Veneficium, the crime of poisoning, has a documented 4500 year history of which I knew very little before opening this fascinating book by Melusine Draco. We all have a vague notion that poison was used to execute and murder in bygone days and that somehow there is a connection with poison potions and magic. Tracing the recorded history of poison from the execution of Socrates with Hemlock to poison arrows to Romeo and Juliet to the House of Borgia to the Chambre Ardente Affair, you will get a great overview. Brace yourself for some stomach turning descriptions of executions and death and some sordid royal scandals.
The frequency of poisonings became such a concern in medieval Europe that known antidotes to common poisons were published, the rich used testers for their food, bought proving trees, employed special protective tableware and rings with bezoar. The poor used the far cheaper talismans and amulets at their disposal. It is a little disheartening to realize how petty people were in the day when proving guilt or cause of death was an art more than a science.
The Chapter Poisonous Flora is an in depth look at poisonous plants common to Britain. Some of these plants are known in America too. The plant's habitat is described and sometimes its foliage or physical characteristics but there are no pictures to aid in identification. Historical uses that no one is likely to wish to replicate will add anecdotes to your dinner party banter. For example, crushed buttercup flowers were applied to the skin of beggars to give them pitiable and hopefully profitable boils. Some of the plants known as poisons turn out to not be very toxic.
The magical propensities of each plant, if they have any, distinguish Wolfsbane & Mandrake from the average herbal. Need to know how to ritually purify swords with poisonous plants? That's covered. Snake charming? Check. The usual banishing, protecting, luck and cursing can also be found. There isn't an index but it is a short book and the magical propensities are printed in bold so it is easy enough to find.
The last chapter Cursing vs. Bottling explains why you would do one or the other and the consequences. The method for stopping gossip and slander using hair and nail clippings, saliva, a photograph and bittersweet berries and leaves is reminiscent of American hoodoo practice as is the treatment for spiteful people utilizing urine. I noticed in the bibliography there are no books on hoodoo listed and did a little research. It would appear that this is one of the crossroads where traditional British folk magic meets American conjure.
Recommended not just as an entertaining look at the history but also as a well researched guide to the utilization of poisonous plants in magic
~review by Larissa Carlson Viana
Author: Mélusine Draco
Moon Books, 2017
pp. 83, $10.95