the parasol mushroom

  • Aconite/monkshood – numbness in face and limbs; inability to walk or move arms; chest pain, heart attack; irregular heart rhythms; nausea; vomiting; abdominal pain; diarrhea
  • Angel’s trumpet/moonflower – inability to differentiate reality from fantasy; heart attack; bizarre/violent behavior; amnesia; intolerance of light
  • Asian Abrupt-bulbed Lepidella – kidney failure
  • Autumn skullcap/Deadly Galerina – symptoms begin 8-24 hrs after ingestion; abdominal pain, diarrhea, vomiting; symptoms stop for about 24 hrs, during this time toxins attack the liver; death occurs 5-7 days after ingestion from coma, kidney failure, and gastrointestinal bleeding
  • Azalea – salivation; watering eyes and nose; abdominal pain; loss of energy; nausea; vomiting; weakness; difficulty breathing; paralysis of arms and legs; coma
  • Bushman’s poison/dune poison bush/wintersweet – heart attack
  • Castor beans (contain ricin) – severe diarrhea; nausea; heart attack; seizures; hypotension; survivors have extensive organ damage; take 3-5 days to kill
  • Chestnut dapperling – damage to the heart and liver; headache, dizziness, back pain, gastrointestinal problems
  • Chokecherry/common chokecherry – poison found everywhere but the berry; digestion by stomach enzymes releases cyanide; giddiness; vertigo; rapid breathing; leads to deep coma, pulmonary edema, and heart attack; victims may have cherry red skin
  • Daffodil – poisonous bulbs; vomiting; diarrhea; convulsions; can be confused for onions; handling them gives you “daffodil itch”: dryness, scaling, thickening of skin beneath the nails
  • Daphne (laurel tree family) – poisonous seeds; handling fresh twigs causes rashes/eczema for people with sensitive skin; victims experience choking sensation; common ornamental plant
  • Deadly conocybe – takes 10 hours to affect body; symptoms include severe abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea, kidney and liver damage; usually remission period lasting 1-2 days before death
  • Deadly nightshade/Belladonna – eating 2-5 berries fatal to adults; eating 1 leaf fatal to adults; roots also fatal; slightly sweet taste; leads to delirium, hallucinations, heart attack, slurred speech, constipation, confusion, sensitivity to light, blurred vision
  • Deadly parasol – 1 mushroom is deadly; victim feels fine for a day, then sick as intestines are damaged; then the victim appears to recover before dying from liver failure
  • Deadly webcap – easy to mistake for the prized chanterelle mushroom; symptoms delayed for 2-3 days before flu-like symptoms, headache, and vomiting occur, followed by kidney failure
  • Death cap (Latin American, East Asian) – looks like the edible honey and paddy straw mushrooms; half a cap can kill a human; toxicity not reduced by cooking, freezing, or drying; taste good; early symptoms include abdominal pain, diarrhea, and vomiting; symptoms go away from a few days; symptoms return in form of jaundice, diarrhea, delirium, seizures, tachycardia, and kidney failure; survivors usually need liver transplants; fatality rate before the 20th century was 70-80%; now it’s around 10-15% in developed countries; people usually die in 6-10 days
  • Destroying angel (Eastern North American, Guangzhou, Great Felt Skirt, Western North American, European) – easy to confuse with edible white button mushroom; see death cap for symptoms, as they both contain the same kind of toxin
  • Doll’s eye/White baneberry – entire plant is poisonous; poison fatally slows human heart; handling plant causes blisters; eating it causes gastrointestinal distress as well as a slowed heartbeat
  • English yew – highest concentration of poison in the seeds; blue-colored lips, difficulty breathing, coma, convulsions, enlarged pupils, irregular heartbeat, nausea, muscle pain, trembling, vomiting
  • Ergot/St Anthony’s Fire (archaic) – poisonous fungi that grows on rye; symptoms include nausea, vomiting, headache, muscle pain, itching, gangrene, vision problems, confusion, spasms, and convulsions

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Where is the proof in Witchcraft?

I’ve been a Pagan for more than 20 years and one of things that I am asked about the most is: where is the proof? Of course an easy answer is how does any religion/belief/ faith prove itself? But when you follow a path that is on the fringe, and when you live in an age when empirical, solid proof is necessary saying something like ’ Well, I just know’, or trying to come across all mysterious with stuff like ’ All will be revealed’ just comes over as a bit lame.

One of the worst things to happen to Paganism is that it’s been hijacked by Hollywood, and turned into a fashion accessory by Metal fans who think wearing a black T-shirt with a pentagram on it, whilst hiding out in their bedroom hating the world makes them a Wiccan. Our faith and practices have become largely represented by Harry Potter, and those outside of the Pagan world view our ancient traditions as a passing fad led by wannabe Lord of the Rings fanatsists (not that I have anything against Lord of the Rings or Metal Music); but it’s tiring to have the image of Paganism dominated by Gandalf, Hermione or, even worse, a depressed Goth with a Vampire fetish.

But back to my question, but I guess I need to ask what is witchcraft? Is it Harry Potter with the whole abracadabra, is it being able to do magic like Merlin with lots of arcane rituals and alechemical symbols , is it just being wise/learned and seeing a wee bit more than others? i’m going off topic again but just bare with me……

I moved to the Carpathian Mountains, home of depressed Vampires, 9 years ago from the Hebrides in Scotland with an idea to start farming. Land was just far too expensive in the islands so my girlfriend, who came from these mountains, and I bought an old farm with a few acres, bought some sheep, a few chickens, planted a vegetable garden and settled in. Our neighbours were locals, good people, simple and kind, and in the main hard core Catholics…..with a twist. By the end of the first summer we’d made friends and gotten to know some of the folks quite well. They were accepting of me as a foreigner but amazed at how redundant my knowledge of Nature was (despite the fact that I’d been living on a croft for years); my knowledge of the land was mechanical: plant potatoes like this, prune fruit trees like that….but I was not wise. I didn’t understand how Nature worked.

