REVIEW: The Faeries’ Guide to Green Magick from the Garden

October 18, 2010

I recieved a free copy of this book, unsolicited, for review purposes. This is the first time I’ve been given a free thing to review on my blog! I’m doing a fairly detailed review, if you just want to see what I thought of the book then scroll down to the section marked conclusions and read that.

Going into the book I know quite a bit about Fae, next to nothing about gardening, and a little bit about magical herbalism and herbal remedies.

As far as herbalism goes, I consider the best modern books on the subject to be Cunningham’s two works (Magical Herbalism and the Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs). However even Cunningham’s two books tend to be far from complete and at times are even incorrect. I’ve yet to find any herbalism book on the market that I would consider a complete source, or one I would consider an infallible source.

Because of this, herbal research tends to be a process of cross-referencing as many works as possible, considering the validity of each source, and finally applying practical research to the gathered information to come to some conclusions about the magical properties of an herb. So I was a little excited to have a new book to use as a reference in my own herbal research.

By the book’s title I was a little worried that it might focus either on Faerie Wicca (which I know little about) or the Fae Otherkin Movement (which I know too much about). Luckily the book doesn’t seem to be directly connected to either of these movements, although it is very faerie centric.

The book is pretty much split into two parts. The first part is a short thirty three pages covering various aspects of magick, faeries, environmentalism, gardening, and herbal remedies. The second section, the bulk of the book, is a description of thirty three different herbs.

The First Section

The majority of this section deals with various ideas about fae. I was a little worried that this, like most fae-centric books, would portray fae as something far beyond their station; as great, powerful and beneficial spirits worthy of exaltation and worship. Although the book is pro-fae (which I have nothing against, I think they are mostly wonderful, amusing, and at times helpful spirits) and casts fae in the best possible light, it never tries to elevate them beyond what they really are, and at times it honestly deals with the negative side of working with fae and fae energy (like having your keys stolen). My one main gripe with the portrayal of fae is that the book seems to confuse them with the individual spirits of plants. But fae isn’t just the name used for the spirits of plants by this particular author, at times what is described is clearly a fae spirit. Fae tend to be drawn towards beautiful areas of nature, like forests and gardens (and some specific types are drawn to less beautiful places like swamps), and they tend to like and even protect these places, but I don’t subscribe to the belief that they are plant spirits.

One of my major gripes of this section is its views on enviormentalism. This is a common gripe I have about authors who infuse their spiritual books with their political beliefs. I’m not really interested in politics, and as I’ve said before my personal political beliefs tend to be in opposition to most pagans on most subjects. I didn’t find any of the environmentalism to be enlightening or insightful, it was just something I had to put up with. I suppose if I was into that I might have found it more enjoyable, but it still would have just been preaching to the choir.

The worst part is when this environmentalism starts to tread upon the spiritual beliefs being expounded on in the book. For instance the author repeats a common yet naive spiritual belief that in ancient times people were more closer and friendly towards nature, and as such were more spiritual. This goes against the historical record and it’s continued accounts of man trying to control, civilize, and adapt nature to his needs through out history and across nearly every culture. It also dismisses out of hand many theories concerning urban spirituality, and that urban life, although different, is as spiritual and natural as anything inside so-called “nature”. Later it talks about how fae dislike urban life and what we’ve done with the planet. Yes fae like natural places like forests and tend to protect them, but they also like certain urban environments too. They love theme parks and are frequently found in them for instance, and they even tend to be particularly drawn towards certain malls.

Knowing nothing about gardening, I actually found a lot of the gardening information to be interesting. There is a rather long explanation on how to make compost I found particularly enlightening. But most of it I found too short to be truly useful, rather it just opened my eyes to the fact it existed if I wanted to do further research. For instance there’s a paragraph explaining companion planting, but the book only gives one example of this (garlic and roses). I suppose if I wanted to plant roses this would be useful information, but otherwise I’m not going to be able to use companion planting in my garden unless I research it more with other books.

Probably one of the most interesting sections though is the chapter which goes over the various systems that use herbs medicinally. Not only do I think that the information is a good introduction to the different systems, but this section cites the different books and authors which these systems are based on making it very easy for someone to do additional research on these subjects.

The first section actually has some really good and interesting parts concerning practical magic. There are some cool ideas and some cool new things to try hidden in the text. My only real gripe is that there is some boring and useless stuff (like the enviornmentalist issues) that you have to trudge through to get there. I’d rather these parts were replaced with more useful information, or even cut out completely so I can get right to what I really want.

