The Poison Path, also commonly called veneficium, involves the study of poisonous or baneful plants and fungi and their use in human cultures as aphrodisiacs, medicines, recreational highs, divinatory aids, and for magico-religious ceremonies. This reading list is for those interested in learning about traditional ritual entheogens and their use in spirituality to aid in the achievement of ecstasy, trance, shape-shifting, soul-flight, spirit-sight, sex magic, prophetic visions, and mystic communion with deity. These plants are also used in incense, ointment, oil, potion, and sabbat wine recipes to aid in ones magical work. This path is not for everyone and requires extensive research to prevent harm to oneself and others. There is definitely no such thing as too many reference books if you are one of the bane folk.
Besides reading, one of the best ways to gain knowledge and experience is to grow these herbs yourself from seed to better understand them as well as have the raw materials to work with. I would even go as far as to suggest becoming successful at growing them before using them in recipes and rituals as it is my animist belief the plant spirits are less likely to cause you great harm if they have a good personal relationship with you. There are also milder psychoactive plants that aren’t as harmful to work with such as wormwood, mugwort, and wild lettuce and you can choose what kind of flora and fungi you’re most interested in and comfortable with.
In searching for a reading list of books focused on poisons, entheogens, and witchcraft, I came up empty-handed and so decided it was high time I come up with a list myself for others to use for reference. I hope within this list you find books that call to you and best suit the focus of your interests. If you have any favourites that aren’t listed here, please feel free to add them in the comments! If you don’t see well known book that very much belongs on this list, it’s probably because the author turned out to be a misogynist or white supremacist and I removed it.
Books on Aphrodisiacs
Encyclopedia of Aphrodisiacs: Psychoactive Substances for Use in Sexual Practices
By Christian Rätsch and Claudia Müller-Ebeling (Park Street Press, 2013)
If you are mainly interested in incorporating ritual entheogens into your magical practice for sex magic or you specialize in love and lust magic – this is the book for you. It’s gigantic and it’s pricey (it is an encyclopedia after all), but the research that went into each plant profile is worth it. It is full of traditional rituals, preparations, dosages, folklore, history, scientific data, as well as full-colour images.
The Magical and Ritual Uses of Aphrodisiacs
By Richard Alan Miller (Destiny Books, 1985)
Look past its slimness and tacky cover and you will find a book full of psychoactive and aphrodisiac herbs with scientific data on the chemical constituents, effects and side effects of each plant followed by magical and ritual uses and sometimes dosages and recipes. Worthy of special notice here is Miller’s damiana liqueur recipe – I’ve made it to his specification and, even though my damiana wasn’t the freshest, the liqueur tasted divine and disappeared quickly! I highly recommend it as an aphrodisiac to share with your lover at least 30 minutes before getting down to business. The smoking blend recipe called “Yoruba Gold” is also worthy of attention with its easy to obtain ingredients and euphoric cannabis-like effects. I used to make the blend for sale as an aphrodisiac and many a male customer reported a happy wife and a happy life for him. An excellent book to start with for those wishing to explore plants to use for sex magic.
The Sexual Herbal: Prescriptions for Enhancing Love and Passion
By Brigitte Mars (Healing Arts, 2009)
In The Sexual Herbal renowned herbalist Brigitte Mars offers a compendium of herbal, homeopathic, and other holistic remedies to help individuals and couples attract and maintain healthy love relationships and naturally treat sexual dysfunctions. The author provides an in-depth catalog of herbs that enhance sexuality, such as ginseng, licorice, and red raspberry leaf. She also offers recipes for aphrodisiac “superfoods” as well as herbal remedies for both men’s and women’s reproductive health issues–ranging from PMS, menopause, urinary tract infections, erectile dysfunction, and prostate disorders to infertility and STDs. The book includes chapters on Taoist and Tantric exercises for sexual vitality, massage and acupressure techniques, and nutritional supplements and their effects on men’s and women’s respective physiology, as well as recipes for aromatherapy love potions, baths, and perfumes; advice on kissing, foreplay, afterplay, and sexual positions; and suggested feng shui for the bedroom. The author also offers remedies for coping with infidelity, healing a broken heart, finding a mate, and keeping your love alive.
