View Full Version : Traditional Shaman and Witches of Britain

20-12-2011, 08:25 PM
Originally posted in September 2009, pre-crash :D


The Origins, History, and Practices of the Cunning Folk in Britain.

This is a long journey. The very word “cunning” is a derivation of the Saxon word “cunnan” meaning “knowing” and used to describe what the Saxons found in the native beliefs when they first invaded Britain in around 500 AD after the withdrawal of the Roman legions. So, can we say that the Cunning Folk originated with the Celts ?
Not really. We have to go even further back. Who was here before the Celts ?
In fact, we have to go back to before the British Isles actually existed.

At the end of last Ice Age about 10000 years ago, Britain did not exist. As the ice retreated and the temperature warmed, Britain was just part of continental Europe. Where the North Sea is at the moment was a fertile plain as large as the Britain we know today. There was a huge river made up of the Thames, Seine, and Rhine which ran to the Atlantic via a large delta. The plain was home to large herds of grazing animals including Mammoths, all sorts of deer, wild cattle, and horses. And bands of hunters – Mesolithic man with stone tools. These men had ample food and generally a good life. We can assume that they also had shaman who interceded with local spirits to ensure good hunting. The water level continued to rise, noticeably to these hunters. The sea encroached onto the plain from the north, eating away at the plain. The hunters were forced to move east and west to the edges away from the rising sea. Fishing and shellfish began to form a substantial part of the diet as the grazing herds also retreated. Those hunters moving west were faced with an inhospitable land of dense gloomy forests, home to wolf, bear, and boar.
By around 6000 years ago, the submersion of the plain was complete and Britain was truly as island.
The final peoples to flee to the west were a Mesolithic/late Neolithic cultural mix, including what came to be known as the Beaker Folk because of their distinctive earthenware and the people who came to known as the Picts or Pictii who were an Iberian people. The Picts generally moved to the north into Hibernia.
The Beaker People were “cunning” with stone especially monumental stone and, in around 3000 BC raised Stonehenge and other henges, underground burial chambers, and standing stones all over Britain. The Picts had a form of ogham writing. Both Beaker Folk and the Picts relied on the shaman to appease the local spirits in this gloomy, dark land. We now know that the people of the flooded plain also had shaman because, recently, Dutch trawlers have been bringing up human artefacts from the bottom of the sea, including votary objects such as carved bone and animal models used by shaman to trap animal spirits.
Around 600 BC came a new folk, an Indo-European people with distinctive appearance who had spread through most of northern Europe and beyond. The Keltoi had arrived. Two or three centuries later came another group, origins unclear, the Druids. Britain is now divided into several Celtic tribal areas with their local shaman and the druids became a de facto priesthood, scribes, and judges – they also practiced High Ceremonial Magic whereas the shaman practiced a Low Magic.
That is the foundation of the origins of the Cunning Folk.
At this point, before moving on, it would be worth considering the early days after the plain flooded. Consider, the hunter-gatherers had moved from a flatland sub-arctic tundra, similar to Canada or Siberia, cold but fertile and home to herds of grazers, to a dark, forbidding land covered in forests, home to wolf, bear, wild boar, aurochs, red deer, and the like. The edges of this land were known to the tribes and we now know that there were communities there, living in the marshlands where rivers flowed down to the delta. One such village, dating back to 9000 BC and used by the tribes, is being excavated by archeologists from York and Manchester Universities. It shows a sophisticated construction of houses built on wooden platforms and connected by wooden walkways. A great deal of artefacts have also been recovered because the village was preserved by the waters of the bog.
It was in the forests that the Cunning Folk came into their spiritual powers. The forests were the home of the Green Men, the Green Spirits – capricious beings who had to be placated with offerings by the Cunning Folk. The most tenacious god of the Greenwood originates in this time, the Green Man, half man, half tree. His effigy can still be seen carved in many churches – a pagan god in Christian churches.
During this period, the Cunning Folk identified places of power where the Green Spirits could be appealed to.
These places of power are still there, waiting for anyone who has intimate knowledge of the land, today’s Cunning Folk. We now refer to these places as doorways between the Realms of Being and we talk about “crossing the veil”.
The hunter-gatherers were forced into clearing areas of the forest and taking their first steps into a new world of farming and animal husbandry.

Before getting too involved, perhaps I should explain who the Cunning Folk were and what they did.

