Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Hallucinogens of Europe

Europe has a reputation of distrust of any intoxicant besides alcohol, due to the overbearing influence of the Catholic church, and then its intolerance for hallucinogen use in the conquered areas of the New World. It is certainly less rich in hallucinogenic species than Central and South America.

But is this true? It has come to light that Europe has more hallucinogenic plant species than most people know about. Besides the ancient use of opium and hashish, Europeans had a lot of hallucinogenic (but often dangerous) drugs at their disposal.

FLY AGARIC is a mushroom native to the Siberian and Scandinavian regions, used in traditional shamanic ways by the inhabitants thereof. They are used in traditional Lithuanian marriage ceremonies in isolated areas to this day. Symptoms include nausea, twitching, drowsiness, salivation, hallucinations, euphoria, seizures, and overdose can result in coma. Often, one person would eat the raw mushroom and the others would drink his urine a few hours later. The active ingredient would remain unchanged in the urine, while the more harmful substances were filtered out, giving the second-hand trippers a purer and stronger trip with less ill side effects.

ERGOT is a fungus that grows on rye, and is most famously blamed for the accusations of the Salem Witch Trials. It is theorized to be one of the substances that was used by the Eleusinian Mysteries cult in Greece, which was connected with the worship of Dionysus. Symptoms include gangrene, hallucinations, irrational behavior, convulsions, death, uterine contractions (making it a useful purveyor of abortions), nausea, and unconsciousness.

The next five plants were common ingredients in witches brews, leading some scholars to believe that medieval witches actually believed that they committed the crimes they confessed to, and they also share symptoms with recorded accounts of werewolves (like staggering and cottonmouth). Witches were susceptible to set and setting just like hippies, so when they tripped on the Sabbat or the full moon, if they expected to grow fangs or attend a demonic orgy, they generally would. The strength of conviction in their ignorance and superstition just made this tendency stronger. Interestingly, the only thing that differentiates witches from shamans is that they only used hallucinogens occasionally, on their Sabbat, and practiced their magic rituals sober. Shamans, on the other hand, do their magic under the influence.

The plants share the active ingredients atropine, hyoscyamine, and scopolamine, which can be absorbed by the skin. Therefore, to take a trip witches would rub these compounds on sensitive skin when they wanted to take a trip. In fact, it has been documented that the iconic broomsticks may have been used as dildos to slather ointment on the vaginal membranes for a quicker and more efficient onset. Unconsciousness would set in as the visions began, which often had erotic connotations. Atropine is used in modern medicine as an antispasmodic, an antisecretory, and as a cardiac stimulant.

HENBANE was common near prehistoric settlements in Britain, and was used in continental Europe and the Middle East before it spread to the British Isles. It is an anesthetic and a hallucinogen, and causes restlessness, visual hallucinations, and vivid sensations of flight, corroborated by more modern users.

MANDRAKE is a depressant, a hallucinogen, and an aphrodisiac. Since the roots often resembled human body parts, it was the focus of many myths and was attributed many magical powers.

DATURA, the group that includes Jimson Weed, the thorn apple, and more, has a long history of use in India and may have been responsible for the Oracle at Delphi. It grows on every continent, and can be mixed with cannabis and smoked. Its effects include delirium (an inability to distinguish between reality and the imagination), hyperthermia, an increased heart rate, bizarre behavior, pupil dilation, photophobia, and amnesia.

HEMLOCK, famous for causing the death of Socrates, is a highly poisonous sedative.

BELLADONNA's name comes from the custom of Italian women who dripped its sap into their eyes, causing the pupil to dilate and create a glassy stare that was considered attractive. It is highly poisonous and can cause dilated pupils, sensitivity to light, blurred vision, increase in heart rate, loss of balance, staggering, headache, rash, flushing, dry mouth, slurred speech, urinary retention, constipation, confusion, hallucinations, delusions, and convulsions.

Apparently, Europe is rich with hallucinogens that it quickly became socially unacceptable to use. Therefore, its users incriminated themselves by attributing their miraculous visions to evil forces. Unfortunately, this witch hunt continues today: the irrational distrust of the social outcasts who choose communion with nature, forbidden sex, and mind-altering drugs.

Hallucinogenic Plants: The Golden Guide
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