The Passing of Christian Rätsch, Magical Ethnobotanist

I heard Christian Rätsch (1957–2022) speak in person only once, at a conference in England in the 2000s, shortly after I had bought a book he co-wrote, Witchcraft Medicine: Healing Arts, Shamanic Practices, and Forbidden Plants. I also treasure a recorded lecture of his on henbane beer and such topics, in which he scoffs at the famous Reinheitsgebot (beer purity law of 1516) that limited ingredients to water, barley, hops, hissing, “Hops isss a depresssant!” — CSC

The Undying Contributions of the Late Christian Rätsch

From Coby Michael’s The Poisoner’s Apothecary Patreon page.
Reprinted with permission.

Christian Rätsch, 1999.

On the 17th of September, 2022 author, lecturer and ethnobotanist Christian Rätsch (Hamburg, Germany) died of a stomach ulcer that he had been dealing with himself for years. Rätsch leaves behind wife and fellow author Claudia Müller-Ebeling.

Christian Rätsch, Ph.D., is a world-renowned anthropologist and ethnopharmacologist who specializes in the shamanic uses of plants. He is the author of Marijuana Medicine and coauthor of Plants of the Gods, Shamanism and Tantra in the Himalayas, Witchcraft Medicine, and The Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Plants. He lives in Hamburg, Germany, and lectures around the world. He has served as president of the German Society of Ethnomedicine. (Inner Traditions/Bear & Company)

Ethnobotanical Contributions

Rätsch was one of the single most important authors of ethnobotanical research, the Poison Path, the Psychedelic Renaissance and poisonous/psychoactive plant lore. He earned a doctorate studying Native American cultures living and studying with indigenous cultures. As a child he became interested in shamanic practices and the study of plants. He worked closely with indigenous plant spirit medicine, preserving an extensive body of traditional lore. He also experimented with various psychedelic substances since a young age, and eventually became friends with LSD researcher Timothy Leary. He is the founder and co-editor of The Yearbook of Ethnomedicine and the Study of Consciousness.

His work was something that I discovered early on in my Poison Path studies, because he was one of the only authors at the time to not only take an interest in poisonous and psychoactive plants but also provide the reader with extensive history, folklore and chemical information from a practical and academic standpoint. His book Witchcraft Medicine: Healing Arts, Shamanic Practices and Healing Plants, was the first work of his that I read, a complete ethnobotanical history of European psychedelic practices in the context of witchcraft.

Plants of The Gods

Originally published in 1979, this book was a precursor to the megalithic Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Plants. Originally written by Richard Evans Schultes and Albert Hoffman, all three titans in their own right. World-renowned anthropologist and ethnopharmacologist Christian Ratsch provides the latest scientific updates to this classic work on psychoactive flora by two eminent researchers.

The Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Plants

In my opinion, the single most important modern day compendium of ethnobotanical information in the Western Hemisphere. The book is over 900 pages long with 797 color photographs and 645 black and white drawing. It is a comprehensive tome on sacred plant knowledge from around the world. Accessible and all in one place, this is one of the few books that provides ALL of the available information!

Other titles by Christian Rätsch

Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Plants

Plants of Love: The History of Aphrodisiacs and A Guide to their Identification and Use

Encyclopedia of Aphrodisiacs

Gateway to Inner Space: Sacred Plants, Mysticism, and Psychotherapy

Marijuana Medicine: A World Tour of the Healing and Visionary Powers of Cannabis

He has written extensively, books and articles, in German.

A Permanent Impact

The work of Christian Rätsch has been invaluable in my own studies of psychoactive and poisonous plants. The tireless work and attention to detail that was required to bring such a tome of knowledge into manifestation is no-doubt divinely driven. While the world has lost an amazingly curious mind, he has left behind a body of work that will continue to grow, evolve and influence those of us continuing this work. I would have loved to have meet you Christian, and thank you for your contribution but I have a feeling we will meet one day.

You can visit his website but it is all in German www.christian-raetsch.de/

No One Can Cancel Your Paganism

M. made these smudge sticks — from Artemisia sage, not Salvia sage, because we live in the Mountain West. In English, the verb “to smudge” goes back to the 1400s, at least.