The Second Section

Here’s the best part of the book, and what I think most people are buying the book for. I think the author and publisher agree because it makes up about four fifths of the book. It contains entries for thirty three different plants. The entries are limited to things you’d realistically grow in your garden (so commonly used herbs like dragon’s blood are missing) and, as far as my understanding of various herbs go, the section seems to have omitted any potentially toxic or dangerous herbs. Even Nutmeg, a common cooking spice which is actually toxic in small quantities, is missing.

The section consists of a short description of the plant starting with a general description and then going off into other topics which usually goes on for about a page and a half. Then we usually get one or two recipes that use that plant. Most of these are cooking recipes, but there are also recipes for things like floor cleaner, deodarent, and skin lotion.

Each entry starts out with the most common name of the plant, followed by its latin name, followed by other names, and finally which parts of the plant are used. The best part is that the book lists the Latin name. This is so important in these types of books because often times plants go by so many different names that it can be impossible to cross-reference one work with another or find the plant in stores unless you know the latin name. Also sometimes more than one plant shares the same name, and the only way to get the exact plant described is to check its latin name.

Next comes a general description of the plant, and sometimes (but not always) there is some gardening information included, like what tempetures and climates the plant grows best in. What you get from there is really a potluck. It almost seems like the author is just throwing in random information about the plant in a stream of concious way. This can be folklore about the plant, mythological information, magical uses, or medicinal information. Sometimes there is information on how to make teas or baths from the herbs, and there are actually a few rituals hidden in the text (which are really cool). In fact in the Dandelion section there is a page long meditation ritual described. Sometimes the sections just go completely off on a tangent, such as the section with Basil in which several paragraphs are spent describing the goddess Bridget.

There really is no consistancy of what you will or will not get with any particular plant. Sometimes it might mention the Greek mythology of the plant. This isn’t always the case though, even in instances where I know the plant was mentioned in Greek mythology. In the entry on Fennel, some time is spent talking about its Kabbalistic association. But no other plant has a Kabbalistic association mentioned, and in fact Kabbalism isn’t mentioned in any other part of the book. With Damania for instance (a shrub native to Central and South America) there is a short descriptive paragraph and then a short paragraph talking about its traditional use as an aphrodesiac, and then the rest of the entry discusses the Norse goddess Freya.

You never really know what you’re going to get out of any of these entries. It makes reading the entries fun, like searching for hidden treasure, but it also makes them all seem incomplete, like there was so much more the author could’ve gone into but didn’t. With each entry I felt like there was at least a page or page and a half of more of information that could’ve been included. How come only certain entries list the magical uses of the plant, or the mythology, or the historical uses?

The recipes are actually one of the coolest parts of this book. It’s another thing that gives the book value after you’ve finished reading it. There are dozens of different recipes to try. Most entries have either one or two recipes following it, but a few don’t have any recipes, and if you read the entry sometimes you can find a recipe in there. I can sum this entire book up in a sentence, “What it has in variety it lacks in consistancy.”

My biggest problem with the book though is that there are no citations and no bibliography. A lot of the information comes from folklore, mythology, and herbal medicine. I know this sort of information was not independently developed by the author, they had to of gotten it from a source and put it in the book. This sort of information is the stuff that is most valuable to me. But in order to know how valid that information might be, I need to know where it came from. Also if I knew where it came from, I could easily do more research on my own by reading the original text and intepreting it for myself. Ideally in a book like this every bit of unoriginal information would have a notation that would point me to its source. I really can’t stress how important citations are in a work like this, or how they make the work infinitely more valuable.

There are also the pretty pictures accomponying the entries by Lisa Steinke. Normally I would ignore this part of the book, but these pictures seem to be an important selling point in the press release.

These pictures have no practical value (like drawings of the plants would, for instance). They’re pictures of faeries. Not real faeries though. Essentially they’re drawings of pretty women in gowns with wings, each one supposedly related to the plant. I found these pictures to be typical of the faerie genre of drawings in popular culture (not something I’m at all into), and as paintings to be rather timid and boring. Even the women depicted, although pretty, were boring.

Conclusions

I’m actually surprised by how much I liked the book. My initial thought was that I would consider it to either be a good reference book on herbalism to use as a supplement with better books, or it would be completely useless. I thought it might be a useful gardening guide, but I found it rather lacking in that regard.

As an herbal reference book, it’s an okay supplemental reference. It has enough little details that I’ll probably look through it in the future when I’m researching different herbs. However it’s so varied and eclectic and at times limited that I’d hardly say it was a must buy. In fact I’d have trouble recommending the book solely on its merits as an herbal reference.

