“The first ritual pertained to hunting, the center of our existence. We hunted plants and animals for food and medicine, never easy in the winter. We stalked the paths to the stars and to the Ancient Ones. We preyed upon knowledge to transcend ourselves. And we prayed for lovers and the Dreamtime. We hunted remedies to disasters and solutions for the unsolvable. We were hunters.”

Hunting as a sacrosanct necessity is not just a thing of the past. We are still hunters, seeking jobs and security, good health, knowledge and wisdom. Hunting medicine is as vital today as it was 10,000 or 100,000 years ago. There existed an amazing pharmacology of plant magic associated with hunting in the ancient world. It was complex and highly sophisticated. Clearly tremendous care was taken and hunting medicine was wrapped up in the finest ritualistic and mystical awareness. The hunter didn’t just pick up his bow and arrow and hit the trail. Hunting was not a sport; its success or failure dictated the survival of his community. Although hunter-gatherers’ diet was probably no more than a fraction of meat or fish (I estimate 15% or less), as omnivores hunting and fishing were nutritionally essential. And all essentialities, regarded as sacred, were handled with ceremonial humility and devotion.

The spirits within the plants themselves were invoked in a variety of ways. Some went to smudge that purified the hunter and his weapons. Other smoke medicine was inhaled during prayers. Some plants were rendered into washes that were applied for same reasons, or simply chewed up and spit out. Many were carried. Any oversight or sudden change of circumstances was not left without remedy either. Ancient hunters understood their world so completely they not only knew where to find certain plants but how to prepare them and invoke their spirits.

So what might the hunter have done before setting out? He certainly checked his gear, but not only for functional necessity. Weapons were always purified and strengthened. Sometimes these tools lost their power and it had to be restored. Among the plants that served this purpose could be found honeysuckle, salvia and rose. He didn’t fail to purify himself either with species such as holly, poplar or juniper.

Then the hunter’s attention probably turned to invisibility of sorts, needing to conceal his own scent from his quarry as well as the residual energy of former hunts that remained in his weapons and tools. Species such as pine, mint, cherry and maple for called in here.
Seeking the blessings of beneficent spirits was enormously important. Hunting was a deadly dangerous affair. And the imperative of hunting simply couldn’t be underestimated, not only yielding food but also hides for warmth and shelter, bones for tools, organs for tanning, containers for carrying and countless ritual objects. I found more than twenty species whose spirits were invoked, no doubt in solicitous prayer, for their blessings including willow, bearberry, alder and ash.

Beside the necessity of blessings came protection. Among hunter-gatherers it was believed that everything that could go wrong was the consequence of meddlesome or malevolent spirits. The hunter needed an edge against inclement weather and the ability to adapt quickly to change. Leaves that stirred on a windless day was a sure sign that bad weather was on its way. I found enormous importance associated with the weather and the need for protection against thunder and lightning, believed to cause very specific and highly undesirable illnesses. Protective spirits could be found in birch, hawthorn, holly, pine and oak. Bladderpod was used to ward off storms and quickbeam guarded against storm damage. The hunter also needed to guard against injury or the real possibly of being led astray by a spirit. He didn’t want to become the unwitting prey for either a predator or an entity, nor did he want spirits stealing his hunting medicine or stripping his weapons of their potency.

Water and sustenance were essential for his journey but its safe to speculate that the hunter’s incredible knowledge of the environment probably didn’t present an overt risk to him in this area. Water could be found where bracken or poolroot grew and food was everywhere. No doubt his greater concern went to courage and clarity, the loss or theft of which spelled real danger for him. I discovered nearly twenty species of plants that afforded inordinate protection for hunters against these and other elements. Among them can be found mistletoe, woodruff, nettle and wormwood.

And hunting in the winter was even more perilous. Beech and poplar were among those plants that intervened against frostbite. Then there was the horrendous consequence of snow blindness, the defense against which was found in wormwood, dogwood, crabapple and cherry. I noticed that even distraction from sexual abstinence was not overlooked and remedied with things such as honeysuckle, waterlily and vervain. Ancient hunters were absolute experts at protection and placed far greater reliance on plants rather than weapons for that purpose.

Was that it, was he ready to be was on his way? Not a chance. Critical elements like quick but thoughtful and deliberate judgement, courage and clarity in the moment had to be maintained. Oak, mint, pine, willow and hazelnut were among the species that secured and preserved these essential things. The hunter had to sustain his strength and stamina while guarding against fatigue with species such as gromwell, chrysanthemum, crabapple and wormwood. Oxalis, bearberry and crabapple relieved or suppressed thirst. Then there was the issue of attracting the quarry to him, perhaps the greatest imperative of all, with plants such as hawthorn, holly, dock, valerian and aster. Without the power to accomplish that not only was his energy profoundly wasted, his people could starve to death too.

Even if we have an aversion to hunting today great comfort can be found in the fact that not so long ago it was undertaken with prayer, humility and wisdom. And given the sparse information that managed to trickle down to us, I can not imagine the extraordinary scope of the magic involved with other everyday activities. Nor would we rationally exclude ritual in all of them. Devoted study to the hunter-gatherer world beautifully illustrated to me that we once held a sacred union with our Earth that was wholly enveloped in knowledge and worship. It is an absolute scramble now to rediscover what we once know so inherently. We are at the mercy of and utterly dependent on antiquity to find the place of beauty and balance again in order to save our Earth from ourselves. Ancient life was both profoundly simple yet steeped in the confident knowledge of mystery and magic. Then people walked softly on our Mother, took only what was needed and put back more than what was taken through compassion, concern for others, and devotion to the Earth.

A species list of hunting medicine can be found in the appendix.

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