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Traditional Entheogenic and Intoxicating Substances in the Mediterranean Area

June 9, 2010

Speech of Dr. Josep Maria Fericgla in the International Conference on Entheogenic substances in San Francisco, USA, in 1996.

Dr. Josep Mª Fericgla
MGS-Universitat de Barcelona
Societat d’Etnopsicologia Aplicada i Estudis Cognitius

In the first place, I’d like to thank Jonathan Ott and Rob Montgomery for inviting me to be a part of this conference. In a way, I feel at home here. I’d like to remind you again that this is the third conference that’s been held since, in 1992, a much smaller group of friends and colleagues met in San Luis Potosi, Mexico. I’m really pleased that these meetings continue to be held and improve over the years. I’m also pleased that after the conference held exactly two years ago in Spain, Jonathan has picked up the torch and organized this third one. This way an agreement among friends to have it alternate between Spain and America is kept.

Much has been said and written about the use of entheogenic substances in the traditional American world. For that reason I want to take advantage of the opportunity of my talk today. I’m not going to dedicate it to anthropological theory about modified states of consciousness, which is the subject that I’m currently researching. Instead, I’ve prepared a talk to illustrate for you that in our Mediterranean societies there has also traditionally been an abundant use of phytochemical resources to modify states of consciousness at will.

The problem with research in the Old World is that the majority of the traditions regarding the preparation of the entheogens and the identification of the specific substances used have been lost in the storms of modern history– with the exception of alcoholic drinks. There, we don’t have at our disposal exotic ethnic minorities like in North and especially in South and Central America, with their shamans– the old wise man who knows about medicinal plants, and the woman of the tribe who knows the secrets of their preparation.

In Europe, we are recovering knowledge about the entheogenic substances used in ancient times, but all traces of the popular rites in which entheogenic substances were consumed have been lost. We only know something about the most famous ancient rites, like the Greek ones of Eleusis and Samothrace. In other words, in Mediterranean Europe the traditional use of entheogenic substances has only survived in very, very marginal places where there are still some elderly people of the mountainous regions who take them in a recreational, individual way. Of course, I’m not referring here to the new generations interested in the subject, the majority of whom are a product of the psychedelic experience of thirty years ago, and not of ancestral traditions.

For this reason, I’m dedicating today’s talk to making a quick presentation of the eleven substances with psychoactive potential most habitually used in the ancient traditions of the Mediterranean world: ten plants and one animal. I’m not going to talk about the consumption of alcoholic substances or tobacco. There’s already a lot written about that.

1) Let’s begin with mushrooms. The ethnohistory of the Western Mediterranean basin shows the extensive use of the intoxicating mushroom Amanita muscaria. It’s a well-known, large mushroom, red on the outside with white spots. In the western Mediterranean basin it has various popular names whose meaning itself is significant: the majority turn on the name “wild bird”– in English it’s known as “fly agaric.” Its psychoactive ingredient is ibothenic acid transformed in muscimol by the mushroom drying process. There are no traces of its consumption as part of a quest for sacred intoxication in the Mediterranean area, but there is abundant evidence of its recreational consumption throughout history. Even today it plays an important role in the magic and child-related iconography of the whole northern Mediterranean. This allows us to think of a prehistoric origin related to animistic practices and beliefs within a shamanic cultural context which has disappeared.

For the majority of the present Mediterranean population, the intoxicating properties of this mushroom are unknown, and it is considered extremely poisonous. In spite of this, the tradition which relates Amanita muscaria to the hidden or magic dimensions of an unknown reality has persisted. Thus we see that the urban children of various Mediterranean countries even today continue to include mushroom iconography within the repertoire of children’s drawings. It’s normal in schools for children to draw red mushrooms in which they say that gnomes or elves live.

By this I want to point out a noticeable cultural contradiction. On one hand, we’re talking about a mushroom considered the most poisonous, but on the other hand people aren’t disgusted by it– they even greatly appreciate it. It’s a warm and affectionate image which children often draw to represent the homes of the wonderful gnomes or elves of the forest.