Books on Psychoactive Substances
Encyclopedia of Pyschoactive Plants: Ethnopharmacology and Its Applications
By Christian Rätsch (Park Street Press, 2005)
If you wish to follow the poison path, this is your bible. Within this encyclopedia you are sure to find plants native to your bioregion or used by your ancestors for magic, ritual, and intoxication. I’ve spent many a weekend curled up in a chair lost for hours within its pages. Christian Rätsch is a German anthropologist (with a doctorate in Native American cultures), an ethnopharmacologist, and a prolific author on the subject of psychoactive plants (though many of his works are only available in German). Each entry is full of scientific data and research which is balanced with folklore, magico-religious uses and traditions, as well as recipes and dosages (a rarity among books on entheogens).
Ethnopharmacologic Search For Psychoactive Drugs Volumes I-II
Edited by Dennis McKenna, Sir Ghillean Prance, Benjamin De Loenoen, and Wade Davis (Synergetic Press, 2018)
These two hardcover volumes are not reference books as they appear, but compendiums of scientific papers on psychoactive substances. Volume I is a compilation of the proceedings of the 1967 symposium in San Francisco, California titled “Ethnopharmacological Search For Psychoactive Drugs” and it is now an important historical document containing some ground-breaking studies and discussions for the time period. The second volume is a compendium of scientific papers from a new symposium held on the the 50th anniversary of the original. The second symposium was held in Buckinghamshire in the United Kingdom and this new collection of research is now a piece of modern history with updated scientific data on psychoactive plants and fungi.
The Fascinating World of the Nightshades (aka Nightshades: The Paradoxical Plants)
By Charles B. Heiser (WH Freeman, 1969 & Dover, 1987)
There are two versions of the same book by renowned American ethnobotanist Charles Bixler Heiser. The older hardcover version (a green cover with a black dust jacket with henbane flower) and the blue paperback with a mandrake illustration is the newer, unabridged paperback. I recommend going with the blue one for the extra info in it. Heiser’s work is the only accessible one I have found solely focusing on my beloved nightshades as food and medicine. The nightshade family, also called the Solanaceae family, contains belladonna, brugmansia, datura, henbane, mandrake, and tobacco as well as potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, and petunias. This is an anecdotal botany book that makes a pleasant, easy read and is a great introduction to this globally important plant family.
Hallucinogenic Plants of North America
By Jonathan Ott (Bookpeople, 1977)
From the cover: “As the use of hallucinogenic plants becomes more & more widespread, the controversy concerning their potential dangers and possible benefits becomes less and less rational. New-age utopians defend their psychoactive properties on spiritual & aesthetic grounds, while past-age spokesmen condemn them with moral precepts. Hallucinogenic Plants of North America, in presenting the objective data of current scientific research, is one of the first books to attempt to restore the rationality to this ongoing controversy. This book has been designed both to give the recreational user access to reliable, accurate information on hallucinogenic plants, and to serve as a multi-disciplinary reference source, presenting botanical, chemical, historical, and neuro-pharmacological data for students and laymen alike. Thirty representative hallucinogenic plants, ranging from the rain forests of Puget Sound to the deserts and tropics of Mexico, are described in botanical, chemical and historical terms.”
Hallucinogens and Shamanism
Edited by Michael Harner (Oxford University Press, 1973)
Whatever your opinion of Michael Harner, this early work is a very academic collection of articles on traditional hallucinogenic plants used by pre-Christians of Europe as well as animistic cultures who practice shamanism. It is often the only book you will find in a public library on entheogens. If you have no issue wading through academia to get to the gems of lore and experiences, you will be able to glean a lot of knowledge from this book (keeping in mind it is themain source that circulated the fakelore about flying ointments, brooms, and vaginas).
Herbs & Things: A Compendium of Practical and Exotic Herb Lore
By Jeanne Rose (Perigree Trade, 1973 / Last Gasp, 2011)
Jeanne Roses’ Herbal is an unexpected treasure that would’ve been lost to the magical community if not for its recent reprint due to her current success as a professional herbalist and author. This unconventional herbal has a good section on aphrodisiacs where she’ll teach you how to make a marijuana tincture and a sweet cocaine oil alongside the more conventional recipes using damiana and yohimbe. Have insomnia or a lot of trouble sleeping? Jeanne recommends tisanes which have belladonna, mistletoe, or hash as ingredients. Within the encyclopedic Materia Medica section you’ll find entries on all the well-known poisons and entheogens and even some you’ve never heard of. Each entry covers medicinal usage and nuggets of lore. Hidden in the back of the book is a section titled “The Secrets” which is full of recipes for poisonous flying ointments (most without dosage), amulets, incenses, as well as rituals for summoning spirits and the devil. An excellent and entertaining book for students of both medicinal herbalism and the poison path. The only issue with this book from the early 1970s is the very outdated fat-shaming in her chapter on nutrition and weight loss. Skip it or burn it.
