The Poisonous Path: Nightshade

The Poisonous Path: Nightshade

Pake Nielson

We often spend so much of our lives trying to structure the perfect life, with the perfect routines, perfect lifestyles, and perfect relationships. It's in our pursuit of happiness that we tend to ironically frustrate and over-exert ourselves to the point of collapse. At some point, one must step back and see if it can stand on its own. And often, it does not. It's easy to think that if only I had had more control, things would have worked out better. And so we begin again preparing for the worst in every way possible. 

We box ourselves in and back ourselves into corners thinking we are more secure this way. The survivor mentality hides us away in a cage of our own making. This isn't necessarily a trap, for it only remains a trap as long as you keep the door locked. In order to unfold, all one has to do is to let what will fall away. Trying to hold everything together won't serve us in the end. And that perfect life you’ve been working for only keeps you in pursuit of happiness. One must learn to take a step back and realize there is already so much to enjoy right in front of us. 

On some level, we have always known this, and as if by our own hands the structures we work so hard to build begin to crumble before us. All that is unnecessary and ingenuine falls away, and we are left with humbling ruins and a sense of a new beginning. Maybe you will enjoy your journey this time, maybe you will only end up frustrating yourself again. It is created in the steps of our feet, the creation of our hands, and the destruction of our minds. 

Destruction is often viewed as being baneful and unfortunate; it's very rarely seen as something constructive in our society. However, destruction is a natural part of this world, just as much as creation. Learning how to destroy things is just as important as learning how to create them. Otherwise, you might find yourself stuck in stagnation, boxed up by your own restricting ambitions. When an herbalist feels restrained, they might turn to their plant guides or plant allies. It's rooted in the idea that the essence of a plant is not so simply captured by that of a purely physical medium. Instead, this calls for the examination of the character of a plant's relations. How it has existed alongside humanity and the roles it plays in the animal and plant kingdoms. 

Whether these leafy greens are teachers of life or death can only be discovered by those who find themselves in familiarity. This is more applicable than you might think at first, after all, you do have a favorite flower, don't you? Or maybe there is a plant that your family is particularly fond of? Plants have existed long before us and they will continue to inhabit this world long after us. They are infinitely wiser than we know. They live to benefit all life in one way or another, and there are even some who seem to exist purely to destroy it. Each can be a guide along the path you travel, may you lesson well. 

Deadly Nightshade - Atropa belladonna 

One of the most esteemed green guides of destruction is none other than Atropa belladonna, more commonly known as Deadly Nightshade. When you begin to research poisonous plants without a doubt this plant will be on every list you come across. Nightshade is in fact so deadly that it was named after the third and final Moirai of the Greek pantheon - Atropos. The Moirai - also known as the three fates - are responsible for deciding the destiny of all mortal life. Atropos is the last of three, who cuts the cord when a person meets their fate. She has strong ties to death, and as such, a fitting name for such a deadly plant. 

Nightshade belongs to the Solanaceae family, which contains over 2,500 species of plants. One of the largest plant families, the Solanaceae contains some of the most nurturing and deadly plants known. From potatoes to deadly Datura, the Solanaceae family is one of the greatest allies and enemies of mankind. And it is their diversity in nutrients that make members such as Datura and Nightshade so deadly. There comes a point when the plant’s complexity becomes too powerful for our bodies to break down, often resulting in toxification and death. 

It is not uncommon to find Nightshade growing near you. She grows best near cool, damp areas, such as slow-running rivers, ponds, and bogs. Nightshade is also a perennial, meaning that the plant survives the winter months by storing its energy underground in its root system, and flowers each year during its season. Don’t get too friendly with this one should you stumble across it. This plant is called deadly for a reason, its range of affliction varies from rashes and blisters, to vomiting, bleeding, and even suffocation. All parts of this plant are considered poisonous, with the berries and the roots being the most potent.

Nightshade in Pagan Lore and Witchcraft 

Among the most interesting character traits of Nightshade is that of flight, found in its relationship with pagan lore and witchcraft. It’s foretold that witches, shamans, druids, and practitioners across the world adorned themselves with herbal mixtures, often containing nightshade, as a means of flight. Whether this was flight by broomstick or more spiritual means is unclear; however, the latter is more likely. This is likely due to the hallucinogenic properties of Nightshade, the means of which are easy enough to achieve, and when paired with other entheogenic plants, such as Hellsborne and Datura, can make for a very lifting, psychoactive trip. It should be noted that trying to replicate a flight adornment at home without any prior training and experience with toxic herbs would be potentially fatal. 

As deadly as this plant, is it is also considered a plant ally or guardian by many, myself included. I lived next to a river growing up and we were told never to pick the purple flowers, instead just to admire them from afar. As funny as it may seem, the phenomenon of synchronicity would have it that I discovered a thicket of Nightshade in the backyard of my current home, a day after I started writing this piece. 

Thank you for joining us on the Poisonous Path this month, and during times of great change and transformation, know that destruction implies creation. Let the towers crumble and surrender to the process. We are going to build something greater from the rubble and ruin.

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