Cup of Life, Cup of Death: The Two Hands of the Poisoner

Ding’ sind Gift, und nichts ohn’ Gift; allein die Dosis macht, daß ein Ding kein Gift ist. “All things are poison, and nothing is without poison; only the dose permits something not to be poisonous.” ~Paracelsus

We live in a dangerous world, but most of as aren’t aware of it.  Many think the world around us is ambivalent and is a loving mother, wanting to help us, to protect us, to heal us.  But, as some put it, “our mother is red in tooth and claw.”  There are as many things in this world that can kill us as can heal us, and many times these are the same.

The Online Etymology Dictionary gives this about the origin of the word “poison”:

poison (n.)
c.1200, “a deadly potion or substance,” also figuratively, from O.Fr. puison (12c.) “a drink,” later “a potion, poisonous drink” (14c.), from L. potionem (nom. potio) “a drink,” also “poisonous drink,” from potare “to drink” (see potion). The Old English word was ator (see attercop) or lybb. Slang sense of “alcoholic drink” first attested 1805, Amer.Eng. 

In many Germanic languages “poison” is euphemistically named by a word equivalent to English gift (cf. O.H.G. gift, Dan., Swed. gift; Du. gift, vergift). This choice might have been aided by Gk. dosis “a portion prescribed,” lit. “a giving,” used by Galen and other Greek physicians to mean an amount of medicine (see dose).

You’ll notice that poison comes not originally from something to kill, but from something given to heal.  The more you study herbs, the more you learn that some of the best herbs for healing are some of the nastiest poisons at larger doses.  Choose any poisonous plant.  (WARNING, SOME PARTS BELOW CAN BE DISTURBING TO READ, AND NOTHING HERE IS A RECOMMENDATION TO USE ANY OF THESE PLANTS.)

Take for example my favourite poison, aconite, also known as monkshood, friar’s cap, mousebane, wolfsbane, blue rocket, auld wife’s huid, helmet flower, thung (Anglo-Saxon for any very poisonous plant), and iycotonum (Greek for wolf’s bane).  My herb book of choice, The Herb Book by John Lust, says this for properties and uses:

“Anodyne, febrifuge, seditive.  Monkshood preparations are sometimes used for the pains of neuralgia, sciatica, and arthritis, as well as for gout, rheumatism, measles, nervous fever, and chronic skin problems.  CAUTION:  Monkshood is among the most poisonous of plants.  Small doses can cause painful death in a few hours.”  And in preparation and dosage: “Do not use without medical direction under any circumstances.”

From A Modern Herbal by Mrs. M. Grieve:

“Anodyne, diuretic and diaphoretic. The value of Aconite as a medicine has been more fully realized in modern times, and it now rank as one of our most useful drugs. It is much used in homoeopathy. On account of its very poisonous nature, all medicines obtained from it come, however, under Table 1 of the poison schedule: Aconite is a deadly poison.”

And:

“The symptons of poisoning are tingling and numbness of tongue and mouth and a sensation of ants crawling over the body, nausea and vomiting with epigastric pain, laboured breathing, pulse irregular and weak, skin cold and clammy, features bloodless, giddiness, staggering, mind remains clear. A stomach tube or emetic should be used at once, 20 minims of Tincture of Digitalis given if available, stimulants should be given and if not retained diluted brandy injected per rectum, artificial respiration and friction, patient to be kept lying down.”