By the same token, in the Mediterranean area, it’s also common to manufacture things related to illusion, children’s magic, or fantasy which have the basic shape and unmistakable color of Amanita muscaria. Those of us from that part of the world experience it as something deeply warm and familiar; gift and toy manufacturers know it and sell many objects with the image of this mushroom, even without knowing that it’s an entheogenic mushroom. It’s done by tradition.

On these slides I’ll show you some of the objects that anyone can find in a gift shop or a toy shop…

In this sense, with Amanita muscaria a common phenomenon in anthropology is demonstrated. If they are sufficiently important, when sacred elements lose their central role for the society which kept them alive, they almost never just disappear into the depths of time and forgetfulness. Instead, the symbols and practices which made up the manifestation of sacred worship become a part of the recreational world of the society which had lived through it. This is a known phenomenon called “obliteration.”

Among the most significant manifestations linked to the traditional consumption of Amanita muscaria in the western Mediterranean is the Catalan expression “estar tocat del bolet.” This expression, “to be touched by the mushroom,” even today maintains an enormous vitality. In Catalonia, everyone knows what this traditional phrase means and it’s applied to people whose behavior doesn’t quite fit in with the accepted standards. But it’s not a pejorative expression, like “to be drugged out” or “to be a nut.” “To be touched by the mushroom” is a statement which implies friendliness and complicity– in Catalonia it might be applied, say, to someone who’s madly in love and who does cute little quirky things.

Some years ago I researched this subject and the results showed the relationship that exists between the psychological effects produced by the consumption of Amanita muscaria and all of the familiar cultural cosmos connected to it. In the course of this research I also found, much to my surprise, that the traditional consumption of Amanita muscaria in Catalonia and the south of France is not only reflected in symbolic and figurative carryovers, like those I just described. I also found some men who live in the Pyrenees Mountains, which separate France and Spain, who even today turn themselves over to the intoxicating effects of this mushroom some time each year, when it appears in the fall in the birch and black pine forests. Of course they are neither old hippies nor people interested in entheogens, as I suppose are the majority of us here today. Instead they are European people who take them halfway on the sly because they know that “it might be forbidden,” but who learned it from their grandparents and like to get intoxicated this way once in awhile.

On the other hand, on the basis of various projects completed, we can affirm with little doubt that there is a direct relationship between micophilic societies and the territories where Amanita muscaria grows. With a few exceptions, in the European areas where this intoxicating mushroom doesn’t grow, the traditional attitude of its inhabitants is one of micophobia and one of contempt and ignorance regarding mushrooms. It would take too long to discuss here all of the arguments which point to this parallel between the consumption of Amanita muscaria and micophilia. The fact that people who live in territories where Amanita muscaria grows know that if in the fall someone behaves irregularly after eating mushrooms it may simply be a case of accidental ingestion of Amanita muscaria or another intoxicating mushroom like Amanita pantherina, and that they don’t worry in spite of rigid traditional taboos on its consumption, is significant enough. People who really appreciate mushrooms know perfectly well which ones are really poisonous and which ones aren’t, whatever may be said.

There are also other entheogenic mushrooms in the Mediterranean area whose traditional consumption has left some small traces. Basically, I’m referring to Psilocybe semilanceata, a specimen whose active ingredient is psilocybin. If there is no information in the Mediterranean basin about its ancient use, on the basis of recent research by Dr. A. Gari we can conclude with reasonable certainty that Psilocybe semilanceata formed a part the psychoactive pharmacopoeia used in the popular culture of the medieval Spanish witches.

Indication of its probable use in this no longer existent context has been extracted from two objects used by witches in the fifteenth and the nineteenth centuries, medallions which bear the image of these mushrooms. They might also be linked to prechristian practices of witchcraft.

In the next slide, you’ll see one of these medallions. It’s from the fifteenth century and was found among various objects which the Catholic church of the epoch confiscated from women accused of witchcraft.

As you can see, the devil appears in the form of an imp framed by a horseshoe and there are clearly mushrooms at his feet. Probably they are Psilocybe semilanceata. This family of entheogenic mushrooms is well-known and often consumed in Central America–but, I repeat, apart from these medallions there is no mention of its use either in Spanish documents about witches or in oral tradition. At most, the mushroom’s popular name in Basque is also revealing: sorguin zorrotz (” witch’s beak”) which could refer to the little nipple which the upper part of the cap of this mushroom has, and to its consumption by ancient witches.