This became obvious when it came to mushroom season (September - November). I knew the best mushrooms came when it was reasonably warm, wet and early in the day. So, the conditions being right, I set off one morning and headed into the forests that bordered my property. Two hours in I had nothing except a few old Parasol mushrooms that were on their last legs. I was just about to give up when a neighbour passed me in his truck on the way to get wood. He saw my empty basket and diplomatically asked me if I was having any luck. When I shook my basket at him he smiled and told me that in a week there’d be a full moon and I should try then. True enough, a week later the full moon brought more muchrooms than I had ever seen, it was a veritable Tsunami.

I told my girlfriend and her reply, after seven years here, has become like an anthem ever since: ‘Yeah, well, they know this stuff’.

The next day I ordered a pile of books from Amazon determined to 'know this stuff’ as well. In short the books were useless, written by city folks from their community gardens, or that guy I mentioned earlier in the black pentagram T-shirt. Dumping the books I decided to learn from the experts and visited the neighbour I’d met in the forest. In an mixture or poor English, German, Slovak and Russian I asked him to teach me everything he knew….he reaction was confusion. I don’t know anything, he said. Sure you do, I replied, what about the mushrooms and the full moon? But everyone knows that, he replied, before changing the subject to beer and whether we should drink some. His reaction was similar, I imagine, to someone in London being asked how to buy a bus ticket. 

So, what has this got to do with proving Witchcraft? Well, I said for a long time that Witchcraft should be something we can prove…we follow the ritual, incant the phrases, mix the correct cocktail of herbs etc and Bob’s your uncle……but, if I’m honest Bob seldom appears in a satisfactorily uncle way. The results can often be a bit did-it-or-didn’t-it-work? A kind of 'Well Johnny did get the girl so my love spell must have worked’ thing, despite the fact that Johnny’s acne cleared up and he’s spent the last six months at the gym. I’ve often been left a bit unsure, was it my doing or something else?

However, and here is the point of this post, this all changed rather dramatically for me 2 years ago. 

My son who was 3 at the time and all hail and hearty, developed an allergy out of nowhere. At first we thought it was a cold as his nose was running, but it never materialised beyond that. His nose ran, but nothing else. And it continued: a week, two weeks, a month and eventually we took him to a doctor.She pronounced the obvious, he has a runny nose, and gave him antibiotics and within two days he was fine. We stopped the medication and it started again. After two months the doctor just shrugged and said It is what it is, keep him on the medication…..indefinitely. 

Obviously there was no way I was leaving my son on antibiotics for ever so we started looking around for an alternative.A few months past and we eventually heard about a Witch/Healer in Hungary and decided to try our luck.

We traveled down to a small village on the Danube, a picture perfect settlement with thatched roofs, stalks nesting on the chimney tops and a population of elderly people, the young having left for the city. Our Doctor, as he liked to be called, was a beautiful older man in his late 60’s with a neat, trimmed goatey beard and wild Einstein hair. He was immaculately dressed in a shirt and tie, and looked a little like an urbane philiosophy teacher who should be strolling the streets of Budapest or Vienna. He led us into his garden with the clear instructions that he didn’t want us to mention anything about what ailed my son. 

His garden was vast, filled with fruit trees, herb beds, and flower borders that we overflowing with colour. He sat my girlfriend and I beneath a huge pear tree, gave us water to drink, and then took my son by the hand and led him off down the garden. As far as I could see the Doctor spent most of the time trying to catch crickets with my son, he never once examined him or laid a finger on him. After about 15 minutes he returned with my son and sat down.

My son was still on antibiotics, so showed no symptoms of his allergy, but the old man was not fooled. He described in detail how my sons allergy affected him, told us the allergy stemmed from pollution in the atmosphere. He pulled two white balls about the size of an M & M from his shirt pocket, as he has never left our sight since we arrived I can only assume he put them there before we arrived, and told us stop giving our son chemical medicine (I don’t know how he knew he was on medication unless my son told him) and then popped the two pills in my sons mouth who munched on them as happily as if he had actually just been given two M & M’s. 

When we asked him what was in the medicine he politely refused to tell us, only that it was his own and we shouldn’t worry. He then stood up indicating that it was time for us to leave, consultation over. He refused to accept payment, he said he never charged to see children, and asked us to call him in 6 weeks and let him know how our son was.

Without exaggeration my sons allergy evaporated since the moment he took the M & M’s.

Proof, surely, in magic, in the power of alternative processes.

As my son was three years old I doubt the cure was psychosomatic, I doubt the pills were placebo’s  and I doubt, after nearly 8 months, that the antibiotics suddenly, and coincidentally, cured him. 

No, this Doctor was a true Witch, a true healer in the most un-Harry-Potter-like fashion. A true Pagan, if being Pagan means being closer to the land, closer to the Source, closer to the wisdom of the ancients.  

So, if proof of Witchcraft is needed it sits quietly in a small Hungarian village tucked along the banks of the Danube with no flags flying or banners waving. No Pentagrams, no expensively bought Book of Secrets on the shelf, no Hollywood inspired dragon posters, and no quotes from Tolkien in poorly made driftwood frames.  

I’d be interested to know if anyone reading this has had similar, tangible, evidence of magic….if so get in touch. Or even if your opinion of the tone, ways, methods, expressions of Paganism are different to mine I’d be interested to know.


                                  A. Hanson