And also:

“Some species of Aconite were well known to the ancients as deadly poisons. It was said to be the invention of Hecate from the foam of Cerberus, and it was a species of Aconite that entered into the poison which the old men of the island of Ceos were condemned to drink when they became infirm and no longer of use to the State. Aconite is also supposed to have been the poison that formed the cup which Medea prepared for Theseus. (Note—Aconite and Belladonna were said to be the ingredients in the witches’ ‘Flying ointments.’ Aconite causes irregular action of the heart, and Belladonna produces delirium. These combined symptoms might give a sensation of ‘flying.’—EDITOR)”

Reading the above, you see pretty easily both how dangerous and how beneficial aconite can be.  As it was mentioned in the last quote, let’s look at belladonna next.  Belladonna is also known as black cherry, deadly nightshade, dwale, poison black cherry, devil’s cherry, naughty man’s cherry, divale, devil’s herb, great morel, dwayberry, banewort, atropa (from the Greek Atropos, the Fate who cuts the thread of a human life).  Once again from Lust:

“Antispasmodic, calmative, diaphoretic, diuretic, narcotic.  The narcotic action of belladonna can produce paralysis by affecting the central nervous system.  Not to be used without medical direction.”

Grieve says:

“Belladonna is supposed to have been the plant that poisoned the troops of Marcus Antonius during the Parthian wars. Plutarch gives a graphic account of the strange effects that followed its use.”

And:

“Buchanan relates in his History of Scotland (1582) a tradition that when Duncan I was King of Scotland, the soldiers of Macbeth poisoned a whole army of invading Danes by a liquor mixed with an infusion of Dwale supplied to them during a truce. Suspecting nothing, the invaders drank deeply and were easily overpowered and murdered in their sleep by the Scots.”

Also:

“Thomas Lupton (1585) says: ‘Dwale makes one to sleep while he is cut or burnt by cauterizing.’ Gerard (1597) calls the plant the Sleeping Nightshade, and says the leaves moistened in wine vinegar and laid on the head induce sleep.”

And:

“Narcotic, diuretic, sedative, antispasmodic, mydriatic. Belladonna is a most valuable plant in the treatment of eye diseases, Atropine, obtained during extraction, being its most important constituent on account of its power of dilating the pupil. Atropine will have this effect in whatever way used, whether internally, or injected under the skin, but when dropped into the eye, a much smaller quantity suffices, the tiny discs oculists using for this purpose, before testing their patient’s sight for glasses, being made of gelatine with 1/50000 grain of Atropine in each, the entire disk only weighing 1/50 grain. Scarcely any operation on the eye can safely be performed without the aid of this valuable drug. It is a strong poison, the amount given internally being very minute, 1/200 to 1/100 grain. As an antidote to Opium, Atropine may be injected subcutaneously, and it has also been used in poisoning by Calabar bean and in Chloroform poisoning. It has no action on the voluntary muscles, but the nerve endings in involuntary muscles are paralysed by large doses, the paralysis finally affecting the central nervous system, causing excitement and delirium.”

Once again, we see many helpful uses for this deadly poison.  One more, then we’ll move on.  Foxglove, also know as digitalis (from Latin digitabulum meaning thimble), American foxglove, dead man’s bells, dog’s fingers, fairy fingers, fairy gloves, finger flowers, folks’ glove, lion’s mouth, ladies’ glove, purple foxglove, witches’ glove, gloves of our lady, bloody fingers, virgin’s glove, fairy caps, fairy thimbles, foxes glofa (Anglo-Saxon for the glove of the fox), revbeilde (Norwegian meaning foxbell), fingerhut (German for thimble), and dead man’s thimbles (Ireland).  Lust says:

“Cardiac.  Foxglove contains glycosides which are extracted from the second year’s growth of leaves to make the heart drug digitalis.  Even touching the plant with bare skin has been known to cause rashes, headaches, and nausea.”

And:

“Poison.  Do not use without medical direction.”

From Grieve:

“Digitalis has been used from early times in heart cases. It increases the activity of all forms of muscle tissue, but more especially that of the heart and arterioles, the all-important property of the drug being its action on the circulation. The first consequence of its absorption is a contraction of the heart and arteries, causing a very high rise in the blood pressure.

“After the taking of a moderate dose, the pulse is markedly slowed. Digitalis also causes an irregular pulse to become regular. Added to the greater force of cardiac contraction is a permanent tonic contraction of the organ, so that its internal capacity is reduced, which is a beneficial effect in cases of cardiac dilatation, and it improves the nutrition of the heart by increasing the amount of blood.”

