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.