Book review: Wicca Herbal Magic by Lisa Chamberlain

Wicca Herbal Magic: A Beginner’s Guide to Herbal Spellcraft is another fine installment from Lisa Chamberlain in her series of books on Wicca. This one, as several others, is published by Sterling in their “Mystic Library”, a series of lovely introductory hardcover pocket books. I’ve reviewed two others in this series, and this latest one does not disappoint. I adore hardcover books, and the little pocket sizes are excellent for those just starting on the path. They provide enough content to give a basic grounding in the subject, as well as a beautiful layout that really pleases the eye and captures and reflects the written contents of the book. I love these little books!

Lisa Chamberlain’s writing is excellent, as ever.* I liked the way that this book was laid out in three sections. The first is “The Ancient Art of Herbalism”, which contains a kind of short history of herbalism and its shamanic practices, as well as a look at the ancient system of correspondences and the aspects of Hermetics that relate to working with plants (and indeed many magical systems).

The second part of the book, the practical section, looks at thirteen herbs that can be used magically (as well as some of the better-known physical benefits that these provide). Most of these herbs many people already have in their cupboards or in their gardens, such as basil, bay laurel, cinnamon, dandelion, nutmeg, rosemary, sage and thyme. It shows us how we can work with herbs that have a long history in magical works, and without breaking the bank. On top of this, we have some wonderful tips on purchasing herbs, creating a magical garden, foraging, drying and storing herbs and how to use them magically (such as charging herbs before putting them to work).

Part three is an herbal grimoire, with recipes for magical teas which anyone can work with, magical baths, herb and candle spells, smudging, making oils and more. There are also rituals in this section such as blessings. At the end of this work, there is a brief overview of how to work with herbs in relation to astrology, which if you work with natal charts, the zodiac or planetary energy is perfect.

There are also handy tables of correspondences for quick reference at the end of the book.

All in all, this is a great little book to get you started working with our herbal allies. At just over 100 pages, it is not overwhelming and is easy to take in. Lisa’s writing style is informal but impeccable, and makes you want to learn more, try out the recipes and spells and get more involved with the work as a whole. It’s a great little gift for anyone interested in magical herbalism. I’ve been working with herbs for many years now, and I learned some new things in this book – with witchcraft, magic and herbalism, you never stop learning!

*For those in the Pagan community who still (wrongly) profess that Lisa Chamberlain is not a real person, (and the books are written by ghostwriters) it’s time to stop. She is real, she is lovely and I’ve spoken to her. It’s time this misinformation ends. She is a prolific writer, and good on her!

And now for some R&R…

The contract has been signed for the next book, the manuscript has been submitted this morning, this video was made this afternoon from footage I’ve been shooting all month, and now I’m going to take a little rest! See you all in a couple of weeks 🙂

Witches and Brooms – Sex Magic/Sexual Fantasy Or Something Far Greater?

Witches and Brooms – Sex Magic/Sexual Fantasy Or Something Far Greater?

Over the years I’ve heard quite a few people equate the riding of the broom by a witch to a sexual experience. Often these folks state that the witch used a hallucinogenic ointment which was rubbed onto the broom, and then inserted in a sexual manner which made her think she was “flying”. I can tell you, there are a lot easier ways to get high.

This theory comes from a few confessions extracted during the dreadful times of the witch hunts across Europe. What is often forgotten or purposefully left out is the fact that these so-called confessions were extracted under torture. Europe and Scotland had absolutely awful methods of torturing so-called witches to extract information from them, usually with questions led by the examiner to produce a consistent result among the captives. In England, torture was illegal, however, they still kept their victims awake and used sleep deprivation to get what they wanted, as well as having the person kept in one position for hours at a time without being able to move. That’s torture too.

If we are to believe that what was said under torture is factually correct, then we must also believe what else was said alongside this confession. We must believe that these people had sexual congress with goats, or the Devil himself. We must believe that these people suckled their familiars (animal helpers) with their own blood. We must believe a host of other outrageous stories that were created to instil fear and hatred, dividing a populace and creating a space where the old, the weak, the poor and the independent thinkers were targeted against the power of the Church and patriarchy.

