What exactly is a poison? A clear description can be a bit difficult to pin down depending on who you might ask. The modern dictionary describes it as a substance capable of causing illness or death. Some say that a poison is a dangerous collection of compounds to be avoided at all costs. Others suggest that they are substances which simply interfere with normal physiological processes. Some call them powerful medicines or alchemical allies. All of these explanations sound like different responses to magic, as well as medicine. Poisons are certainly full of both if you're willing to seek them out and practice through understanding, patience, and respect.
Poisons, toxins and venoms are found among the advanced naturopaths pharmacopeia, though most people steer clear, and with good reason. For the witch, particularly witches who work with soil and the life cycle it holds, the plethora of poisonous plants offer the chance to connect with a different side of spirit. Take a common neighbor to us here in the Pacific Northwest - the Pacific Yew tree. While being tremendously toxic to animals and humans alike, this shrubby plant also contains a secret power. Medicinally, it contains compounds linked to the halting of cancer cells. Magically, the Yew has strong roots firmly planted in the realm of death. It is a beautiful example of the crossover between magic and medicine that makes plants of all kinds so fascinating, but especially the ones with dangerous reputations that are easy to exploit or misunderstand. When glancing under the surface, there is a history - and a future - of limitless possibilities to connect with these generous plant beings.
For thousands of years, plants such as hemlock, white willow, mandrake, and poppy have been used for pain relief. Magically speaking, these also support a weary heart and heavy energy. Plants are master artists and alchemists. They craft from the spectrum of the sun and moon, painting new realities from the pallet of the earth and celestial realms combined.
Hawthorn berries contain trace amounts of cyanide, making them a plant which, though safe in moderation, might not be found in the everyday households pantry. However, they are also known to be powerful supporters of the heart, magically lifting us from sadness and gently cradling us in the warm embrace that their bright red color evokes. Medicinally they don't stray far from this path of the heart, as they are known to support our cardiovascular system. Much like a vaccine, what we allow ourselves to feel in small quantities could indeed contain a cure in equal measure.
Flowers like datura and foxglove desire attention. You can see it based on their elusive shape, soft nature, and clever form. They also share a short-lived bloom, offering a moment of beauty before retreating back to themselves. They serve but a moment of illumination, something you have to pay attention to and earn as the seasons pass from year to year. Intuitively, their inviting and flirtatious nature is easily sensed. Watch the bees, and see which plants and flowers they interact with regularly. In doing so, we learn to do as they do, and approach these plants with wonder with care. This too is an indicator of an inherent balance we've lost as humans, and as magical beings have a responsibility to return to and restore. As bees also have a relationship with death, acting as magical drifter between the worlds, they have no problems with continuing their annual bond with these poisonous beauties. This suggests that plants which contain poisonous medicines simply wish for us to grow closer and more comfortable with the reality of death as part of life. To seek one without the other is a futile demand.
These plants are here to heal, even if they make us nervous. It's become considered natural to recoil at the notion of death, but poisonous plants, flowers and herbs ask us to sit with the presence of shadow - especially now as the seasons change, and the veil becomes increasingly thin between the worlds. Go ahead and bask in the shade of the night. Spend time with a poisonous plant in your region, and perhaps offer a clipping to your altar. Without any physical ingestion, you can begin establishing relationship with poison on an energetic level. On your altar, place a small bowl of water and include your clipping of plant or flower. Allow this simple essence to rest on your altar, and every day spend time with it. As you begin to listen to this plant, you will receive lessons and insights just for you. What do you perceive as "negative," and what messages of these attributes have you perhaps missed? How does the notion of death make you feel, and how do you honor the cycle of existence? Write down the thoughts you have, as these are shared with the plant itself. Remember, this is a practice that requires respect. Relationship with any plant takes time and care, and the path of poison is no different. Tread thoughtfully, and may your magic guide you.