Herbalism - Magical Arts

The Element Encyclopedia of Witchcraft: The Complete A-Z for the Entire Magical World - Judika Illes 2005

Magical Arts

Herbalism is the magical art of botanicals. Some believe that shamanism and witchcraft first emerged as a “botanical cult.” Individuals studied plants, communicated with them and learned all about them, acquiring knowledge of physical healing, magical, and psychoactive effects. Witches and shamans were able to spiritually interact with plants (or at least with their presiding spirits, depending upon interpretation).

The ancient Greeks did not linguistically distinguish between herbal healers, poisoners, and witches: all three possessed the power of plants. (See DICTIONARY: Pharmakon.) Herbalism remains a beloved magical art. Botanicals are the primary component of magic spells from every tradition around the world.

Each individual plant is believed to radiate a specific magical power in addition to whatever healing or harmful physical effects it might also cause. Thus lavender is believed to sharpen the mind, while calamus root enhances your powers of command. Roses are favored in love spells; chrysanthemums are identified with death.

Different botanicals are identified as under the dominion of various spirits. Working with the botanicals is one way of attempting to contact spirits or avail yourself of their power. Cowslips—wild primroses—are identified with the Nordic goddess Freya. They are her favorite flower and are believed to transmit her grace and power. Washing one’s face with a cowslip infusion is a method of petitioning Freya to share some of her beauty.

The simple act of gardening or tending the Earth becomes a spiritual interaction. A private garden is transformed into an outdoor altar. Magic spells are transmitted via gardens. A desire for personal fertility may be conveyed to the universe by crafting a garden filled with plants associated with fertility such as poppies, figs, and pomegranates.

A desire for protection might be signaled by planting cactuses, nettles, and poisonous plants like oleander or datura. Spirits may be summoned or fairies beckoned by planting inviting gardens filled with their favored botanicals.

Ancient priestesses of Kybele and Hecate were botanical experts. The tradition survives among Santeria’s priestesses and priests, the Santera and Santero. A botanical education is a required part of initiation.

Every magical tradition also has a botanical tradition, some simple, others extremely elaborate and complex. This remains very accessible magic; many fine herbal books are available, as are academies devoted to the botanical arts including aromatherapy and flower essences in addition to traditional herbalism.