[B]CUNNING MAN: (Saxon, cunnan, to know.)
A pre-Christian term that means many things, but usually indicates a leading practitioner of some kind of magick. The Scandinavian "klokman" was a word for the Cunning Man. He was known in France as "Le Devin du village". In later years, the term was sometimes also used in reference to an Alchemist. Also used for a fortune-teller, or one who professes to discover stolen goods. Some theorise that the first books on medicine were written by people who could be referred to as Cunning Men. In times when the Cunning Man was a known and respected figure, the local villagers would often expect their Cunning Man to protect them from unseen dangers, and to provide them with charms and certain medicines; some people have theorised that Cunning Men were familiar with many natural psychedelics. The Cunning Man was also expected to perform rituals and dances that would ensure bountiful hunting or abundant harvests. Even when Christianity began to spread throughout Europe, the Cunning Men were often still heavily relied upon, entire villages were converted to Christianity, but many were concerned that their new God would not know how to supply them with good crops and good hunting, and so they continued to entreat the aid of the Cunning Folk of their area.
Cunning Man was often the partner of the Wise Woman – both tribal shaman. Together, they were the Cunning Folk. In addition to the description above, they both had some specific areas that they looked after as civic figures.
The Cunning Man was a weather forecaster and advised when to plant and when to reap the harvest. He was also responsible for the tribe’s male breeding stock – the bull, the stallion, the ram, and boar.
The Wise Woman was the tribe’s herbalist and midwife.
As shaman, they invoked different spirits. The Cunning Man invoked local spirits such as certain trees, springs, and rivers whereas the Wise Woman invoked the Mother Goddess.
Together, they were a powerful team who stood high in the tribal hierarchy.

20-12-2011, 08:33 PM
Continued :D
Celts, Druids, and Romans.
To recap, the Celts came to Britain around 600 BC and found a pre-existing tribal culture flourishing. This culture had a well-established philosophy and body of astronomical knowledge, building impressive structures with just stone tools. The most well-known is, of course, Stonehenge built around 3000 BC and pre-dating the pyramids in Egypt. We know that this culture had a well-established Cult of the Dead and practiced funereal cremations and burial chambers dug well below ground. They worshipped the Changing Seasons and the Equinox, calculated by their “computer” Stonehenge. Stonehenge itself, was not an isolated structure but was just part of a living community now estimated to be around 10000 people.
Into this came the Celts with a similar social structure and common ancestry from the “drowned lands” of the North Sea. These two cultures apparently merged without great difficulty. The Celts were metal workers, covering the transition between the late Bronze Age and early Iron Age. The cultural mix spread throughout Britain with the Pictii to the north still and Britain became a tribal land with Chieftains, warriors, farmers, metal workers, and , not least the tribal shaman.

Into this mix, as if by magic, comes a new factor – the Druids. There is little evidence concerning the druids and, what there is, is of Roman origin and can only be described as highly subjective and, lets just say it, biased.
The earliest reference is 3rd century BC by a Greek writer Sotion of Alexandria which is cited by Diogenes in the 2nd century BC. The reference is to druidae.
The English Druid derives from Latin Druides. Both Latin and Greek words are “on loan” from a proto-celtic stem Druwid which combines the roots deru and weid.
Deru is oak in Indo-European but has other meanings such as “to be firm, solid, steadfast” i.e. the English “true”.
Weid- is the Indo-European root for “to see” , also meaning knowledge, as in the English wit, or Sanscrit veda.
Also derived from this is drui [Welsh – seer ; draoi [Irish – magician] : druidh [Modern gaelic – enchanter] and draoidh [ magician]
So, Druwid could be translated as True Knowledge.

The Druids philosophy is called Pythagorean by the historian Cornelius Polyhistor
“the souls of men are immortal and after death will enter another body.”
They taught lessons on Astronomy, geography, natural philosophy and matters relating to religion. In battle, it was common to see druids standing between opposing armies attempting to bring about peaceful solutions [ Julius Caesar – De Bello Gallico]
In the record of Cymry Gwyddoniad [Welsh Cunning Folk], it is said that the Druids had no knowledge of Celtic Mysteries and Spirituality and were taught by the Celtic Cunning Folk. So, the Druids became culturally Celtic.
Here’s the stunning bit – one modern scholar [ Donald A. Mackenzie in Buddhism in pre-Christian Britain] has speculated that Buddhist missionaries had been sent by the Indian king Ashoka. A very intriguing speculation. Druids = Buddhists ?
The Druids used a tradition that was purely oral and became Advisors, counsellors, judges, and High Priests to the Celts and, thus, aroused the enmity of the invading Romans who instituted a pogram. It came to a head with many druids forced back into Mona {Anglesey] and butchered – but were they ?
In the Gwyddoniad record , it is said that many escaped to Eire to carry on the Druidic Celtic tradition there.