Contrary to Amanita muscaria, Psilocybe semilanceata is widely known in the European Anglo-Saxon world, where it has the significant popular name “freedom cap”, an unmistakable reference to the mental effects which it produces.

There are also other types of psychoactive mushrooms with verified entheogenic effects which grow in the Mediterranean area ( Panaeolus Cyanescens, Stropharia Cubensis, etc.). However, there is no information about their traditional use, although plenty of modern day youths know about their effects and look for them in the mountains for their own consumption.

2) The second entheogen I’m going to talk about is “harmaga” or “Syrian rue” in Spanish. It’s the famous Moroccan hârmel, from which comes the scientific name, Peganum harmala.

The area where the most P.harmala grows and is consumed is in northern Africa, from Morocco to Syria– in other words all along the southern part of the Mediterranean basin. Without a doubt, it was the most consumed entheogen in ancient times, as it is today. This plant also grows in Spain, and was used for various purposes which I will summarize.

As you already know, the seeds of the P. harmala plant contain psychoactive betacarbolinic alkaloids in an enormous proportion which can reach 4 percent of its dry weight. Decades ago, it was discovered that one of these alkaloids, harmine, is exactly the same substance which Banisteriopsis caapi, one of the elements of ayahuasca, contains. This is a substance that I’ve been researching for years.

Summarizing the various uses of Peranum harmala, one can say that harmine chlorohydrate is a narcotic used in current medicine to treat lethargic encephalitis. However, it also has other traditional therapeutic uses, as it has potent anthelmintic and sudorific effects; it is also used for physical and psychic tiredness. In Castile, Spain, until a few decades ago, they used to make a special wine from macerating Harmal seeds in normal grape wine. The goal of this process was to create a state of intoxication which was effective against depressed states of mind. Probably, this practice continues privately today.

On the other hand, in Morocco and other places along the south of the Mediterranean basin there is a custom of boiling fifteen grams of the seed in a mixture of water and thirty percent lemon juice. Afterwards, this is dried in the sun and the resulting paste is smoked mixed with tobacco in order to reach a state of extreme sensitivity and sexual energy.

Also in Morocco P. Harmala is used to make a famous shampoo which prevents baldness (and it seems that there really are very few bald Moroccans). It’s also an important element in certain practices of witchcraft about which there has still been little research done.

So, P. Harmala plays an important role in the folk medicine of the areas where it grows, which indicates an old and probably semi-sacred use in all of Northern Africa and part of Southern Europe (from Spain to Greece).

This semi-sacred use, as I have commented, continues especially among the Moroccans and Arabs, where it is used by witches, and by people in general, to protect themselves from demon attacks. It is also used, significantly, to protect oneself from those who speak badly of others. Thus, from Morocco to Turkey the seeds of P. harmala constitute a sort of panacea sold by kilos in the market which also, apart from therapeutic uses, is especially used as a narcotic which provides states of intense happiness and a pleasant drowsiness.

Currently, the most widespread way of ingesting the alkaloids of the P. harmala seeds in the southern Mediterranean is smoking them, but especially by throwing a handful on the embers of the hearth fire and then throwing on top a piece of the mineral Alumbre potásico (aluminum hydrate sulfate), called chépba in Moroccan. Then the smoke produced by the combination is inhaled.

Theoretically, the use of this mineral seems innocuous from a psychoactive point of view. It’s a porous mineral and has a known bactericidal action. This explains why the Moroccans have the habit of putting a piece in the same container where they put the P. harmala seeds, perhaps to avoid bacterial contamination. However, there is no clear explanation as to its incineration. Maybe it’s a good water-absorption diffuser and its use allows the seeds to burn more slowly; maybe because of its porosity it acts as an amalgamator.

