T.F. Thiselton-Dyer’s The Mythic & Magickal Folklore of Plants, ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
Today’s post comes a day late, as events shifted my focus elsewhere. Also, please note, this is going to be a slightly different Spellbook Saturday than usual, as it comes with a content warning. Please note this post addresses and subsequently contains white supremacist language.
As a former art historian and forever a folklore nerd, when I received multiple recommendations for T.F. Thiselton-Dyer’s The Mythic & Magickal Folklore of Plants, I was so excited. From GoodReads, “First published in 1889, this still-unparalleled exploration of mythic and magickal plant lore from around the world includes chapters on Lightning Plants, Plants in Witchcraft, Plants in Demonology, Plants in Fairy-Lore, Plants and the Weather, Plants in Folk-Medicine, and much, much more. The Mythic & Magickal Folklore of Plants is a treasure house of traditional mystical, magickal and medicinal botanic information every Green Witch should know.”
That’s like catnip for a hedge witch, right?
Other reviewers have described the ways in which “the material isn’t well organised and subsequently can be rather repetitive and tedious,” and I’ll admit those who don’t enjoy historical texts may be put off by the formality of the writing as well. The most egregious flaw of this book, however, is that the Reverend Thomas Firminger Thiselton-Dyer was an unabashed racist. There are frequent references to “the lesser races,” a term the Reverend applies to everyone who isn’t of Anglo-Saxon descent, and non-white “superstitions” are routinely derided as ignorant, while British “folklore” is lauded for comforting the author’s ancestors in times of hardship.
This is completely unsurprising, given that Thiselton-Dyer was white Christian male, born in England in 1848. However, it’s unpardonable that this book is being circulated without appropriate contextual analysis for a profit in 2020. Speaking as a white cis-woman, I believe that one of our responsibilities is to interrogate what we believe to be canonical, and to actively unsettle colonialist thoughts and practices in whatever field in which we are working, reading, debating, etc. Even if one could somehow overlook the frequent white supremacist, colonialist language and ideology (and, uh… why would you want to?), you’re left with a poorly written text with little relevant information. Truly, save yourself both the frustration of reading this book and the money you’d spend on it, and instead support the work of a queer or BIPOC herbalist, bruja, historian, or writer. I have a few suggestions below:
- New England Farmers of Color Land Trust
- Rootwork Herbals
- Earth Star Healing
- Support a Black-owned independent bookstore
P.S. I’m thinking I might make tarot interpretations of book reviews a thing, what do you think?
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