Poison Hemlock Seeds

Yesterday I spent several hours reading a very dense article about yihudim, the kabbalistic trance technique I mentioned in my Guiding the Dead, Part I post. I’ll be turning those notes into a new post in a couple days.  It was while ideas of combining the names of God were still dancing in my head that I got a phone call from someone who had called the previous day. It was  after closing, as it had been the day before, but I returned the call. I actually wrote about the conversation I then had last night but was really angry when I wrote it, so I decided to take it down and redo it. It was a rant, and one of the things I read in the yihudim article yesterday was how Isaac Luria, probably the most famous kabbalist, considered anger to be detrimental to spiritual purity. I don’t feel that anger is bad; anger often motivated the Prophets, after all, and can be the motor of right and necessary social change. But rants, well, although they are fun for the ranter, they aren’t so great otherwise. So I’ve tried to not rant here.

The caller wanted to know if I had any poison hemlock seeds to sell. I said no (even though I actually have a couple ounces of seeds left–haven’t figured out a good way to dispose of them yet) and explained that I had had too many incidents where buyers had used them to try to kill themselves (in one case succeeding), kill other people, or kill pets, so I no longer sold them. She said, “Not even if someone has cancer?” I said, “Not for any reason.” She went on to ask about a number of other poisonous things, some of which I sell but most I do not, but she had already laid her cards on the table. One she asked about is monkshood root. The version I have of that herb is used in Traditional Chinese Medicine and has been boiled by the manufacturer in salt water to remove a substantial amount of the alkaloids. Even so, it is still poisonous, which is one reason why I sell it in small amounts.  [Actually, the trouble I’ve been having with that lately is people buying it thinking they could plant it and get more monkshoods.:)] In the case of this caller, I had already decided not to sell her anything. I recommended that she get in touch with a practitioner of Traditional Chinese Medicine if she wanted to use that for any medicinal purpose.

The caller finally asked me, “What do you think of people taking their own life?” I responded, “I had a sister who shot herself in the head–what do you think I think?” And this is what really got me: “So, because YOU don’t like it, then you think no one should be allowed to do it?” That’s when I hung up on her.

I’m a merchant, not Dr. Kevorkian. My main customer base is composed of people who use plants and botanicals to do magic. I do have customers who do other things: they use dragonsblood to refinish violins or grow plants to dye homespun yarn or make hand-hardening potions for martial arts. One guy even used my asphaltum to put a historically accurate Victorian finish on his woodwork. It’s plain that I am not set up in business to help people commit suicide. I don’t see how I should be obligated to, either, just because I sell something that is poisonous. Rat poison is available at the grocery store. That doesn’t mean that the grocery store manager should have to tell someone how to commit murder or suicide or kill someone’s pet with it.

I have seen in the past that one of my competitors (actually, he is much bigger than me, but our products overlap) was selling poison hemlock seeds. The last time this issue came up, I thought about contacting him and warning him of the troubles I’d had with it, that he should be on his guard. I didn’t get around to it, but last night I checked, and he is no longer selling it. So I suppose he has had experiences similar to mine.

I’ve always felt that if you treat people like babies, they will act like babies. Conversely, I feel sure that if you demand that people act like adults and take responsibility for their actions, generally they will. And with Alchemy Works, that has usually been so. I feel very strongly that knowledge is not a bomb that people need to be protected from. Instead, I believe that hiding knowledge from people is what is harmful in the end; ignorance is dangerous. That’s why the poison hemlock thing has always made me feel conflicted. I feel very much that people should have access to baneful things and be able to use them responsibly in magic. I don’t sell herbs for health use, but I feel the same way about medicinal herbs–that people should be allowed to buy things that could be dangerous and should be expected to take responsibility for using them right. But this experience with the poison hemlock seeds is making me reconsider selling belladonna or monkshood as herbs to be used in magic, since I can be sure that a few people will buy them for these other purposes, ones I want nothing at all to do with.

Despite my sister’s suicide, I actually feel strongly that people who want to end their lives because they are physically ill should be allowed to do so. But I feel just as strongly that I am not obligated to help them do it. That is my right, just as much as it is someone else’s right to end their life. I don’t like that someone would try to manipulate me or guilt-bait me into supporting their action, especially when I have made known to them my personal feelings about it.

I don’t know what to do about the banefuls anymore. I am tired of this issue coming up repeatedly. I am considering selling them in much smaller amounts, making it much more difficult for them to be used for such purposes.  I’m also considering discontinuing them altogether. Any suggestions would be appreciated.

