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!

To Keep Silent

Most people in Modern Paganism have heard of the Witch’s Pyramid, sometimes known as the Magician’s Manifesto. In this, there are four goals for a person to achieve their own power, which are: to know, to dare, to will, and to keep silent. I’m discussing each of these one by one in my podcast series, but I’d like to take a closer look at the adage: to keep silent.

Many say that this maxim was used in order to protect witches from “outing” each other during the witch trials and persecution of the Middle Ages. I’m not sure if this quote dates that far back, in all honesty. However, that’s beside the point of this article. There are some beneficial ways that the motto can be used, and also a lot of detrimental ways.

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A good point: it teaches people to shut up and listen. You can’t really listen if you aren’t quiet. It also teaches us that words do have power. We need to use our words responsibly, especially in this age of social media and the abuse of people through the anonymity of the internet. A Witch’s word is said to hold power too – lies and half-truths undermine a Witch’s power (this applies to all people, in my opinion). Words can heal or destroy.

Being silent also helps us to see the bigger picture. When we step outside of our ego and its chattering, we begin to hear the stories of others and see the grander scheme of things. We all have egos, and we need to learn to work with them in order to not be ruled by them. When we are ruled by our egos, we aren’t living intentionally: we are instead living reactionary lives.

Being silent is also helpful in teaching us to be alone. With so many gadgets to hand to distract us from ourselves, we’ve forgotten how to be alone, how to be bored and, yes: how to be lonely. It’s only when you truly deal with loneliness that you can come to understand it and work to improve your situation. Then again, there are the more solitary folk who prefer to be alone, and who find solace in this space for themselves, to work, to heal, to dance and to pray. When we have cut ourselves off from all other distractions, we begin to realise that we are never truly alone. We have nature, the gods, the ancestors, all around us, all the time.

But what are some of the detriments to the saying, “to keep silent”? Well, silence has been used to abuse people for a long, long time. When we silence someone, we are exerting our power over them. Taking away a person or a group’s voice can be the most harmful thing you can do socially, politically, environmentally and ethically. Sometimes this even crosses over into the Pagan sphere, where unsavoury and unethical groups or persons use the adage “to keep silent” to use and abuse others. It can also be used to keep power from an individual or group, to not share knowledge in order to control them. It can be used as a front, a guise, a glamour for when someone doesn’t know an answer, and simply quotes this maxim to maintain an air of mystery and power. These kinds of “teachers” are really just in it for their egos. The best teacher will willingly admit to not knowing something, often learns from the student, and is willing to say so openly and honestly.

This sense of secrecy helps a group or person to establish power and mystique. It entices people to come closer, to learn more. The old Victorian orders and groups wove this veil of secrecy around their groups, not only to protect their members but also to make themselves feel more important. This has carried through in various forms throughout the decades, and has led to the history of Modern Witchcraft being a bit of a fuddled mess. If people were open about themselves, where their traditions came from, and who did what, we might have a more cohesive and coherent history to turn to. Even in the last 70 years we are still trying to unravel pieces of the puzzle, from Gardner and his associates and beyond. They can’t tell us – they’ve all passed on to the Summerland, taking their secrets with them. We can’t verify a lot of claims made by people and groups, which in this age of fact-checking has become paramount.

Many people, myself included, have found this utterly frustrating. So many traditions have created false histories in order to claim validity. In this way, they feel their tradition has the stamp of authenticity, because it goes back to so and so, etc. The irony of lies and half-truths to authentic a tradition is, I’m sure, not lost on many. I personally am not one to equate a religious or spiritual path’s age with validity, and there are many others out there who feel the same. If a spiritual path works for someone, and it was created yesterday, it’s just as valid as a 2,000 year-old tradition that spans the globe. But when secrecy is used to obscure fact because of false claims or untruths in a specific tradition, it can devalue it in the eyes of some. It’s never fun when you find out that your tradition had charlatans and forgers, ego maniacs and more thrown into the historical mix.

History will always have a veil of obscurity over it, hidden truths and perspectives written down by “the winners”. But with the adage of “to keep silent”, this can simply perpetuate the wilful abuse of the truth and facts.

