Herbal healing, or herbalism, is one of the oldest healing techniques known worldwide. Herbalism provides the greatest natural healing knowledge. The present day techniques originated from the practices of the ancient Egyptians, Sumerians, Assyrians, Babyllonians, Greeks and Romans. Herbal sorcery was renowned in ancient Greece. Pliny compiled the greatest of herbal lore in Natural History, a 37-volumne work containing information about medicinal uses of plants, flowers, trees and herbs. For centuries others built on Pliny’s work, notably Hildegard of Bingen, a medieval German mystic and abbess; and Nicholas Culpeper, a 17th century physician and astrologer who linked the used of herbs to astrological signs.
Throughout the centuries some plants and herbs have shared both a pagan and Christian association. Hypericum perforatum, for example, blooms during the summer solstice (see Sabbats), and its blossoms were burned in worship of the sun god. Likewise, the Romans lit bonfires during the solstice, around June 21. Because of the Christian Church June 21 was designated St. John’s Day, and the particular plant became commonly known as St. John’s-wort.
Healing by sorcery, at one time, was considered fraudulent. It was a civil crime under Roman law. There were many cases of fraud, but this laws was never strictly enforced for the people hated giving up their local healers. However, the early Church saw this as an opportunity to discredit the popular village healers, and it also wanted to increased its teaching of miracles. This sentiment carried over into the Renaissance and Reformation periods when healing by herbs was considered “white” witchcraft and the demonologists further proclaimed it to be evil. Increase Mather said that the healing power of a witch was a diabolical gift, and not a gift from God.
Many current neo-Pagans and neo-Pagan Witches do consider their gift of healing as coming from the Divine. Most know that many of their techniques, especially in the knowledge of the healing powers of herbs, have been passed down through generations. Like their predecessors the modern neo-Pagans practicing herbalism are adept in recognizing the mysterious healing powers of various plants. Some combine Eastern and Western healing techniques realizing the Chinese have been adept healer for centuries. Some even grow and harvest their own herbs to make them into salves, syrups, teas, poultices and powders for healing purposes. It is not surprising to them that science has scoffed at the ancestors’ folk-lore remedies, nor are they surprised when modern medicine finds many of the remedies valid. For example, William Withering, an English doctor, isolated an important ingredient in the leaves of the plant foxglove, called digitalis, which is an important heart remedy. Yet for centuries Witches had prescribed a tea brewed from foxglove leaves for weak hearts. Dr. Cheney, of Stanford University, discovered and proved that raw cabbage juice helped in the cure of stomach ulcers. Again, Witches have known this for hundreds of years. So it is not hard to believe that some current medicines come from centuries of botanical compilation. Although a few have be discarded for supposedly stronger synthetic drugs others are still being used, and in some parts of the world in their natural form. A.G.H.