And:

“The action of the drug on the kidneys is of importance only second to its action on the circulation. In small or moderate doses, it is a powerful diuretic and a valuable remedy in dropsy, especially when this is connected with affections of the heart.

“It has also been employed in the treatment of internal haemorrhage, in inflammatory diseases, in delirium tremens, in epilepsy, in acute mania and various other diseases, with real or supposed benefits.

“The action of Digitalis in all the forms in which it is administered should be carefully watched, and when given over a prolonged period it should be employed with caution, as it is liable to accumulate in the system and to manifest its presence all at once by its poisonous action, indicated by the pulse becoming irregular, the blood-pressure low and gastro-intestinal irritation setting in. The constant use of Digitalis, also, by increasing the activity of the heart, leads to hypertrophy of that organ.

“Digitalis is an excellent antidote in Aconite poisoning, given as a hypodermic injection.”

And also:

“In large doses, the action of Digitalis on the circulation will cause various cerebral symptoms, such as seeing all objects blue, and various other disturbances of the special senses. In cases of poisoning by Digitalis, with a very slow and irregular pulse, the administration of Atropine is generally all that is necessary. In the more severe cases, with the very rapid heart-beat, the stomach pump must be used, and drugs may be used which depress and diminish the irritability of the heart, such as chloral and chloroform.”

Once again, like with aconite and belladonna, we see smaller doses of foxglove helping, but larger doses hurting.  This holds true for most poisonous plants, but even holds for non-poisonous plants.  Take for example tarragon, a common herb used in cooking, especially in Italian food, and found in many kitchens.  I use it in all my Italian sauces and I also add it to the water when I cook the noodles.  You can find plenty of breads with it in it.  Lust says:

“Diuretic, emmenagogue, hypnotic, stomachic.  In popular use, tarragon serves to relieve digestive problems and catarrhal difficulties, as a diuretic to stimulate the action of kidneys, and as an emmengogue to promote the onset of menstration.  The tea stimulates the appetite, especially when it has been lost because of illness.  Taking the tea before going to bed helps to overcome insomnia.”

Innocent, non-poisonous, right?  However, tarragon contains a substance known as estragole.  It makes up about 60% of it’s essential oils.  It is found in anise, star anise, basil, bay, chervil, tarragon, fennel, and marjoram, and also in turpentine.  Studies in mice have shown the development of liver tumours from it in large doses, and the way this comes about appears to be consistent between rodents and humans.  While it’s not proven it can cause these tumours in humans, studies imply it is likely.  But we’re talking large doses.  The amount of estagole in the spices used in cooking, or even in tarragon tea, aren’t enough to worry about.  But the point is clear.  Even non-toxic, non-poisonous herbs can be dangerous in large enough quantities.

This also holds true outside herbology and herbalism.

Take alcohol for example.  Studies have shown that a glass of wine a night can help lower blood pressure.  My mother was actually prescribed by a doctor a glass of red wine every night, as was a man I knew.  But, “all things in moderation”, if you drink too much alcohol over time, it can destroy your liver.  And too much at a time can cause alcohol poisoning, resulting in mental confusion, vomiting, seizures resulting from low blood sugar, slowed, irregular breathing, irregular heart beat, dropped body temperature, stupor, coma, choking, stopped breathing, stopped heart beat.  Basically, some alcohol will help your blood pressure, increasing your life span, but too much will kill you.

Or look at caffeine.  Caffeine can increase memory, detox the liver, cleanse the colon, stimulate hair growth, ward off alzheimer’s, ease depression, increase stamina, and many other beneficial things.  But too much can cause nausea, anxiety, heart palpitations, insomnia, sweating, dizziness, vomiting, and even cardiac arrest.  It takes a lot to get enough to cause the more severe of these, and is virtually impossible with caffeine beverages, but can happen.  With pills, it gets more likely, and pure caffeine, it only takes about 500mg for the moderate symptoms.  One gram would kill just about anyone.

