on parchment slips and stored in latch-lid apothecary jars?
I do my best not to fault anyone for searching out that external expression of Uber-Witche. It is harkening back to something more "authentic" in our hearts, and I don't think there's anything wrong with that in and of itself, as long as there is something -internal- to support the facade.
When I first started dabbling in Wortcunning and Herbcraft in general, the first plants I "messed with" were White Sage, White Sandalwood, Dragon's blood, Lavender and whatever I could find growing wild on my lawn (mostly lots and lots of Yarrow). What I realized, for myself, was that half the experience of utilizing the herb was coming to know it personally. Just having a raw chunk of Dragon's Blood in my hand breaking it up in my mortar and grinding it to a glittering red grit was -astonishingly- informative.
Watching Yarrow turn from fluffy ground-covery-ferny-stuff to towering stalks covered in creamy white flowering heads reflect a very Mercurial cycle of expanding nerves. Though it's supposed to be venusian (I had to check just to be sure) it's growth is mercurial, it's scent is mercurial and I would not know these things if I had not known the plant alive.
Knowing these plants has made me a better Crafter, but it has not given me a higher "stat" on my "Witchy". I do not hang my self-worth on the nail of "witchiness", like some unfortunate folks do.
And yet... I still understand the drive to own these baneful herbs. In a world where 101 is pretty much all you find without going into a lifelong commitment with a coven there is a NEED to be validated by any and every means out there. Be it wearing hubcap pentacles, posting to forums about your experiments with Goetic evocations, or making yourself a tin of highly deadly flying ointment. Even if you never use it.
There is also another side. The urge to reconnect to a real or perceived history and continuity and culture that (may have) died out.
The Corpses of my Fore-bearers.
I have a little jar of Belladonna berries. It's a small latch-lid apothecary jar. It is labeled with an X with a circle above it (a shorthand skull and crossed bones). The little jar is DEEP in a lockbox next to trinkets and treasures I've collected over the years. Why do I have it? Because someone loved them enough.
I have, throughout my entire magickal training, heard stories and accounts of accused witches dying before the torture even started, or being in a drunken stupor so that no lash stung them. I’ve read accounts of the accused nodding off on the gallows while waiting to kick the wind. An some folks I trust very dearly tell me “They were given Belladonna so that they died without suffering. Someone loved them enough to spare them that.”
Every time I cast Circle, or establish Temple, a little part of my heart is weeping. For housewives, midwives, gentlemen, the elderly, children, cats and pets that happened to be accused of the very act I am legally entitled to do in my country. That little part of me digs through old books and whatever sources I can get my hands on for information on what a few of them were getting up to. Part of me desperately wants them to be proud, and happy, that the things they did are not dead with them and that some day they can return to dance again.
For me, the Dwale is a token. A memorial, and a reminder of the corpses upon which we are blessed to dance.