The Master Book of Herbalism. Paul Beyerl, Phoneix Publishing Inc., Blane, Washington, 1984. (Illustrations by Diana Greene.)
Beyerl’s The Master Book of Herbalism (1984) is a well-rounded traditional magical herbal. The book is split into three main parts: the first being a round-up of commonly used herbs and mundane or more medical uses, followed by descriptions of those same herbs and folklore and magical uses, and the last section is like of appendices and mini sections on herbs and magical correspondences. The book is well written and easy to follow. He does not shy away from the baneful herbs. That being said, his advice seems extremely levelheaded giving the lore but also being sure to give the needed warnings and cautions about working with such herbs. This book was written during a more traditional time in the witchcraft communities in the United States so there isn’t as much of an emphasis on the threefold law or any kind of Wiccan doctrine that has come up in the last two decades. Additionally, due to the time of writing this book focuses less on other forms of paganism and the spirituality is obviously a Wiccan focus. This shouldn’t put other pagans off however because any magical practitioner will find this book a great addition to any herbal library. Beyerl covers a variety of herbs in-depth. Also, the illustrations in this edition are very nice and give the book a distinctly “herbal-y” feeling. It’s important to note however that while some plant entries have illustrations not all do, and those who need help identifying plants probably wouldn’t be able to do so based on the illustrations. They are lovely and add much in way of design to the book.
The magical uses section of the book is this book’s best selling point. This is a book that can be used by many different kinds of magical practitioners, although written from a traditional witchcraft perspective. Many of the correspondences are traditional with Western witchcraft and ceremonial magic. The last section includes not just herbal correspondence tables for Tarot, astrology, Wiccan ceremonies like baby namings, marriage ceremonies, sabots, esbats, but also for purification, protection, and more general uses but how to use the herbs as well. There is also a section on making traditional amulets with a ritual outline for the creation of amulets and their uses. The astrology section goes through some basics of astrology as well as planetary correspondences for herbal practitioners. This kind of “extra” information makes this book excellent for novice herbalists and witches or magicians. It’s also a nice edition for more experienced practitioners who would like to have a a well-rounded library. This kind of information is not easy to find in the more popular herbal texts. This book is one of the most useful magical herbals I have read, I prefer it over Cunningham’s classics (which are useful for their appendices).
The least helpful section of the book in my opinion was the remedial herbal part. While I don’t have a problem with the information provided in this section, I found the organization difficult to use. The herbs are written about in detail all at once in a few sections. First there is an appendix. The appendix is followed by the section that goes over the uses and history of the herbs in-depth, followed by a section on dosages for each herb. For me, the separation of the dosage and the herb’s history would make this herbal difficult to use for medical purposes in the event I were using it for that. However, I have many other herbals for that reason so this is not a huge drawback for me. Other herbalists however might love this feature because if you’ve already remembered and use these remedies it may be an easy way to quickly look up the dosages before making a remedy. The quality of information in this section is very good, and the advice given for usage of herbs is excellent. Additionally, the descriptions on how to make herbal medicines are helpful but again, I prefer a more in-depth medical herbal book for these purposes.
Overall, I would recommend this herbal for magical practitioners but for those who wish to use herbs medically, there are many better resources. Obviously, this is not a book meant to be read from cover to cover necessarily and is organized more as a working tool. I read this cover to cover merely because of the constrains of the Pagan Reading Challenge. So, I have indeed now read every page in the book. The only real complaint I have is that many herbals include information for growing the herbs covered and this herbal does not. This may be something I have become accustomed to with more medically minded herbals but it’s still a nice feature. While Beyerl assumes that one will collect these plants, not much advice is given on personally cultivating the plants as a magical practitioner. The book is still infinitely valuable for its explanations of the magical uses of herbs and is an excellent edition to any herbal library. I have heard that Phoenix Publishing Inc. went out of business, so I apologize if this excellent book is difficult to find or currently out of print.
Full Disclosure: I purchased this book. All views and opinions expressed in this article are mine alone and I was not paid or asked by author or publisher to write this review.