The Magick of Aromatherapy by Gwydion O’Hara – 4/5 You should be reading this
Warnings: Binary discussion, weird printing choices, possible cultural appropriation?
This is a great little tome to pick up if you’re into aromatherapy and have a magical or spiritual practice. I can’t vouch for every single aromatherapy usage but I was impressed with the book and the few flaws I found probably won’t bother most people. But the flaws are there.
The recipes are useful and plentiful and the discussions are worth reading. Basics of aromatherapy are also covered so you don’t need to be an expert to read the book. Worth checking out and worth buying if you’re interested in the subject.
I’ll be honest: I’m not well-versed in aromatherapy. It’s always been one of those things I use but never focused on. I’ve always been surrounded with people sensitive to scents so it became a thing to skirt around. I planned sometime ~in the future~ to get a proper education and certification in. This is still the plan, someday.
But that’s not what this post is about. It’s a book review! I was going through my Read Before Buying list and discovered this book was available via my library. So despite knowing only peripheral knowledge, I requested it.
OK, the first thing I have to say is the printed edition is REALLY WEIRD. It’s printed in this black-green ink. And not just the titles or the drawings but THE WHOLE THING. It really messed with my eyes at first when I started reading it. At first I’m like “Oh, it’s printed in green. How weird. “But the next time I picked it up, it was in black. My eyes kept having to adjust so each time I picked it up was a new experience. (Side note: Sometimes my brain doesn’t register greens very well so it could be a me thing.)
Like I said, I’m not the most well-versed in aromatherapy so I can’t vouch for the accuracy or current research but the book was well-written by a professional, long-term aromatherapist. It was presented in a very straight-forward manner that isn’t new age-y at all. I was honestly surprised considering it’s published by Llewellyn and they don’t have the best record for solid books.
Would I use this as a base for learning aromatherapy? No. It covers the basics and gives insight on some common scents but overall, I know there’s far more technical and useful books out there. While the author writes from the perspective of someone considering a profession in aromatherapy, this isn’t the kind of book to use as a textbook. Instead, it’s more of a topic book. In an academic world, it would be a book you read to get perspective and ideas but maybe source for a piece of information or two, but it wouldn’t be required reading.
The author also gives opinions on basic equipment which is always useful to beginners and goes over basic terminology and usages. There’s also a discussion on how to administer the scents which is fun and useful information that I expected to be left out.
One thing I REALLY liked about this book is the approach on aromatherapy as magic. It questions the usage of it. Scent doesn’t just effect you but everyone around you and that’s flat-out stated in the book and asks the question: Is it your right to effect others just because you want to be affected? It questions how our actions have more consequences then we’re aware of. I don’t necessarily agree (or care) about such things but I liked the discussion anyway. It was worth picking up the book for that discussion alone.
However, the book isn’t without issues. On page 124, I ran into my first one.
I have issues with the idea that plants are binary. Because, you know, nature isn’t entirely binary. So ascribing gender to plants is really weird to me. I was already pursing my lips but the section itself, while only a few pages long, made me frown. It talks about balancing out things via gendered scents. Example: giving an “aggressive” (ie male) scent to boost courage or something similar.
Like… I get what you’re saying but why not just SAY aggressive or passive? Why add gender in at all? It’s a very off-putting idea for me. I’ll be honest. Most people won’t have a problem at all with this section but some people won’t like it and I’m one of them.
Another section that’s not necessarily problematic is the regional section. The author mentions how certain scents are regional. Not just from where they’re sourced but that certain regions have a scent they’re associated with.
I got really excited about this. I was like “Yes! Someone is going to talk about how certain rituals or beliefs involving herbs and flowers are specific to cultures and using them outside of those cultures is appropriation!” (Example: white sage is open for usage but copying any form of Native American rituals involving white sage is appropriation. Another example: St. John’s Wort is open for usage but the spirit of St. John’s Wort has a very specific importance within the Hoodoo(?) community and that should be taken into account when using St. John’s Wort in ritual usage.)
But no, that’s not what that section was about. Oh, the section’s good but I was kind of hoping to run into that kind of conversation outside of the internet. Essentially I made myself sad by expecting too much.
OK, let’s be honest, when we pick up such books, we look for the spells or recipes. We all do it. It’s the meat of the book and the most useful thing in it probably. It’s the reason you buy a book and keep it. So I’ll say it simply: Yes there are recipes, both magical and mundane, and yes they are good.
The mundane recipes are good. The ones I tried a few and many of the recipes match fairly well with herbal recipes I’m aware of. Yes, even the cosmetic ones. Not just for the healing herbal remedies but the magical herbal concoctions I see in magic books. The recipes, which is the main reason I pick up any book like this, are a lot like a book of spells. They’re organized by category and purpose. Some are traditional, personally designed by the author, or some blend of the two.
I was actually really impressed by the recipes. Having gone through a hundred and fifty plus pages of the book without a single magic specific recipe, I was pleasantly surprised by inclusions of classic oils like Come to Me, Fiery Wall of Protection, and so on. I prefer to make my own oils rather than use recipes out of cultures and practices I don’t belong to but I appreciate that they were included none the less.
As one would surmise, I’m not a fan of using cultural specific recipes such as the ones in Voodoo or Hoodoo just because they’re well-known or convenient. They’re specific to context and education just as much as Native American practices are. I always feel it worth mentioned when they’re included BUT this book acknowledges their origins and practitioners of these cultures are just as likely to use aromatherapy as any other magician. So I’m on the fence about the inclusion. Yay they’re available for practitioners of these arts but boo they’re available for anyone too. It’s not really my place to say much of anything on the subject, as I’m not a practitioner of either the aforementioned so I’ll leave it here as is.
Interestingly, there are recipes dedicated to specific groups. One recipe was designed by request for a Celtic group and another is base on the Golden Dawn. I find that incredibly interesting and practitioners of these groups may want to check out the book around pages 208-209 if interested. Yes, Wicca is included too, as well as a host of other groups. Devotees of various deities may also rejoice as there’s a collection of scents included as well for well known deities from a handful of pantheons.
I was also surprised to find “darker” recipes. I thought they would be excluded but they weren’t. There’s some dialogue about being sure of your motives. Instead of shaming, it questions whether you should manipulate the destiny of another. I was highly impressed that there wasn’t shaming. I expected it, full stop. Instead it was more of a reminder of the soul of this book: healing as a magical endeavor. Since there’s quite a lot of discussion earlier in the book about scent even accidentally affecting others, this was more of a reminder of that discussion. I liked it, to be honest. I might not agree with it, precisely, but it presented very valid arguments that people should consider, as mentioned above.
I also always find pleasure in appendixes. They’re not needed when you have a search button and a digital copy but for printer books? Appendixes are the next best thing. And there are a lot of appendixes.
Will I buy this book? Yes. I sincerely wish it was on the kind because of the printing ink. Would I use this book to teach me aromatherapy? No. But I do think this could be excellent for anyone wanting to incorporate spirituality or magic into their aromatherapy practice or adding aromatherapy to their spirituality or magic practice. It’s worth it for the recipes and it’s worth it for the discussion. I just really wish it was available in black ink or on the kindle.
If you’re into aromatherapy at all and magical or spiritual practices, this is a good book to pick up.