Book Review: Witchcraft Medicine

Witchcraft Medicine Healing Arts, Shamanic Practices, and Forbidden Plants (2003).  Claudia Muller-Ebeling, Christian Ratsch, and Wolf-Dieter Storl. Translated: Annabel Lee.  Inner Traditions, Rochester, Vermont.

Witchcraft Medicine is a well researched collection of essays by reputable academics on the subject of shamanism and traditional witchcraft herbal practices.  Storl and Ratsch are both ethnobotanists and anthropologists while Muller-Ebeling is an art historian and anthropologist.  The book explores European shamanic practices as well as healing, with an emphasis on hallucinogenic herbs.  The book combines research into science, art, culture, and history to give a rich depiction of the use of plants in Europe.  Despite the scholarly nature of the book, it’s an easy and interesting read.  I would recommend this book to anyone interested in European shamanic traditions, hedge witchery, traditional witchcraft, and traditional herbalism.

The book is organized into sections written by the different authors.  The first five sections,written by Storl, explore traditional European plants and practices within religions.  These sections focus mostly on the plants and their use.  While I had some issue with some of the assertions about mythology cycles, they were overall minor.  The next section by Ratsch, and focuses on Hecate and ancient Greek use of herbs.  I found this section very enlightening in how it relates to other European uses of the herbs in question.  Muller-Ebeling’s section deals with the history of the “witch” in Europe.  I found this section well researched and very interesting, but a little slower of a read.  Ratsch completes the book with a last section focusing on plants often used and abused in societies like coca, cocaine, opium, and cannabis.  This section was informative though the information was not new to me.  However, I see the need to include a section on these drugs specifically in a work like this to show how they relate  to old practices.  The book’s organization into sections with articles makes it an easy read, and excellent for reference in theme.  However, if you plan to use the book as a reference for practicing any kind of herbalism you will get to know the index very well.

I found all of this book very interesting. Well all except the art exploration, that was just to close to what I did as homework during my undergrad years; at one time in my life I found this kind of work fascinating and I still highly recommend that section.  My favorite section was “The Legacy of Hecate” where Ratsch explores Greek mythology and ancient Greek herbalism, as it relates to witchcraft.  While reading this section I had an a-ha moment on how all the mythic cycles are connected that I hope to make into a coherent entry sometime soon.  In addition to exploring the myth of Hecate and her symbolism and plants sacred to her; Ratsch also explores the myth of Dionysos, snakes use in Greek religion, and the use of plants in the worship of deities.  I appreciated the straight forward descriptions in the book and found many ideas of new ways to use plants in worship. Additionally, the last section’s information about the use of poppies and opium in Greek religion while not new to me was still fascinating.  I found a lot of ideas in this book for new things to incorporate into my practice.

I would recommend this book for any practitioner interested in herbal shamanic practices and it fills a hole in occult literature.  There are few books that explore the use of herbs in European shamanic traditions as throughly as this work.  The book is also filled with rich illustrations making it well worth the cover price.  In addition to the illustrations on the pages there are also graphic pages for plant and artifact pictures among the sections.  For this reason I think the book is an excellent conversation piece and make a good coffee table book or would be excellent in a herbalist’s waiting room.

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.

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About Pixie

I'm just your average 20-something trying to figure it out. I am also a theologian, yogi, witch, pagan, dirty hippie, activist (progressive politics), feminist, knitter, environmentalist, and friend. I've also been accused of being a hipster - I am not sure about that. I am sometimes happy to be Gen Y (go Harry Potter) and most of the time confused (seriously guys... ) by everyone else. My hobbies including knitting (and maybe crochet), quilting, recycling, cooking, writing, reading, and biking. I'm finishing up a masters in public policy and when I worked worked in political nonprofits as an activist.
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