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The Llewellyn Encyclopedia

Origins of Herb Magic

This article was written by Scott Cunningham on May 31, 2002
posted under herb magic

Herb magic began in the distant past, when humans first began experimenting with the plants that they found growing around them. Color, form, scent and taste attracted humans to certain plants. Our ancestors eventually dis-covered many uses for these seemingly simple life forms: food, clothing, medicine, adorn-ment and ritual.

We canít know how or why certain plants began to be used in ritualistic ways. We can only guess that a plantís fragrance was involved, at least in the earliest times, when the human sense of smell was far more powerful than it is today. Rich fragrances rising from a plant may have caused it to be linked with Spiritówith all that was unknowable.

Additionally, these early humans may have also been aware of the spiritual energies that hum within herbs. The ability to feel such energies would today be described as psychic awa reness or psychic sensitivity. If our ancestors possessed this talent, they probably utilized it to discover further uses for plants.

This is speculation. However, by 3000 BCE, many plants were being regularly used in magic in Egypt, Sumer and elsewhere. By 200 B C E, plant magic was firmly entrenched in human life. Literally thousands of plants (some rare and costly) were called upon to smooth the path of human existence in Europe, Africa, the Americas, Asia, and elsewhere.

The first herbals (descriptions of plants and their uses) were written in ancient Greece. Most herbals included magical as well as medicinal information. Such books were copied and recopied for centuries, further spreading magical herbal lore.

Much information was also handed down between herbal practitioners and their students. Greek and Roman texts were copied and dis-seminated during the 1400s in Europe. Among these were some of the most famous herbals.

Eventually, this mass of accumulated lore made its way outward from the great centers of learning (and learned individuals) and found nourishing soil in the common folk. Herb magic and herbal medicine were freely mixed. Herbalists uncovered the ritual uses of the plants that grew in their areas. Spells were reworked, invented and passed on to others. Herb magic bloomed and sent out new roots.

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