3) The third intoxicating plant that I’d like to mention is called “Devil’s tomato” or “Moorish weed,” which you can see in this slide. It’s Solanum villosum. This plant is often mistaken for Solanum nigrum, and often comments are made about the two without the pertinent, and very necessary, distinctions. S. nigrum bears some relatively appetizing and sweet black fruits, although it sometimes takes on an orangish or brown color which causes the historical confusion between the two varieties. The glucoalkaloid contained by different types of Solanum found in the wild gives it its sweetish flavor as well as a slightly narcotic effect which has made adolescents of various epochs consume it with delight. One of the varieties of Solanum is S. lycopersicum, known universally for its bright, red fruit: the tomato.

About S. villosum, we can only say that it contains psychoactive ingredients much stronger than its cousins, and that its effects were known by the classical Greeks and Romans. The Roman writer of the first century, Pliny the Elder, left us a work about plants in which he states that he doesn’t want to say anything about S. villosum because he ” deals with remedies and not with poisons”– but he adds mischievously for the knowledgeable and the curious that a few drops of the juice of this plant are enough to disturb one’s reason. He also notes that the ancient Greeks used this plant as an entheogen: “It’s said,” affirms Pliny, ” that a dose of one drachma provokes lascivious imaginations, fantastic visions which seem real; a double dose, a real craziness; and whatever greater dose, death.”

Recently, I’ve been able to gather some testimony about a final carryover of the consumption of this entheogen on the famous island of Majorca, and I don’t know whether it could also be found in the other Balearic islands. Some Majorcan peasants keep the berries of S. villosum in closed jars and they recommend insistently not to consume “Devil’s tomato” even though they store it. This attitude shows their tacit knowledge of and their interest in the use of these fruits since, naturally, if it weren’t the case they wouldn’t go to the trouble of drying and storing the berries.

The following entheogen traditionally used in the Mediterranean, to which I will refer, is the famous Datura family, particularly Datura estramonium. This plant family is sister to the American Brugmansia, with which you are already familiar. In Spanish, Datura estramonium receives the significant popular names of ” hell’s fig,” “devil’s eggplant”, and infinite others which include many references to craziness, devils, and saints.

Datura estramonium was very widely used in the Mediterranean traditions. It’s a big plant which reaches a height of one and a half meters. It grows in the little-cared-for gardens of all of the Mediterranean basin, near the waste dumps, and even on the most heavily-frequented beaches — next to the more fashionable bikinis and suntan lotions. It characteristically has white, bell-shaped flowers, green prickly fruits, and an especially strong medicine smell.

It can be said that D. stramonium is one of the few existing hallucinogenic plants, in the strict sense of the word, since its consumption produces a modification of consciousness so strong that it leads to a total loss of contact with the environment. It contains l-hyoscyamine, reaching up to .5 per cent of its dry weight; this alkaloid tends to be found transformed into atropine. Beside this, both alkaloids are commonly found accompanied by a certain amount of scopolamine.

Due to the high proportion of alkaloids which it produces, stramonium has been often used in medicine, especially as a hypnotic and in the treatment of asthma. Until this century, cigarettes made from the leaves of stramonium were the most effective known remedy for a persistent cough or asthma.

If we speak about the history of stramonium, it can be said that it has a confusing origin. On one hand, it was one of the most frequently-used psychoactive ingredients used in the brews cooked up by Mediterranean witches; according to some authors, it originally comes from the lands near the Caspian Sea, in the Near East. On the other hand, some researchers claim that it’s a plant of Mexican origin, which didn’t enter Europe until 1577, through Spain. If the second hypothesis is true, we would have to conclude that the consumption of stramonium spread with a strange and extraordinary rapidity through European folk and magical culture. I won’t insist any more on detailing this argument about its origin, but it is important—if it really is a Mexican plant brought to Europe during the first voyages of the colonial epoch, it would imply that in Europe there was a network of exchange of knowledge about entheogens much more solid than is supposed today.

The physical effects of atropine and hyoscyamine are very intense and now I’ll describe them in detail. You all probably know that both alkaloids begin by paralyzing the vagus, the trachea, and the nerves of the involuntary nervous system. The visions and psychoactive effects associated with stramonium are probably related to this paralysis of the parasympathetic nervous system.

