Witchcraft Medicine: Healing Arts, Shamanic Practices, and Forbidden Plants (Anglais) Broché – 1 octobre 2003
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Healing Arts, Shamanic Practices, and Forbidden Plants
Plants that demonstrate powerful pharmacological effects must be used with expertise, otherwise they will cause considerable damage. For this reason such plants are generally feared and in due course demonized. Those who know how to use them correctly are also feared, and all too easily turned into “witches.”
Witchcraft medicine is a kind of applied pharmacology of the plants with potent activity. The powers that be have always sought to control the use of strong medicines because, among other reasons, rulers feared they might be poisoned by a skilled hand. In earlier times however, the powerful activity observed in a substance was considered to have its origins in the supernatural, magical, or even in the sorcery of witches. In other words, the potency and effectiveness of a substance were considered proof of witchcraft.
Indeed many medical treatments used during antiquity were not based on rational pharmacology, but were a combination of ritual and the use of material substances. Man already believed in archaic times that the plants only revealed their power when harvested with the proper ritual gathering method, and only when the correct accompanying words were spoken.. The ancient authors (such as Homer and, in particular, Diocles) wrote of the rhizotomoki, the root gatherers of archaic times, that they were the inventors of pharmacological medicine and that they still spoke with the plant spirits (Baumann, 1982: 15; Graf, 1996: 69). These root gatherers observed the gods sacred to the respective plant. They made use of the moon’s energy and knew the particular oath formulas for each plant. Witchcraft medicine belongs to the spiritual and cultural legacy of the rhizotomoki. When a scientific theory rationalizing the healing arts emerged with the Hippocratics, ritual and magical medicine was slowly suppressed. It was ridiculed as superstitious and ultimately driven underground. Only certain areas of magical medicine were maintained in the healing cult of Asclepius and were officially accepted into late antiquity (Krug, 1993; cf. Meyer and Mirecki, 1995).
Witchcraft medicine is the healing art of the underground. It is the forbidden and despised medicine, the one oppressed by the church and/or state, the kind of medicine sanctioned as “alternative.” For it makes decisions over life and death. And it does more than make people healthy--it brings joy and awareness, inebriation and mystical insight.
Witchcraft medicine is wild medicine. It is uncontrollable, it surpasses the ruling order, it is anarchy. It belongs to the wilderness. It scares people. It is one thing above all: heathen.
Witchcraft medicine stems from shamanism and has its roots in Paleolithic times. Witchcraft medicine is mythological, ritualistic, and strongly feminine. Witchcraft medicine is religion--a shamanic healing religion revolving around sacred, in other words, effective, plants. Cults, in which the medicinally effective plants and sacred beverages play a role, have always been viewed suspiciously, at first by representatives of the Christian faith, later also by Western medicine. The witches, the last wise women of European culture, fell victim to the Inquisition. In Siberia in the nineteen-thirties and forties shamans were prosecuted as counter-revolutionaries. Today shaman are also denigrated and ridiculed. So there was in the year 1900 that the Protestant church of the Indonesian island Siberut which lies east of Sumatra, released a decree forbidding the activities of the medicine men as heathen and blasphemous (Plotkin, 1994: 187).
The most important domains of witchcraft medicine include knowledge about the preparation and use of the pharmakon as
• aphrodisiacs (philters, Virus amatorius) and anaphrodisiacs
• birth control and abortifacients (abortativa)
• poison/medicine (pharmakon)
• inebriants or “traveling herbs” (psychoactive substances)
• life-extending and rejuvenating elixirs
Thus witchcraft medicine was used to increase happiness, for birth control, to heal, to damn, for visionary knowledge, and for life extension. This is why magic was originally called pharmakeia (Luck, 1990: 58).