How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence
By Michael Pollan (Penguin Press, 2018)
From the cover: “An adventure into various altered states of consciousness, along with a dive deep into both the latest brain science and the thriving underground community of psychedelic therapists. Pollan sifts the historical record to separate the truth about these mysterious drugs from the myths that have surrounded them since the 1960s, when a handful of psychedelic evangelists inadvertently catalyzed a powerful backlash against what was then a promising field of research.”
The Long Trip: A Prehistory of Psychedelia
By Paul Devereux (Daily Grail Publishing, 2008)
A work focusing on the ritual and spiritual uses of psychoactive plants by prehistoric peoples. From the back cover: “Using a slew of disciplines – including archaeology, anthropology, linguistics, ethnobotany, biology and other fields – The Long Trip strips bare the evidence for the psychedelic experiences of various prehistoric societies and ancient, traditional cultures. It is probably the most comprehensive single volume to look at the use of mind-altering drugs, or entheogens, for ritual and shamanistic purposes throughout humanity’s long story, while casting withering sidelong glances at our own times”. This book is engrossing, fascinating, full of wonderful history, archaeological finds, and lore. The focus is more on the ritual applications of the plants rather than recreational use. It has one of the better sections on flying ointments I have read.
The Magical and Ritual Uses of Herbs
By Richard Alan Miller (Destiny Books, 1983)
This innocuously titled book was once subtitled “A Magical Text on Legal Highs,” and is a perfect beginner’s book to the poison path. Its one flaw is that its focus is mainly on exotic and New World herbs many people may not be able to obtain or be interested in using. What sets Miller’s books apart from others are the sections for each plant on its chemistry, effects, and side effects as well as sections on preparation and ritual use — he goes much further than most authors in his research. At the back of the book is a very useful reference chart which lists the active chemicals, the best preparation methods (tea, tincture, external, etc), and the type of effect (euphoric, hallucinogen, sedative, etc) of many more plants than are covered in the materia medica section (including the solanaceae family). Overall, this book is a practical guide one can actual apply to their magical practice making it worth tracking down a second-hand copy.
The Mystic Mandrake
By C. J. S. Thompson (University Books, 1968)
Some people are just mandrake people, enamoured as they are with this plant, they enter into a monogamous relationship with it as their only poisonous plant ally. As someone who works with mandrake, I can see why, it is the most pleasant and less dangerous herb of the solanaceae family. If you are in love with mandragora officinarum, this is pretty much the only book in existence dedicated solely to its study. It is not a practical book, so do not expect dosages, recipes, or rituals. The Mystic Mandrake is a purely academic work focusing solely on Mandrake’s history and folklore written by the once curator of the Royal College of Surgeons Museum. Despite its impracticality, it is still an excellent source of lore on ancient uses of the mandraRke in magic and medicine that will take you on a global trek of this infamous root’s history. The only other book devoted solely to the mandrake is Scarlet Imprint’s Mandragora anthology mentioned below.
Pharmako/Poeia, Pharmako/Dynamis, and Pharmako/Gnosis
By Dale Pendell (North Atlantic Books, 2010)
Pharmako is the root of pharmacist from the ancient Greek – the Greeks used it to mean herbalist or witch. I describe Dale Pendell’s Pharmako trilogy as an alchemical poetic treatise on the psychoactive properties of plants. In Pendell’s world plants are living breathing sentient beings much wiser and older than ourselves who should be treated with respect and honoured as elders. This trilogy is about Pendell’s own trip down the rabbit hole speaking from the point of views of the shaman, apprentice, and plant spirit. These books themselves are mind-altering — you must change your perception of a book to read them — and you do not come away from reading them unchanged. I consider this series essential to those who would be green or hedge witches and walk the path of poison as they will make you question if you truly wish to do so. As Victor Anderson said “everything worthwhile is dangerous”.
By Jonathan Ott
If you haven’t heard the name Jonathan Ott and you have your feet on the poison path, he is someone you should know. He is one of several men who mainstreamed psychedelics in North America and coined the term “entheogen” along with Carl Ruck and Gordon Wasson. Ott was one of the first to publish the alkaloids found in the solanaceae plant family and what percentage of each tropane was in each part a plant outside of a scientific paper. This is purely a reference / research book as most of his work tends to be!