So, first century AD, most of Britain is under Roman rule. The Celts in Northumbria [the Brigantes] allied themselves peacefully to the Romans and became the first of the Romano-Britons. The Romans, in general, were very cunning in relation to religious practices – they absorbed them into their own pantheons – and so it was with the Celtic pagan beliefs. The shaman just ignored the change and took what they wanted from Roman culture – a feature of the Cunning Folk which continues.

To recap, we left Britain now a Roman province. Most High Ranking Celts adopted Roman life styles, becoming Romano-Britons. There were some tribes that tried to fight this Romanisation, notably the Iceni, but eventually everything settled. Roads were built North to South, and East to West, and garrisons established. What was unique about Britain was the building of boundary walls such as Hadrians Wall in Northumbria which defined the extent of Romano-Britain.
The Cunning Folk took on board some Roman deities and some Romans – soldiers especially – made offerings to local spirits and deities. An example which is typical is the Celtic site at what is now called Bath. There was a hot spring there dedicated to the spirit Sulis. The Romans built a formal bath house [hence the name Bath] and dedicated it to Sulis-Minerva. The Cunning Folk now had access to the works of Greek and Roman philosophers and people of science and medicine. In general, it was a time of peace and relative prosperity because of the import of Roman agricultural know-how and civil engineering. Pax Romana spread over Britain.
At one time, the whole Roman Empire was ruled from Britain when the local commander who had three legions marched from Eboracum [York] to Rome and took the Imperial Purple. In truth, the “Roman” army had few Romans in it outside of the officer corp. They were mostly drawn from all over the empire and built settlements in Britain after they were permitted to marry local women in the 2nd century AD. All Britons were granted Roman citizenship

In the fourth century AD, a plea was sent to Rome for help to ward off the invasion of a Germanic tribe, the Saxons. The answer returned was basically , “you’re on your own.” That was the end of Roman rule in Britain . Most of the soldiers remained here as they were settled and came under local commanders. We were now all Britons.
The Saxons were originally invited to Britain as mercenaries. They were pagan and their social tribal structures were not a mile away from the original Celts and later Norse. So, their “Cunning Folk” were shamanistic, their religion animist. In nature, they were more barbaric than the Romano-Britons but only in degree. Many Saxon words survived in what was to become Anglo-Saxon, the predominant language of these isles. For example, a Saxon goddess Eostre became the pagan festival Ostara and the Christian festival of Easter. So, there was little culture shock in their coming.
The real shock between the Britons and the Saxons was over land, the Saxons had come to settle. In terms of magic and witchcraft, the Saxons added little in High Magic – no equivalent of the druidic tradition.
Oddly, out of this period comes one of the most famous Britons, Arthur. Not a king with knights in shining armour and Camelot and Excalibur but the real Arthur – a Romano-British General who fought first the Pictii and then the Saxons in the 5th century. Arturios – Dux Bellorum
In the 6th century, Britain became Christian on the surface but, in the rural areas it remained pagan and the Cunning Folk still did what they had always done. Some became Christian and took what they wanted from the new religion.
In the ninth century, the Norse incursions began. First as raiders but then as settlers. The North reverted to paganism again and a new Norse kingdom was formed in the North called Bernicia, ruled by Danish Norsemen who took Eboracum as their capital, renamed Jorvik [c/f York !]
Eventually, Christianity returned and the whole of Britain became nominally Christian – now a mix of Romano-Britons, Saxons, and Norse. It is worth noting that Christianity was brought to Britain by Irish monks of the Celtic Church. They founded the monastery of Lindisfarne, off the Northumbrian coast and it was there that the Lindisfarne Gospels were written in Anglo-Saxon. The Celtic Church was a rather mystical form of Christianity with animist tendencies and an almost pagan flavour in their worship.
And all through it, the native Cunning Folk continued to do what they had always done.

I will now jump several centuries to the time covered by academic research. Namely the work of Owen Davies, lecturer in History, University of Herefordshire, and Ronald Hutton, Professor of History, University of Bristol.

