Herbs and witchcraft

‘Potions’ are what I make for my patients, or so they often tell me; and not just since Harry Potter. There never was a clear dividing line between herbal medicine and magic. Or to put it another way, healing is one of the many interventions we humans have attempted using whatever our ingenuity suggests, from herbs and other materials, to physical treatments like cupping or trepanning, to rituals and invoking supernatural powers.
The thing is, magic and witchcraft have some very powerful associations, and while some herbalists feel themselves to be part of a proud and ancient tradition, others would rather distance themselves from the negative connotations of witchcraft. When I was a student, the principal and founder of the College of Herbal Medicine, Hein Zeylstra, was a committed Christian who took his authority to use healing plants directly from God, via the Bible. On the other hand, I’ve had patients from different Christian backgrounds tell me that ‘alternative’ medicine is the work of the devil. In other words, you can spin it whichever way you like.
Nowadays, though, most people don’t expect to be bewitched when they visit a herbalist. There is just the ordinary, everyday magic of telling your story, and asking the plants – and another human being – to lend you their aid in helping you to heal. It’s enough to be going on with, and I don’t mind the jokes about cauldrons and broomsticks. My cat has her own opinions, but she’s not telling…
 

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