2016-06-30
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 the spirit, apart from and beyond the reality of the material world. "Natural Magic," however, teaches us that there is another reality hidden within the material world, specifically, within the plants, animals, stones, and other substances of the natural world.

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

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

Though Greer does a masterful job of clarifying the fascinating and complex components of natural magic, from the overall magical worldview to the correspondences between the planets and various natural substances, aspects of the practice can still seem confusing. For example, for those suffering from math anxiety, the explanations of the different methods of determining magical timing are confusing--particularly the method for calculating planetary hours and elements in course.

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

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

"Natural Magic" ends with an interesting introduction to contemporary alchemical work (it's not just about turning lead into gold) that unfortunately leaves us somewhat in the dark as to the ultimate value of this activity. In fact, this is the primary flaw of the book as a whole--Greer makes a strong case for the validity of magical work, and shows how to do it, but offers little evidence, even anecdotal, for the real value or 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 the traditions of natural magic that have come down to us from the past are aimed at helping us deal with the events and situations of everyday life."

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

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