Thoughts on the Poison Path - Part 1

Daniel Schulke, VENEFICIUM, Three Hands Press 2012 - click to enlarge

Reading Daniel Schulke's VENEFICIUM is a bit like talking a walk early in the morning, when the fields are still covered in fog. It's the time when it is most easy to loose your way and much of the beauty of the land is still hidden behind clouds of mist. It can be a beautiful walk or it can really piss you off if you are trying to get somewhere.

The challenge VENEFICIUM poses to the reader - as with many books about the Path of Crooked Sorcery - is one of language. It constantly chooses sophistication over clarity of tone - and thus evokes the impression the author is trying hard to underline that he is aiming to speak to an academic audience - what of course he might not be. Even in academic circles, however, it has become a bad habit to choose a latinised version of a word over a plain English one if they are saying the same thing. All it does is to create fog. Thus reading the book - or the articles it consists of - at times can feel like a narcissistic journey of self-adoration and the actual content can easily get lost behind a cloud of words.  

On the other hand, Mr. Schulke has some very rare and highly intelligent things to say about the paths of poison and magic and their many little-explored intersections. These are quite remarkable gems I haven not found shared in any other books on magic. Beside the above mentioned tone, Mr. Schulke's voice also speaks of a life-time of authentic and deeply genuine magical practice, following secret paths that not many of us have walked before. It is because of these gems of insights, of deeply personal, arcane knowledge that I absolutely recommend reading his book. 


 In addition I want to share what I personally learned from VENEFICIUM and my subsequent meditations. The Poison Path still is a concept little explored in its relation to ceremonial or visionary magic. In this regard Mr. Schulke is unlocking a heavy door for us, full of dust and little used in recent centuries. It might be worth following him into the morning scenery that lies behind. If you choose to - consider these posts the closest thing I can offer to a map. A map that aims to make it easier to follow your path through the strange landscape in the morning fog... 

Poison, definition: In the context of biology, poisons are substances that cause disturbances to organisms, usually by chemical reaction or other activity on the molecular scale, when a sufficient quantity is absorbed by an organism. (source: Wikipedia)

From a magical point of view you cannot talk about the nature of poison without talking about the nature of the magical chalice. They truly are two sides of one coin, reflecting the inside and the outside, container and contained.

The interplay of these two forces is mutual and necessary as they depend on each other. In its most general magical term poison can be described as an external stimulus introduced into a body whose being and boundaries are forced into a process of adoption that would not have been initiated otherwise. Poison is injected through a bite, a spike, a thorn, through any sort of material or non-material opening in the boundaries of the being. And it triggers a change, a process of events that would have continued to lie in potential otherwise. Poison is a spark that sets off a fire. A fire that can consume and burn out its container until nothing is left behind. Or it can be contained and burn bright enough to release the seeds that were kept from shooting otherwise...

There is no true magic that one can use on oneself or others without the use of poison. It’s just that all of these poisons carry a consciousness of their own and we started to call them many names. We found names and hierarchies and orders and ancestries among these poison beings, these living waters ready to fill the vessel that we are. So what is the nature of the poison we are talking about?

As a human beings each of us is built to fit in. On all levels of our being we are designed to blend in, to become one with the hugely complex system we are a part of, called nature. Our bodies, our senses and even our communities are build to blend in, to organically, instinctually interact with and adopt to their natural environment. Our nature is to be seeded, to grow, to flourish and to die in accordance with the rhythm that passes through us and our environment and shapes all things as they take form. As the Bible tells us there is only one thing that stands out - we call it free will. While all of nature is a vessel that is organically filled by the matching filling, humans have a choice - a choice about whose container they chose to become. 

A different, maybe more appropriate word for vessel or container in this context is shell, which can be translated as ‘qlippoth’ in Hebrew. That is what we truly are: a shell, a qlippoth, that has just about enough consciousness to chose its charge. This is the one feature that makes us unique - and allows us to (half-)consciously interact with a system, its sub-components and myriads of beings, that otherwise would work perfectly without our interference. 

And this is what makes the concept of Poison so essential to our actions and to our magical ones more specifically: As humans we can chose to be filled by forces which set processes into motion that would have slept in silence and potential for aeons potentially, yet certainly beyond our death otherwise. It is poison that allows us to pierce through the veil of Paroketh, to cross the treasure-house of images in Yesod and to walk up all the way up to Tiphareth and the Abyss and beyond. That is, as long as our container is both resilient and nimble enough to adjust to the forces contained. Poison always poses a question of readiness to embark on a journey of transformation. Transformation being a process that cuts deep, all the way from the boundary of our being down into the heart of the matter... 

Continuos transformation over centuries and millennia of life is what we have come to call evolution. In principle this process is just as natural on a collective basis as it is on an individual. Yet it is infinitely more unlikely to be successfully set in motion and contained on the latter than the former level. And that is where magic and the usage of magical poison comes in.

“To the sorcerer, poison is the ingress of external power initiating crisis.” (Veneficium, p.16) 

Since ancient times magic has been known as the force that is called to counter crisis. Crisis of states, of kingdoms, of peoples and individuals. Looking backwards it is not an exaggeration to say we owe the development of magic to moments of crisis. However, magic wouldn’t be connected so intricately to the concept of poison if it didn’t carry the potential to both heal and harm, to absorb or intensify the state of crisis it was called into play for. All magic is poisonous in nature.

For personal examples of the above I can offer to read my accounts of the Arbatel rituals. Despite all the gains and insights they offered to me, each of them lead me into a passage of physical sickness. A passage I had to get myself out of. Resolving the impact of the magic called upon us, is not a job we can delegate to demons or angels. Once the cup of poison has been drunk, once our mind and body have been opened to the forces of planetary beings way beyond our human capacities, it is us who need to deal with the aftermath in our mental, emotional and physical bodies. That’s what is meant by: ‘Poison always poses a question about our readiness to embark on a journey of transformation.’ Every act of magic, every poison poses the question how ready we are to let go.

“To the Crooked Path sorcerer, poison is the power of opposition itself, defined not by its mundane toxicity or its potential damage to flesh, but by its capacity to facilitate Otherness (...). (Veneficium, p.23)