It is my firm belief that the sexual imagery of the witch “riding” her broom is the result of the sexually repressed minds of the witch hunters themselves. It is only one of many sexual fantasies created by these men who were paid to bring people in for prosecution. This was their job, and they made money from it. You would have to be quite a horrible type of person to want to do this sort of job in the first place. Just saying.

In fact, the witch riding her broom comes from a long heritage of witches working with staffs, stangs, wands and distaffs. We can trace this work in Europe back to the völva (plural völur), a type of Norse shamanistic practitioner of magic and divination. Völva actually means “staff carrier”. Usually a woman, she always had a staff, sometimes wood, sometimes an ornamental iron distaff. We know this from the many burials found across Scandinavia which have these women buried with the tools of their trade.

I’ve even heard some folks say that the practice of the völva was seen as shameful in Viking society. They use the sexual fantasy imagery and overlay it against the profession of the völva, claiming that this is what she did with her staff, like a witch riding her broom covered in the flying ointment. First, let’s look at the “shameful” aspect.

For women, it was not considered shameful to practice magic, except from a Christian point of view. For men to practice the magic of the völva, known as seidr, it was seen in Viking times as “ergi”, often translated as shameful. For a man to do women’s work was seen as unmanly, though we do have to remember that the sources from which we get this information were written after the Viking period by the patriarchal Christian monks. We also see women warriors, buried with their weapons, and so the question of men’s work and women’s work is even more circumspect. We see in the myths of the gods and goddesses a couple of the gods doing womanly things: Odin learns the art of seidr from the goddess Freya (he’s not seen as unmanly), Thor dresses up as a woman to get into a giant’s hall (still not unmanly) and Loki turns himself into a mare to have sex with another horse (still not called out as unmanly and actually producing Odin’s steed, Sleipnir, in the process).

(Artwork from: https://www.deviantart.com/briannacherrygarcia/gallery)

Add on top of that the fact that all the burials found of the women who are considered to be völur are high status burials, and the question of shame seems absurd. The Osberg ship burial, perhaps one of the most famous Viking ship burials, had the body of a völva laid to rest with with a host of beautiful treasures (what was left of them, for the burial had been broken into a long time before, with many of the goods stolen). No person who was considered shameful would be given such a send off.

The question of drugs does come into play when looking at the ancestors of the more modern-day version of the broom riding witch. Many of the burials were found to have pouches of hallucinogenic herbs on the body, such as henbane or cannabis seeds. These seeds, when thrown onto hot coals would produce a smoke that, when inhaled, would most definitely get you “high”, but not in the way that the sexual fantasy of the witch riding a broomstick would by the witch hunters. The clue is in the staff itself, and what it symbolises.

The word seidr is thought to derive from spinning or weaving. The völur were those who could see the way that fate was woven or spun through their contact with the spirit world. Their distaffs were their link to that ability. For those graves wherein a wooden staff was found, the link lies more with the World Tree that one can use to travel to the nine worlds in Norse cosmology. Through the staff there is a sympathetic link created with the World Tree, with Yggdrasil, and it can be used to “ride” between the worlds.

And this is where the descendant of the völur appears today, in the form of hedge riding, an aspect of Hedgewitchcraft. Riding the staff/stang/broom/whatever you have to hand that resembles the world tree helps you to travel between the worlds in order to find the information that you require in your Craft. Most Hedgewitches today do not use hallucinogens, being able to perform the working through trance states that are induced by other means.

So, in conclusion, the equating of broom riding and sex seems more like a far-fetched fantasy than the actual reality when we dig a little deeper into the history and the ancestry of witchcraft. That it is continuing to be spread today only helps to demean and undermine the power of women in working magic, turning something extremely symbolic and important into a sexually repressed fantasy created by the patriarchy. When a witch is riding her broom, or using her staff, stang or wand in ritual, the lineage is far greater than most people can ever assume, and is far more powerful than any witch hunter could ever dream of.

For a great video on the staff of the völva, see Freya’s video below:

Womb energy? Womb Space? Nope.

I have a lovely book which I’m re-reading, about empowering the wild woman within, manifesting her in all her glory. This book is filled with beautiful poetry and great exercises, written from the heart from a Woman Most Wild. And yet – and yet…

It’s one of many books about female empowerment that talks about working with the energy that originates in your womb space. While this book does state that you can do this even without a womb, it still annoys me, going against the grain of my very feminine soul. Like so many others talking about energetic womb space, many in the Pagan community with feminist goals are still being held back by a woman’s reproductive organs. At least, that’s just my opinion. I’m sure many will disagree.

