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Herb Magic For Beginners by Ellen DuganHerb Magic For Beginners
By Ellen Dugan
Publisher: Llewellyn Publications (May 2006)
Pages: 195 – Price: $12.95 author interview

It is a pleasure to visit with gifted psychic-clairvoyant and author, Ellen Dugan. She is known as the Garden Witch, and has been practicing the Craft for over twenty years. This month her new book, Herb Magic for Beginners came out. She and her family live in Missouri. Let me ask you first, What path do you follow as a Witch and why?

Ellen Dugan: I follow an eclectic, Wiccan path that leans heavily on natural magick. I coined the phrase “Garden Witch” about five years ago because it was the best way I could think to describe my own practices. Which are a combination of being a practical, Natural Witch, who incorporates the elements, herbs, plants, and flower folklore into her own spells and charms. 

What are the positive aspects of being a Witch in Missouri? Is it more friendly to people who openly practice positive, earth-based religions? Being a native son of Missouri and growing up in its southwestern area of waterways, folkways, plants, and woods, I have always taken its magickal essence with me wherever I traveled and lived, always pleasured to return when I could. Missouri has a historical background of Pagan, Druid, and Witch influences.

Well, they don’t call us the “Show me” state for nothing! Personally I have not encountered any problems with being a public Witch. Even when I was interviewed in the local paper and to my surprise ended up on the front page, with the headline of “Author, Gardener, Witch” above my photo, I expected some comments or trouble. But to my surprise the local folks were more excited to see me in the paper and to find out how many books I had written than to be too concerned about the big “W.” I had the chance with that interview to show the public that there was nothing to be afraid of. That Witches are nice, normal people and living in their very own neighborhood.
What are your feelings about Missouri and its natural beauty?

Actually no matter where I have traveled in the past few years I never feel quite at home unless I can see rolling tree-covered hills. I enjoy the fact that we can experience all four seasons here. My feelings about Missouri have been greatly enhanced by my parents who are both bow-hunters and conservation and nature nuts. When I was a kid we used to trot behind my parents in the woods with kid-sized bows and arrows, doing target practice with my parents. My Dad was always big to show us all the animal tracks, and the local flora and fauna. As a child we camped, hiked, and went on float trips all over the state. So I’m very biased towards Missouri and its natural beauty. 

I have also enjoyed camping, float trips, and fishing trips with my husband and our own children over the years. All three of the kids are excellent at fly fishing for trout. (Their dad taught them.) Missouri is a gorgeous and a magickal place. Many people turn up their noses at the thought of the Midwest being a place for magick, but spend some time here and you will see for yourself. The two largest rivers on the continent meet here. We have rivers, lakes, woods, plains, massive forests, springs, caves, and wildlife galore. Magick is where you find it, and truthfully you don’t have to look very hard to discover it in Missouri. 

What is the greatest aspect of being a herbalist, what makes it personally satisfying for you?

Okay, I run into this misconception all of the time. I am not an herbalist. I am not licensed to diagnose or to treat any type of illness, medically with herbs. I do not in any of my books, give directions on how to treat health issues with herbs. I focus instead on the power of plants, herbs, and flowers and their use in spells and charms. 

At a large festival last year, where I was a featured speaker, I had a few people come up asking me to sign copies of my first book Garden Witchery, and as we stood there chatting, they began to ask me how to treat their health issues. So I stuck my tongue in my cheek and said jokingly, “Damn it, Jim… I’m a Witch, not a doctor!” It took them a moment but eventually they got it. Then it took a while for them to stop shrieking with laughter. 

As a Master Gardener I am not allowed to discuss herbal remedies with the public. Nor do I have any expertise in that area. I do however, have many years of landscape and nursery experience. I teach classes at the local community college about gardening and flower folklore, and I can talk your ear off about herbs, vegetables, annuals and perennials, planting and harvesting, garden design, and home landscape. But I always tell folks to go to a doctor or if they prefer, a qualified and licensed herbalist for health issues. 

Let’s talk about your fine books. Every book you’ve written for publication is concise, educational, and highly enjoyable reading. What were your personal inspirations for your past books?