Plant Intoxicants:A Classic Text on the Use of Mind-Altering Plants
By Baron Ernst von Bibra (Healing Arts Press, 1995)
This pioneering study of psychoactive plants and their role in society, initially published in 1855, is one of the first books to examine the cultivation, preparation, and consumption of the world’s major stimulants and inebriants. It presents a fascinating panorama of the world-wide use of psychoactive plants in the nineteenth century. Complementing and enhancing von Bibra’s work is a full annotation by his modern-day counterpart Jonathan Ott, an ehtnobotanist and the author of Pharmacotheon. A foreword by Martin Haseneier, the world’s foremost authority on von Bibra’s life and work, supplies a biographical sketch and places Plant Inoxicants at the vanguard of popular scientific writing on the role of plants in human culture.
Uses and Abuses of Plant-Derived Smoke: Its Ethnobotany as Hallucinogen, Perfume, Incense, and Medicine
By Marcello Pennacchio, Lara Jefferson, and Kayri Havens (Oxford University Press, 2010)
This is purely an academic reference book, not meant to be read cover to cover, but to use when looking up a specific plant. It is a slim and pricey hardcover, but, if your poisonous interests lay more in the crafting of incense and smudge, it is worth owning. I’ve found some gems of traditional European incense recipes used for magic. It is also full of the historical uses of witches’ favourite psychoactive herbs as incense and fumigations.
Books on Witchcraft and the Poison Path
Plants of the Devil
By Corinne Boyer (Three Hands Press, 2017)
From the publisher: “Plants of the Devil examines the history and magic of herbs associated with Satan and his minions, delving into the folklore of ancient Europe and the British Isles. Included in the book are the diabolical concepts of the Wild Adversary and the Devil’s Garden, Temptation, plants that harm and curse such as Blackberry, Stinging Nettle, Briar Rose, and Thistle, Poisonous Plants, herbs of evil omen, and herbs for protection, or ‘Plants to keep the Dark Prince at bay.’ The book will be of great interest to students of the occult, witchcraft, and plant folklore. The book is illustrated throughout with original illustrations of Marzena Ablewska, known for her evocative characterizations of plants and the sinister feminine.”
Veneficium: Magic, Witchcraft and the Poison Path
By Daniel A. Schulke (Three Hands Press, 2012)
This is one of the very few works out there purely focused on the poison path and the use of poisonous plants in witchcraft, written specifically for practitioners. That said, it is not a functional grimoire like Schulke’s other works, but a book exploring the history and lore of the poison path as well as some of the author’s own experiences (Schulke is known for his love of belladonna). Of particular interest to me is the highlight on Hekate and the poisons associated with her and her worship. Veneficium could be better organized and it is a difficult read, following the tradition of sabbatic witchcraft authors (you may need a Latin dictionary), but I believe it is meant to be more abstract than practical with each chapter presented as a unique essay. However, if you are a fan of works by members of the Cultus Sabbati, this will be a must-own book for you.
Witchcraft Medicine: Healing Arts, Shamanic Practices, and Forbidden Plants
By Claudia Müller-Ebeling, Christian Rätsch, and Wolf-Dieter Storl (Inner Traditions, 2003)
This book is a witch’s dream, especially those who practice ancient Greek magic as the authors give full correspondences from the ancient Greeks for their deities along with traditional ointments and incenses used in ritual to invoke and give offerings to gods. Witchcraft Medicine doesn’t just focus on the Greek however – it also focuses on Celtic and Germanic plant medicine – on the whole, the book covers animism, shamanism, and witchcraft and how they are related. The gem of this book for me are the sections that detail which herbs (including many poisons and entheogens) were sacred to which ancient deities as well as how they were used and descriptions of the rituals. All of the authors have Ph.D’s in their respective fields making this book as full of excellent research as it is beautifully laid out with illustrations and photographs. The only issues with this book are some goddess-worship fakelore incidents (mostly in Storl’s chapters) and a tendency of the authors to make leading or opinion-based statements as facts — though these are few throughout the book. This is more of a coffee table book on witchcraft and ritual entheogens, but much lore can still be gleaned from it and applied to one’s practice.
