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Hidden Histories and Mysteries of Witches, Plants, and Fungi
Hidden Histories and Mysteries of Witches, Plants, and Fungi

" intriguing introduction to the relationship between folklore, fakelore, and literacy; and a finely woven tapestry of source material that spans the fields of archaeology, linguistics, and agricultural science, and cultural geography. ... a valuable reference for both the expert in and the student of agricultural history."
—Plant Science Bulletin

Discover ancient rituals and plant lore that formed the foundations for medicine, botany, and modern agriculture.

Item No. 44655
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Discover ancient rituals and plant lore that formed the foundations for medicine, botany, and modern agriculture.

For centuries, peasants leaped over bonfires with accompaniment of song, ale and courtship, in spring, mid-summer and fall, all to combat smut, rust, darnel, and rinderpest.

During these times, rituals for protection of crops and livestock were the primary basis of social life and cohesion, and these rituals contributed to a vigorous plant lore that later transmuted into the foundations of medicine, botany, and modern agriculture.

In Hidden Histories and Ancient Mysteries of Witches, Plants, and Fungi, Dr. Frank Dugan, veteran plant pathologist and author of Fungi in the Ancient World and Conspectus of World Ethnomycology traces the evolution of plant lore and crop protection from the ancient beginnings of agriculture, through human civilization’s advances, and into today, where modern witches now browse online for herbal remedies and consult their county extension agents on edible fungi.

Through this unique book, Dugan stitches a wide variety of academic disciplines in a cohesive, entertaining, and historically relevant text that opens a window on the cultures of centuries past and the plants within them—a window made more transparent by recent advances in archaeobotany, molecular-genetics, paleolinguistics, paleo- and historical climatology, agricultural history, and comparative folklore.

Chapter I surveys new evidence of the impact of crises and catastrophes on social history in the deep past, including the role of climate change, famine, and plant disease in developing cultivated plants and in the distant origins of botany and mycology.

Chapter II examines archaeological and linguistic evidence for early medicinal use of ethnobotanical knowledge, particularly by women, and considers the more recent mining of medieval and Renaissance writings for pharmaceutical purposes.

Chapter III thoroughly documents the appearance of New World plants (tobacco, potato, tomatoes, Capsicum pepper, and pumpkin, among others) in Old World folklore, especially in European traditions. The place of folklore in controversial theories of Pre-Columbian diffusion of New World plants is evaluated.

Chapter IV traces the impacts of literacy, commercial seed catalogs, and store-bought medicines in diminishing plant knowledge obtained from traditional sources. It also examines the creation of new "ancient" traditions of ethnobotany that are sometimes good folklore and sometimes "fakelore."

Chapter V examines the roles of plants and agriculture in contemporary customs of possible pagan origin, focusing especially on those meant to protect crop and livestock health. The mysteries and probable realities of their origins are often more complex and more fascinating than the familiar, authoritative sources would suggest.

This unique book applies to many individuals whose interests and areas of study include agricultural history, evolutionary plant pathology and mycology, plant protection history, ethnobotany, women’s studies, herbal medicine, and folklore.  Select chapters can be an excellent complement to classes in these disciplines.

Hidden Histories and Ancient Mysteries of Witches, Plants, and Fungi


Shadows of Works and Days:

A revised history of cereals, legumes, and their pathogens from Neolithic through premodern Europe

Introduction: Beyond Hesiod
Nemesis: Plant pathogenic fungi in medieval and premodern Europe
Vexing vetch: Pulses, poisons, and language
What is Pre-Greek for ‘lentil’ and why should we care?
Famine, foraging, and foragers

Deep Time of the Cunning Women:

Origins, evolution, and exploitation of ethnobotany in Europe and the Mediterranean

Introduction: Conjectures and caveats
Archaeobotanical and archeological evidence
Linguistic evidence
Was ethnobotanical lore transferred by patrilocal exogamy?
Medicinal plants in ancient, medieval and premodern writings
Medicinal plants in folklore and folkways
Mining the herbals for drug discovery
Available germplasm

Mare’s Eggs and Thorn-Apples:

Potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, maize, and other American plants in European folktales and other folkways

Introduction: Tale types and motifs
The potato
The tomato
Capsicum peppers
Common bean (Phaseolus vulgaris)
Squash and pumpkin
Diffusionist controversies

Kitchen Witches:

Facts, folklore and fakelore on the transfiguration of the herb-women

Introduction: Roots of tradition and seeds of commerce
Women and the garden
Literacy: A gate leading to plant resources
But another gate closes: Enclosure and deforestation
Seeds and seedsmen
Herbs bottled, people pilled, hokum swilled
Herbal traditions: Exploring the past or inventing it?
Herbal Renaissance: A new cyber synthesis

Vestiges of Vanished Gods:

Plants and agriculture in the calendars and customs of Northwest Europe

Introduction: How pagan is our plant lore?
Crops, cattle, and combustion: The fire festivals
Leaves and trees: Offerings traditional and forbidden
Other customs: Living relics in a modern world?
Higher leaves and deeper roots
Frazer’s fate: The Gold-Plated Bough?


Literature Cited


"...fascinating tid-bits, including some extensive and often scholarly footnotes. ...intriguing well-annoted illustrations, including early paintings and engravings. ...impressive, something reflected in the "Literature cited" section... This is an enjoyable and fascinating read for mycologists interested in ethnomycology, and also for plant pathologists wishing to broaden their horizons."
—IMA Fungus

"Exceptionally well written and impressively informative...substantial and unique read, a seminal work of outstanding research scholarship, making it very highly recommended for personal reading lists, as well as community, and academic library collections."
—Wisconsin Bookwatch

Publish Date: 2015
Format: 8” × 10” softcover
ISBN: 978-0-89054-465-5
Pages: 180
Images: 32 images
Publication Weight: 2 lbs

By Frank Dugan

Hidden Histories and Ancient Mysteries of Witches, Plants, and Fungi

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