Plant medicine is a cornerstone of many magical traditions. Whether it's the Western herbalist looking to the doctrine of signatures when conventional approaches to treatment fail or the shaman seeking spiritual truth through intense communion with a cactus, this relationship of person-to-plant heavily colors the metaphysical landscape. In the Wisdom of Birch, Oak, and Yew, author Penny Billington suggests a gentler approach: one of cultivated friendship, appreciation, and meditation.

Billington takes the ever-vague exercise of a walk in the woods and makes it specific, one in which you must go touch a birch tree, and identify a yew tree, and know how to pick out an oak tree from the landscape. She goes so far as to eliminate the most common excuse for avoiding such practice: lack of time.

The format of the book makes for ease of use but also, on a single read-through, falls into a common trap of repetitiveness. As a book meant for in-the-field use, on a single read through it can feel like a New Agey Audubon guide. The reader knows the affirmations are coming, and knows that the exposition will be after such and such header and so on. While no one is reading this particular version of nonfiction for surprise plot twists, the repetitive nature on the one hand can tempt a reader to skim over the material and thus miss an important lesson while on the other hand it makes finding a page fast easy when practice is already begun.

This book is best offered to someone who has already committed to a spiritual practice and wishes to refine it. As an introduction, the affirmations section especially may meet resistance – after all, programming the mind has little to do with understanding the plant spirit. Getting across that the understanding leads to the affirmation practice will likely work better for people who understand that magic is not just experiential but disciplinary.

Recommended as a second-level beginner guide.

~ review by Diana Rajchel

Author: Penny Billington
Llewellyn, 2015
pp. 335, $19.99

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