The Path of Poisons online course


Historical and Anthropological Dimensions of Poison in the Western Tradition


It seems the allure of Poisons is irresistible to us. Despite representing what is dangerous and forbidden, we cannot seem to ever escape their calling; poisons inspire something primeval and powerfully seductive, they offer us the chance to unveil otherwise unfathomable mysteries of our surroundings and ourselves. Humanity and its history are forever linked to poisons.

In this online course, we will address the different masks that Poison has assumed in the western tradition through the ages, and the paths that it has offered to humanity: paths of illumination, paths of life, paths of healing, and paths of death and destruction. We will discover the different manifestations of the poison/medicine dichotomy, the origin of drugs the way we know them today, and their usage within religious and mystical contexts. We will offer a historical and anthropological context in which to place individual experience, perhaps serving as a starting point for interacting with Poisons at a deeper spiritual or mystical level. We have incorporated a practice suggestion each week which we think can help the attendant reflect upon what has been taught in each class.

We think this course can help give cohesion and coherence to the attendants’ practice (whether it revolves around sorcery, magic, herbalism, alchemy, or witchcraft) by adding a long-forgotten and yet crucial element: the mysteric key of Poison.

Course Syllabus

Part I: The Hands of Gods: Poisons in Ancient and Early Medieval Times

  • Introduction
  • Pharmakós and phármakon
  • Ritual usage of drugs in mysteric rites
  • Shifting the Paradigm: Poison becomes the enemy
  • Veneficium or the gifts of Venus
  • Practice I

First, we will talk about the classical idea of ​​the pharmakós, a structural term in which Poison and cure, magic and science are fused together. This concept would change its meaning over time. We will unveil the mysteries of initiatory paths like the Eleusinian or Dionysian mysteries, and the resurgence of veneficium as one of the first instances of the systematic prosecution of poisons, whose mastery and knowledge would quickly be related to Witchcraft.

Main plants/allies that will be commented and analysed in this unit:

  • opium poppy
  • reed
  • barley
  • hops
  • fly agaric
  • ergot
  • Syrian rue
  • cannabis
  • vine

Part II: The Gifts of the Devil: Poisons and witchcraft

  • Metzina and Metzineria: the medieval pharmakós
  • The Witches’ Ointment
  • Deadly and not so deadly nightshades
  • Practice II

In the second class, we will deal with the interesting relationship between poisons and witchcraft, the elusive and inspiring concept of the medieval metzina, the origins and interpretations of the infamous witches’ ointment, and the consequences of dealing with certain hexing herbs belonging to the nightshade family (henbane, belladonna, thornapple, and mandragora).

Main plants/allies that will be commented and analysed in this unit:

  • belladonna
  • thornapple
  • scopolia
  • henbane
  • mandrake

Part III: The Quest for a Vision: Post-Enlightenment and the Poison Path

  • Paracelsus: “sola dosis facit venenum”
  • Poisons in alchemy
  • Consequences of rationalism: Pharmacratic inquisition and the psychedelic culture
  • The poison path
  • How to, when to, where to?
  • Practice III

In the third lesson, we will talk about the different changes in the social and spiritual paradigm of poisons and drugs, and how theological and political elites have modified our usage and perception of Poisons until the present day, going from the empirical view of the Enlightenment, Paracelsus’ contributions to our current-day conceptions of medicine and toxicology, the enigmatic teachings of alchemy, the revisionist approach of the psychedelic culture, and the current mystique of the Poison Path.

Main plants/allies that will be commented and analysed in this unit:

  • toad venom
  • aconite/monkshood
  • foxglove
  • hemlock
  • yew
  • white hellebore
  • black hellebore

*Each part of this course includes a series of practice suggestions for which you will not need any materials.

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