Lllewellyn’s 2008 Herbal Almanac – various

Llewellyn’s 2008 Herbal Almanac: Herbs for Cooking and Crafts, Health and Beauty, Growing and Gathering, History, Myth and Lore
Various
Llewellyn Publications, 2007
312 pages

People often assume that because the Llewellyn almanacs are dated (and are called “almanacs”), that most of the information in them isn’t relevant beyond the year they’re published. The truth is to the contrary. While the 2008 Herbal Almanac does include a few pages of lunar information that can be used with herbal magic and growing, this is no Farmer’s Almanac. Instead, it’s an anthology of informational essays on a wide variety of topics related to herbs and plants, sure to be relevant for years to come.

The book is divided into sections: Growing and Gathering Herbs, Culinary Herbs, Herbs for Health, Herbs for Beauty, Herb Crafts, and Herb History, Myth and Lore. Each section contains anywhere from three to eight essays of a nice variety. While overall I enjoyed the quality of the writing and information in here (albeit as someone who does not work extensively with herbs beyond cooking), here are a few of my favorites:

Endangered Herbs by Patti Wigington: Because some of the most commonly used herbs in magic are often ubiquitous (and even weeds) it can be easy to forget that not everything that’s an herb is easy to procure, or has a healthy population overall. This essay details a few herbs that, while used frequently in magic, are endangered from habitat loss, overuse, and other reasons. The author offers some excellent alternatives, as well as tips on sustainable consumption (culinary and otherwise) of these plants.

Shadowplay: Herbs for the Shady Garden by Elizabeth Barrette: You don’t need full sunlight to be able to have a garden. This excellent essay details what may be planted in the shade, as well as some ideas for helping the herbs to grow.

Organic Gardening Practices by Lynne Smyth: Another one of the gardening essays, I liked this simply because it’s a good, basic introduction to ways to garden without chemicals, and in a sustainable manner. Those who claim to be close to the Earth would do well to adopt as many of these practices as possible.

Henna for Hair by AarTiana: I love henna, and have been using it for a few years to dye my hair red. This was a nice guide to using henna, and while I already knew a good bit of the information, I learned a few things (including the fact that Lucille Ball used henna!)

Paracelsus, Plants, and the Doctrine of Signatures by Mark Stavish: This was a little denser read than most of what was in this book, but still quite accessible. A good introduction to a hermetic/alchemical take on magical herbalism, and a more thorough explanation of why we use correspondences than most short writings offer.

Crafts for Kids Unfold Outdoors by Sally Cragin: I’m childfree, but I wholeheartedly support exposing children to nature as soon as possible. This lovely article not only promotes an Earth-friendly approach to using natural items in crafts, but includes a number of how-tos on some very simple creations that can be fun for kids and grown-ups alike!

Overall, this is a great collection. Some of the essays are more 101-level, so this would be an excellent choice for a newbie, but there are some interesting things for the more advanced as well.

Five pawprints out of five.

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Spirit Herbs – Amy “Moonlady” Martin

Spirit Herbs: Simple Recipes for Hibachi Herbal Magic & Sacred Space
Amy “Moonlady” Martin
Moonlady Media
eBook (approximately 70 pages printed out)

Lots of pagans use smudge wands at the beginning of a ritual to purify participants and the ritual space. However, there’s much, much more you can do than the usual sage bundle. In this creative text, Martin offers a whole new level of smudging with herbs of all sorts–and all you need is a garden (or barbecue) variety hibachi.

Although the subtitle of the book mentioned recipes, there’s more to it than that. Martin offers a wealth of practical information to get you started. From the virtues of different sorts of tools for burning herbs, to what part of the plant has what sort of energy, to why trying to burn a pound of resins at once is a bad idea, she gives us everything we’ll need to safely and effectively use the herbs. While she thankfully avoids stuffing the book with a bunch of spells and rituals, she does offer up some of her favorite herbal blends and gives information for what they’re best used for. She also includes a helpful dictionary of a good diversity of herbs.

I love the author’s writing voice. While she conveys the information clearly and concisely, she simultaneously slips in a good bit of humor. Neither condescending nor airy-fairy, she’s sensible without boring her readers senseless.

This is exactly the kind of book that I want to see more of–not rehashes of the same old stuff, a bunch of reworked Culpeper and Cunningham. In this book, we get an innovative collection of ideas with enough information to effectively put them into practice, but without a bunch of fluff and filler. In short–this is an awesome book, and I can’t recommend it enough. I know I’ll be keeping it for my own use.

Five pawprints out of five.

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The Weiser Concise Guide to Herbal Magick – Judith Hawkins-Tillirson

The Weiser Concise Guide to Herbal Magick
Judith Hawkins-Tillirson
Weiser Books, 2007
126 pages

I am really excited about this book–and it takes a lot to make that happen these days! Usually what it takes is somebody writing something that fills a particular niche, or explores something different, or otherwise manages to stand above the crowd. Judith Hawkins-Tillirson has managed to provide a book on herbal magick that will appeal to practitioners both of “low magic”–witchcraft and related practices–and “high magic”–ceremonialism and ritual magic.

Now, for myself, most of my magical experience and knowledge of herbs comes from the likes of Cunningham, books that do a lot of research on other books that do a lot of research, and eventually come down to the original texts from whence most herbal correspondences in formal magic come today (as well as various bits of folklore of dubious origin). What Hawkins-Tillirson has done is gone directly to the original sources, starting with Crowley’s 777 as well as other Qabalistic and related sources, and ferreted out the bare bones of herbal correspondences. She then provides us with concise (as the title suggests) yet meaty entries for herbs associated with the various planets, the Sephiroth and paths of the Tree of Life, and the classic elements. What this leaves us with is a handbook for those who don’t really want to go through all the trouble of reading through countless texts on ceremonialism, but who do want a more solid background to their herbalism than “Someone way back when once said….”. This makes the text appealing both to detail-oriented folk who are sticklers for proper research, and to more free-form practitioners who want information they can apply to their own works.

Anyone who knows me should be impressed by now that I’m speaking well of a book of correspondences–this is one of those “blue moon” occurrences! However, that’s not all this book offers. The last few chapters are dedicated to practical applications of the knowledge that’s been provided, including equipment, techniques, and considerations to keep in mind when making everything from tinctures to poppets. They’re not lengthy chapters, nor should they be considered the only source you will ever need for creating these things. However, for those who already have a decent background in the hands-on aspects of, say, making a pouch and stuffing herbs in it, these chapters draw clear connections between the theoretical material described in the first part of the book, and how they may actually be used.

Finally, I have to give the author huge kudos for the last chapter, “Franz Bardon and Herbal Magick”. Bardon is one of those magicians who has received a lot less attention than he deserves, and I was delighted to see her discussing his techniques of fluid condensing. While I haven’t worked a lot with Bardon’s material, my husband has, and no doubt as soon as I finish this review he’ll be spiriting the book away for his own purposes!

As I said, this is not the do-all and end-all of herbal magic. However, the bibliography is substantial, and there are wonderful endnotes, a huge amount for a book of this length. Hawkins-Tillirson has certainly done her homework, theoretical and practical, and I am highly impressed by this text. If you have any interest in herbal magic whatsoever, even if it’s just as components in spell pouches, you’ll want to pick up a copy of this text.

Five enthusiastic pawprints out of five.

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