Although there are spells and recipes here, The Magic of Herbs Through the Ages purports to be a tiny history book.  In the early chapters about prehistory and antiquity, Gamache definitely looks down his nose at “ancient superstitions,” although some small respect is paid to the discernment of ancient sages:

Because of the limited knowledge and experience available Aristotle was not able to tell WHY certain herbs brought about certain results. he could only tell WHAT results could be expected.

When he observed, for example, that a given herb would act upon the glandular system of an aged patient in such a way as to make him or her feel more youthful, he immediately set it down as a Love Powder or Love Philtre.

This reductionist stance is taken throughout the book, although the author’s love of history adds glamour and mystery to the work in later chapters.  It is a pity that beautiful and expressive folk magic rituals (such as steeping an errant husband’s shirt with clove, cinnamon and cardamom in rose water, while reading backwards Sura 36 of the Koran) are dismissed as “fantastic ritual that would have no basis in fact … typical of some of the absurd beliefs of people in some distant lands.”

As is usual in works of this vintage (early 20th century) there is the usual problem with citing authorities who have long ago gone out of print (and been superceded by further research and newer discoveries, anyhow).  Of course, if you are a determined collector of old books, this is more of a treasure map, yes?

Most of this book consists of (largely unattributed, and mostly European) “Legends of Herb Magic of Fifty Important Plants” and “Spells and Recipes … gathered from … books on Cosmetic Chemistry, manuals of Incense and Perfume and other similar works.”  There are also some brief tables of correspondences, if you will, in the back — but these are strictly medical: Laxatives, Purgatives and Nervines, not Love, Prosperity and Protection.

Oh, and that Koran chapter? The beginning is all about fetters.  Hair-raising!

You can learn more about this author at Lucky Mojo.


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