Even water shows this.  We all know the effects of not enough water.  Dehydration can cause loss of appetite, dry skin, constipation, increased heart rates, elevated body temperatures, fatigue, headaches, decreased blood pressure, dizziness, fainting, delirium, unconsciousness, swelling of the tongue, and death (a hangover from too much alcohol is actually not the lingering effects of alcohol, but dehydration caused by the alcohol).  So, obviously, we need water.  Water makes up about 72% of our body (about the same percentage as the portion of the earth covered by water), so of course getting enough water is important.  We should drink at least 64 ounces (1.9 litres) of water a day.  But, like all things, too much water is a bad thing as well.  Water poisoning (water intoxication) is caused when too much water is consumed and leaches out or dilutes the sodium and other electrolytes from the body.  In essence, electolytes control osmosis, the process by which water, carrying oxygen and nutrients, passes through the walls of the cells.  Too little electolytes (too much water) causes an imbalance and causes too much water to be taken into the cells, causing them to swell.  This can cause all types of health and other problems.  In the brain, it can cause changes in personality, confusion, strange behaviour, irritability, drowsiness, and sometimes hallucinations.  In the rest of the body, it can cause cramping, nausea, vomiting, weakness, and sensory issues.  It can lead to seizures, brain damage, comas, and death.  Also, pure water, completely void of impurities, like distilled water, can be deadly, because it absorbs just about anything, so will leach the body of minerals it needs to function.  This is why dumping water that is too filtered into rivers can kill fish just as fast if not not faster than polluted water.

But how does all this talk of doses and poisons relate to anything esoteric or similar subjects?  By a much disputed word.  The ancient Hebrew word כָּשַׁף, kashaph, is translated in most versions of both the Christian Bible and the Jewish Torah and Tanakh as either witch or sorcerer/sorceress.  It is considered a primitive root, and all related words are derived from it, not it from any.  Some of these include כֶּשֶׁף, kesheph, only found in plural form, translated as incantations, sorceries, witchcraft, and כַּשָּׁף, kashshaph, translated as sorcerer or enchanter.  Some argue it comes from two words, kash (herb), and hapalah (using), so meant “herb user”.  Kash, however, is found nowhere in the Tanakh, it seems unlikely the Lamed would be dropped from the end of the word, since it is used either as part of a root or as a prefix, never a suffix.  The Heh on the end would indicate a doer, so dropping it would could happen but would imply it being a verb, not a noun.  However, the Septuagint seems to support this meaning, as it translates it φαρμακεύς, pharmakeus.  This was translated as maleficos in Latin, which literally means wrongdoers or criminals but is generally used for sorcerers or magicians.  In English, uses of pharmakeus in the Christian New Testament are translated witch or sorcerer in most cases, matching the English translation of kashaph.  But this word is connected to φαρμακεια, pharmakeia, meaning pharmacy, the practice of making and administering medication.  This fits well with “herb user”, so this implies at least at the time the Septuagint was created, the Jewish understanding of the word was related to medicine and herbolism, not wrongdoing.

Now, many claim this meaning means that the word meant poisoner, but looking back at the root of poison at the top of this discussion, we find our word poison comes from the Latin potio.  Looking at potion, we find, also fro the Online Etymology Dictionary:

potion (n.)
c.1300, from O.Fr. pocion (12c.), from L. potionem (nom. potio) “potion, a drinking,” from potus “drunken,” irregular pp. of potare “to drink,” from PIE root *po-/*pi- “drink” (cf. Skt. pati “drinks;” Gk. pinein “to drink,” poton “that which one drinks,” potos “drinking bout;” O.C.S. piti “to drink,” pivo “beverage”).

