The horn of a unicorn is a great treasure, in part because of its rarity but also, more importantly, for its many wonderful properties. Powdered unicorn horn can be used as an aphrodisiac and to treat a variety of ailments. The horn can also detect poison, which often bubbles in its presence. If the horn is dipped in poisoned food or drink, it will neutralize the toxin.
Ctesias (5th Century BCE, Greek) proclaimed the horn’s ability to do this in his book Indica. As was true of many encyclopedists at a time when travel was very difficult, he learned this information secondhand while living at the Persian court for seventeen years. “There are in India certain wild asses which are as large as horses, and larger,” Ctesias wrote.
“Their bodies are white, their heads dark red, and their eyes dark blue. They have a horn on the forehead which is about a foot and a half in length. The dust filed from this horn is administered in a potion as a protection against deadly drugs. The base of this horn, for some two hands’-breadth above the brow, is pure white; the upper part is sharp and of a vivid crimson; and the remainder, or middle portion, is black. Those who drink out of these horns, made into drinking vessels, are not subject, they say, to convulsions or to the holy disease [epilepsy]. Indeed, they are immune even to poisons if, either before or after swallowing such, they drink wine, water, or anything else from these beakers.”
Two thousand years later, no one questioned Ctesias’s description. Vessels made from unicorn horn were most valuable in the royal courts of the Middle Ages and Renaissance, when the world was rife with political plotting and power changed hands at the drop of a poison potion. Throughout history there are numerous descriptions of people owing their lives to the unicorn horn’s remarkable ability to detect and neutralize poison.
Saint John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum): This true midsummer flower is strongly influenced by the midday sun. The countless gold-yellow filaments burst out of the calyx like sun rays. They make the flowers, which open only during dry weather, look like tiny suns. The flower petals look as if they might be small airplane propellers and are reminiscent of swirling beams of light and of the light chakras. As a medicinal herb, this plant of the Sunflower family has a soothing effect on the nerves, brings light into the soul, and chases away the darkness.
For centuries, St. John’s wort served as a talisman against evil. At the same time, it was prized for its medicinal power, both helping heal wounds and ease psychological stress. In ancient Rome and Greece, the herb was used to treat inflammation of all kinds, and was even put to use in compounds used on serious battle wounds.
Warning: St. John’s wort may interfere with some prescription medicines. If you take prescription drugs of any kind, be sure to talk with a naturopath or a health care professional familiar with Natural Standard, the top resource for drug-herb interactions, to determine a safe level before taking remedies containing the herb.
In a darkened room stands a 40-year-old woman named Catherine Monvoisin. Her figure is lit only by torches held by the faceless men standing in front of her, men who are sentencing her to death by fire. It is the 17th century, where such a death sentence is an unusual ending to someone’s life. But Catherine is an unusual woman.
Catherine was the wife of a silk merchant and jeweler and lived a life of comfort in Parisian Society. She was a philanthropist, entrepreneur, fortune teller, mother, and art lover. But she was also a professional poisoner, alleged provider of sorceries, and an alleged witch who plunged the French aristocracy into turmoil, and even tried to kill a king.
She was more famously known as “La Voisin” and was a central figure in “L’affaire des Poisons” or the “Affair of the Poisons”. Catherine controlled a wide network of fortune-tellers from her position in Paris society. She provided poison, abortion, aphrodisiacs, arranged black masses, and even claimed to offer magical services.
She was so famous that she even drew clients from the aristocracy, who could afford to pay her high prices which funded her lavish lifestyle. Her organization, in performing commissioned black magic and murder by poison, took thousands of lives.
The claimed alchemist Adam Lesage, one of the lovers of Catherine, told of her murdering her own husband, an accusation she denied. It is believed that throughout her life, she might have been responsible for the deaths of around 2,500 infants due to her poisoning. However, throughout this time she remained a high-profile socialite, and her sheer charm made no one suspect her.
Bezoars are a mass of undigested fiber formed in the stomach of animals, and were once believed to be an antidote to poison. They have been found in the guts of cows and even elephants, but mostly they come from the “bezoar goat.” Bezoars were first introduced into medieval Europe by Arab physicians. Although doubts were sometimes cast over their properties, the demand continued well into the 18th century.
Wealthy collectors spent considerable sums to acquire the best “stones,” which were kept in elaborate cases. According to A Compleat History of Druggs, first published in French in 1694, the medicinal strength of the bezoar depended on the animal that produced it. “Bezoar Stones taken from Cows,” for instance, “have nothing near the good Qualities” of the true bezoar goat. On the other hand, a mere two grains of “the Bezoar that is found in Apes” will have a far greater effect than that of a mere goat.
