Author: Scott Cunningham
Paperback, 288 pages
Publication date: 1989
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The Complete Book of Incense, Oils, and Brews is an extremely practical and useful book if one is interested in
creating incense, bath salts, soaps, or other useful herbal items. Most
especially those of us who walk some sort of ritual-based spiritual path.
Scott Cunningham was a very talented individual and I will always be
grateful for his generosity in leaving us so many excellent written works
on magical topics. This book is broken into three parts and covers quite a
lot of territory... so let's get started!
Part One: The Basics
This section gives us a brief overview of Cunningham's views on Magic
before jumping into the topics of: Proportions, Empowering Rites,
Ingredients, and Creating Your Own Recipes. Exactly as labeled, the
basics...which is usually an excellent place to start! There is nothing
here that would really be any surprise to anyone versed in such topics,
but it does make a superb beginning for those readers who have never
contemplated such topics.
If you aren't interested in the ritual/spiritual aspects of creating and
using items like soaps and incense, then this is most likely Not the book
for you. The recipes would still be useful, but the main focus here is
creating these items for personal and ritual use. In my opinion, you
shouldn't really be using items with a specific
religious/spiritual/magical significance, if you don't walk that path. It
would be like using a Bishop's mitre to keep the sun off your bald spot
while gardening, or perhaps even more to the point it would be like using
cough syrup as a morning tea, if you get my meaning. Just because you can
do something, doesn't necessarily mean you should. For those still
interested, let's proceed...
Part Two: Processing and Recipes
Here is the main course for all those budding herbalists out there, and a
tasty metaphorical meal it is! Cunningham offers us a very well rounded
selection, and covers each section thoroughly while still leaving plenty
of room for the reader's own creative contributions. The making of
incenses, oils, ointments, inks, tinctures, herbal baths, bath salts,
brews (teas/tisanes), ritual soaps, sachets/charms, powders and then a
brief miscellany are all found here.
The emphasis is primarily Wiccan, but this (as one might imagine) is not
exclusive. Considering the wide range of items discussed here, I was
especially pleased with the broad array of paths touched upon. One can
find Medicine Wheel incense just as easily as Sahumera incense, Cauldron
of Cerridwen brew, or Isis soap. I found the section on bath salts to be
not only very useful, but a thoroughly enjoyable exploration as well! In
fact, I just finished whipping up my own version of Sea Bath salts last
night and can't wait to put them to the test. There's nothing quite like a
long relaxing soak!
The Miscellaneous section contains some fairly interesting items that one
might not immediately think of when doing this sort of crafting, like
Money Pentacles, Rose Love Beads, and Witches' Love Honey. Thus far, I've
stuck mainly to the chapters on Brews and Baths. The perfect compliment to
that long hot soak? A good cup of tea! I've found these chapters to be
truly excellent guides and look forward to slowly expanding to the
information in other chapters.
Throughout these sections, Cunningham quite clearly cautions when
something shouldn't really be used (either poisonous or illegal
ingredients), and that his inclusion of such a recipe is really there to
help cronicle the long and lush history of Herbalry that he is promoting.
He nearly always offers a Non-toxic version, or at the very least, has
marked the offending ingredients so that the reader can either eliminate
that item or substitute something more appropriate. Which brings us to the
final section of this book.
Part Three: Substitutions
This is a clear and concise section that simply offers you an already
compiled list of herbal substitutes. This is both a physically and
magically sound list. What do I mean? Let me share an excerpt....
"Now, to euphorbium. This is the poisonous, milky juices of any of 4,000
species of the common Euphorbiaceae family, which grows worldwide. Perhaps
the best-known member is the poinsettia. In ancient times euphorbium was
used in medicine and magic. Its virulently poisonous nature probably
contributed to its inclusion in this recipe. Not wishing to commit
suicide-by-incense, you look at the Mars table in this section for
possible substitutes. How about tobacco? Though it's poisonous, adding a
pinch of pipe tobacco to an incense won't kill you."
Laughing out loud, that's Cunningham all over, not only practical and clear, but
entertaining. The Substitutions also include herbal choices for
ingredients that simply aren't obtainable any more. The best thing about
this section though, in my opinion, is how well ordered it is. You can
look up substitutions through their planetary affiliations (Mars, Jupiter,
etc), magical goals (healing, psychic awareness, etc), elemental
affiliations (earth, air, fire and water), or astrological connections
(Gemini, Cancer, Scorpio, etc). I'm not the most organized of people but I
do appreciate well-organized information, and this makes finding those
substitutions easy as a summer breeze!
All in all, The Complete Book of Incense, Oils, and Brews is a very useful book for anyone looking to explore and practice the Herbal arts. Positively brimming with information, encouragement,
suggestions, anecdotes, and guidelines! Well organized, detailed,
sensible, and still managing to keep a very personable connection to the
reader, this versatile book is at the top of my list of suggestions to
anyone inquiring about this practice. So what are you waiting for? Whip
yourself up a batch of Purification Brew, slide into a hot Healing bath,
lather up with that Luck soap, perhaps anoint yourself with a little Moon
Goddess blend and conjure up yourself a satisfying magical read. Enjoy!
Reviewed by Entwife