All the words potio are related to are words for drinking or a drink.  So the Hebrew word seems to be connected to herbs, and the English word ultimately to drinking.  The use that became potion and poison both imply the mixing of herbs into something that is drunk.  There is no real way to separate the words for poison mixture from those for a healing mixture.  If the assumption that kashaph means poisoner is used, it follows that it is also a word for healer.  There’s no indication of wrong doing in the word in and of itself.

Now, lets look a bit deeper at kashaph, into the letter themselves and see if we find any hints.  The word is Kaph-Shin-Pe.  Literally, Open Hand, Palm – Tooth – Mouth.  Symbolically, Potential – Change – Communication.  Now, there’s some interesting details in the symbolic meanings, of communicating the potential for change, which would imply prophecy, and for bringing for the potential for change by proclaiming it, or communicating with that which has a potential for bringing change.  All these have relevance to the Craft, but they are digging a bit when the goal is the meaning of the word.  Kaph, the open hand, the potential, is the act of giving, like the Germanic words for poison, connected to the Greek dosis, a potion prescribed or given.  Shin, change makes sense, something is given to bring about change.  And Pe, the mouth, that which will bring change is given through the mouth.  This could in fact imply either poison or a drug to heal.  So that meaning does in fact fit.  The other possibility, of course, is that the giving isn’t of medicine or poison to the one needing change, but an offering to a spirit.  An offering to bring about change, combined with speech, muttering, a prayer or incantation.  This of course fits the idea or a sorcerer quite well.  From the meaning of the letters, each is as likely as the other.  Or both.  In a modern context, witchcraft can include either or both of these things.

A bit more mystic, 20 (Kaph) + 300 (Shin) + 800 (final Pe) = 1120, which reduces to 4.  1120 also represents the word for dragons, the word for sought, the word for sermons or lectures, and the word for to regulate or to formulate.  Dragons, that which is sought, that which is conveyed or communicated, that which is organized and analyzed.  With the exception of dragons, these all go together nicely.  Unless, of course, dragons are the spirits or the thing being sought, communicated about, analyzed.

The reduction, of course, 4, is Daleth.  Literally, the Door, figuratively, the humble man, the poor man, whom Gimel runs after to give to.  Daleth receives, both as the humble poor man receiving from Gimel, and as the door, receiving into Beit/Beth, the House.  But our kashaph gave, it didn’t receive.  It gave healing and killing potions.  It gave sacrifices and offerings.  But here, in the hidden heart of the word, we see it receive.  The right hand gives, the left hand receives.  Daleth stands on the left hand of the Tree, connecting Understanding to Severity, Binah to Geburah.  Gimel stands on the right hand of the Tree, connecting Wisdom to Mercy, Chokmah to Chesed.  Chesed is unlimited giving, Geburah is unlimited receiving.  On the surface, kashaph gives, but underneath it receives.  What does this mean?  A witch does not give to the spirits just to make them happy, it is an exchange.  Read the stories of the Fae.  Every time something was given to the Fae, something was received in its place.  And vice versa, every time something was given by the Fae, there was a price.  The witch gives, the witch receives.  An offering is given to the spirit in exchange for something.  For knowledge.  For understanding.  For wisdom.  For power.  Like Odin giving up his eye to Mimir in exchange for a sip of the well that brings wisdom.  He didn’t give his eye for nothing.

But what about the other side?  The witch gives herbs or potions, to change the one asking.  What is received?  Payment of some type.  It was a profession, not a hobby.  You went to a witch for a service, you paid for that service in some way.  In the same way that the witch went to the spirits on your behalf, and the spirits received payment in some way, the witch being the Bridge between you and the spirits.  And a witch didn’t poison for nothing.  It was either paid for by another to poison on their behalf, or it was done by the witch to receive something by doing so.  And remember, everything has a spirit, even the herbs that are used to heal or hurt.

