This post is disturbing and if you are of a sensitive nature then DO NOT read it to the end.  You will never look at halloween in the same light again.  I warned you!

It is coming close to the end of the year in the old Irish calendar – Samhain. On Halloween night it was said long ago that the dead and the spirits roamed free for the night:

The Gaels believed that the border between this world and the otherworld became thin on Samhain; because some animals and plants were dying, it thus allowed the dead to reach back through the veil that separated them from the living.
Wikipedia

There are customs at this time of year and the questions always floats in my head; should we support a festival that is unchristian? For me the answer is yes, to an extent. The way I see it, the festivals serve a purpose. They bring people together and brighten up the monotony or the melancholy that some people feel as the cold weather creeps in and the darkness dominates our days so far north. I think it is a harmful thing if we truly believe that the pumpkins will keep the demons away, but it is nice to light them and remember how things used to be done and keep a little of the old ways alive. If this seems a little too grey then I assure you that I have my boundaries although they are drawn in strange places and need some explanation. I draw the line at a witch’s broom and what it represents.

If you did not know what you are about to read then prepare to be shocked and disturbed. Read no further if you wish to live in blissful ignorance, you are forgiven.

A witch is an interesting and enigmatic thing. The use of plants and potions has always played an important role (and still does) in human history. Inevitably certain people had vast amounts of knowledge on the use of plants to treat people’s illness and discomfort and this knowledge would lead to the use of plants for other purposes; substance abuse. Most of us use substances like alcohol and caffeine to relax and survive, respectively. However, the use of strong narcotics is a dark path that, more times than not, leads to addiction and the destruction of lives and families. A witch’s broom represents serious substance abuse.

‘Witches’ were always accused of having the power to fly and be able to morph into animals amongst their repertoire of magic. At some of the witch trials of Salem they even declared, before being tortured into confession, that they could fly. There is more than likely some truth in this, they actually did believe that they could fly. Powerful narcotics are the cause of this belief.

Narcotics like scopolamine are found in plants such as the deadly nightshade (belladonna) and induce hallucinations such as the sensation of flying and possibly changing into animals. Witches used to make potions of Deadly nightshade, mandrake and henbane for flying potions. These potions are deadly (as the name suggests) and to eat them would cause the witch to never fly or do anything at all. So, they did not eat them, instead they made salves that meant smaller doses of these plants would be absorbed through the skin in a nicorette patch style. However, the skin is reasonably good at keeping such things out and therefore the salve had to applied to an area of the skin where the membranes were thin to ensure good absorption. So, there it is; you should now be armed with enough information, and the classic image of a witch on her broom, to put two and two together and be suitably disturbed.
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Sources:

Napoleon’s Buttons: How 17 Molecules Changed History by by Penny LeCouteur and Jay Burreson
This is an amazing book that I believe should be compulsory reading for every science teacher.

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