Natural Magic: Potions and Powers from the Magical Garden
By John Michael Greer
Llewellyn, 312 pp.

Many religions teach that there is another reality, the reality of thespirit, apart from and beyond the reality of the material world. "NaturalMagic," however, teaches us that there is another reality hidden within thematerial world, specifically, within the plants, animals, stones, and othersubstances of the natural world.

With this book, John Michael Greer presents an overview of the development,philosophy, and practice of contemporary natural magic, smashing somestereotypes in the process. Natural magic, he says, is neither primitive norineffectual, nor solely the province of folk magicians. "While it's indeedtrue that an enormous amount of Western natural magic has roots in folktradition and peasant lore, there is an equally large amount of naturalmagic connected to the more scholarly Hermetic and Cabalistic magicaltraditions as well."

Greer intends the book to be a manual demystifying the meaning and practiceof natural magic. In the book's first section, he discusses the philosophyof natural magic--"part of a way of living harmoniously in the world"--asdistinct from ritual magic, though the two often overlap and can be used toenhance each other. He explains that natural magic works with the materialmanifestations of currents of power (also known as patterns of energy) thatflow between the spiritual level and the physical level, whereas ritualmagic works with the energetic currents themselves.

Though Greer does a masterful job of clarifying the fascinating and complexcomponents of natural magic, from the overall magical worldview to thecorrespondences between the planets and various natural substances, aspectsof the practice can still seem confusing. For example, for those sufferingfrom math anxiety, the explanations of the different methods of determiningmagical timing are confusing--particularly the method for calculatingplanetary hours and elements in course.

The second part of the book is an encyclopedia with descriptions, lore, andmagically relevant information on 176 substances used in natural magic, fromthe acorn to the yew. Whether or not one intends to practice magic, thissection offers fascinating insights that make the reader look at theordinary in a new way. Diamonds, Greer tells us, have strong magical powers(granting courage and victory, and banishing ghosts), but only if they arereceived as gifts rather than purchased. Could this be why even the mostliberated and self-sufficient of women are still reluctant to purchasediamonds for themselves? The tables of correspondences and uses at the endof this section organize all this information into easy-to-access groupings,listing the substances by category, so the reader can easily choose from thevarious substances corresponding to the sign of Aries, for example, or learnthat frankincense, garlic, and turquoise are among the substances useful forattracting prosperity and success.

The final section of "Natural Magic" is a workbook with directions forworking with these substances to create magical amulets, sachets, potions,and more. These "recipes" primarily relate to satisfying basic human needsfor protection, love, fertility, success, and the like, but there are alsodirections for more arcane processes such as creating fluidcondensers--i.e., substances that hold on to etheric energies. Evennon-magicians will appreciate his simple directions for making potpourri andworking with essential oils. Greer stresses that the basics he covers arejust starting points for developing a personal magical repertoire based onexperimentation (he is also very responsible about alerting readers to thepotential dangers involved with various substances and processes).

"Natural Magic" ends with an interesting introduction to contemporaryalchemical work (it's not just about turning lead into gold) thatunfortunately leaves us somewhat in the dark as to the ultimate value ofthis activity. In fact, this is the primary flaw of the book as awhole--Greer makes a strong case for the validity of magical work, and showshow to do it, but offers little evidence, even anecdotal, for the real valueor results of this work. This is ironic given that, as he says, "'practical'is one of the words that best describes natural magic. Most of thetraditions of natural magic that have come down to us from the past areaimed at helping us deal with the events and situations of everyday life."

Nonetheless, the book is an absorbing introduction to the topic. And forthose who already have a belief in the value of natural magic, or who at thevery least are interested in experimenting, "Natural Magic" is an invaluableresource. Rather than insisting on specific meanings or mandating a certainway of working, Greer lays out the information and lets it stand or fall onthe value it has for those who try it out for themselves.