Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Medicinal and Magical Herbalism

I've always been fascinated by Herbalism.  Once upon a time, I had fantasies of having a cupboard that I could go to and be able to cure any ills that beset my family.  It fitted in with the idealistic image I had of a Traditional Cunningwoman.  Herbs hanging from the rafters, jars filled with remedies, cures and charms and the ability to fix everything.  I pictured myself as an infallible healer of all things physical and spiritual.

Then I spent a year training at the Canterbury College of Natural Medicine.  I have a Certificate of Natural Health.  In that time, I learned that it's really not that simple and is usually a lot of work, trial and error.  There is so much more to it than reaching for the right herb or even the right part of the herb.

My certificate was a taster in a variety of modalities.  There were more in depth and advanced courses that could be taken to specialise in any of the areas that we studied.  While I did learn a lot of useful things that have made a difference to most minor ailments in my family, I recognise that it does not qualify me to treat anything more serious and I wouldn't try.

With this background in place, I am frequently horrified by herbal recommendations that I see online.  Many groups now have rules against giving medicinal herbal advice and with good reason.  Many apparently safe herbs have nasty contraindications and bad interactions with medication.  You can't know for sure when reading someone's question what the source of the problem is.  You can't know that they're telling you the whole truth, learn about family history and you can't know anything about their physicality - all of which are important.

Now there comes people wanting to be special and create their own websites.  I wrote about Mr V and his appalling website just a couple of days ago.  I am not going to provide a link to his website, because he takes page views and shares as validation - even though I know many of those views and shares are people reading it in horror and sharing it to other places as a warning about bad and dangerous information.

Instead, let me do a screenshot (he gave permission for this) of his latest offering, under the heading Angel's Turnip: A Monograph:

I guess we got lucky in that he's now citing sources.  But I also read up on one of those sources, the Plant Biographies by Sue Eland and found that he missed out some really important information.  To be specific:

Warning – bitter root is poisonous and should only be used under the supervision of a qualified practitioner. It can cause nausea, purging, lowered heart rate, vomiting, appetite loss and death. The milky juice can cause blistering on the skin. Livestock have been killed by eating the leaves.

I'm quite sure that any of you reading can see why this is problematic.  On his website, he recommends chewing on a root as a cure for "some weird western medication" while one of his sources says it's poisonous and should only be used under qualified supervision.

This was raised, and well, I'll give you a snippet of how the conversation went:

This is a fairly standard response from this chap.  I pointed out that I have a herbal that recommends white lead and mercury in salves and ointments but so far that appears to have been ignored.

What really, really scares me about this is that people share his view that warning about the dangers of untrained, unqualified advice like this is just fear-mongering and that it's all perfectly safe.  He has no formal training - he has freely admitted this, he is picking and choosing what information to share from useful websites (leaving out the safety warnings) and using other questionable websites.

If a few leaves can kill livestock - animals with a digestive system designed to process many things that will kill people and weighing at least three times the average person and usually more like five or six times the weight of the average person - imagine what it will do to you.

Sadly, he just doesn't seem to take any of it seriously and beyond giving out warnings, I don't know what else I can do.

Will it take a death and a lawsuit before it stops?

Still disheartened


Sunday, 23 August 2015

Learning to Walk Before You Can Run

One of the reasons I started writing was because of the sheer volume of rubbish that is available regarding Witchcraft and Paganism.  Some of it is superficial, some of it is incomplete, some is very prejudicial and skewed towards or against certain paths, some of it is pure fantasy and some of it is completely incomprehensible.

It has always left me confused as to how some of it comes to be published.  In some cases, it's clear that a person practices that way and possibly it even works for them (if they actually do most of what they talk about), but their tone or their words say that this is the only right way to do it or that.

In the last couple of weeks, I have watched the creation of a new website that first laid claim to being a Shaman's archive and is now claiming to be a Wiccan archive.  The creator of this website, lets call him Mr. V, posts it up on his facebook group, now that he has decided to be a part of his group again, and asks for feedback.  There follows generally a loop:  Firstly, the experienced practitioners point out failure to cite sources, that this article has been scraped directly from another website or out of a book, going through the flaws in each article one at a time and suggestions that spellcheck is your friend and that an editor or proofreader would be a valuable thing.  Then Mr. V says things like "You guys have opened up my eyes" and "Okay I get it" and removes all content from the website.  He asks for suggestions and gets a lot of useful ones about learning to walk before he can run, getting some experience before trying to teach others and perhaps keeping a journal detailing this stuff he's trying rather than putting it up somewhere public where other beginners may assume that he knows what he's talking about. I can only assume that the next step is someone in the background blowing smoke up his arse and bitching about what a bunch of negative nellies those people are and he changes his mind and puts it all back up again and the cycle begins anew.

Normally, I would laugh and leave most of this alone.  But some of the information he has put up has been dangerous.  He claimed some things were safe to eat in small doses when really they are not.  They are toxic if uncooked and/or unripe.  Other completely toxic herbs had no warning about the dangers of ingesting them.  On his facebook group there were recommendations for ingesting crystals.  When this was thoroughly discussed including warnings from medical professionals, a PhD in Chemistry and others pointing out his failure to state which crystals and how they were prepared - it came way later that he was talking about only two specific crystals (which still remained unnamed) and making elixirs rather than grinding and eating the crystals as was first implied, he just told everyone that we have no idea how much he knows and what he's done successfully and finally he just deleted the thread.

The other concern about Mr. V is by his own accounts, he took a bunch of the herbs he claims are perfectly safe, to go on a Shamanic journey and ended up spending time in a Mental Health Facility after having a three month long psychotic break.  He's only just come back into society from this event.  We can't possibly know all the ins and outs of the story, but it doesn't inspire confidence in what he has to teach - especially as it doesn't seem like he wants to serve as a horrible warning or a "What Not To Do".  He also believes that because he's in Canada, he won't be legally liable for an American teen coming to harm by following his herbal advice.  This is completely fallacious by the way.

He claims he'd like "constructive criticism" this time, but what he means is a validation echo chamber.  He doesn't want to hear what is wrong with his article, he wants his ego stroked and for all of us to suddenly recognise how wise he is and how wrong we were about him all along.  We frequently hear complaints of "You don't know me, you don't know what I do or what I know" in petulant tantrums worthy of a terribly misunderstood teenager.  He's right, we don't.  All we can judge him by is what he posts and that is dreadful.

Although today that took a new turn.  Apparently he's fed up with the women picking on him even though he expected it because such sexism is common in pagan circles.  Somehow he's totally missed the men have been calling him on his stuff just as much as the women.  For the most part, the women have been far more polite.  But well, why pass up a chance to be a victim?  And such a whiny pathetic victim he was.

None of this is new, many people before him have done the same things and I know that.  It just scares me that there is this entire community of people basing their practices on this kind of website.  I keep telling myself that I know the type, they won't hear the warnings from those who know better, but I try anyway.  I keep feeling disappointed when they don't hear the warnings and resort to name calling, perpetual victimhood, flounces and bannings.  But I still find it in me to hope that the next one will be different.

Disheartened Blessings