There’s always two sides to everything, but they’re never separate.  The separation is an illusion.  The different between a healing herb and a poison herb is only a matter of use, and of quantity.  I’ve often talked about Yin and Yang, and this another example.  There can be no Yin without Yang or Yang without Yin.  They are the same thing, just two different ends of it.  All things can be divided into Yin and Yang, and all Yin or Yang can be further divided into Yin and Yang.  Yin creates Yang and Yang creates Yin.  Yin transforms Yang, Yang transforms Yin.  Yin is withdrawal, rest, death, ending.  Yang is advancement, motion, life, beginning.  Healing is Yang, it causes increase.  Poison is Yin, to causes decrease.  But Yang turns into Yin with too much of the herb.  Yin turns into Yang if not enough is taken.  Interestingly, too much is a Yang thing, so too much Yang leads to Yin.  Interestingly, too little is a Yin thing, so too little Yin leads to Yang.

Even a doctor uses both Yin and Yang.  Even a doctor causes healing and harm.  The Hippocratic Oath soon becomes the Hypocritic Oath, when medical practice is weighed against the prohibition in the oath  of doing harm to anyone.  If a bone was not set before healing, it has to be re-broken to set it for proper healing.  Cancer is treated by either chemotherapy (poisoning the body to kill the bad cells), or by radiation (sending harmful radiation in the area of the bad cells).  Both of these do harm, both hurt more than just the bad cells.  If a wound gets infected and isn’t treated, or if a wound is too large to repair, sometimes a limb must be removed to save the person.  Harm must sometimes be done to heal.  A doctor, a physician, is both a healer and a poisoner.

There is a common description used in the occult community which I’ve talked about before.  Some traditions, groups, and paths are described as Right Hand Paths and others as Left Hand Paths.  The name originally came from Hindu, but has been applied in the West to many things.  In Hindi tradition, Right Hand is the following of the prohibitions, the taboos, of the writings called the Vedas.  The Right Hand practitioners are described as Vedic practitioners.  Those who deliberately and intentionally break the taboos, following the writings called the Tantras, are Left Hand.  They are described as Tantric practitioners.  There are other Right Hand and Left Hand traditions in India, but these two main ones illustrate the concept well.

The concept gets confused in the West, because it gets conflated with the Right and Left Pillars of the Kabbalic Tree of Life.  This lends to misunderstandings of both the Pillars and the Hands.  The Pillars, as I’ve talked about often, are the Pillar of Mercy (the Pillar of Fire) on the Right and the the Pillar of Severity (the Pillar of Water) on the Left.  Many Westerners stick with the Left-Left, Right-Right language and never understand either enough to see where it breaks down.  The main reason for this is that the Pillar of Mercy, the Right Hand Pillar, is the more masculine side of the Tree and the Pillar of Severity, the Left Hand Pillar, is the more feminine.  This is partly because Kabbalah sees male as the giver and female as the receiver (a la the penis being received into the vagina, the sperm being received into the womb).  In Kabbalah Tree of Life, above gives to below that receives, and right gives to left which receives.  Hence the feminine pillar is on the left and the masculine is on the right.  Most Westerners equate Right Hand with patriarchal religions with male head gods and the Left Hand with matriarchal religions with female head gods.  Also, many Westerners associate Lilith with the Left Hand Path and Goddess Worship and Feminism, all of which have become conflated in the West.  But Lilith in relation to the Left Hand Pillar is part of Judaism and Kabbalah, which are patriarchal with a male god. Lilith is part of the Left Hand Pillar, because she’s part of Geburah, part of Severity, part of Judgement. She is seen as a punishment for sin, not as a liberator.  She kills infants and breeds demons from the semen of men from wet dreams.  Not to say this it the only view of Lilith, or the only valid view, but using her association with the Left Pillar to show it being the Left Hand Path isn’t a successful argument.  Kabbalah has the Right Hand Pillar, the Pillar of Mercy as unlimited expansion, unlimited forgiveness, unlimited mercy, unlimited allowance.  It is the side of no taboos, no rules, no restrictions.  The Left Hand Pillar, the Pillar of Severity is unlimited restriction, unlimited judgement, unlimited severity, unlimited restriction.  It is the side of all taboos, all roles, all restitutions.  The Left Hand Pillar is closest to the Right Hand Path, and the Right Hand Pillar is closest to the Left Hand Path.  But, that, too, doesn’t really work.  The Right and Left Hand Paths are approaches to the Divine.  The Right and Left Hand Pillars are principles of how the universe works.  There is no direct connection between the Pillar and the Paths, they are describing different things.  In our discussion of poison, the Pillars describe the effects of the herb.  Poison is the Left Hand Pillar, it restricts life.  Herbs used for healing is the Right Land Pillar, it expands life.  But the Paths do fit the Pillars when looking at the poisoner and the healer.  The Poisoner is the Left Hand Path, because he breaks the taboo against murder or harm. The Healer is the Right Hand Path, because he follows the taboo.  But the Poisoner functions in the Right Pillar, because he isn’t restricted, even though the poison functions in the Left Pillar.  And the Healer functions in the Left Pillar because he is restricted, even though the healing herb functions in the Right Pillar.  As I said, things get confusing when you try to link the Paths and Pillar.  With the Pillars, ultimately, Right is Yang and Left is Yin.  With the Paths, ultimately, Right is Yin and Left is Yang.

