Thursday, January 26, 2012

Popular Magic: Cunning-folk in English History

Popular Magic: Cunning-folk in English HistoryPopular Magic: Cunning-folk in English History by Owen Davies
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Owen Davies' book 'Popular Magic: Cunning-folk in English History' had been on my Christmas wish-list as one of those books that I really wanted to read and I wasn't disappointed to find it in my stocking this year.

Davies admirably debunks the fanciful notion amongst many self-styled Wiccan and New Age Pagans that they are somehow the legatees of an unbroken wise-woman / cunning-folk tradition of healers and white witches. Davies uses primary and secondary sources to identify cunning folk as essentially Christian quasi-medics and often frauds and showmen, whose main stock in trade was unbewitching through magic and herbalism, thief finding, love magic and divination.

I particularly enjoyed discovering that two noted cunning folk were from my home town: a John Wendore who in 1604 determined that Anne Gunter was "not sick, but rather .. bewitched by some evil neighbour; and Maria Giles 'the Newbury Cunning woman' who features repeatedly in the archives of the Newbury Weekly News from the 19th century largely because she was in severe need of an ASBO!

The book has an extensive bibliography and lots of lovely references! What joy!

Get it on Amazon.


  1. Sounds interesting, Charlie! I will look for it. Thanks for the review! xx Leslie

  2. You'll enjoy the research Leslie! xx

  3. I am reading The Herbal Lore of Wise Women and Wortcunners right now. It too is excellent! I am absolutely humbled with how many herbal methodologies I was simply clueless about! xx

  4. Ooh that sounds interesting Leslie. Let me know what you think.

  5. What on earth is a "wortcunner"? It sounds vaguely rude but that's probably just me!

  6. No Shy, not just you, all this wortcunnery and cunning people is giving my span spidy sense the jitters.

    She's a witch! Burn her!