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The Llewellyn Encyclopedia

Baneful Herbs and Flying Ointments

This article was written by Scott Cunningham on January 06, 2004
posted under Baneful

One of the darkest chapters in the history of herbs has been in the traditional usages of "baneful" (poisonous) herbs. Such herbs, including henbane, hemlock, hellebore, mandrake and datura, were popular in Renaissance magic for inducing visions, creating the illusion of psychic awareness, drawing love, tormenting the mind and even dulling the pain of those about to be executed for the "crime" of magic.

Baneful herbs found a ready place in magic due to their specific chemical structures. These plants contain specialized chemical compounds that produce hallucinations, and it was their savage ability to affect the brain that led to their use in ointments, salves, incenses and other magical concoctions.

Though these herbs can easily cause permanent mental illness, bodily injury, or even death, they were utilized in magic for many centuries.

Perhaps the most famous use of baneful herbs was in the preparation of the "flying ointments." These salves were created by heating baneful herbs in fat. The resulting ointment was rubbed onto the body, and the anointee often laid before a fire and hallucinated. The hallucinations often contained the incredibly realistic sensation of flying. Wild fantasies were fulfilled during such hallucinogenic trips.

Some today state that flying ointments were actually used to facilitate astral projection (the conscious separation of the mind from the body to enable the mind to freely move throughout time and space). If so, the use of such deadly ointments was a dangerous and unsure method. They should not be tried today. (Astral projection is best attained through perseverance and hard work. Drugs can’t force this process, for drugs affect the mind—which must be perfectly clear for the projection to be meaningful, and for the memories of the experience to be accessible.)
There are other, more innocuous uses of baneful herbs. Many have medicinal applications. Some were added to magical talismans. Several were once used to attract love. But these powerful, potent plants are best left alone: they can quickly kill. Besides, "getting high" has nothing to do with herb magic.

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