Where the book really shines though is with its practical information. There are cooking recipes, tea recipes, how to use plants medicinally, how to make wine, how to make floor cleaner and how to make skin lotion. There are also quite a few magical rituals you can practice hidden through out this book which I really didn’t expect to see and which is so totally awesome.  These are the things you can come back to and use again and again after you’ve already read the book. And this is really where you get back your investment in a book, both the money you spent to buy it and the time you spent to read it.

Overall I wouldn’t rate it as a title you have to own, but still the book would make a positive addition to anyone’s magical library. There’s more than enough good stuff in the book to warrent spending the money on it. More importantly though there’s a lot of fun stuff in this book. There’s a recipe for making lavender chocolate truffles. How is that not totally awesome?


Ritual Magick is Superfluous

October 15, 2010

Years ago I wrote a ritual for myself. A few days ago I was rewriting the ritual so it could be understood and used by someone else. This is a ritual I’ve used for years and one that I’ve done at least a couple hundred times. As I was writing the ritual I noticed that over half the steps, which I was writing down and explaining so someone else to do them, I no longer performed when I did the ritual.

The ritual is as strong and as effective as its ever been. I don’t need those extra steps, and I don’t usually do them because it saves time. However I still included the steps in the ritual and explained them for the benefit of another. I don’t do this to deny someone else my experience or for the sake of completion, but because those steps are important, and it goes back to the nature of ritual magic.

Ritual magic is always superfluous. For those who may not know exactly what ritual magic is, it’s a broad term which refers to magical acts which require some sort of physical action. This can be as simple as saying a word or phrase that announces your intent or waving your hand, or something very complex that can take multiple people hours to perform and can require days, weeks, months, and even years of prep time. The opposite of ritual magic is psionic magic, which is magic that is performed without any physical action, in other words entirely through the power of ones mind.

There is no magical act that can be done ritually which cannot also be performed psionically. There are also no magical tools which are required to perform any kind of magical act (other than your body, mind, and spirit of course). The actual ritual parts of ritual magic are all unnecessary. Any ritual can be pared down to psionic magic.

Of course there are a lot of advantages to psionic magic. It’s very fast. It requires zero prep time. This also makes it very versatile. It also makes it very efficient. Plus you’ll save money on tools. So why would anyone prefer ritual magic? There are actually a lot of reasons to use ritual magic, and the exact reasons are going to be a bit dependent on the practitioner and what their focus is. I’ll go more in depth into some of those reasons in a moment, but I’d like to take a step back and discuss what all of this means for the practitioner.

As a practitioner of magic, any ritual you do is less efficient than it could be. The fact that it is a ritual means there’s still something in there that doesn’t need to be there. And so with any ritual there’s always something for you to improve. As you do rituals again and again and again you should strive to understand how and why the ritual works. As you do this you should become more and more aware of aspects of the ritual that you no longer need, and you should take them out. You should pare down the ritual until it no longer exists, and at that point you can cast the spell just by wanting it to happen.

Ideally this is the end goal of learning any ritual. It also means that if you’ve been frequently doing a ritual for years, and it’s still as long and as involved as it was when you first started, you’re not reaching you’re full potential. You’re not working to understand and improve the ritual until you really get it, you’re just following instructions.

As someone who is trying to transmit or teach a ritual to someone else, you really have to not give people the benefit of your experience. The fact that you’ve cut out large parts of the ritual and it still works has nothing to do with those parts being unnecessary and everything to do with your personal magical progression.

When you give someone else a ritual you frequently use, at the very least you should give them everything you needed to perform the ritual the first time. You may even need to add in additional parts, because they may not be as adept as you were. This means when you’re teaching or rewriting a ritual, or writing it down for the first time because you’re lazy like me, you have to sort of forget everything you’ve learned and any ability you’ve gained and try to remember what it was like before you ever tried to do this ritual.

Psionic vs Ritual

Just about any spell or ritual you find is going to have at least some minor psionic component to it. Sometimes this is explicitly stated, but more often than not the psionic component is implied and it’s expected that the practitioner will be able to figure it out.

It’s typical that a bit of psionic magic is necessary in a ritual to tie the spell together. However usually psionic aspects are needed in a spell because the ritual writer gave up trying to translate them.

Simple psionics, things like raising small amounts of energy and lowering your shield, can be translated and written into ritual form. It would take a bit of work to do it and you would end up with a complicated ritual to do a simple psionic trick. Meanwhile it’s generally assumed that most magical practitioners will be able to do these simple psionic tricks. They’re not difficult to learn, they’re universal, and really if you want to have any success at magic you need to be able to do this sort of stuff.