A typical characteristic of witches’ herbs is their ambivalence--to some they cause damage and disease, to others they offer health and protection. Often they ease the problems they have caused, and they are intoxicating or induce trances. They are true pharmaka--in the ancient meaning of the multidimensional word. For these herbs the wisdom of Paracelsus--that it is only the dosage which determines whether or not something is medicine or poison--holds true. And with witches’ herbs it is extremely important to determine the correct dosage. It is well known that in antiquity the witches’ clients were often poisoned or were made “crazy” by the love potions (amatoria, remedium amoris), which commonly contained the active pharmaka of nightshade, henbane, or hemlock. But because the users did not heed the maker’s instructions out of pure greed, they overdosed. For this reason such substances had already been forbidden by Roman times (Graupner, 1966: 26).
The person who, even if it is done without bad intention, provides abortions or love potions, because doing so sets a bad example, will be sentenced to the following punishments: People of lower classes shall be sent to forced labor in the mines, members of higher classes are to be exiled on an island after the seizure of a portion of their possessions. If a man or a woman dies because of the treatment, the death penalty will be implemented.” (Codex lustinianus, Dig. 48, 8; 3, 2/3).
Revue de presse
"Tracing human relations with plants back to the Stone Age, the book is deeply thorough and rests on interesting scholarship." (Publishers Weekly, October 2003)
"It is essential reading for anyone interested in the folklore and magical beliefs asociated with flowers, herbs and trees." (The Cauldron, February 2004)
"Witchcraft Medicine blends history with practical applications of plant healing and shamanic practices." (The Midwest Book Review, June 2004)
“Witchcraft Medicine is a work of brilliant and passionate scholarship, fabulously illustrated, that recovers the lost knowledge of the European shamanic tradition. It is both a guide and an enthusiastic ode to the visionary edge of the botanical realm.” (Daniel Pinchbeck, author of Breaking Open the Head: A Psychedelic Journey into the Heart of Contempo)
"Witchcraft Medicine is a solid book and an essential research tool for anyone interested in European folk traditions, magic, alchemy, or herbalism." (Mark Stavish, Institute for Hermetic Studies, April 2006)
“This is a fascinating work of great importance that is incredibly well researched and documented. And brave. From the first impassioned paragraph to the last words, I was spellbound. Anyone interested in medicine, herbalism, the healing arts, and spiritual phenomena will find this book thought provoking and empowering.” (Rosemary Gladstar, president of United Plant Savers and author of Herbal Healing for Women)
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Commentaires client les plus utiles sur Amazon.com (beta)
As a professional herbalist, I was really very happy to see the amount of research and documentation that went into this book. It really delves into the European shamanic traditions and healing arts and folk religions attached to them. This is something, which is sadly quite lacking in alot of literature that is about "shamanism". So much of of it is a hodge podged mess of European and Native American practices and lots of urban legend. Not so with this book. You get a clear idea where the lines of the histories of Witchcraft and folk medicine practices got blurred and blown far out of proportion by way of legend and outright lies. And you also get an in depth look at how many of these plants were used. The authors pull no punches, poisons, halucinagens and abortifacients can be found listed in this book. I think this is the first time in many years that I have seen an herbal book which dared to list them, let alone discuss them. I also learned about some plants that I had no knowledge of before and I am always up for that! This, I believe is how Witches in the past truly practiced, and how many still practice to this day throughout the world. The focus however is on European Witches and Western herbalism.
Witchcraft Medicine is clearly a scholarly work, but it it is not so much that the subject is at all dry and uninteresting to read. It was for me quite the contrary. I couldn't put it down! There is no relgious-centric slant to it at all. There are no sensationalist claims about 8 million Witches being murdered during the so-called Burning Times, for example. It's just lots of very straight facts, which is important. There may be a few nit-picky inaccuracies as far as mythologies, but when is there not? To be completely honest, there is a lot that is junk out there, and this book I would count among my top ten historical herbals on my personal bookshelf. This book is a very impressive body of work. Note that there are not really recipies or proportions as to using these now.