17 comments to Poison Hemlock Seeds

  • petoskystone

    if you have an attorney friend you could call regarding issues of legal responsibility, i would ask his/her advice, & follow it. the american legal system is so convoluted, if not illogical, i would base any decisions of the selling of banefuls on that advice.

    • herba15

      It’s legal to sell belladonna. Some herbs are specifically illegal, like ma huang in NY (which to me is idiocy, but there ya go). The only restriction on herbs generally, though, is that it’s illegal to sell an herb as a replacement for a controlled substance. That’s how those folks who sell herbal speed or whatnot get into trouble. If I were to sell someone any herb suspecting that they were going to commit a crime with it (and suicide is still a crime in a lot of places), I would be liable legally as an accessory to that crime. This is why I quit selling so many poppy seeds that were for varieties that were grown primarily for medicine. If I sold a poppy seed after someone asked me if the plant contained the most morphine (a question I was frequently asked), legally I could be convicted of being an accessory to manufacturing a controlled substance, because I would have reason to suspect they were going to do that with the resulting plant. It just was more trouble than it was worth to me. I deliberately dropped those seeds and even removed all such keywords as opium, morphine, hallucinogen, and so forth from my site. I just don’t want that kind of business.

      I recently checked on the belladonna issue again after I saw someone selling a flying ointment with belladonna in it. It’s not illegal to sell that. I think it would be dicey to sell a flying ointment with the claim that it was a hallucinogen, since then it would be in the role of a controlled substance.

      I’m probably overly cautious on this issue.

  • I can’t believe that woman had the nerve to demand such a thing from you! Good on you for hanging up on her! Here in Canada it’s not even legal to ship Hemlock seeds or parts within the provinces.

    It’s a pretty grey area. I know another seller who offers monkshood, hemlock, belladonna etc in too large of quantities. I don’t think they ask their customers their purpose for the poisons. I make and sell flying ointments with mandrake and belladonna etc in them, but I am very careful with my dosage and none of my ointments cause hallucinations. Does this prevent some people from buying them? Yes it does. Do I want customers buying my ointments just to get high after I spent all that time ritually crafting them for sacred use? No I do not. I’m brutally honest with any customers that contact me about the potency of my ointments. Sure I get less sales, but I want customers to understand I run a magic shop, not a head shop!

    I also sell some poisonous herb specimens but I too keep the amounts too small for anyone to endanger themselves. I’ve been considering limiting 1 quantity of each specimen per customer so if I sell 1g of henbane leaves per sale a customer can’t order 5 specimens equaling 5g and possibly kill themselves – intentionally or not. When customers contact me for dosage and instructions for specimens I refuse. If they don’t know proper dosage and uses, they shouldn’t be purchasing or using those herbs in the first place.

    I think all we can do as sellers is limit quantities and have damn clear policies and disclaimers.

    • herba15

      Sarah, are all your single banefuls in 1-5g amounts? I’ve been selling the monkshood in 10g amounts, but I think that is too much now.

      Btw, I really respect the work you do with the banefuls in your products. Here, I feel like that is too great a risk to take. Too many morons with lawyers in America.:)

      • I think 10g of monkshood is quite a bit – what would someone use that much for? I only sell henbane and amanita muscaria in 1g amounts. For the henbane 1g is more than enough for a single dose and any more could be dangerous if someone is inhaling or ingesting it. For the amanita I’m not as worried as someone would have to eat 10 or more whole mushrooms to seriously poison themselves but 1-2g is enough to hallucinate depending on a person’s tolerance. However, 1-2g of amanita is also enough to cause severe vomiting and other poisoning symptoms in someone who can’t tolerate it – it won’t kill them, but it won’t be pleasant either.

        The problem with poisonous and psychoactive herbs is that people want an exact dosage and there simply isn’t one for individual plants. People don’t listen and research beforehand and so never learn you should start with a tiny amount to see how you react before upping the amount. Also, just because a plant is found in traditional recipes doesn’t mean we should use it today now that we know better. I would never put monkshood or hemlock in a modern flying ointment recipe!

        I think it’s best to play it safe. I’ll be writing some informational articles just to cover my ass so I can say to someone’s lawyer “but I said not to that in this article clearly linked to in the product listing”, etc. Another idea is to clearly state in your listings and on the products themselves that the specimen is not for a consumption and is meant as a curio only. I know an online head shop based in Oregon that does this to cover their ass and they haven’t had any lawsuits as of yet. I think you do a good job covering yourself with all the great information you include in your listings. I personally love and respect the ethics of your shop and wish other sellers were at the same level.