Without a doubt, it’s due to its high toxicity that Datura estramonium is generally ingested by people through their skin and through their mucous membranes. In some cases, the plant’s raw sap is used; in others, ointments are elaborated with this and other plants. It was this second system application which generated the old image of the witch flying on a broomstick: effectively the European women rubbed the stramonium-based potions that they brewed into their vaginal mucous membranes, using a stick for intravaginal application. Since the intoxication appears within a few moments, the women felt the sensation that they were flying while riding the stick.

On the other hand, the visions induced by the consumption of stramonium are more related to experiences of flying than other psychotropic substances. It produces an intense sensation that the intoxicated individual is flying in other dimensions of reality where he or she encounters new people and situations, but one especially gets the feeling of being able to know what is happening in faraway worlds. That’s why the Inquisition Tribunal often accused European witches of knowing of events that had happened far away from them, and that this could only be done with the help of the Devil—which was a good reason to burn them alive. Meanwhile, the witches claimed to have this knowledge thanks to the secrets of the potions that they used.

With reference to stramonium, there’s another important aspect to comment on. The complex psychoactive compounds used in Europe between the thirteenth and nineteenth centuries demonstrate an important cumulation of knowledge referring to the use of entheogens; besides the psychotropic substances, they used activating elements like soot and coal, and regulatory and purifying substances like wild celery, parsley, and cinquefoil to counter the toxicity of certain natural entheogens.

1)    The fifth plant to which I will refer is belladonna, Atropa Belladonna. It also was much-used as an entheogen in Spanish witchcraft traditions and in Europe in general. In Spain its use was very well-known, in spite of the rarity of this solanaceous plant in the Iberian Peninsula, where it only grows in the beech and oak forests of the Pyrenees and pre-Pyrenees areas.

Its leaves contain a great quantity of potent psychoactive substances (like hyoscyamine and atropine), and have historically been another of the substances most used to modify states of consciousness—from the Mediterranean basin to central Europe. Thus, for example, the wise man Dioscorides of antiquity affirmed that drinking the extract of the quantity of belladonna that fit in a drachma (the Greek coin) caused one to enter into states of insanity and to experience certain pleasant imaginations which could be understood as if they were dreams.

Inebriety by belladonna was also frequent among adolescents in the European places where it grows, as they used to eat its sweet fruits which are similar to grapes. Another detail which gives an idea of its importance is that in Spain (in spite of its relative scarcity), it was so widely used in traditional pharmacology that there is even a current Ministerial Order, from the year 1949, which prohibits the gathering of wild belladonna. And I’m talking about fifty years ago, when there still weren’t any prohibitions on the consumption of entheogens.

I’ve already commented on the way that atropine and hyoscyamine act: it paralyzes the involuntary nervous system, but apart from this, belladonna also dilates the pupils a great deal, and the eyes acquire a brilliant and very pretty tone. This is where the popular name “belladonna” (which means “beautiful girl” in English) comes from, as this plant was christened in Italy in the Middle Ages. There it was used as a feminine cosmetic to enhance one’s eyes.

In Europe there are plenty of old and very funny stories which talk about the use of this entheogen by women to satisfy themselves sexually, cheating on their husbands with men who appeared to them in visions after having taken belladonna.

With reference to belladonna alone, writings have been found which speak of grinding between 30 and 200 grams of dry leaves, or between 30 and 120 grams of the root, and then later ingesting it orally or smoking it. Nevertheless, the majority of the information conserved about the use of belladonna speaks of it as one of the active components used in combination with others to create complex entheogenic potions. As I’ve mentioned before, in these mixtures, entheogenic substances were included with other detoxifying and regulatory substances. To illustrate my point, look in the following slide at the detailed composition of the so-called Electuario Satánico. As you see, it contains six different entheogens, as well as other plants which are probably stabilizers and potentiators of the effect.