A précis.
Cunning-folk, who were also known as wise-women, wise-men, conjurors and wizards, were an integral part of English society right up until the early twentieth century. Over the centuries hundreds of thousands of people must have consulted them regarding a wide range of problems, but particularly those concerning affairs of the heart, theft, sickness and most important of all witchcraft. They were multi-skilled, or at least professed to be so. They practised herbalism, treasure-seeking and love magic. They revealed the identity of thieves and divined the whereabouts of lost and stolen property. The more learned cunning-folk also practised astrology, while the less learned pretended to be masters of the art. The most lucrative aspect of their business was the curing of those people and animals who were thought to be bewitched, and also the trade in charms to ward of witches and evil spirits.
The magical activities of cunning-folk were effectively made illegal under the Conjuration and Witchcraft Acts of 1542, 1563 and 1604 - the same laws which were used to prosecute suspected witches. In particular these Acts were directed at any person or persons who took
"upon him or them by witchcraft, enchantment, charm, or sorcery, to tell or declare in what place any treasure of gold or silver should or might be found or had in the earth, or other secret place; or where goods, or things lost or stolen should be found or be come; or shall use or practise any sorcery, enchantment, charm or witchcraft to the intent to provoke any person to unlawful love"
Under the 1542 Act the punishment for such offences was death, though there are no records suggesting that the sentence was ever carried out, and besides, the Act was repealed a few years later in 1547. The Elizabethan Act of 1563 prescribed one year's imprisonment and four stints in the pillory for a first offence, life imprisonment for a second offence, and death for those who conjured up evil spirits.
Long before these laws were passed the religious and ecclesiastical authorities had expressed their concern about the activities of cunning-folk, and a number were prosecuted for fraud by the London authorities, and for moral offences by church courts up and down the country. In fact, up until the mid-sixteenth century there was far greater concern over the threat cunning-folk posed to society than there was over the activities of harmful witches. Even during the main period of the witch trials members of authority, clergymen in particular, urged that cunning-folk should also be rooted out and exterminated. Very few shared such a fate, however, for the simple reason that, on the whole, the common people saw them as valuable members of the community. In the rare instances when cunning-folk were sentenced to death under the conjuration and witchcraft statutes it was because they were accused and found guilty of harmful witchcraft, rather than for their beneficial magical practices such as theft detection or for conjuring spirits. Even when witchcraft and conjuration ceased to be a crime, following the Witchcraft Act of 1736, the same law ensured that pretended witchcraft or magic remained a punishable offence. So from 1736 onwards cunning-folk could no longer be prosecuted for what they said they could do, but for what they could not do. In other words witchcraft and magic became legally defined as fraudulent beliefs and practices.
Authoritarian concern over the popularity of cunning-folk continued into the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, though it was no longer based on a fear of Satan, but on the 'credulity' and 'ignorance' that cunning-folk were said to promote through their magical activities. As a result, sporadic prosecution of cunning-folk continued, though usually under the rather inappropriate laws against vagrancy (particularly after the Vagrancy Act of 1824) rather than the more appropriate Witchcraft Act.
By this time, the Cunning Folk had lost their pagan religious roots and often adopted Christianity as a cover, using the bible as a source of spells rather than it’s original intent. Even some clergy used magic and provided Cunning Folk services.
One consequence of this “hiding in plain sight” was that they avoided the excesses of the witch hunts and were often regarded as witch finders. There were many laws against the practice of witchcraft but the only prosecutions seem to be a result of customers claiming that the magic did not work.
The historical studies of Owen Davies have shown the extent to which cunning folk were a recognised part of British rural and urban life, and in the 19th century it is estimated there were several thousand at work across the country. They could be found operating openly in towns and villages across the nation and they were a valued part of the community. Some cunning folk were so successful that they began attracting clients from many miles away. Most offered more limited services to a smaller region. Cunning folk could make a good living from their talents, and there usually was a set monetary charge for their services. The money they earned meant they were often considered, especially by the better educated, as frauds and tricksters who got money out of the gullible for parlour tricks; certainly some were caught in fraud such as spying on customers to aid their predictions, repeatedly promising vast treasure which was never found, or accusing innocent people of theft or witchcraft. By the nineteenth century when the threat of prosecution was slight, cunning folk advertised their services and wrote books.
As late as the 17th century in England, magical beliefs were widespread in both learned and popular thought. Some of this popular magic was a hold-over from the 'Old Faith' — Catholicism: Catholic priests pronounced that benefits such as protection during travel, ease of childbirth, recovery of lost goods and protection from blindness could be gained by the repetition of Latin prayers, attending Mass, or even seeing the priest bearing the Host. Pre-Christian magical beliefs and practices also survived into the early modern period. Nature spirits and pagan deities were worshipped as saints; the cult of the dead preserved ancient traditions of ancestor worship, and the most sacred events of the Christian calendar overlaid pre-Christian festivals. Many festivals and community events preserved even more thinly veiled pagan practices. Although Catholicism had been very successful in absorbing pre-Christian magic, many people in Early Modern Britain still had essentially animist world views which owed little to Christianity. In many parts of England and Scotland parishes had no resident priest, and a significant proportion of commoners seldom attended church at all. Of those who attended church, many did so without interest or understanding, and were ignorant of rudimentary Christian doctrine. At the same time, these people held a complex body of magical beliefs, particularly relating to fairies, nature spirits and ghosts.
Popularly, little distinction was made between fairy, angel, saint, ghost or devil, however fairies were most consistently linked with the dead. Fairies were held to generally resemble humans and lead very similar lives, yet lived much longer, could become invisible or change shape, and could fly, heal the sick and divine future events. People were anxious to propitiate these beings, both from desire for good fortune and from fear. The aid of fairies was also enlisted, via magical practitioners, to help with major life problems, particularly to do with health, popular belief maintaining that fairies "cause and cure most diseases".
