Review: Thirteen Pathways of Occult Herbalism

Being written by one of my favorite authors, Thirteen Pathways of Occult Herbalism has a good bit of expectation to live up to.  It is, however, somewhat different than some of Schulke’s other books I have read. This book is more of a foundation for those looking to get into the occult side of herbalism, in the way that it is designed not to teach you specific memorable facts and uses, but instead help one learn how to learn from the plants themselves and better connect with them.  I did not feel like I “learned” much practical from the pages of this book itself, but that is not to say that it wasn’t a good read and wouldn’t be a highly valuable text.

Beginning with the “Thirteen Pathways”, this odd little book discusses various ways to better learn the secrets of plants and connect with them.  Some of these pathways are incredibly obvious and simple, such as the Path of the Steward (growing or caring for plants) or the Path of the Virgin (becoming like an empty vessel for the knowledge, free of expectation, and offering oneself), while a small few are more complex like the Path of the Witness (which discusses not only observing, but how to make phenological calendars, intricately recording the growth habits and various environmental factors that effect growth, as well as in different patches and locations).  My favorite however, is the Pathway of Aversion, which discusses how those things we avoid also hold keys to our power, how the thorns and nettles of the hedge protect, and how people too may have hedge mentalities.

As the book’s preface properly points out, these pathways not only apply to working with plants; they may also be applied to other spiritual endeavors and general life.  These pathways will certainly help one to learn and grow, and yet they are for the most part very common sense things that I already tend to do on some level when working with plants, consciously or not.  For this reason, in my case, I wasn’t very excited by them in a plant context, but I was still able to benefit from applying some of these concepts to matters other than plants. For someone coming from a less animistic approach of working with plants, however, this book would probably be revolutionary.  I do not really know of many other books that teach such working relationships and approaches in such poetic ways as those written by Schulke.

Following the Pathways, the book then arrives at the “Thirteen Gardens”.  While this is a beautiful and enjoyable section, there feels to be even less to learn here than in the section on the Pathways.  And yet there is much to experience.  Schulke suggests one imagines and explores these in ones mind to gain better understanding of them.  This is a beautiful exercise for sure, and it’s nice to see such a variety in gardens themselves (one for plants used for adornment, one for plants related to animals, perfumery, death practices, etc.).  These Gardens invoke such beautiful scenery, one may easily find themselves wishing such practical and dedicated gardens commonly existed in today’s world. They stir the imagination of what one could do and grow, what allies they could have in their own gardens, in what designs, and for what arts.

The remainder of the book takes a turn from teaching one to learn and interact directly, to exploring various historical transmissions of plant knowledge, from faeries, to fallen angels, to other ancient beings.  He describes his beautifully terrifying experiences with Belladonna taken at a high dose.  A few historical charms and spells are also looked at and examined for the way the magician interacts with and shows respect for the plant spirits.  The Sabbat is also briefly touched upon. I really enjoyed this portion of the book.

Some users, particularly those not accustomed to the writing style of Schulke, may find his use of language to be somewhat threatening and some have described it as pedantic or overworded.  At times this makes the material more beautiful, and at other times it just like a rather grand display when he could explain it faster in a way that is simpler and more friendly for the average reader.  I greatly enjoy his books, but it is something for people to consider due to the sometimes strongly mixed reactions that people have regarding his writing style.

Further, not that it felt incomplete or anything of that sort, but this book really felt like it was leading into something else or like it was a part of something bigger.  This was probably just from reading Viridarium Umbris, in which the vastly assorted chapters on plants for specific purposes (dyes, love, etc) very much reminded me of the Gardens written about in Thirteen Pathways.  The official descriptions for this book online describes Thirteen Pathways as more of an introductory work leading up to his forthcoming The Green Mysteries (which the book mentions here and there a few times, taunting me as I continue waiting for my preorder of Green Mysteries to arrive).  I didn’t realize this when reading the book, but now realizing that it is indeed a sort of foundation work, even if for a different book than I had thought, the feeling of it makes more sense.  This definitely increases my anticipation for The Green Mysteries even more. Both Thirteen Pathways and The Green Mysteries are illustrated by Benjamin A. Vierling.

The book itself, published by Three Hands Press and available through their online store, comes in either trade paperback or standard hardback (other editions being sold out).  Having owned the paperback before, I can say it was of good sturdy quality and not flimsy like many.  The standard hardcover is quite nice as well, and comes with a dust jacket hiding a beautifully dark-green cloth-bound book with green endpapers and gold and copper foiling on the front and spine.

Thirteen Pathways of Occult Herbalism is an excellent read for those new to working with herbs in a more open and mutual manner, and is a generally pleasurable read even for those of deeper backgrounds, despite the simplicity it may present to some in the beginning.  While I might not recommend the first portion to someone who already has a strong foundation or strong relationships with plants or genii loci, I would certainly recommend it to many who come from a more typical approach of working with plants (those more prone to ordering ingredients or using them merely as ingredients rather than connecting with their power and animating spirit). The second portion of the book I would recommend to anyone of any level. There’s also a pretty great list of books in the back, for future reading, that the author references from. In whole it is a pretty enjoyable book.

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