Scott Cunningham is perhaps one of the occult’s most widely known authors, having written a wide variety of beginner books. Magical Herbalism is “the classic introduction,” and was one of the very first books on herbalism to come out for the occult genre. Written during the eighties, it is still current, and hailed as a great place to begin. It consists of 14 chapters, divided into 3 parts, as well as 4 appendices. The introduction is a concise piece on the purposes of the book. My complaints with this book are primarily based on the layout- recipes for things are scattered throughout the book in places they don’t belong- and some of the heavier wicca based practices that seem silly at time.
The first part is “Preparation,” and begins with the first chapter, “Tools of the Magical Herbalist.” This chapter details the type of knife you should get for herbal work, as well as care, and rituals to consecrate it. It also does the same for wands, and includes a thorough list of other supplies one may need, and how to prep them for your uses. I found this list the most useful component of this chapter, and underlined quite a bit of information, such as what types of herbs to stock up on, purifying a censor, and so on. I also starred this passage: “Many feel more comfortable working magic in the name of a god or goddess. Although magic is nonreligious, it is not nonspiritual (on the contrary, it is at the heart and soul of every religious philosophy). If you feel more at ease flavoring your magic with religion, by all means do so (page 8).”
Chapter 2 is intended as a primer to magic. It starts out by listing the basic principles of magic, citing “harm none” as an old witch tradition- in the margin I questioned wheter it was a witch or wicca tradition. There’s also an excellent section on enchanting on page 17. He covers the place and time to do magic, listing day correspondences, and then planetary hours of the night, then goes on to cover altar setups, preparations, and numerology. In the preparations section is a recipe for a bath blend.
Finally getting into the point of this book, chapter 3 is “Identifying, Gathering, Drying, and Storing Herbs.” Identifying is pretty much just buying a field guide. Gathering is covered in detail, such as when is prime time for picking, and steps to do prior to gathering, such as “fast for three hours prior to your departure, and gather together your magic knife, a cloth bag, and a piece of bread” (page 33), as well as “remove all watches, gloves, shoes, and socks before actually approaching the herbs themselves” (page 33), which I’ve never heard of anyone doing. But there are also a number of very informative tidbits in this section, such as the proper way to make offerings/payment to the herbs (Oh, and if any of you know why iron destroys all magic (page 35), do let me know. Because it sounds insane.). Drying is covered next, listing methods for leaves, seeds and seed heads, roots, flowers, and in a hurry. Storing is also very helpful from a practical point of view.
“The language of Magical Herbalism” comes next, reading like a dictionary. A fairly decent list, it covers a wide array of commonly used terms in the occult, as well as occasionally leaving you a nugget of valuable information, such as how to make an infusion, or herbal potion or tea (page 42, by the way). As an end to part one, it’s not a bad one, and I would likely put it in the same spot.
Part two covers “Herbal Secrets,” and begins with the 5th chapter, “Protection”. It gives you the phase of the moon best for protection workings (Waxing Moon), and offers up recipes, such as protective bath salts, sachets, and charms. There is a list of protective herbs, and a section on sachets and charms in particular, covering all-purpose, anti-lightening, and a variety of others. It also covers purifications and a few methods to do them- it seems like they are what we commonly call banishings now. The chapter ends with a purification wreath you can make for your home.
Six is “divination,” something not commonly related to herbalism, but which surprisingly applies. It covers incenses specifically meant to be burned during divination, such as witches’ sight and scrying, as well as brews to be made and drank to increase awareness. The method to create a simple (infusion of a single herb) is covered here as well, on page 64. Herbal scrying, sachets and pillows, and herbal pendulums are also seen here.
Chapter 7 is “healing,” and opens with a reminder of the price of indulging in alcohol, drugs, sex, and other things in excess. Cunningham also states that “by banishing cigarettes, alcohol, drugs, refined sugar, bleached flour, fat-soaked and artificially preserved and flavored foods, many diseases can be prevented before they need to be cured” (page 71). A number of incenses and oils are covered, and an excellence section on amulets as well. Also covered here are a few traditional methods of healing, such as the use of onions and garlic, and the assumption of the oak.
“Love” is finally covered in chapter 8, although the chapter is fairly short and not much depth is found here. An incense blend for love is given, as well as instructions for a few different sachets. A list of herbs is also given on page 83.
Nine is “Herbs of the Elements and Magical Fluid Condensers,” a very interesting chapter with a wide variety of applications. Fluid condensers are magically charged infusions that, in effect, power up any form of working. Typically they are elementally based (although there is a universal one), and there is an excellent section on the herbs used for these, as well as elemental correspondences for the condensers and their purposes. The process of creation is covered in depth, as well as the application of their uses. I found this to be one of the most useful and informative chapters in this book.
“Scented Oils and Perfumes” gives a small introduction to the traditional uses of oils and perfumes, then details how to create them with the method of enfleurage. An oil blessing is included, along with a variety of all-purpose anointing oils, as well as a few purpose specific oils. The end of this chapter is “a guide to the most-used magical oils” (page 107).
Chapter 11 is finally the “incenses” chapter. This is a very detailed chapter, citing the powers of incense being the vibrations and scents. Page 121 lists an exorcism of incense that should always be performed. The rest of this chapter is a variety of incense recipes, including holiday specific ones and incenses used for protection.
Twelve is a very short chapter on amulets. This is a list on herbs that are worn or carried for specific uses.
Chapter 13, is a witch’s herbal. This is a large chunk of the book. The herbs are listed in alphabetical order by the scientific name, and then divided further into folk names, gender, planet, element, associated deities, parts used, basic powers, and specific uses. This seems like it could be a very useful resource for creating your own mixes. Unfortunately, a variety of recipes are hidden in this section, including the creation of a witch’s bottle, a power incense recipe, a prosperity sachet, and a graveyard dirt substitution.
Part Three is titled “The magical garden,” and consists of the final chapter of the book- chapter 14. There are 4 specific types of herb gardens listed- love, healing, divination, and general purpose. Laying out the garden is also covered, with hints on companion plants and what ones to keep apart. It also covers preparation of the land, including a garden protection ritual, and planting. Tree protection and the elimination of pests as well as other common gardening problems are discussed, along with common magical practices and a very short section on indoor gardens.
The book does not end here though, there are 4 appendices. The first covers the very particular problem of magical names and includes a list of names that may be used in older grimoires. The second covers “baneful herbs and flying ointments,” two topics that any occult loving herbalist is familiar with. The third is a very short selection of sources for herbs and oils, while the fourth is a collection of herbal redes, many of which are very common and familiar, such as “An apple a day keeps the doctor away” (page 248). There is also a bibliography.
As an introduction to magical herbalism, this book is not a bad choice. The recipes seem practical and useful, and there are a large quantity of them for almost every occasion. The herbal guide in chapter 13 is a very useful resource as well.