This practice of strategically “scraping” body surfaces is performed to relieve pain, reduce inflammation, increase circulation, and boost the immune system. Traditionally this is done with a small, flat jade stone with rounded edges, which can be used on the body, muscles, acupressure points, and/or meridians to release heat, toxins, and so on. You usually scrape in the direction of the meridians only until you see small red dots (called petechia). These red dots indicate that blood has been brought to the surface of the skin, where it is able to release the heat and toxins. Chinese medicine calls this “raising the sha,” which is said to eliminate stagnation and inflammation in the blood and protect the immune system for days or even weeks after the treatment. You can easily learn to do this at home for certain conditions, such as when you are feeling vulnerable to a cold, have tight or sore muscles, or are feeling inflamed in a particular part of your body. For chronic conditions such as cancer or autoimmune disease, or if there are lumps, cysts, or fibroids, I recommend working with a practitioner before performing gua sha.
This is a hand-held facial massage tool that is used to increase circulation in the face and neck, increase absorption of skin care products and reduce fine lines, wrinkles, under-eye swelling, and dark circles. It works by supporting lymphatic drainage away from the face. The roller is typically made with two smooth jade stones, one at each end. Depending on the size of the area you are working on, you can use either the small or large end. To use, simply massage your favorite skin cream or oil onto your face and neck and, using the roller, make small sweeping motions from the center of your face, out toward your hairline or down toward your neck. Do this for about five minutes each morning. If you tend to have puffiness under your eyes or red, irritated skin, you can put the roller into the freezer overnight and use it cold the next morning.
A small member of the mint family, but less pleasant in aroma and containing the toxic compound pulegone that is notorious for causing abortion; for years the plant has been used for ridding the home of fleas. Two thousand years ago, pennyroyal was the herb used to terminate unwanted pregnancies. Dr Art Tucker, author of The Big Book of Herbs explains that pennyroyal induces abortions by first damaging the mother’s liver: death sometimes follows. In modern times, most of the pennyroyal incidents involve the use of the plant’s essential oil (generally used for therapeutic or homeopathic purposes or as an insect repellent), which is so potent that it should be considered a poison. In the interest of safety, the advice should be never use pennyroyal essential oil for anything, not ever.
Magical propensities for physical strength and endurance. Worn to bring success to business or to rid the home of negative thoughts against you. Carry when dealing with negative vibrations of any kind.
An evergreen, parasitic shrub growing on apple, lime, poplar, maple, hawthorn and rowan trees; in spring inconspicuous yellow flowers are followed by poisonous, sticky white berries.
The Pharoadendron species contains a toxin called phoratoxin, which can cause blurred vision, nausea, abdominal pain, diarrhoea, blood pressure changes, and even death. The Viscum species of mistletoe contains a slightly different cocktail of chemicals, including the poisonous alkaloid tyramine, which produces essentially the same symptoms. Although mistletoe has therapeutic uses, eating any part of the plant (particularly the leaves or berries) or drinking a tea from the plant can result in sickness and possibly death.
Magical propensities for fertility; creativity; prevention of illness/misfortune; wear in an amulet to repel negativity and ill will; protect against unwanted advances. Use to draw in customers, money and business.
In addition to performing acupuncture, a Chinese medicine practitioner almost always burns moxa in a therapy called moxibustion. This is an ancient practice known to increase energy in the body and warm it up. The plant burned is Artemesia vulgaris, otherwise known as mugwort. Practitioners burn it on strategic areas of the body, including acupuncture points and along meridians where chi is stuck and/or depleted, giving rise to pain, coldness, edema, fatigue, and other imbalances. Moxa comes in many forms, including raw leaves, salves, topical tinctures, and pressed into pencil- to cigar-size sticks. For home use of moxa, I recommend using a tiger warmer (more on this in the next section). Thousands of years ago, moxa was placed under a patient’s pillow to bring about dreams, visions, and insight, as well as to eliminate nightmares.
Moxibustion can be applied directly or indirectly. In direct moxibustion, the moxa cone rests on your body at the treatment point. The practitioner lights the cone and lets it burn slowly until your skin begins to turn red. Once you begin to feel heat, the practitioner removes it. Moxa can also be placed on the acupuncture needle and ignited. It burns on the needle until it’s extinguished. The heat travels through the needle to the acupuncture point.
Indirect moxibustion is more commonly practiced. It’s also a safer option, since the burning moxa doesn’t actually touch your skin. Instead, the practitioner will hold it about an inch from your body. They’ll remove it once your skin becomes red and warm. Another method of indirect moxibustion uses an insulating layer of salt or garlic between the cone and your skin. In another option, “moxa boxes” may be filled with moxa, ignited, and placed on the body.