The Witching Herbs: 13 Essential Plants and Herbs for Your Magical Garden
By Harold Roth (Weiser Books, 2017)
This is an in-depth exploration of 13 essential plants and herbs most closely associated with witchcraft―13 because it’s the witching number and reflects the 13 months of the lunar calendar. The plants are poppy, clary sage, yarrow, rue, hyssop, vervain, mugwort, wormwood, datura, wild tobacco, henbane, belladonna, and mandrake. This book is a great choice for intermediate-to-advanced witches who would like to work more closely with the traditional witching herbs, especially the baneful plants with their rather difficult spirits. Working directly with spirits is one of the fundamentals of the Craft. The Witching Herbs has practical instructions for gardening, rituals, one flying ointment recipe with henbane as the active ingredient, but mainly suggests working sympathetically with the baneful plants.
Books on Psychoactive Fungi
Persephone’s Quest: Entheogens and the Origins of Religion
By R. Gordon Wasson, Stella Kramrisch, Carl Ruck, and Jonathan Ott (Yale University Press, 1992)
This book discusses the role played by psychoactive mushrooms in the religious rituals of ancient Greece, Eurasia, and Mesoamerica. R. Gordon Wasson, an internationally known ethnomycologist who was one of the first to investigate how these mushrooms were venerated and used by different native peoples, here joins with three other scholars to discuss his discoveries about these fungi, which he has called entheogens, or ‘god generated within’. Keep in mind this book, and other titles by R. Gordon Wasson are outdated and some of the theories have been disproven.
Shroom: A Cultural History of the Magic Mushroom
By Andy Letcher (Faber & Faber, 2006)
The world of the magic mushroom is a place where shamans and hippies rub shoulders with psychiatrists, poets, and international bankers. Since its rediscover only fifty years ago, this hallucinogenic fungus, once shunned in the West as the most pernicious of poisons, has inspired a plethora of folktales and urban legends. In this definitive study, Andy Letcher chronicles the history of the magic mushroom — from its use by the Aztecs of Central America and the tribes of Siberia through to the present day — stripping away the myths and taking a critical and humorous look at the drug’s more recent manifestations. Informative, lively, and impeccably researched, Shroom is a unique and engaging exploration of this most extraordinary of psychedelics.
Teonanácatl: Hallucinogenic Mushrooms of North America
By Jonathan Ott (Madrona, 1978)
A reference book of fungi species, their alkaloid content, their historical artifacts, and documented evidence of ritual use by indigenous peoples of North and Central America. If you’re a North American mycophile nerd, this one has your name on it.
Toads and Toadstools: The Natural History, Mythology and Cultural Oddities of This Strange Association
By Adrian Morgan (Ten Speed Press, 1996)
This is a coffee table quality of book for lovers of toads and poisonous mushrooms filled with beautiful colour illustrations and more lore than you can handle. It is full of information on poisonous and hallucinogenic mushrooms, their magical and ritual use, witchcraft associations, and folklore. The toad also gets its own chapters which are the most comprehensive and detailed magical and folkloric sources on toads that I have found. Fly agaric receives its own chapter as do the toadstools of the Old and New Worlds. There is an entire section on flying ointments as well. The added bonus of this book is that the author covers their own experiences in working with the poisons of toads, mushrooms, and ointments on top of covering historical and magical lore. I wish this were available as a hardcover, but the paperback is so beautiful I easily forget my wishful thinking.
- Caras, Roger & Foster, Steven. Peterson’s Field Guide to Venomous Animals and Poisonous Plants: North America North of Mexico
- Dauncey, Elizabeth & Larsson, Sonny. Plants That Kill: A Natural History of the World’s Most Poisonous Plants
- Frohne, Dietrich & Pfander, Hans Jurgen. Poisonous Plants: A Handbook for Doctors, Pharmacists, Toxicologists, Biologists and Veterinarians
- Gardner, Zoë & McGuffin, Michael. American Herbal Products Association’s Botanical Safety Handbook
- Heliophilus. Alchemy Rising: The Green Book. Scarlet Imprint
- Sara, Ruby. Datura: Explorations in Esoteric Poesis
- Sara, Ruby. Mandragora: Further Explorations in Esoteric Poesis
- Stewart, Amy. The Drunken Botanist: The Plants That Create the World’s Great Drinks
- Stewart, Amy. Wicked Plants: The Weed That Killed Lincoln’s Mother and Other Botanical Atrocities
- Turner, Nancy J. & Sczawinski, Adam. Common Poisonous Plants and Mushrooms of North America
- If Witches No Longer Fly: Today’s Pagans and the Solanaceous Plants by Chas S. Clifton
- Plant Hallucinogens As Magical Medicines by Angelika Börsch-Haubold