1)    The next intoxicating plant extensively used in the Mediterranean since ancient times is opium, Papaver somniferum. The plant is commonly known in Spanish as “dormidera,” which comes from the word for “sleep” (unlike the English word “poppy”) — and it is thus differentiated from the resin, which is known as “opium.” I don’t want to go on too much about this specimen because it’s already universally known. I only want to remind you that Papaver somniferum is the natural source of the multiple opiate derivatives which we know, and that its applications are so extensive that it practically deserves the title of “sole medicine:”

The resin of the poppy contains an extraordinary quantity of alkaloids—not only in variety, but in amount: according to Wehmer, the narcotine and morphine together account for 16 percent of the weight of Papaver, and all the other alkaloids add up to another 1 percent.

From a historical point of view, in the Mediterranean latitudes the use of poppy goes back to the year 3000 BC, when it seems that it arrived in Greece from a more Eastern location.

In the Mediterranean basin the white-flowered variety of the poppy grows, which produces smaller capsules than the red variety—although it’s also easy to find the red-flowered variety. And until the second half of the twentieth century, it was very common to plant various poppy plants in family gardens for the family’s own use. It was taken to fight insomnia, toothache, and earaches; it was also used to calm children when they cried too long, and as a general analgesic. In the Mediterranean even today it is common to use the seeds to decorate homemade cakes, and the dried capsules — like those shown in the slide—are used to make dried bouquets to use as centerpieces on tables. Also, until recently, poppy was taken for intoxicating and narcotic purposes. Presently there are many peasants who continue cultivating poppy for their own consumption, but they know that it’s forbidden and they hide it. If the Spanish police discover a garden with some opium plants, they don’t usually do anything to the farmer, they only tell them to pull them up because there are addicts who could come to steal them—and that’s it. On the other hand, if the same police find a young person with this little plantation they might even turn him or her over to a judge.

In spite of all this, the primary use of opium as an intoxicant occurred, and still occurs today, in the eastern part of the Mediterranean: in Turkey (despite current strict prohibition), Iran, and ex-Yugoslavia—and of course its consumption increases even more if we turn to the countries of the Middle and Far East.

1)    The next narcotic plant traditionally used is henbane or “crazy weed”, Hyoscyamus niger L. Like other Mediterranean plants which have the same vision-provoking potential, henbane contains l-hyoscyamine converted to a greater or lesser degree into atropine and scopolamine.

It’s another of those plants which have been used as an intoxicant throughout the history of the Old World. This is due to its wide spontaneous geographic diffusion, since it’s very easy to cultivate. Its wide diffusion was also probably favored by the fact that the alkaloids penetrate directly through the skin and the mucous membranes, facilitating its administration.

As for its physiological and psychoactive effects, I won’t repeat them, but they are the same ones that I’ve already described when speaking of belladonna and stramonium. Henbane also produces a special sensation of great corporeal lightness, of losing weight to such a point as to be able to float in the air at will. This sensation is so vivid that it was also immortalized by the same legends of flying witches.

Henbane was probably the plant most used as an entheogen in medieval European witchcraft traditions. There are lots of funny stories about its use by the people as an intoxicant and as a soporific—there’s a saying in Spanish that “he who eats henbane won’t go without sleeping.” To recount just one anecdote about it, I’ll explain that during the long medieval centuries, the Gypsies used to throw henbane seeds on the coals in the public bath houses to get the bathers into a stupor and steal their purses.

Like the other entheogens that I have mentioned, henbane has often been used as a remedy for the treatment of diverse pathologies because it mitigates physical pain, causes forgetfulness, and calms spiritual pain by submerging the intoxicated subject in complete unconsciousness. For this very reason there are words in Spanish derived from the Spanish word for this plant, such as “embeleñar” and “embelesar”, which mean to suspend, seize, or captivate someone’s senses for whatever reason. There are also some linguists who maintain that the Spanish word for poison, “veneno,” comes from this plant. The common word for Hyoscyamus seems to be rooted in the name “Belenos,” a Gallic divinity who liked to take henbane very much. In Egypt henbane also appears in the Eber Papyrus, in the year 1500 BC, and it is suggested in various works that the priestesses of Delphos made their prophecies while intoxicated by henbane smoke.

1)    Another of the narcotic recourses used in Mediterranean traditions was of animal origin: the toad, Bufo s.p.. The use of this animal for entheogenic ends has also been reported in South America. Its glands contain a substance called bufotenin which is still used today in medicine as a hallucinogen.