Common people regularly performed their own magic spells and rituals, but when greater experience was needed they turned to magical practitioners, who were known by the interchangeable terms wise man or woman, cunning man or woman, witch (white or black), wizard, sorcerer, conjurer, blesser, dreamer and so on. These practitioners mostly came from the less educated or wealthy sectors of the population, but a significant minority of them were literate and even possessed magical manuals. Like witches, cunning folk seem to have often employed the services of spirits and familiars in their work, and indeed it is difficult to clearly differentiate cunning folk from 'witches', a distinction that was often blurred in the early modern period. While some cunning folk were considered wholly good, many more were seen as ambivalent and regarded with a degree of fear.
In his work, The Triumph of the Moon, Ronald Hutton gives an in-depth study of the “hereditary craft”. It deals with people who practiced “witchcraft” before Gardner came along.
Were they called witches?
Hutton reviews the evidence for low magic, and examines three fairly distinct groups who practised magic and spells:
[FONT=Symbol]· [/FONT]cunning folk, literate middle class traders, artisans or schoolmasters
[FONT=Symbol]· [/FONT]charmers, often lower class magical practitioners
[FONT=Symbol]· [/FONT]witches, anti-social individuals practising evil magic for their own ends
These were the "practitioners of this operative magic in England and Wales between 1740 and 1940" They were astrologers, fortune tellers, wise women, wise men or wizards, cunning men and cunning women, conjurors, 'dyn hysbys' (Welsh) or 'pellar' (Cornish, believed to be from 'expeller', one who casts out evil spirits), but not 'witch'. "Folklore collectors themselves often employed the term 'white witch' [for cunning folk and charmers], but this formulation was very rare in the vocabulary of the ordinary people, to whom the word 'witch' almost always signified somebody who worked magic for personal ends of profit or malice." . These cunning people usually had some regular employment too.
The source of knowledge
"The outward sign of their accomplishment was that they possessed books, an immediate distinction..." These books were mainly works on astrology, herbalism, medicine, charms, ritual magic, astrological charts, sometimes the Key of Solomon. Writers like Cornelius Agrippa, Nostradamus, Reginald Scot, William Lilley, Francis Barrett. But: "Cunning folk wrote their own notebooks" , for example "a conjuring book with large brass clasps and corners, an elaborate book of charms and recitations". Some of these are preserved in national archives, such as the National Library of Wales. Cunning folk bought their books, often by mail order, from either Leeds or London. Charmers, to the contrary, often had their simple charms passed on by personal transmission, as to write charms down would dissipate their power.
Magical techniques
Charmers often confined themselves to curing growths or rashes of skin, promoting the healing of wounds, staunching bleeding - all ailments which are very responsive to mental suggestion, and often with a near total success rate.
Magical practitioners often used a mirror, crystal, vessel of water etc. for the client to gaze into, until they saw who had bewitched them, stolen their goods, spread gossip and so forth.
Cunning men used fire to burn a special powder or incense to purify houses, people, animals. The heart of an animal could be stuck with pins, burnt or roasted. Hair and nail clippings could be put in a bottle, boiled or buried. Wax effigies were used as well to get even with a witch who put a spell on a household. Apart from this, amulets, charms, healing potions and poultices, horoscopes, card reading and tea-leaf reading, trickery, ventriloquism and slight of hand were all used. "Above all, they devised spells and rites according to their own whims and creative talents, and the needs of their customers".
Lodges and covens
"Did cunning folk ever work together, or meet in lodges, guilds or covens? The answer seems to be an almost complete negative..." There are exceptions, such as husband and wife teams, or a gathering of wisemen in Manchester in the early nineteenth century. But cunning folk in general were competitors of each other, and their craft was a sideline to their regular employment.
There are plenty of references to witches, but they are the opponents of the cunning people: "individuals possessed of magical powers who chose to use them maliciously against their neighbours, from motives of revenge or entertainment". Folklore collectors on the other hand refer to cunning folk as 'white witches', confusing the issue and using a word which the people themselves never used.
A belief?
In general, the belief of cunning folk "did not reflect a single cosmology, but was made up of the debris of many" . So they believed pretty much what everyone else believed, and were mostly Christian, albeit with the addition of what we now would call 'superstition' . The charms and spells too had a clear Christian character - the Bible being used as a spell book more than a theological message. There is no record of a pagan belief system in existence at this time.
Hereditary craft?
Cunning folk's talents were individual, like a talent for music, or beauty. At most, talents like this lasted for one or two generations . Charmers, who used just one skill to heal one particular ailment, often did pass this on through the family or a close friend. Sometimes people were supposedly born with the gift. In the West Country a charm should be passed down between members of the opposite gender.
In witches it tended to run in families, but that may just be because a family had a bad name anyway. There was also the belief that the power must be passed on when the witch was close to death.
Rich and famous[LIST]
Charmers regarded their power as a gift, so usually accepted no payment, only gifts.
Cunning folk usually charged a fixed fee - usually a low one for the poor, a high one for the gentry.
In general these people were commercially successful and had a handsome income - note that they had regular employment as well - and could live comfortably.[/LIST]Persecution?
The Witchcraft act of 1736 made it an offence to call somebody else a witch, and outlined penalties for people who claimed to work magic, up to 1 year imprisonment.. But for the rest of that century, the law remained a dead letter. In 1824 the Vagrancy act outlawed persons telling fortunes or using anything like palmistry to deceive and impose , and this law was enforced and did make life more difficult for cunning folk. The prosecutions rose with the installation of the professional county police forces in 1851, but they also helped to wipe out mobbing of suspected witches. Prosecution usually was the result of unhappy clients being charged exorbitant fees, but most cunning folk who charged normal fees had no problems. The decline in prosecutions around 1900 continued until both acts were repealed in 1951. So these laws never had any real impact: "ordinary people valued magic too much"
So, there we have it. The research points to practitioners of “operative magic” right up to 1940. The Cunning Folk were solitaries, they kept a form of a Book of Shadows, they had no underlying philosophy, and were generally immune from the law on the basis that “ordinary people valued magic too much.”
[FONT=&quot]In the 1950’s the final Witchcraft Laws were repealed, [/FONT][FONT=&quot]Gardner[/FONT][FONT=&quot] introduced Wicca i.e neo-Witchcraft and the Cunning Folk vanished seamlessly from sight but probably regained their spiritual pagan roots.[/FONT]