A good ritual writer is going to keep going through the ritual, taking out psionic aspects, and translating them into ritual aspects. At some point though they’re going to be breaking down very simple psionics and they’ll throw their hands up in the air and say, “If they can’t do this, I can’t help them.”

Granted there are some spells that can work without any psionic act on the part of the practitioner. There is a variety of reasons why a spell might work, to many to really go through in the scope of this article, but it all really breaks down to spells that work despite the practitioner. Of course this won’t be true of every spell, only certain spells.

Why Use Ritual

You need to know psionics to do magic. Psionic magic is faster, more efficient, and cheaper. So why bother with ritual? Ritual magic actually has a lot of advantages over psionic magic. The specific advantages of a specific ritual are going to be largely dependent on the ritual writer, their understanding of ritual, and what advantages they prefer to exploit. I’ve listed some of the advantages below, however this list is far from inclusive.

You can’t explain psionics: It is impossible, at least as far as I can tell, to adequately explain to someone else how to do a spell psionically. For instance, this a common psionic prosperity spell. What you need to do is draw money that already exists towards you. There’s your spell, go cast it and you’ll be rich for the rest of your life.

I can give you exercises to help you with awareness, energy manipulation, mental clarity, emotional control, and the like. These things are the basic tools of psionics. I can also teach you metaphysical theory so you understand how magic operates. But I cannot give you specific instructions to do a psionic spell. All I can do is tell you what you have to do, and if you don’t already know how to do that and can’t figure it out, there’s nothing else I can do for you. Also if you bought a book from me filled with nothing but ideas for psionic spells, I think you’d be pretty pissed off. And remember, if you’re asking someone for a spell, it’s probably because you don’t know how to do it and can’t figure it out.

The solution is to translate psionic magic into ritual magic, usually with the expectation that the practitioner who receives the ritual will eventually translate it back into psionic magic after performing it enough times.

Of course to do this you need to have a fairly good understanding of both psionic magic and ritual magic and how both operate. Part of this is knowing magical theory, but a good portion of that is insight gained through practical work, mainly breaking rituals down into psionic magic and eventually experimenting with your own rituals so you can understand the relationship between the two. After that you just have to break the spell down into various psionic aspects and then find a ritual equivalent for each aspect.

Rituals provide better focus: Properly written rituals can help the practitioner achieve better states of mental focus, mental clarity, and intent. For instance the simple act of announcing what it is you want to do can greatly improve the chances of success for your spell. It focuses you on your goal, which is now clearly expressed, and it gives you a clear direction. This is just one example of something very simple that can be added to a ritual. There are of course many things that can be added to a ritual to increase focus, and in doing so increase success, some which are fairly complicated.

It makes magic more real: Magical success is somewhat dependent on faith. Not faith in a deity or religion, but faith in yourself, in your abilities, and in the fact that your spells will work as you intend them to.

When you have doubt, when you doubt your magical abilities, or even worse when you doubt that magic is even real at all and start to believe that this is all some fantasy in your head, it has a negative effect on your magical work. And from there it will spiral. The more doubt you have the less success you’ll have, until eventually nothing works and you believe that magic is just another spiritual fantasy practiced by impressionable teenagers.

I’ve gotten a little off track, but for most of us it’s far easier to believe in ritual magic than psionic magic. Ritual magic involves doing certain and specific physical acts to produce a specific intended result, the validity of which is backed by metaphysical theory. We understand this because this basically how we have been taught the universe works. Certain physical acts produce certain results.

Psionic magic on the other hand involves focusing on things, thinking things, feeling things, and possibly manipulating things at an unseen spiritual level, but it doesn’t involve any real action. You can be standing still and apparently doing magic. The people around you won’t even realize you’re doing it. And it becomes very easy to start convincing yourself that all of this is in your head. That you’ve allowed yourself to become impressionable and believe things which aren’t true. That your success is just coincidence. And it’s easier to do this with psionic magic because there is no physical aspect.

It’s also easier to doubt your own success with psionic magic. With ritual magic there is generally a belief that the ritual should work. That the ritual is going to pick up the slack and do a lot of the work. That if you follow the ritual it will succeed. It doesn’t feel so much as if the weight is on you as it is on the ritual. With psionic magic though the weight is entirely on you. You succeed and fail on your own ability, and if you don’t believe you’re strong enough to succeed, you won’t.

Living Spells: I’m assuming that all of my readers know what the term thought form means. It’s a fairly common term in magic that everyone should be familiar with. The basic theory is that expending energy on thinking something causes a spiritual manifestation of that something to appear. Typically this manifestation is brief as it quickly goes through the energy that compromises it. Although things that are thought of a lot, that a lot of energy is expended on, can end up existing for far longer periods of time. They can exist for years, even decades, after it is last thought about. Usually at that point there are many people expending energy on this same thought in order to sustain it for such a long time.