EDIT: The Print Version is Better Than the Kindle Version:
I stand by my original review of this book. It is an excellent guide into the herbs that are legendary within traditional witchcraft and shamanism. Cerrtainly, there are other books out there that will give you more how-to's than this one will as this one is a general, historical overview. As both an occultist and an herbalist, I think you can do far worse than a book like this one and Christian Rasch is probably one of the foremost authorities in the world on the topic of herbalism as it pertains to shamanic and witchcraft practices.
I have the print version of this book and naturally because I travel a great deal and I want to have it available to me in electronic form, I purchased the Kindle version. One of the nice things about the print version are the wonderful watermarks of each page based on old witchcraft woodcuts, etc. Amazon, has not yet worked out all of the kinks in the electronic version for Kindle, so it is easy to feel as if you are being deprived of the many many images that are in the print version. I also own Chrstian Rasch's book, "Psychoactive Plants" in print version, however with the Kindle version of the same book being $60, I am going to wait until the technology catches up to where what is on my screen loooks closer to what I have in print form.
Christian Ratsch, PhD, the well-known ethnopharmacologist from Germany and his partner Claudia Muller-Ebeling, PhD, have come through again.
This is a fantastic book on the history, botany and prohibition of witchcraft and shamanism throughout Europe.
The book provides and excellent breakdown of both herbal and entheogenic plants used throughout Europe in medieval and ancient times. From Hawthorn to Holly, Elder to Elm, Belladonna to Mandrake, Amanita to Psilocybe, this book provides a well rounded foundation for understanding the healing plants as well as the psychotropic plants and their usage, symbology and worship and prohibition.
The first part of the book written by Wolf-Dieter Storl is good reading, however it lacks the references and solid foundation that Ratsch and Muller-Ebeling provide in their sections, providing the reader with maybe a 1/3 of the amount of reference material as the other two authors. This left me wanting more proof for some of his proposals.
Another problem with the book is that the authors should have collaborated together on the book as a whole instead of writing their own separate sections. Their own sections cause a little unnecessary repetition throughout the book and because of this, in some places, as one reviewer mentioned, information seems contradictory. However, the other reviewer took the meaning of removing the entheogenic substances from modern witches salves (which, without proper knowledge of their usage can be dangerous and poisonous) instead of in the context it was meant, when used with proper knowledge and care, is highly effective medicine, rendering modern, politically correct versions of these salves as ineffective.
Over all, the book is a 5 star read. I was especially impressed with the history of the Inquisition and its impact on witchcraft and shamanism in Europe. The book provides new angles on understanding the Pharmacratic Inquisition that I had not really considered before.
An excellent addition to any library.
The first part of the book written by Wolf-Dieter Storl is interesting reading; however it lacks the references and solid research that Rätsch and Müller-Ebeling provide in their sections. This left me wanting more supporting arguments for some of his statements. His research tended to consist primarily of anecdotal stories of his field research. Rätsch and Ebeling provide extensive source references in their chapters.
The span of historical information ranges from the history of the Inquisition and its impact on witchcraft and shamanism in Europe to 20th century use of Absinthe and Coca leaves. There are numerous tables with correspondences of herbs and plants to specific god forms in Greek and Norse pantheons as well as plant lists associated with the gardens of Hecate, Medea, Artemis and Circe. The text includes recipes but I would strongly warn the reader that using entheogenic substances without proper knowledge of their handling can be dangerous and even deadly. Extreme care should be taken when introducing these plants to gardens since children and animals may accidently ingest the plant matter.
The entire book is nicely illustrated with historical botanical drawings, medieval woodcuts and full color photographs of plant materials. The bibliography is extensive, citing both classical works and contemporary sources in both German and English.
Bewildering numbers of herbs and deities are discussed, as is the history of the strategic demonization and persecution of herbal healers. Cannabis and other sacred sacraments are related to the gods and to historic texts throughout the book, including many wood-cuttings and even color photography. The author's have a tendency to describe in great detail some artwork that didn't make it into the book. I assume the problem was copyright law.
Thank the gods this book was translated into English! The Great Mother Goddess is likely pleased.
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