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PHARMAKO-POEIA - Plant Powers, Poisons and Herbcraft

By Dale Pendell, published by Mercury House at £10.98 (Amazon price) ($19.95). 288pp. ISBN: 1-56279-068-2

There are all sorts of substances which you can use to get out of your head for one purpose or another, and virtually any substance you use to shift your consciousness, magickally or mundanely, will do so by poisoning you to some degree or other. Dale Pendell seems to have tried most of them - organic and inorganic alike. Pendell is a member of a group of West Coast occultists following magick’s Poison Path, the systematic exploration of chemognosis. This is, in short, taken with its companion volume due out this year, perhaps the ultimate handbook of this area of magickal research.

The current volume treats of poisons ranging from wine, spirits and tobacco (What? You’d forgotten these were poisons?) to fossil fuels, from the wormwood of the notorious absinthe to opium and its derivatives, from kava to mead, from salvia divinorum and cannabis to ether and nitrous oxide and more.

And it is not just about getting high in the short term or addicted or seriously damaged, physically or psychologically, in the longer term. At the core of the book is the relationship between the seeker and the teacher or ally. Approached with caution and respect, the teacher teaches wisdom and perception; abused, it turns and shows another face and destroys or enslaves. But then, magick itself is rather like that, isn’t it ...?

This has been a curiously difficult book to review. Pendell‘s style is strangely hypnotic, intangible, poetic and philosophical and at times it has been difficult to decide whether it is he who writes or whether it is the teacher or ally speaking to the reader directly, from the green depths within the plant state. His writing has a dreamlike quality which dances on the page and which glitters with both promise and warning. It is a true magnum opus, the product of half a lifetime’s learning and research and of voyages into strange and timeless places and shows what American magickal writing can be like at its best.

Is this a practical handbook or a curiosity for theorists? That is up to you. In any event, it is not a book for magickal newcomers. I suspect that Uncle Aleister would have loved it and would have been extremely pissed off not to have written it himself.

Many of the substances explored are entirely legal. You can grow them at home, and indications for growing harvesting and dosages are given for a number of them. The follow-up volume, which should be available by the time you read this review, will contain the chapter(s) on the poison plants traditionally associated with European witchcraft.

All in all, a highly recommended addition to the experienced magickian’s bookshelf, but whether it remains a reference work is entirely up to you.