Witchcraft Medicine: A Book Review

I finally got around to reading a book that has been on my wish list for awhile –Witchcraft Medicine: Healing Arts, Shamanic Practices, and Forbidden Plants by Claudia Müller-Ebeling, Christian Rätsch, and Wolf-Doeter Storl.  Sarah Lawless first brought the book to my attention in one of her own reviews.  I added it to my Amazon wish list right away and my hubby gave it to me as a Solstice gift over a year ago.  I’m so glad I got it!

First of all, for those of you who don’t identify with the term “witch,” don’t let the title fool you.  This book is about folk healing and ancient practices involving herbs.  There is discussion on witchcraft and witches, but I feel this book is excellent for anyone who identifies as a Pagan and is interested in plants, healing, trance work, wildcrafting, and general incorporation of plants in magical workings. I will say it may be of more use to those of us who follow an Indo-European influenced path or for those who live in similar climates where these plants can grow. Some attention is given to Native American practices and other cultures around the world, though.  I will also say that this is an academic book.  It is probably not for the Pagan novice.

There is so much information in this text.  The authors look into folklore, ethnobotany, and modern research.  Greco-Roman cultures are emphasized and dominate much of the book in the form of discussions on Hecate, Medea, Circe, and Artemis.  Much of our understanding on love potions and flying ointments comes from their lore so it is entirely understandable.  Anyone interested in magic worth their salt should have at least a vague understanding of these figures!  Mary of Christian fame also gets some attention.  I learned much in that section that I didn’t know.  Indeed, women are in the spotlight in this text (sorry boys).  The chapter “Midwives: Fertility and Birth” delves into reproduction and how intimately it is connected with herbalism – whether to aid in fertility, prevent or terminate pregnancy, aid childbirth, or heal a woman post pregnancy.  However there are some great things men can learn about that subject and others that might be of more interest – such as “The Hebe-Ahnin and the Men’s Childbed,” or “Rübezahl: Herbalist and Weather God.”

One of the best aspects of the book is that the authors are not afraid to discuss the plants many now avoid – black henbane, monkshood, belladonna, thorn apple, and mandrake just to name the most infamous.  You won’t really find recipes to make flying ointments, but you’ll learn more about the common ingredients and how they have been used elsewhere throughout the ages – even in brewing!

The book ends with a critical look at contemporary drug laws.  Another reviewer elsewhere took this as the author’s pushing Pagans to take drugs in order to have spiritual experiences – I did not get that impression at all.  The authors are simply sharing the necessary information.  It’s up to the magic practitioner how to proceed and use it.  The book certainly has a lot of respect and caution for the plants as many can be deadly if used incorrectly.  They can also be wonderful medicines if used correctly!  They are worth learning about!

My only issue with the book was, despite the excellent research, some points occasionally made me say, “What now?”  For example, on pg. 15, one of the authors claims that using water during Lughnasadh was taboo to the Celts – this included washing, bathing, and fishing.  I’ve never seen this anywhere in all of my books on Celtic studies.  Maybe there’s truth to it, but it’s eluded me thus far!  Does anyone have any information on this?  Another thing that may occasionally raise a reader’s eyebrow is the sense that these authors wrote from the archetypal perspective.  There is nothing inherently wrong with this, but some people may find it annoying.  Otherwise, the text is very well-written and packed full of useful, interesting information about a plethora of herbs.  It is a must-read for aspiring herbalists, Druids, and witches!

Published by M. A. Phillips

An author and Druid living in Northern NY.

12 thoughts on “Witchcraft Medicine: A Book Review

  1. Since bathing every morning no matter how cold the water was a tradition of Scots and other Celts, the prohibition on water sounds a little fishy to me.

    1. I know… Aside from a few of those instances, the book was great. Thanks for your comment and thoughts! I know from my reading that the Celts were known for being quite clean compared to other cultures of the time.

    2. I also know that visiting wells was traditional at this time of year. Probably because people were traveling and coming together, so why not stop and pray? Usually these visitations included getting wet in some way.

  2. Ironically, I learned about this book from the same Sarah Lawless review, and got it about two months ago, IIRC. I haven’t read it yet. So many books, so little time.

  3. I never heard about the taboo on water, thats in my opinion nonsense. Do they provide sources for this idea on taboo over water? I will then investigate the source. Celts were obsessive about being clean.

  4. perhaps the water restrictions were only during drought. Just a thought, as August does tend to be dry. I’m not sure, as i’d never heard that either. Perhaps it was more regional, and wetter areas of the Celtic lands were more liberal with their bathing. Dunno.

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