Perhaps we need to learn when to speak up, when to speak the truth, our truths, and when to keep silent. When it is appropriate to do so, in order for power to be shared by all. The person with the most power is the person who is most willing to share it. And they usually don’t shout about it either.

Prayer is a personal thing

Deity in any Pagan tradition is a very personal thing. The best way to get to know more about a deity, apart from extensive research, is through prayer. Some people have difficulty with the word prayer, seeing connotations to other religions with which they prefer to disassociate themselves. However, prayer is not relegate to certain religions, and is found the world over. It is not solely a Christian practice or only pertaining to any of the other Abrahamic faiths. How else would we communicate with deity, whether it is a pre-Christian Irish goddess or Greek god of the sun, or a God and Goddess of our local area with no recorded historical name? If you are communicating with a deity, that is prayer.

Prayer can be simple or complex. You can recite long, flowery verses in loving devotion within a ritual to the gods of your choice, or you may choose to honour them with a few simple, heartfelt words throughout the day. How you choose to pray is entirely your decision.

Prayer is simply opening up a line of communication with deity. When we begin to establish a connection with deity, we find a growing relationship that flows both ways. We can talk to the deities, and they can respond in turn. There are many ways to pray, such as:

•           Prayers of thanksgiving and gratitude

•           Prayers of devotion and love

•           Prayers of petition, such as asking for healing or guidance

•           Daily prayers to keep up a connection to deity throughout the day

•           Seasonal prayers recited in honour of the Sabbats and the Wheel of the Year

Your prayers might be spontaneous, with words inspired by the beauty of nature spoken aloud or quietly in your mind to the gods and goddesses. You might find beautiful, written prayers in books and literature that you wish to recite and/or memorise for ritual or daily practice. Old prayers are not necessarily better than new prayers. As well, writing your own prayers might have more relevance to your own practice than reciting the words of others. If you are feeling poetic, try writing your own prayer to deity, after doing thorough research on their attributes, their likes and dislikes, their form and personality. You can then write your prayer around those ideas. Here is an example of a prayer that I wrote to the Welsh goddess, Arianrhod:

Lady of the Silver Wheel

Whose realm of the starry heavens

Glitters in silver and in gold

Whose gifts of prophecy and sovereignty

Are shared amongst your devoted

Lady of magic

You challenge me as you yourself have been challenged

And I rise

I rise

I rise to the challenge

To be my most authentic self

With your guidance and wisdom

Now and forever more

This prayer takes into consideration her connection to the moon, her abilities and also her stories told through the Welsh myths. It is written plainly, without rhyming or meter. If you prefer to use rhyming and meter, this is also a good choice, for prayers are easier to memorise in that fashion. For example:

Ceridwen, Ceridwen

Brewer of the Awen

Lend strength and protection

Ceridwen, Ceridwen!

When engaging in prayer, it is important to consider that there really is someone on the other end, and that being does not wish to continually be asked for things without getting anything in return. If we are constantly petitioning the gods, then imagine what it would feel like if someone was constantly petitioning you for help. The gods help those who help themselves. There is no problem with prayers of petition, so long as they are balanced with other forms of prayer, perhaps daily prayer or prayers of gratitude.

Know that when we are petitioning the gods, we are not handing over our fates to them, or asking them to solve all our problems. It is still up to us to instigate the change that is needed in our lives. We can petition the gods for help and guidance, but we must also do the hard work that is necessary as well. We practice an independent tradition, based upon personal responsibility. After all, that’s why we are Pagans! And as Pagans, we pray to the deities, as often as possible, both in ritual and outside of ritual, to keep that connection and relationship strong.

Series Two of Witchy Ways!

Wow – so many episodes of Witchy Ways, that I decided to start a new series 🙂 I’ve also now got the drone and new editing software, so I think the quality of the videos has improved immensely. What do you think?

Audiobook of The Hedge Druid’s Craft

It’s finally complete: the entire audiobook of The Hedge Druid’s Craft. Thank you so much to my Bandcamp followers and subscribers for sticking with me throughout this one, as I had a couple months off due to surgery. I hope you enjoy this audiobook. Narrating is hard work, as is editing, maintaining the website, etc. But I’m proud that I’ve been able to do it, and of the finished work.

Now, to write another book!

Walking with the Ancestors

New video now up on my YouTube channel!