        • herba15

          It’s true that 10g of monkshood root is a lot. I’ll think about cutting down the size for all of these things. Thanks for the feedback on that.

          I’ve seen the “sold as curios only” kind of thing. I researched quite a bit when I began carrying belladonna. My understanding of the curio thing was that it was intended to prevent prosecution by the postal service for selling magic stuff, which was considered fraud. Now the post office doesn’t care about that. They have bigger fish to fry, I guess, so there is no point in putting such a disclaimer, although luckymojo still does it for the sake, I think, of nostalgia.

          In terms of psychoactives, what I have read is that a disclaimer does not protect the merchant, especially if you have reason to suspect–you don’t even have to KNOW–that a customer is intending to use something you’re selling in a non-curio way. There was a guy selling chemicals a few years back that were not controlled. They were psychoactive but not scheduled. Legally they were no different than sugar. Nor were they dangerous in themselves. He had a disclaimer on his site that they were being sold for scientific research only. It was one of those things where you had to click on it to buy. But he still got shut down and arrested because he had good reason to suspect that his customers were buying these chems to get high with, IOW, to use in place of a controlled substance. There was someone selling poppy pods on ebay also who also got arrested because of course people were buying the pods and extracting the alkaloids in a tea they drank to get high. This is why I have never sold pods, although I think they have great magical potency. This was some years ago, and now for all I know the feds no longer care about such things. And of course in Canada, it is different.

          Something humorous in a dark way along these lines. One time a guy called me because he wanted to know how to ingest the henbane seeds he had bought from me. I became alarmed and said they were deadly poison. He said he knew that but he still wanted to ingest them. I said they were not sold for any such purpose and I would not give him any information and hung up on him. He kept calling me right back and saying he was going to use them anyhow, so I might as well tell him how. I thought he was going to commit suicide with them, because being so naive, at the time it never occurred to me that someone would want to get high from henbane seeds. So I called the sheriff in his county, and they raced over to his house. Turned out he actually wanted to get high from the seeds. Bet he never does anything like that again.:)

  • My mother had cancer. My grandmother had cancer. My grand father had cancer. Not a damned one of them decided to take their own life.

    Do I think people should be able to? Yes. But I don’t think they need to involve other people, especially in such a horrible quagmire of emotions and legalities.

  • It’s really sad that this has to happen. As someone who wants to eventually have a full range of banefulls in his garden, it’s hard to watch idiots drive the most reputable sources to stop selling them.

    I’m still trying to wrap my head around her trying to bully you into a sale. I can understand wanting to help someone through the door (although they’re choosing a nasty way of doing it, honestly), but I wouldn’t go dropping hints left and right to the dude I’m trying to buy my poison from. Christ.

  • Hi Harold,

    Your comments are very thoughtful, and full of respect for others and human life. And I am full of admiration for YOU. Please don’t mistake the anger in your caller’s voice for an emotion directed at you. Anger is an iceberg. The part you see is an illusion. The part you don’t see is the reality of it, and that will almost certainly not have had anything to do with you.

    I remember once I went for a Kirlian Photography session and afterwards, when the man had explained the significance of the picture to me (healer, visionary – purple light over the third eye and cloud of white light round me), he asked me if I had any questions. He had said he was a Jungian Psychologist, which I found very interesting, so I decided to ask him something. I said to him: “Why am I so angry all of the time? I’ve been cross with people on the phone, I snap at everyone. I can’t understand what is going on. Everyone is making me angry.” He said: “If you pick up an orange and squeeze it, what do you get?” I said ‘Orange juice’ and he said “Yes, but why?” I said ‘Because that’s what is inside.’ He said ‘Right. Your anger is already inside you. They are making it visible to you. Whenever you feel someone is ‘making you angry’, as you say, you should be grateful to that person because they are your teacher.’ This led into an interesting talk about why I was angry. You can tell from the nature of my first question that I was very much an infant healer, as it were…. I had not yet flicked on that big switch called Personal Accountability…. 🙂

    Sometimes the greatest gift you can give someone is the one thing they don’t want to hear – and you did that. It takes courage and great faith in Self to do what you did. I always say to my clients ‘Look for what’s underneath the surface – the part of the iceberg you can’t see.’ It is your client’s role to do that. You gave her the opportunity to do it and the choice she makes is her responsibility and not yours. If she chooses to show anger that is her choice and she is free to do it…. It hurts for sure to be on the receiving end of this abuse. I have been experiencing something similar from two people in my family. But, you must stay strong and true. Like an arrow. That is the role we play. It’s what people like us were born to do.