Maiden, Mother, Crone. Right there, we have the Divine Feminine in a nutshell for so many Pagan paths, and yet it is one that is defined by a woman’s reproductive cycle. We are told that we can feel Her in our own womb spaces, whether we still have them or not. She is defined by her womb that birthed the universe. Is the Divine Masculine defined by his phallus? The Cerne Abbus Giant might say so, but his club is a lot bigger.

His name was Cedric Alton.

Even when I still had a womb, before the hysterectomy that gave me my life back after 30 years of living with fibroids and cysts, even then I never connected to the Divine Feminine through womb energy. I knew from a very early age that I would never birth any children physically. I never wanted to. My dolls were my friends, not children I wanted to raise. Even my Cabbage Patch dolls that I wanted so much (because everyone else had one), even then, after the first day I was tired of taking care of them as children, and they immediately “grew up” to become companions. I have never wanted children in my life. A day spent with someone who has young children reinforces this each and every time. I’m too sensitive, I like quiet and peace and being able to have the freedom to do whatever I wish or need to do at any given moment. My womb was never going to be used for what it was meant for.

Before anyone goes all “Lousie Hay” on me, I will stipulate that I firmly do not believe that my desire to not have children caused my condition. I am a staunch believer that genetics, diet, lifestyle and good/bad luck are the reasons for medical conditions. I think that if we begin to believe otherwise, we are instilling a process of blame and shame for medical conditions. Yes, the body and mind are one, and do affect the other to a certain degree, but I believe that this is taken way too far in many people’s opinions that have absolutely no basis in scientific fact. I am a very practical Pagan. I am happy to dance with the faeries in the moonlight and have a great interest in herbal medicine, but I also feel very strongly about getting all my vaccines and using the benefits that modern medicine can provide. Others may feel differently, and I respect their opinion, though I might not share them.

My womb is like my appendix. It’s a part of me, but if it isn’t working properly, it’s better to have it out. All my life I had painful periods, and was only diagnosed as the womb was being cut out of my body and the real extent of the damage from my condition became known. How much of my life was lived in pain I can only attest to now, because I am free from that pain. It’s like having a whole new life. Sure, I’ve got other problems – don’t we all – and I still ache with arthritis and manage my asthma as best I can. But I’ve got my life back. My womb space caused me nothing but pain since puberty. That’s not something I’m going to celebrate. Like an ancestor who caused you pain, you can acknowledge that they were a part of your life, but you don’t have to celebrate them.

Besides, I am more than my womb.

My womb does not make me a woman. It does not make me what or who I am today, nor did it ever define me in the past. I am more than my womb. I don’t and never have fit into the Maiden Mother Crone categories. I am me, a part of everything and beholden to no one thing.

A poster I had on the wall for many, many years: Light in the Forest by Sue Dawe

Was I a “girly girl”? Yes, and no. Labels never really stuck very well on me. As a child I loved dresses and princesses and unicorns. I also loved knocking the ball out of the park when it was my turn at bat on the baseball ground. I played hockey with the boys at lunchtime at elementary school, and I figure skated by myself in the evenings at the outdoor rink. I adore belly dance and the wonderful costumes, but I wear jeans and shirts or leggings for the most part in the rest of my life. The Divine Feminine roared through my veins, but I also heeded the rallying cry of the Divine Male and everything in between. Baseball isn’t masculine, and unicorns aren’t feminine. These are just “tools” we use to put everything into neat little boxes, just like the terms Divine Feminine and Divine Masculine.

Weapons, a chariot and cats. Who needs anything more?

I have loved The Goddess all my life. It began when I was very young, and had a book about Greek myths. Artemis and Atalanta, these two ladies were my inspiration, my guiding force. Artemis, the eternal maiden, strong and free, what a role model. Running through the forests, standing under the moonlight, beholden to no one. That was The Goddess for me, and still is today, though in many other forms alongside this one. I have always loved independent female deity: Brighid, Freya, Morrigan, Andraste. Give me these ladies over an Earth Mother any day.

