Our Work with Herbs

It makes perfect sense for us to study and practice with traditional witchy herbs at WS. With the upsurge in interest among witches, spirit workers and pagans in entheogens, hallucinogens, flying ointments, ecstatic ritual, and traditions that utilize them, many practitioners are seeking to includes such practices into their own work. Utilizing our own experience and the resources available to us within the community, WS is carefully tailored to provide a safe and controlled introduction to such practices.
It must be made clear that WS is not an event for “getting high”. We do not provide the popular culture idea of a “vision quest”; we’re in the business of careful study, not spiritual tourism. We do not fast for days before taking drugs. We do not provide dosages that will cause a person to lose control of themselves. And we do not allow people to ingest highly toxic herbs, such as monkshood or nightshades.
What we do is provide information, share personal experiences and offer a very basic practical introduction into utilizing traditional witchcraft plants and herbs. The purpose is for WS participants to come away with a foundation that they can build upon once they return home.
Here is how we do it:
First and foremost, using the herb is strictly voluntary. Choosing to use the herb does not make you a more advanced practitioner, and choosing to give it a pass does not make you “less witchy”. Participants are expected to know their own bodies, and to honestly assess their own mental and emotional state on the day of the ritual, and then decide whether using a particular herb is right for them at that particular time. Everyone’s body is different. If in doubt, abstain; there are plenty of other things to learn and experience.
We have at least one qualified first aider on staff at all times. They know which herb we will be working with months in advance so that they can study up on signs of negative reactions, proper first aid procedures and so forth.
We only work with herbs that at least one organizer has experience with.
In the months and weeks leading up to the event, we post information and helpful links to resources to both the Facebook group and the event page about the herb chosen for that year.
WS is rated 18A, meaning that only people over 18 are permitted to attend. Children of participants are not permitted at workshops or rituals.
During registration, folks have the option to fill out a form with any health conditions and medications that they are on. Obviously, we keep this information confidential, but our staff know where to find the forms should they need them. Folks are also required to sign the standard “I won’t sue you” waiver during registration.
Information on the chosen herb is posted and made available to everyone during the event. As of 2016, WS will have a paper program and the basics will also be in there.
While we try to research major drug interactions, we are neither pharmacists nor registered herbalists. If you are on any kind of medication, please do your research beforehand. Again, if in doubt, we recommend you abstain from herbs that may not play nicely with the other things you take.
The first evening of the event, as everyone is a captive audience awaiting the Bardic Fire, we introduce the herb. We talk about it a little bit, and bring it around the circle for people to look, touch, taste (if applicable) and smell in very small amounts. Just a pinch to get comfortable, check for any surprise allergies and to have a better understanding of what to expect. Consider it a “patch test” of sorts. How this is done depends on the herb of course, no one will be tasting henbane! We also have everyone respectfully introduce themselves to the herb, and talk about how “plants are witches too, so treat them with proper respect”.
The following day we hold a workshop educating people about the herb. Given the type of witchcraft that is practiced at WS, there’s often an herbalist in the crowd.
We do not allow people to bring their own sample of the herb from home to share with others.
This is not a party event. It’s NOT a festival. The fire is put out at 1 or 2 am each night. We discourage drinking for the purpose of getting drunk.
We ensure that everyone has at least one healthy meal the afternoon before main ritual (a stone soup and potluck).
Depending on the herb, we do utilize it in ritual or magickal workings as is appropriate. The herb is honored throughout the event but mainly utilized for the main ritual(s).
In the years that we include ingesting the herbs as part of the main ritual, we offer multiple ways to work with the herb, depending on people’s comfort levels, medical concerns, and experience. A sachet of dried herb hung around the wrist. A mild ointment. A tincture or tea. A small amount placed in a pipe and smoked. No one is required to handle the herb in any way if they wish not to.
The staff control the dosage; the herb is not handed around for people to ingest themselves. Everyone gets very small amounts, delivered in a way that (hopefully) makes them feel special. Participants receive just enough to feel mild effects, and that is all. This is an introduction, nothing more.
During the main ritual, we have staff both inside the circle watching the crowd, as well as staff positioned outside with everything from water, to blankets, to a radio, and cell phone.
People are free to leave during rituals at any point, and they must pass by a circle guardian/staff member as they do so, who checks in on them and provides them with anything they may need.
We tag participants with glow bracelets so that we can keep track of them easily.
We will sometimes rope off the grove to make wandering away that much more difficult.
We provide education on grounding techniques and how to slip in and out of trance. After the ritual, we do not allow anyone out of the ritual space until we are satisfied that people have completed the journey of main ritual and are mentally, physically, spiritually, and emotionally ready to return to their campsites.
Obviously for the years where we study less safe herbs, we do not allow ingestion. Even if they are herbs that people often work with in their own private practices, such as black henbane or deadly nightshade. Raven’s Knoll is a place of business and we have no desire to risk their insurance. As stated before, WS is an introduction, a forum to gain a little experience and knowledge on this subject. Instead, we only ingest the less dangerous herbs and find other ways to utilize and honor the more truly poisonous ones.
If an eager young witch wishes to order a datura based flying ointment from Etsy, they will. What we do is offer realistic education, teach safety protocols and provide a very mild introduction to working with such concoctions. So, when that eager young witch gets their package from Etsy, they are less likely to do harm to themselves.