🏠 My household — and more specifically, I — suffered from a nasty bout of illness this week. It laid me out since Tuesday, and I’m still only on the mend now. It’s no small worry watching my family exhibiting lesser symptoms, wondering if they’ll subside or get worse. Ugh.

A recent window-shopping excursion led my sweetheart and I into the newly opened Hallowe’en 2016 section of one of the local tchotchke resellers. I was bemused by an old apothecary-style bottled labeled POISON ☠… That’s it. Just… poison. It’s not that poisons are particularly scarce, and granted when we do have toxic chemicals around we tend to label them with warnings, but we also tend to label them for what they are, to be reminded why we keep them around in the first place. Even witches are not inclined to keep a poisonous compound in the bottom of the pantry in anticipation of some witchy murderin’.

My mother’s under-the-kitchen-sink stock included pesticides, oven cleaners and drain declogging agents all of which were marked as POISON!. None of these would be particularly good for a murder or a suicide: household solvents are so rank as to discourage even the most ambitiously self-destructive toddler, and that was in the 70s before additives were included to assure no child under 33 would want to get near a heavy-duty household cleanser. (If you are thinking of murdering someone by slipping something in his tea, I still have you covered.)

A poison that isn’t a good killing agent yet doesn’t have a another useful function is usually regarded as toxic waste. Toxic waste scares us grown-ups more than a witch’s pantry full of powders and goops. Those goops are still (allegedly) functional, yet toxic waste seems to take us by surprise in vast quantities. Yet no self-reliant witch would keep a jar of toxic waste in her stocks, and indeed, will schedule semi-annual culling of old jars of expired reagents to make sure she doesn’t stow toxic waste unwittingly.

So what’s with a jar that’s simply POISON?

A likely scenario is the POISON! jar is where a witch keeps her loopy juice. Her wacky weed. Her flying ointment. The diggity dank. The good shit. The stuff she shares with only her special someones…if even them.

Likelier still, a POISON! label is the end result of hasty indexing habits. A given component is properly distilled from its source, but is insufficiently marked to conserve time before auspicious corresponding natural events. Sometimes deadlines require shortcuts, and fixing a container with a mnemonic rather than clear direction or explanation can serve as an easy timesaver before such an event. But this is borrowing time from the future. It is a common and acceptable practice so long as a harried craftswoman remembers to distinguish the vessel properly after the fact. Or she might end up in a dilemma in which this poison jar is indistinguishable from that one.

Substance identification is a field set of several fields all its own, so the importance of clear labeling cannot be understated. Also it’s just embarrassing when you have to call in a professional to decipher your own labeling system.

This is how I interpreted the Hallowe’en POISON! bottles.

I have to come to terms with the truth of it, that Hallowe’en is more the celebration of the macabre rather than an interest in experiencing it and feeling it at a visceral level. A big bottle of ambiguous poison can be laughed at. A serving bowl full of (delicious, non-toxic) fruit punch labeled POISON! allows partygoers to safely challenge their sensibilities (to not drink from the thing with the giant POISON! label.)

For Hallowe’en, we don’t want a real bottle of distilled amanullinic acid triple-sealed in a laboratory grade anti-shock bottle with all the requisite forms signed and stamped. That’s actually scary and not very Hallowe’eny at all. We want our Hallowe’en poison bottles caricatured, the way we want our vampires to look like Bella Lugosi and our witches to look like Margaret Hamilton (or cartoon Elizabeth Montgomery). Similarly we want our poisons to come in old-timey bottles with a big death’s head on the front. It is only a symbol of that which is actually poisonous.

Maybe it becomes a good place to put my secret stash after all.

Oh wait… I look on the bottom and right next to the made in China sticker is another one alerting the end consumer that the the glass of the bottle contains impurities and may not be kitchen-safe. Beware!

EDITS: Spelling and grammar.


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