Some of these ladies are extremely sexual and sensual. Good for them, and good for me and all women! I’ve always embraced my sexuality and sensuality. Combined with the intimacy of a good, strong relationship there really isn’t anything better. But did I feel Their energy in my womb centre? Nope. Not once. Where did I feel Them? In my heart. Always, in my heart. That energetic centre swells just thinking about these ladies, just as it does when I think about whatever it means to be in the Divine Feminine category. Same for the Divine Masculine category. My power lies in my heart chakra, not my womb space. My love for this planet comes straight out of my chest, filling my soul with a brilliant light that guides me through the darkest of nights.

So each time I read a passage in a book, or attend a workshop that mentions moving into my womb space, I just have to grin and bear it, and shift the energy up higher, to where it belongs: in my heart. I am not my womb space, and no woman should be defined by that, whether they have them or not. Perhaps if we drop the labels we give to divinity, and forego Divine Feminine and Divine Masculine, then we will truly see that the energy really does emanate from the heart for both, or All, instead of from Their, and our, reproductive bits.

We are star-stuff, as is everything. You can’t define something like that with any more clarity. Or by their physiology. You just have to accept it, and love from that wonderful energy centre that we all have: our hearts.  

Heart energy centre/chakra. Right there in the middle of all things.

Learning Curve

I’m just working now on a new video. Actually, I’m redoing an old video, on hedgewitchcraft and hedge riding. My previous video was shot using an old camera, and the voice editing and mixing was very, very basic. In the last three years since I made that video, I’ve learned so much in the editing side of making videos.

Filming is just one aspect. Getting the right shot takes time. You have to be aware of the weather (it’s been so windy here for over a month, that I haven’t been able to get the drone out). You have to get to your location. You have to hope the tech works as it should, and that all batteries needed are fully charged. You have to know how to use the tech – for me, that meant learning how to fly and operate the drone, getting my pilot’s license and figuring out how to take the data off the card and onto my laptop.

Then, this year, I learned how to use Adobe Elements video editor, which I’m still learning new things on every time I make a movie. It would be so nice to be able to take a course in this, to really get to know how everything works, but I’ve got other jobs that pay the bills and time is short.

Then there is the audio. Recording it on my Zoom recorder (a little handheld device, not the face-time thingy). Getting the raw data onto my laptop and then using Audacity to edit it. Mixing tracks, getting a clear sound – I’m still learning here as well. Then there is choosing the music. I use Epidemic Sound, a site where for a subscription you can download license-free music to use for social media. It has really good stuff on there that I just download for pleasure too! But when editing, I have to make sure that the music works with the visual image, and that the sound levels are in balance.

It’s all very technical, and the learning curve has been steep. But I feel I’m getting there. I’m not as good as some of my favourite YouTubers in the art of video creation, but I’m learning from them. I watch their videos with an eye not only to content, but to how they edit. I see what equipment they are using (which I’ll never be able to afford, at least not for five years or more when I can either get it second-hand or discounted) and how they are using the equipment. It’s taught me so much about how to make a video.

It’s a long, long way from my college days, where we learned how to make films using Super 8 and you had to physically cut and splice the ribbon together.

It’s wonderful that technology allows me to create in a different way. Writing will always be my first love, and my soul’s calling. But being able to express myself in video, in painting, in creating music and poetry, in dance and in singing – this is a true blessing. And one which I owe a deep debt of gratitude to my supporters.

To everyone who has bought one of my books, or my art prints, supported me on my blog and on Patreon. If it weren’t for Patreon, I wouldn’t be able to make videos, or to take time off from writing to express myself in other ways, such as painting. Patreon has been a lifeline to so many artistic types, and I am truly grateful to be able to connect with my supporters in this fashion. Writing, making videos, painting, photography – all these artistic pursuits no longer pay the bills in today’s society. Not unless you are really, really lucky. But with a platform that helps artists connect with their supporters, you can make a real difference in someone’s life. I support other artists on Patreon, knowing that what they do makes the world a better place. Even though it’s been a learning curve, it’s also been a light in the darkness 🙂

Thank you to everyone here at Down the Forest Path, for continuing on this journey with me. I hope to walk it with you for many years to come.