    ….On another level I had an interesting conversation with someone today, a lady who sells vitamins for detoxing. I asked her whether she had noticed that the world is on a major detox at the moment. All the bad banks have been closed down, and many of the others strongly sanctioned and re-structured. It’s as if the wheat has been sorted from the chaff. Here in the UK we have many other processes going on in other, regulated industries which are there to take care of people – health, insurance, pensions – and they are all being re-ordered. Also, I know a huge amount of people, and have encountered in minor ways (in the streets etc) yet more who I don’t know well, but who have all clearly said they are detoxing in one way or another. Even people who were cynical about this when I asked them in previous years. They are all on the same course and various shades of it. This is part of a bigger plan. It is a cosmic thing.

    Unfortunately, the other side of this is that some people will go into destruct rather than renewal mode – believing that they can best deal with the poison in their lives by terminating Self, but that is because they are focussing on the tip of the iceberg – the pain – and not what lies underneath. The cause and how they can address it. I found a moving (and very honest) website about suicide. I recommend everyone in this strand and in your field, Harold, to read it. A person doesn’t have to be tired of living to want to commit suicide. You just have to want the pain to go away enough, and that is an entirely different issue. Most people who are suicidal say they would want to live if they knew it could be pain free or if they felt they could deal with it.

    Everyone has pain, but people who are thinking about suicide, I think have pain in magnified proportions running and little or no resources (that they are aware of) for dealing with it. I have found that handling suicidal tendencies in others is all about addressing shades of pain and helping them to recognise and marshall the strength of their Supreme Self Manager – if you have been chosen to work with them. This is my term for the most empowered part of the human Self.

    You did the right thing, staying in your zone. Be true to that, and you will always be at your best. The website I mentioned is: http://www.metanoia.org.

  • Anthony

    ps you mention selling mugwort….what a wonderful divination herb…gentle, effective, fairly safe. a fantastic, more mild substitute for the more dangerous eye openers….and versatile. wonderful…..

  • Geoffrey Gilbert

    Dear Harry,
    Love to read all your stuff man!!You have been a great teacher to me in all aspects of magic and plants.I would sell the banefuls in smaller amounts.It sucks that there are people bent on suicide or poisoning out there,but they are responsible for their actions,not you my friend.It’s a crazy world!Hope you are well!Take care,Geoff

  • Debbie Ritchi

    Please contact me about the flying potions with hemlock, wolfbane and belladonna etc you make, I am very interested in purchasing some from you…I am working on a batch of my own but am short on some toxic herbs.
    Thank You,
    Debi Ritchi

  • perkysquirrel

    Hi there

    I’m from Ontario, Canada and I grow about 100 medicinal, aromatic and magical herbs in my home gardens. Many of these plants I’ve grown from cuttings and from seed.

    I use the same logic as a bunch of you – I only sell my freshly dried banefuls in small quantities – and I charge more to distract idiots. I also really like the person who created flying ointments that weren’t tripy. Awesome!

    I’ve harvested over 500 belladonna berries this year, and honestly don’t know what I’ll do with them all. In terms of banefuls, 1 grow belladonna, monkshood, poison hemlock, and henbane. I also grow European mandrake, jimson weed, and other morning glory type flowers. Other plants I grow include mugwort, wormwood, gum arabic trees, tea trees, mimosa trees, motherwort, scullcap, feverfew, bee balm, boneset, comfrey, patchouli, diviner’s sage, white sage, witches broom, and a whole bunch of other stuff. I love it. I’m on my 3rd tote of dried plant material and have no idea what to do with it all, because I can only use so much myself.

    I’m soooo glad I found this site and you folks!



  • No matter what our belief system is, most of us here in the West have grown up in a Christian culture and have been indoctrinated to think in Christian ways. One of the results is that we think living life to the farthest moment possible, in spite of the pain it puts upon us and the stress it places upon our families, is the natural way of things. Contrast that with indigenous thinking from old America and Africa, where the old people who could no longer contribute to society went out alone to encounter the wolves, the bears, the lions, the hyenas, and the bad weather. I am not Christian and I have lived my life according to other standards. When my time comes, I hope to die well, on a good day, maybe sit in a nice place and watch the sun come up as I go. I will not expire in a nursing home not knowing who or where I am, and I will not breathe my last breathe bubbling through a tube while hooked up to a morphine drip. My parents chose those courses, that’s their decision. Mine is different. Someday it will be a good day to die. I won’t depend on a site like this to sell me the tools, any sensible person who is cognizant of the natural world can find a way to go peacefully. Some people don’t know water hemlock from carrots, to me there is a huge difference and both are valuable.

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