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Home > Books & Reviews > Pagan > The Complete Book of Incense, Oils, and Brews Search

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Book Review:
The Complete Book of Incense, Oils, and Brews

Author: Scott Cunningham
Paperback, 288 pages
Publisher: Llewellyn
Publication date: 1989
List: US$14.95
ISBN: 0875421288
Price & More Info: Click Here

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!

My Thoughts

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

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