Of course, as with all metaphysics, if you understand the concept well enough you can develop ways to manipulate it to produce the results you want. You can make thought forms of whatever you want, you can give them an above average longevity, and you can even make them far more powerful than normal. Thought forms can even be made sentient (and this happens naturally too). At this point the thought form is thinking for itself, has unlimited potential for development, growth, and learning, and has a soul and connection to higher planes. At that point it ceases to be a thought form and becomes a spirit.

Many magicians read rituals, and then will spend inordinate amounts of times thinking about them, deconstructing them, and generally trying to determine how they work. Rituals are unique from other things we spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about though, because we also actually perform rituals, and on top of that when most of us perform rituals we’re usually working with very large amounts of energy.

This means that quite often powerful thought forms are created from rituals. With ritual that are very popular, like well published rituals that are hundreds of years old or the basic standard rituals of a relatively large religion, these generally have very powerful thought forms out there. In some instances these thought forms have become sentient spirits.

So with a popular ritual somewhere in the universe there is a strong thought form or even spirit of that ritual out there. When you do the ritual and feed energy into it, this spirit or thought form is activated and drawn towards the ritual. It will often times do a lot of the ritual work, which means you end up with a powerful ritual whose success is independent of the practitioner.

Some of the most powerful rituals out there will work even though the practitioner has no magical ability or skill because of this. In fact some don’t even need you to perform the entire ritual. Often times doing just part of the ritual will be enough to trigger the entire process. This is why you’re not supposed to read grimoires out loud. If you happen to stumble upon one of these living spells in there and start speaking it, you can actually trigger the entire spell even though you have no intent to do so, have done no other part of the ritual, and even if you lack the magical ability to do this on your own.

Symbolism: Much of the power of ritual is tied into symbolism. There’s actually a lot of basic magical theory you have to go through and learn in order to understand the power behind symbolism and why it works. It deals a lot with like attracting like, as above so below, thought form theory, and many other things. There’s so much depth to it, it’s far beyond the scope of this article to fully explain it.

But think of this. Plastic has no metaphysical quality. Actually it’s metaphysical quality is that it lacks a metaphysical quality. It doesn’t hold energy at all. Energy tends to pass right through it. It doesn’t taint energy which passes through it. It doesn’t really produce energy. Metaphysically it doesn’t really feel like anything. Why is this?

The common answer is that it is man made and not naturally occurring (the plastic we’re talking about is anyways). That seems like a good idea, except that steel is also man made and doesn’t occur in nature, and steel has metaphysical qualities. In fact it has some very strong and specific metaphysical qualities and we use them quite a bit in magic. Knives and swords are common magical tools that are typically made of steel.

There’s one huge difference between plastic and steel though. Man made plastic was invented about 150 years ago. Steel is so old we don’t know for sure when it was invented, but we’ve found a 4000 year old piece of steel.

For at least four millenia people have been thinking about steel. They’ve been using it, and working with it, and finding uses for it. They’ve been ascribing qualities and attributes to it. They’ve been associating it with things. They’ve written poems and songs about it. They’ve used it as symbolism in books and plays. It’s found its way into mythology and folklore and religions all over the world. This has been going on with plastic for a mere 150 years.

I’m not going to go into a full explanation, but if you take what you know about thought form theory and like attracting like you should start to get a picture of how various magical attributions came into being, and you can probably start to form a picture that shows why something old like steel has certain magical qualities and attributions behind it and something new like plastic doesn’t.

And in ritual symbolism works in the same way. We are able to illicit a spiritual response from a common symbolic act which in turn can be changed into a physical effect.

Showmanship: A lot of people want the show. If you’re doing a spell for someone else’s benefit, they probably want a show. If you’re charging them, they’ll most likely insist on it. In a perfect world people would only be concerned with results. But in our world people want a show.

They want to know you’re doing something. They want it to be something mystical. If you’re charging them, they want to know you’re doing work for the money you gave them. Psionic magic is horrible for this purpose. If someone pays you $50 for a prosperity spell, and you just stand still for a second and then say “done,” they’re going to want their money back. Even if as they’re asking for their money back they notice a hundred dollar bill on the ground, they’ll still want their money back.

Ritual however is something physical they can see. A lot of times even that isn’t enough though. So a lot of ritual is actually there just to look cool or mystical. A lot of it is nothing more than showmanship, usually just added in there for the benefit of an audience. It sometimes also helps with my earlier point of making magic more real.