Bottom line, my love and enthusiasm for the topic. The idea for Cottage Witchery actually took over while I was working on a completely different book. It was so insistent that I eventually went with it and set the other stalled project aside. I had a blast writing and researching Cottage Witchery. Then my publishing company asked me to write Autumn Equinox, when I turned in the proposal for Cottage. So I was actually contracted for two different books on the same day! (It was a great surprise and I was flattered to be asked to write a Sabbat book.) Since the Fall is my favorite time of year, and I had tons of ideas for the topic, I pounced on the project. 

When it comes to the tale behind how I came to write The Enchanted Cat, — read the introduction — the funny story of how that book actually came to be, is there. Now, Herb Magic for Beginners, simply seemed like a smart idea to me. There are very few books out there that give folks practical, down-to-earth advice on how to incorporate easy to find herbs in magick. Every botanical listed in Herb Magic for Beginners has a spell. I know, I know, how crazy is that? But If I listed an herb in a theme chapter– it has an accompanying spell. It’s not enough to list the herb, tell you what it does, and turn the reader loose. People want a spell to go with the featured herb. So that’s what I did.
All the magickal herbs featured in the chapters will be easy to find, in the garden, grocery store, kitchen cabinet, or the backyard. To me it only makes sense to focus on the magick, and to keep the herbal ingredients practical and easy to get your hands on. Plus as the Garden Witch, you knew eventually I’d have to have my say when it comes to herbs and magick. 

Herb Magic For Beginners is a helpful, positive book. What do you see as your goals for the book, and what do you hope to accomplish with it?

To get folks to give herb magick a try. In truth, herb magick is a major magick. As it combines several other magicks in it’s application. Such as astrological timing, color and candle magick. So even though it says “For Beginners” it can still be a topic for a more experienced practitioner. I want the reader to use the book as a learning tool, and then have them add the skills they learn to their own repertoires. It’s my goal to have them take the knowledge presented, and to personalize it and make herb magick uniquely their own. 

What are some of the herbal insights in Herb Magic for Beginners you would like to share with the readers?

That herbs are more common then you realize herb magick is not all about belladonna and wolfs bane. Magickal herbs are found everywhere. The leaves from your maple tree, the blossoms on your peony bush, the roses growing along the fence, the garlic and cinnamon in your spice rack… Open your eyes and take a careful look around, and see the treasures that nature has for us.
Do you have a favorite all-purpose herb?

For magick, probably Achillea, common name, Yarrow. It is a wonderful all purpose perennial herb. One of my favorite varieties is called "Moonshine." It’s a beautiful yellow yarrow that blooms before Midsummer and holds its shape for weeks at a time, is lovely in Tussie-Mussies, or floral arrangements, and it dries beautifully. I have about three separate plants of this in my sunny gardens. 

Please share with us aspects of your gifts as a psychic/clairvoyant. When, where, and how did it start? At what age were you first aware of your abilities? What are some of your most interesting experiences?

My psychic abilities came roaring out when I was a teen. They caused me a lot of problems and quite frankly scared me to death at first. My parents hated it when I talked about it, and it usually landed me in a lot of trouble. So I shut my mouth, squelched the visions down, and tried to ignore them. None of which was successful. I could read people by touch and feel their emotions. I had precognitive dreams and if I accidentally touched someone I would “see” pictures. While this was quite the cool party trick with my friends, I also lost a lot of friends because of my accuracy, and it frightened a few teenage boyfriends away. 

I look back at that now and shake my head — Yeah it’s one thing to tell “Suzy” that the captain of the football team is going to dump his girlfriend at the last moment and ask her to the Homecoming Dance instead. But then when it actually happened Suzy was thrilled with me for a day and told a few people about it who were also impressed — then later when the reality of it sunk in, she was anxious, and then the whispering started and a lot of kids were curious about me, but they also avoided me because I made them nervous. 