Now, leaving the Pillars behind and going back to the Paths, we have Victor Anderson’s statement, “My magic is two handed.”  This is a direct response to the people claiming traditions as Left Hand traditions and Right Hand traditions.  Some have claimed Feri to be a Left Hand Path.  With that statement, Victor declared it to be both, and neither.

There is a saying heard passed around in the occult community.  It is used in direct opposition of the often quoted line from the published version of the Wiccan Rede, “Eight words the Wiccan Rede fulfill, An it harm none do what ye will.”  The saying is, “Who cannot hex cannot heal,” or, “A witch that can’t hex, can’t heal.”  This statement, while mostly used to separate from Wicca, outlines an underlying truth, which I’ve pointed to in different ways above.  The difference between healing and hexing is intent.  In essence, they are the same thing.  It’s the same energy, same techniques, same processes, whether you’re helping the person or hurting them.

This can be seen with blessings and curses.  A blessing is only a blessing if it gives what the receiver wants or needs.  A curse is only a curse if it gives what the receiver doesn’t want or need.  Take for example healing, whether as a doctor with modern medicine, as a herbalism with herbs, or with a magical method with energy.  There are two ways to heal, with blessing or with curse, with creation or destruction, with help or harm.

The first is the route of blessing, doing something to help, strengthen, grow, a Yang approach.  This is seen with steroids, with stimulate the body to do the desired thing, to heal, to strengthen, to fight off bacteria or virus.  It is seen with vaccines, used to increase the body’s immunity before the sickness.  It’s seen with vitamins and minerals to increase health.  The goal is to increase the good, thereby combating the bad.  It can be seen in magic to help an enemy to get a dream job elsewhere to remove them from where you are.  It can be seen in me giving the dog a treat to get her to leave the cat alone.

The second is the route of cursing, doing something to hurt, to weaken, to shrink, a Yin approach.  This can be seen with antibiotics, a medicine given not to strengthen the body, but to kill the bad bacteria.  Too much, of course, will kill the good bacteria in our body to the point of causing more problems.  It is seen with chemotherapy and radiation treatments for cancer.  It is seen in amputating an arm to save the body.  It can be seen in a spell to make an enemy lose their job, forcing them to leave.  It can be seen in me grabbing the dog and putting her in her crate to get her to leave the cat alone.

An example of a blessing that’s a curse is the much over-quoted Chinese proverb, “May you live in interesting times.”  A curse that’s actually a blessing would be for someone unhappy in there job and needing to move on, making themself miserable, but unwilling to leave out of fear and not wanting the change, to curse them with losing that job.