20-12-2011, 08:36 PM
THANK YOU NORSEY. very informative.

20-12-2011, 08:37 PM
Final bit :D

Cunning Folk Today.

It is my contention that there are more Cunning Folk today than in any part of their long history.
The key to this contention lies in just two words – pragmatic adaptability.
We saw in the last section how the Cunning Folk survived during the anti-witchcraft period by hiding in plain sight.
There are four sections to my conclusions about where the Cunning Folk are now.
But first, a general comment.

Cunning Folk is a term given to European, but especially British, folk magic practitioners up to the 19th century. They were, to put it simply, the village wise men and women who provided their communities with many needed services. They practiced a mishmash of learned skills such as herbalism and other folk remedies for both humans and animals, midwifery, dousing, weather magic and forecasting, love magic, charm and talisman making, many forms of divination, all sprinkled with a good dose of old fashioned kitchen table counselling.
They also had the reputation of being a bit tricky in that they occupied a place in society as both essential to the well-being of the community and yet always regarded with a wary eye because of their ability to operate seemingly outside of the norm.
For instance, even though cunning folk essentially practiced magic, during the worst of the witch hunts, they were not considered witches. In fact, because people generally saw a strict difference between “good” and “bad” magic during that time, cunning folk were seen as good, and oddly enough, considered to be the people best able to detect witches! Tricky indeed ! There became a division into “Black” and “White” Witches, a perception rather than an actuality.
Every culture must have it’s on the edge people, those “tricksterish” souls who dwell on the borders and have (or simply take) special license to cross back and forth at will. Tricksters are needed to carry the burdensome projections of society’s fear of the unknown, and as such, we endow the people who carry this archetype with sometimes a bit more otherworldliness than they deserve. However, without trickster energy, and those who are “allowed” to channel its mystery and enchantment as well as its crazy wisdom, a society dies a death of stasis.
Many astrologers, tarot readers, psychics and alternative health practitioners as well as most artists hold this role in today’s Western culture. Border dwellers all; medial workers serving our communities with one eye trained always on what exists beyond the borders of accepted normalcy, we tickle people’s poetic brains, entertain their childlike wonder, and deliver healing and often catalyzing messages wrapped in mystery, metaphor, and myth.
In this modern world of science and objectivity, there will always be a place for those who seem to slip the noose of restrictive reality placed upon by society, or at least promise to. Most people , if asked bluntly and openly about magic, will say things like “Childish Rubbish” or “Fantasy” while their emotions say something else. Secretly, they think “Oh if only !” when their common sense says “Impossible”. People WANT dragons and elves to be real but, most of all, they want the Morgana and Merlin.

