The Poison Dress

Who doesn’t love an urban legend? Here’s one that’s as creepy as it is mystical.

The Poison Prom
The story goes that a beautiful young woman set out for prom night wearing an impossibly gorgeous dress that she got for a bargain. It fits perfectly. She cannot believe that she scored this dress, making her prom night dreams come true.

As her night of revelry goes on, she starts to feel faint and rushes for the restroom. The next morning, the police find her dead in that very restroom. The cause? Poison by contact.

You see, the dress truly was a deal to die for. A funeral home resold the designer gown to a thrift store after it has been soaked in formaldehyde and set upon a corpse. The chemical contact with the dancing girl’s skin poisoned her from the outside in.1

Ancient Origins
This morbid tale of fashion gone frightful is more than just a modern-day urban legend. There is some good ol’ pagan mythos behind it as well.

In the Greek myths, the sailor Jason left the sorceress Medea to marry Glauce, daughter of of King Creon. In her rage, Medea sent Glauce a dress dipped in poison, which eventually killed the princess as well as her father when he tried to save her.2

Poisoning the Powers 
The references to this particular story aren’t given much context by scholars of the classics. Why a dress? Why poison? Why did Medea pick such a roundabout method to seal the fate of Jason’s betrothed?

The things we wear, even when we don’t put much thought into them, tell a story. Clothing contributes to our identity and the glamour we attempt to cast upon our surroundings. It is horrific to imagine something so sacred as our physical identities becoming compromised with something that could hurt us.

Even when the things we wear aren’t transformed into something dangerous, simply not having them at all can become a burden. Consider the myth of the descent of Inanna. In this legend of the Queen of Heaven, the goddess travels down to the Underworld. In the process, she is challenged by gate-keepers who demand that she discard her robes, grown, jewelry, and other symbols of her sovereignty and power. Who are we when the suits we wear become toxic and profane? When the outer shell of the self is withered down to bone, all that remains is the essence of what we truly are.

Consider the story of the poison dress, the dancing girl at prom, and Jason’s poor princess. Could you survive if your very environment were shattered? Do you have enough power in your skin and song and bones?

I write this post on my 30th birthday. A place in time that’s considered to be an initiation into full adulthood. A time when we become less concerned with our outer trappings and what others think of us. We start to realize that the criticisms of those who seek to poison us matter little when we’re truly self-possessed, autonomous human beings. It might seem bizarre to think of things like poison dresses and evil curses on such a joyous occasion. Such is the morbid humor of my family that I’ve been blessed to inherit. As I look to my future, I still hold that there is a beauty and value in facing the poison and confronting our darkness. In doing so, we can appreciate our balms and have gratitude for our blessings. With my gratitude, I can walk confidently in the world, assured that I’m wearing my own skin and not the poisonous remains of another.

1Brunvand, Jan Harold (2002). Encyclopedia of Urban Legends. W. W. Norton & Company. p. 322.
2Pausanias, Description of Greece, 2. 3. 6

                    “The Olde Apothecary Shop” by Lois Bryan

About the Author

David Salisbury is a queer vegan witch and author of several books on witchcraft and the mystic arts. He lives in Washington DC where he works to co-facilitate The Firefly House, an open pagan organization for the area. He enjoys growing poisonous plants and eating cake (though usually not at the same time).

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