Back to witchcraft, all magic in my experience is either blessing or cursing, or to put it another way, all magic is loosing or binding.  For binding restricts.  It holds something back, reduces something.  It is Yin.  Cursing is binding, it’s magic that reduces the options, it takes something away.  Loosing releases.  It allows motion, gives choices, expands possibilities.  It is Yang.  Blessing is loosing, it’s magic increases the options, it adds something.  I see all magic, in all its forms, as loosing and binding the Threads of Fate.  These Threads tie us all together, and tie the past to us, and provide our options for the future.  When you bind, when you curse, you tie two or more Threads together, restricting the possibilities in the future.  When you loose, when you bless, you untie some Threads, allowing for more possibilities in the future.  Sometimes less possibilities is really a blessing, because we can’t make any mistakes, and sometimes more possibilities is really a curse, because it can remove some of the protection we have.  When you nail down your property, this is a binding, it restricts the possible futures where you lose what is yours.  This is done for protection, is a major form of protection, actually.  The loosing of that removes the protection.  But that protection also restricts your options.  You *want* to loose those bindings if you want to sell your property and leave that place.  When you nail down the property, you are also nailing yourself to that place.  You are bound to it and it to you.  For good or for bad.

Magic is like poison.  Or, more accurately, like a poisonous herb.  It can be used to heal or to kill, to help or to harm.  It is both a healing draught and a poisoned chalice.  The witch or magician is both healer and poisoner, but for themselves and for others.

This brings to mind Shani Oate’s article, the Poison Chalice, in her book The Star Crossed Serpent II: The Clan of Tubal Cain: The Legacy Continues: Shani Oates (1998-Preset).  She talks about the Graal in its evolution as the Chalice, and the contents as the draught of immortality and as the poisoned elixir.  This leads us to the ecstatic rites of Dionysus, with it’s orgies and horrors, of extremes of life and death, of sex and murder, of tearing and ripping and blood, drinking from the cup of Dionusus.  Of Cerewyn’s Cauldron of Inspiration, the draught within her cauldron which Gwion, her servant, accidentally sipped, and, after she ate him after a shapeshifting dual, becomes the bard Taliesin, the greatest Bard Wales ever knew.  This brings to mind Bran’s Cauldron of Rebirth, Mimir’s Well of Wisdom, Miriam’s Moving Well, Urth’s Well of Destiny, Jacob’s Well, the Roaring Cauldron, Odin’s Mead of Poetry.  Magic is a poisoned draught, a strong poison.  Some can handle it and not die.  Some can handle it enough not to die but are harmed by it in a way that can never be healed, driven insane.  Some drink of it and become poets.  It’s like the Devil’s Seat; if you spend a night on it, you will return dead, mad, or a poet.  This is the poison of magic.  And Witch is both Poisoner and the one poisoned, but also both Healer and the one healed.  As Cochrane put it, the Hunter, the Hunted, and the Roebuck in the Thicket are one.

What heals us can also kill us.  What kills us can also heal us.  The poisonous herb can be the most potent healer.  The best healing herb can be the most deadly of killers.  The cup that heals us, the Cup of Life, is also the cup that kills us, the Cup of Death.  There’s a reason all initiation involves Death.  There is no rebirth if there is no death first.  There is no Yang if there is no Yin first.  Change requires both creation and destruction, both life and death, both healing and hexing, both nourishment and poison.  The path of Witch is one of dangers and delights.  It both heals us and poisons us, with each sip from the cup.

The Poisoner stands before us, a Cup in each hand.  Do we drink of the Cup from Her Left, or the Cup from Her Right?  Does one give life and one give death?  Is one a healing drought and the other dread poison?  Is there a difference?  We must drink.  Which will be choose?

FFF,
~Muninn’s Kiss

2 Replies to “Cup of Life, Cup of Death: The Two Hands of the Poisoner”

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