My family thought I was a very odd duck, and since I didn’t quite fit the athletic-popular-cheerleader-prom queen idea they wanted. (I was more the broody, artsy, theater, singing, and choir kid.) I was punished emotionally for my non-conformity. While this was tough, it made me very mature and taught me to stand on my own. It wasn’t until my later high school years that I began to actively research the topic and a kind and wise teacher told me to do a term paper on the subject, that I began to learn that the “stuff” I could do, had a name. With knowledge came power — the power to control the abilities (sort of) and I was all about control. Once I gained that, I started trying to be more discreet. 

I started to flex my psychic and magickal muscles when I was in my 20s when my kids were small. I studied magick along the way, took a few classes on Psi development, and bought and memorized a Tarot deck. I started working the local psychic fairs as a sort of challenge to myself. I wanted to see if I could truly read strangers. The tarot cards were a sort of opening and kept the clients calm. (Many people don’t like the idea of having a psychic taking a stroll through their head.) Working the fairs was a great learning experience for me and I thoroughly enjoyed it and best of all, I was pulling out information; names and images just by holding their hands, and the clients were blown away. Validation, was at the time, a beautiful and positive thing for me. 

You received your Master Gardener status through the University of Missouri and your local county extension office. You have lectured on this and related topics. What do you enjoy most about teaching?

Getting folks enthusiastic about gardening and helping them to learn how to grow the garden of their dreams successfully. Flower Folklore is one of my favorite topics because it is a sneaky way to get the average person to look at the garden in a completely different and magickal perspective. Magick and the garden goes hand-in-hand. It’s irresistible and if you mention faeries to a class — the whole garden class perks up and pays attention. You can talk about gardening by the moon, the solstices and equinoxes, and people start to scramble for their notebooks to write it all down. I’ve yet to meet a rabid gardener who didn’t have a faerie, enchanted, or a moonlight garden.

What do I enjoy the most about teaching? I like the connection that sharing plants and gardening tips brings. Gardeners are a weird bunch anyway. Where else will you find so many different types of adults all cooing over a plant, swapping garden success stories, laughing and learning, trading plants, being covered in dirt and nobody minds? 

What would you suggest to those seeking a path in becoming a Witch?

I suggest hitting the books and studying and learning. Go with the classics, like Cunningham, Cabot, Valiente, and Starhawk. Then take a good look at natural magick and practical earthy magicks. If local classes are available, attend a few and see what you can learn. But do your homework, and ask how much experience the teacher has before you spend your hard earned cash.

If they announce that they’ve only been studying for 2 years and now they are a High Priestess or Priest — I would give them a very wide berth. True teachers will tell you how long they have practiced — but typically do not trot out titles and degrees to impress the students. They teach and lead with style and humor. Their enthusiasm, love for the topic, and knowledge is contagious. A good teacher inspires you to learn more — and to stand on your own. 

As a teacher myself, I want my magickal students to have fun and to be challenged. But I want to encourage them to look around at nature, and to discover the magick in the simplest of things. I urge them to be confident, to think for themselves, then to adapt and to come up with their own special brand of magick. Also, I usually tell folks new to the Craft to avoid jumping into a group right off the bat until they have learned their basics and are confident in their ability and knowledge of magick. There is nothing wrong with studying as a solitary at the beginning. It builds character, and that way you can be an asset to any group you eventually join. Because, if you don’t find the magick within, you won’t find it without. 

It has been enjoyable visiting with you, hearing your ideas, and having you share them with the reading audience. Thank you! Is there anything else you would care to share?

Yes I do have some exciting news! I have just finished up my eighth book for Llewellyn Worldwide. It will be the third in my “Witchery” series and the working title is, Natural Witchery: Intuitive, Personal and Practical Magick. This newest book will teach the reader how to incorporate their intuitions and psychic abilities into their Craft, and how to make their magick both practical and personal. The release date will be Spring of 2007. Keep an eye on my Web site for more information about the book and to get a sneak peek at its cover art. Look for the cover art sometime this summer. 

Now I want all of you to go outside and play in the dirt. Hug a tree, splash in a puddle, and talk to a flower. See what sort of magick nature can teach you today! Blessed be, Ellen Dugan

You can visit Ellen Dugan’s Web site at: 

Click here to buy this book now.

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