How does it work? When people discover I’m a magical herbalist, this is one
of two questions asked. The other usually refers to my state of mental health.
Nonetheless, the first question is a valid one and has never been satisfactorily
The basis of herb magic—and all magic—is the power. This power has
worn many names and forms through the centuries; at times even its existence
was kept secret; at others it was common knowledge.
The power is that which generated and maintains the universe. It is the
power that germinates seeds, raises winds, and spins our planet. It is the energy
behind birth, life, and death. Everything in the universe was created by it,
contains a bit of it, and is answerable to it.
In other words, the power is the life-force, the stuff of creation. It is the
very substance of existence itself.
The power as I see it has no name. It has been deified and anthropomorphized
into a thousand-thousand Gods and Goddesses, spirits, demons and
other unearthly beings. It has been only partially explained in the terms of
science, which today is still “discovering” some of its aspects. The power has
played an important part in the evolution of the human race, for better or
worse. All religions have tapped into it using different symbols and rites, and
all magicians have wielded its powers.
Above the ritual and religion and magic the power exists, changeless in its
eternal change. The power is in everything, and everything is in the power.
(One of the problems of some modern religions is that they assert that the
power is outside us, and not within.) Call it what you like, visualize it as you
may, the power really is the power.
Definition: Magic is the practice of causing change through the use of powers
as yet not defined or accepted by science.
I can cause change by accepted means (by calling a friend on the phone I can
find out how she’s doing); this is not magic. But when I do not have access to a
phone, or my friend does not answer, I can make a sachet of thyme, yarrow, and
bay, tie it around my neck, still my mind and, using my herb-fortified psychic
4 Cunningham’s Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs
powers, discover if she is all right. This is its practicality: magic can be used
when no other means are available.
What methods are at the disposal of most people to guard their homes
against theft? How can a lonely woman attract a love into her life? In what
manner, beyond visiting doctors and buying medicines, can most people aid
their bodies to combat illness?
Most people would not know how to answer the above questions save in
the most physical ways: a lock, a new perfume and bedrest may be suggested
as solutions. These are fine starts, but they can be supplemented with surer
methods—they can be backed up with magic.
Magic is useful for solving these, and other common problems, but it
becomes indispensable when dealing with occult matters. Need a glimpse
into the future? Make a tea of rosebuds, drink it directly before going to bed,
and remember your dreams. Or, wear some deerstongue wrapped in yellow
cloth. Do you believe you’re the target of a hex or curse? Doctors will direct
you to the nearest psychiatrist; Witches and Magicians will tell you to sprinkle
red pepper around your property and then bathe in mimosa flowers. Magic
has many (but not quite all) of the answers.
There is an important point running through these words: magic, however
simple it might seem, provides practical solutions to problems.
The power behind herb magic is formless, shapeless, eternal. It doesn’t care
whether you call on it in the name of a Witch Goddess or the Virgin Mary—or
tap it within no religious framework at all. It is alway
The Powers of Herbs 5
To practice herb magic you must know the powers of the plants. This book
contains that information. To fulfill a need, just manipulate the herbs to give
their powers direction. It is that simple.
Herb magic is easy because the powers (i.e., vibrations) lie in the herbs
themselves. No outside forces need be called into play, for the power is resident
within the organic matter. A few simple procedures are all that is necessary.
These “rites” include tying knots, boiling water, lighting candles, sewing
and burying things in the Earth. More important than its simplicity, perhaps,
is the fact that herb magic works.
How does it work? First, there must be a reason to call upon magical powers.
This reason is a need. A desire often masquerades as a need, but in magic
a “desire” is not enough; there must exist an all-encompassing need.
The nature of the need determines which plants are used. Attracting love,
for example, is a common magical need and several dozen plants do the job.
(For a comprehensive listing of plants and their corresponding magical needs,
see Part III of this book.)
Next, a spell or ritual may need to be devised; much herb magic doesn’t
need a complete spell but some of it does. This spell may be as simple as tying
up the herbs in a piece of cloth, or placing them around the base of a candle,
lighting the wick, and visualizing your need. If you wish, your spell can be
complex, involving boiling water in a cauldron over a mesquite-wood fire at
the edge of the desert while waiting for the Moon to rise, before throwing
roots and leaves into the pot. All-purpose spells are included in chapter 3.
Third, the herbs can be enchanted (chapter 3) to ensure that their vibrations
are attuned to the need.
Fourth, the spell is worked, in complete confidence and secrecy. Not that
magic is anything to be ashamed of, but rather because mocking glances and
disbelief only serve to cause you to doubt yourself and hinder your magic’s
Fifth, once the spell has been worked, it should be forgotten. This allows
it to “cook” and bring your need into manifestation. (When baking a cake, if
you look into the oven every few minutes the cake will be spoiled. In magic, as
in cooking, keep the oven door shut!) Attempt to forget the spell completely.
And there you have it. This is how herb magic is worked. Does it sound
basic? It is. These are the first steps. As with any art the student may take
magic further, exploring strange corners. Sensibly, few wish to venture too far
from this familiar, homey magic. There are dark ways in herb magic as there
are in every aspect of life. Those who wish to pursue such paths, to wreak
6 Cunninghams Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs
havoc and control or kill other human beings, shall receive the heavy penalty
for negative working.
The power is neutral. It cannot be divided into positive and negative energies.
Power is power.
It is our responsibility as Magicians (wielders of the powers) to work with
it toward beneficial ends. We need not become ascetic or saints to help others,
or to improve our lives. All we need do is use herbs in loving ways.
Magic, as it was understood in long-ago days, was a divine act. This is literally
true; in magic we become one with and utilize the power, which has been
fashioned into a multitude of deities.
It is an awesome feeling, and a greater responsibility, this wielding of power.
The moment it is used for negative ends, divinity quickly flees. However,
when magic is used for positive ends our lives become richer and happier.
When one embarks down the dark path of negativity, the suffering this causes
to others spills into the Magician’s life until, in the end, he or she is utterly
Dramatic words? Perhaps—but their essence is true. For this reason, no
negative magic is included in this book. But to those who desire to help themselves
and others with the old ways of herb magic, welcome!
How does it work? When people discover I’m a magical herbalist, this is one