Throughout the Middle Ages this was another natural chemical resource which was known and used by witches. Some detailed references to the use of bufotenin appear in the accusations of five witches of Fago (in Aragon, Spain) tried around 1657. From some notes written about the trial held by the Inquisition before burning them alive, the following was extracted: “the accused said that she had a toad and they whipped it with heather branches, they took what they made it squirt out, they rubbed themselves with it and went wherever they wanted.”

In Catalonia, a present-day carryover of the human use of toads remains. Until only thirty years ago in the Pyrenees range a form of popular justice called “sandbagging” was applied. This consisted of punishing petty delinquents in the very villages where they were caught, without the necessity of turning them over to regular justice. To carry out the punishment, a woman’s stocking was filled with sand, and the convict was beaten with it on the back and chest for a pre-set time. This way, the convict was left sore for several days without causing serious wounds. But if the punishment deserved was greater, the villagers put a live toad in the stocking with the sand; this left the convict not only with the physical pain of the blows, but also made him or her forget what had happened during those hours and gave possibly terrifying visions which augmented the punishment.

Curiously, among the parts of the body where the thick liquid extracted from the toad was applied, the genitals never appear. It’s strange because this part of the body is the point of greatest physiological absorption and is where witches applied the rest of the ointments which I’ve mentioned. I’ve never tried it, but probably bufotenin is fairly irritating and it may even go so far as to cause pain, which would be why it was never applied this way in spite of its toxicity.

1)    To finish up, and only as a short commentary, I want to talk about the old use of Cannabis indica o sativa, and about the lettuce that we eat in our salads. Neither of these two substances is truly vision-provoking, but they have certain narcotic qualities which have been known and profited from for ages in the Mediterranean area.

As archaeology has verified, hemp was the first plant to be cultivated by human beings; in the Mediterranean it was and is still used to extract vegetable fibers to make ropes and fabric, and for its entheogenous effects. Since ancient times, there have been recipes to eat it, to absorb its smoke, to drink it in teas, etc.

As for the humble lettuce, it is fitting to mention that the white, milky latex that the plant secretes when it is ripe dries quickly and takes on an ochre color. It is this sharply bitter latex which makes the plant inedible when it is mature; it also contains the greatest number of narcotic ingredients known of and used in various mixtures cooked up by the pharmacists of yesteryear. All over the Mediterranean area, the use of lettuce by the people to induce a state of drowsiness in adults and children has been registered. In Spain, specifically, there is an old remedy of giving a pair of green lettuce leaves to children who cry at night so that they will fall asleep.

Thus in the medieval centuries when witches were using complex psychoactive formulas, as in the current century, pharmacists used the same compounds with naturally similar effects. The difference was that while the Holy Inquisition was burning witches, pharmacists were backed up by the orthodoxy in power.

To finish with an example: at the beginning of the seventeenth century, Tablets of Roscellus became famous as sleeping pills– in the next and last slide you will see its formula. It is almost a complete list of the plants which caused thousands of poor women accused of witchcraft to be burned at the stake, while in the hands of others they became the origin of wealth and prestige.

In the same epoch, the monks of Cister, of Cluny, the Carthusians, and other religious orders strived to perfect the alcoholic beverages which today we can savor with such enviable perfection — Belgian beers, Catalonian cava, and French champagne, stomach liqueurs whose saintly names indicate their origin, and muscatels derived from table wines. What a pity it would have been if they had been lost in the shadows of history!

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. June 16, 2010 10:08:15 pm

    psychedelics help us relate to a new reality. it’s very interesting when you become the scientist. check out my site if you get a chance, i think you’ll like it.


    • bob permalink
      June 21, 2010 10:08:32 pm

      Re: alternate reality?

      At this point in time, I think it’s more important for us to relate to the reality we have.


  1. Solanaceae, Hyoscyamus albus, white henbane, diskiamos (modern Greek), dontochorton (Cyprus), sikran (Morocco), yellow henbane «
  2. Flightpath : Entheogens | faerybone


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