I am handing the microphone today to Tom Swiss and his excellent “Smoking Out the Pagan Gatekeepers” post at his blog The Zen Pagan.

He begins,

In some of my recent internet interactions, I’ve noticed a troubling pattern of young people feeling that they need to ask permission to be Pagan.

To some extent this seems to be connected to the bogus ideas of “closed practices” and “cultural appropriation” (one of our favorite topics here at TZP, cough). Rather than the freedom to worship and practice as we are called (subject to the usual “your right to swing your fist ends at my face” considerations), certain social currents have these new Pagans afraid they will step on a cancel culture minefield and be publicly shamed in the permanent record.

You may have heard of overharvest on species of genus Salvia sage for the smudge stick market. Swiss links to an article about that. That is true, it happens, but you can smudge with all sorts of things. I came up with the acrid smell of genus Artemisia sagebrush; various junipers also work well, because they are oily. Use what you got — all Paganism is local.[1]Or you may also hear, “All sorcery is local.” “All magic is local.” Same thing, basically.

“The gods decide who to work with,” Swiss writes. I totally agree. No Intenet busybody can stand between Pagan X and Deity Y. If the god/dess does not like what you are doing, you will most likely just get sort Inner Planes busy signal. No harm, no foul. You are unlikely to be hurled into the 32nd dimension, and your little dog too

And just to reinforce what he says about the antiquity of the verb “to smudge” in the English language, I offer this from the Online Etymology Dictionary.[2]I love etymology.

early 15c., smogen “to soil, stain, blacken,” of obscure origin. Meaning “to rub out or in” is by 1865. Related: Smudged; smudging. The noun meaning “a dirty mark or stain, spot, smear” is attested by 1768, from the verb.

The smudge meaning “make a smoky fire” is by 1860, also of unknown origin, but perhaps related. According to OED now dialectal and North American. OED also gives it in an earlier, obsolete sense of “to cure (herring) by smoking” (1590s).

The related noun smudge is attested by 1767 as “a suffocating smoke” (to repel mosquitoes, etc.); from 1806 as “heap of combustibles ignited and emitting dense smoke.” Hence smudge-pot (1903). Smudge-stick as a Native American (Crow tribe) artifact is by 1908

It only gets tricky if you claim to have human teachers whom you did not, or to have be blessed by a group that you do not belong to.

If anyone critiques your personal practice (as opposed to setting yourself up as an authority), tell them to go sit on a non-psychoactive cactus.

Notes

Notes
1 Or you may also hear, “All sorcery is local.” “All magic is local.” Same thing, basically.
2 I love etymology.

Free Book Reviews from Latest Pomegranate

As ever, book reviews in The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies are open-access free downloads. Here are links to the four in this issue.[1]I receive a small commission on Amazon sales, which helps to pay for this website.

The King in Orange: The Magical and Occult Roots of Political Power by John Michael Greer, reviewed by Chas S. Clifton. Download PDF here.

Greer, a Druid leader, and writier on ecology, spirituality, and the future of industrial society, here confronts class issues in America and their political ramifications, as well as some Big Ideas about historical cycles. Did Kek and Pepe the Frog magically help swing the 2016 election to Donald Trump? And what was magically incompetent about the post-election “Resistance”?

Quebec’s Distinct Paganism: A Study on the Impact of Language, Culture, and History in the Development of Contemporary Paganism in Quebec by Marisol Charbonneau, reviewed by Helen A. Berger. Download PDF here.

“One of a growing genre of books and articles that explore the particularities of contemporary Paganism in a specific geographical place. Composed of two distinct linguistic communities, Quebec offers what sociologists call a natural experiment: two different groups in the same place that have different cultural and linguistic backgrounds. This existent distinction between groups permits Charbonneau to explore the question of how much language and cultural differences influence the practice of those who become contemporary Pagans”

Spirits of Blood, Spirits of Breath: The Twinned Cosmos of Indigenous America, by Barbara Alice Mann, reviewed by Sarah Dees. Download PDF here.