Let us examine the first two of my four locations of the Cunning Folk.

The first is a closed order called Cultus Sabbati. This resonates of those secretive orders that Gardner drew inspiration from when he formulated Wicca – the hermetic orders. The following is taken from their own description :-

“In a historical sense, the Sabbatical Craft is usefully set against the background of both rural folk-magic, the so-called Cunning-craft, and the learned practices of European high ritual magic. The medieval and early modern magical observances of cunning men and wise women were broad and varied in form, but invariably rooted in pragmatic deeds of healing, love-magic, curing, and cursing. ……….. high magic traditions …… were integrated into the magic of the everyday.”
“The teachings of the cunning-folk have come and gone for the most part from modern European culture, but fragments or lore have been passed down to present-day.”
“where custodians of lore and ritual and students of the magical arts have come together, then the fragments have coalesced into a new tradition.”

So, this is the claim of Cultus Sabbati. The claim is that they hold knowledge of the craft of the Cunning Folk blended with ritual magic, a blending of High and Low magic. I see no reason to reject out of hand or to blindly accept this claim.

The second of my locations lies in the Welsh tradition. Remember back to the section of Druidry when the Romans slaughtered the Druids and I hinted that may not have quite true and, in fact, the Celtic Druidic tradition took refuge in Eire before returning after the Romans left Britain. This is that source. Now named Cymry Gwyddoniad.

What is Cymry Gwyddoniad?

Gwyddon Old Craft is the Fated path of the Cunning Man, Wise Woman, and Seer of the Dewiniaeth Cymry who perpetuates Ancestral Lore, seeks wisdom and truth of the Mysteries of the Cymry Nameless Arte (that which lies beyond knowledge and understanding), and power of Cunning Fire of the Cunning Arte - while being mindful of gratifying the ego (which is overcome by courage, yet humbleness), being courageous and honorable, and overcoming one's own Fate - "to be like the Gods". The Serpent-Dragon Cunning Fire rises to the Fires in the Head is the basis of the Cymry Cunning Arte, whereas Truth and Wisdom is the basis of the Nameless Arte of the Cymry Mysteries- all of which are of great significance to the Gwyddon.
Celtic Cunning Folk of the Cymry have always called themselves Gwyddon, not Welsh Witches. Gwyddon translates in several concepts, but the most common renderings are Wizard, Sorcerer, Necromancer, Wise Woman and Cunning Man. Its masculine form is Gwyddon and its feminine form if Gwidden, both of which are Gwyddon of Dewiniaeth Cymry, or Cunning Folk of Pagan Cymry Celts. Although most historical references ascribe that it was the Druids, Ovates and Bards, who were centralized in the island of Anglesey between Cymru and Eire, and that they were Celtic priests, healers and storyteller classes in Celtic Society, these contemporary misconceptions are based on the writings by half-wise foreigners who little understood the various Celtic Tribes. It was the Celtic Cunning Folk who taught the Druids the Celtic Mysteries and Spirituality, and taught them little of the Celtic Cunning Arte. Ancient Druidry was not ethnically Celtic and came from a land elsewhere. Over several ages in Abred, Druidry became culturally Celtic by adopting the Mysteries and spirituality of the Britons.
[Abred – the innermost circle of Celtic cosmology. The English language equivalent would be Middle Earth, one of the States of being]
So, the claim is that Cymry Gwyddoniad makes claim to hold the Celtic Druidic Arts in a pure form AND the Druids were taught by the Celtic Cunning Folk.
This claim has the ring of truth in that the Druidic tradition is Bardic i.e oral history and not subject to “convenient” revisions. But, it may be that Cymru Gwyddoniad is a reconstruction.