“Barbara Alice Mann contributes to discussions of Indigenous worldviews, mapping what she describes as the “twinned cosmos” comprised of complementary blood and breath energies throughout Turtle Island or North America. Taking a comparative approach, Mann examines the interconnection between blood and breath spirits and energies as they have manifested in multiple communities.”

The Imagination of Plants:  A Book of Botanical Mythology by Matthew Hall, reviewed by Michael D. J. Bintley. Download PDF here.

“A  generously illustrated treasure trove of plant mythology selected from across world from ancient times to the present. This is not all; the backbone of the book is formed by a series of discursive essays in which Hall identifies thematic links between his selections, and makes a series of interventions that will be of equal interest to specialist and general readers alike.

“Passages are drawn from editions easily accessible to readers for further reading, and range from the mythologies of European Antiquity to the Vedas, the Popol Vuh, and more recently recorded indigenous wisdom of (for example) Australia, New Zealand, and North America. Without simply listing the range of people and places covered in the book, it is fair to say that Hall’s collection is generally representative, rather than exhaustive, in its coverage of plants in the global imaginary”

To submit a book for review or to beome a reviewer yourself, please contact Christopher Chase, Dept. of Philosophy and Religious Studies, Iowa State University.

Notes

Notes
1 I receive a small commission on Amazon sales, which helps to pay for this website.

Propagation, not Divination

With a snowstorm predicted, I snip the seed heads of yarrow plants.

Some are tossed in a little gully that stays moist in drought, others onto the tall grass over the dogs’ graves.

The stems I leave to rot.[1]A reference to how the I Ching was originally cast, through a sort of trance-inducing procedure of sorting yarrow stalks to determine the value of each line of the hexagram.

Notes

Notes
1 A reference to how the I Ching was originally cast, through a sort of trance-inducing procedure of sorting yarrow stalks to determine the value of each line of the hexagram.

Women + Plants = Witchcraft?

Purdue University enthnobotanist Myrdene Anderson

From the Society of Ethnobiology website comes the saga of the battle between ethnobotanist Myrdene Anderson and the city of West Lafayette, Indiana.

Instead of a chemically treated and ritually mown lawn, she wanted plants and trees. And she ends up being accused of giving her neighbor cancer . . . through witchcraft!

To me, as an anthropologist, that assertion about my property being a fire hazard sounds close to wishful thinking, with more than a hint of witchcraft accusation. In evidence of my influence, a certain neighbor accused me of forcing him to exterminate 13 possums in a single evening, and another accused me of causing her cancer and its recurrence, although I guess not its interim remission. In 1996 a local conceptual artist depicted my yard in a gallery installation themed around “local notables”. I wrote an accompaniment: “sight on site; sight on sight”, underlining the fact that gaze is a voluntary act, rather different from most of the other senses.

 

By 1995 I was already deeply involved in searching out other cases of late 20th-century witchcraft accusation. Most cases around the U.S. involved women, anomalous in some way, often gardeners, and sometimes being attacked while they were perceived “down”. I mentioned my father’s 1988 death, but I could also have mentioned that of my stepmother in 1994, whom I had earlier brought to Indiana. Some of these women victims of neighborly hate had also just lost someone significant, one her own mother as a suicide in their joint home.

Ultimately, though, it comes down to petition drives and getting the right lawyer.

On the Science of How Plants Talk to Each Other

Imagine this, a kernal (heh) of truth:

Sound is so fundamental to life that some scientists now think there’s a kernel of truth to folklore that holds humans can commune with plants. And plants may use sound to communicate with one another.

Do beetles eavesdrop on drought-stressed pine trees? Maybe so.

Fairy Houses, Bee Houses, and Garden Products to Avoid

Some fairies are said to live in boulders, others perhaps in purpose-built housing.

In this blog post, a professional gardener in southern Colorado moves from greenhouses to fairy houses (with her dad as maintenance man) to bee houses.

And please scroll to the bottom — it’s a long post — for a list of bee-killing garden products to avoid.