Our third proposed location may cause eyebrows to rise as it is an example of the adaptive pragmatism of the Cunning Folk.
Many writers, including the excellent academic ones made an assumption that the Cunning Folk declined in the early part of the 20th century.
A decline?
Astrology, herbalism, card reading, spiritual healing - they are still here and have never been away. But the labels have changed, to homeopathy, hypnotherapy, aromatherapy and so on. So, no, the profession is still there, but the name has changed
However, cunning folk and charmers between 1740 and 1940 provided the same services which are now being provided by the palmist, tarot-reader, astrologer, holistic healer, herbalist or therapist! And then as now, these people usually work alone, they often have a normal job as well, they earn a decent living, they are literate, learn from books and each other, they do not inherit their skills nor pass them on within the family, they do not meet in lodges or covens, and their religious outlook reflects that of the society in which they live - in the past that was usually Christianity, today it is more "new age": Wicca, paganism, shamanism, Indian or a more free form of Christianity.
Modern day witches (Wiccans) see their "craft" part of "witch-craft" often in this perspective. They become proficient at one or two of these crafts, like astrology or herbalism, in order to help their fellow man. In this sense, they continue (just as the new age therapist does) the tradition of the wise women, wise men, cunning folk and charmers of past centuries: they help their fellow men with natural and magical techniques, above and beyond what science and society provide.
The confusion about the word "witch" is again on the rise today. More and more people (and writers!) believe that one who works with herbs or precious stones or simple spells, is practising white or modern "witchcraft". However, this occupation is at most just a "craft" - a therapy - completely in line with the cunning folk which Hutton describes. Even a Christian can practice such a craft, just like most cunning folk in past centuries were devout Christians. To call such a practice "witchcraft" is incorrect in the historical sense of the word as Hutton has shown. And it is also incorrect in the modern sense of the word, where practices like these are at most only half of modern witchcraft or Wicca.
Hutton says that there is no evidence of a pagan religion at this time. But he does give anecdotal evidence for many practices which are now considered normal in modern Wicca, such as meeting in groups, passing on of power, working male to female, not charging money for the gift, working with magic, charms and spells. The anecdotes are exceptions, and come from all three groups: cunning folk, charmers and witches. Witches, in this historical context, are the anti-social evil competitors of the cunning folk.
Modern Wicca has in effect assimilated all sorts of exceptions from these three competing groups, as well as aspects of the groups themselves, into one coherent working philosophy. It has incorporated the cunning folk practice or "craft" - a practice which of course continues in main stream society too, with all the "new age therapy" practitioners. It has incorporated the charmers' simple spells, and the principle of not charging money. And it has incorporated the exceptions from the folklore about the evil witches, such as working in a group, passing on power, working male to female etc. The one thing it has not incorporated, is the evil, anti-social and solo-aspects of the witches from past centuries. However, even this aspect is still present in a certain way: it is the archetypal image of the (fairytale) witch - an image that symbolises a certain state of psychological and spiritual development that we all need to come to grips with. More often than not it manifests as someone who falls into the trap of being "powerful", or someone who is blinded by the glamour of Wicca.
Modern witchcraft or Wicca therefore is not a simple continuation of the cunning folk practices, nor of the charmers, and certainly not of the evil witches. But it does have things in common with all of these groups.
Is it possible that the folklore, and the practices of cunning folk, charmers and witches, are the fragmented reflections of an older and more coherent body of knowledge and practice? Just like today's psychologists, doctors and priests are different professional groups, performing functions which used to be performed by the shaman, or by the wise woman or priestess of the tribe in (pre)historic times? Is the evidence which Hutton gives more like the description of a few branches of a tree, whilst the tree itself remains invisible to the historian?
So, there is an intriguing notion that Cunning Folk have just gone “New Age” and hidden in plain sight again within wicca and certain Alternative medical practices.

Finally, a location which is purely my idea. And for this, I go right back to the beginning of the Cunning Folk as people who worked very close to nature and the emphasis placed on nature by Cymry Gwyddoniad. Cunning Folk who watched the land, the sky, living and growing things. Who acted as guardian to the Land. In this location, I identify literally millions of Cunning Folk. Those who know what they are and those who do not know but still carry out the duties. I refer to everyone who loves nature even if it is only their own garden. People who plant and tend to the flora and fauna, people who put up feeding and nesting boxes for birds – they all project positive energies to the Earth and Mother Earth is glad to receive them. There are many more people who must be in the outdoors, rambling the moors and dales away from the cities – they cannot help themselves, they must do it . Their energies are stronger and they project it without knowing why – they just do – the unconscious Cunning Folk. If I wanted to draw up levels of Initiate, then the next group would be third level. These are the volunteer workers who care for both Land and flora and fauna. They add the energy of commitment to their positive energies and act as agents of Mother Earth in protecting part of her.
Finally, there are the many people who know exactly what they are – Servants of Mother Earth, the eco-warriors. People who take Mother Earth as their deity and carry out Earth-centered rituals while caring and protecting the land and its living things. Acting as guardians of the future and attempting to restore what has been lost.
This is my path. It’s a path with a long lineage. It connects us to our past and our long-distant ancestors. The Cunning Folk never vanished, we are still here doing what we have always done.
The truth of the Cunning Folk ? It is so simple that it hides in plain sight as always. We are the Knowing Folk who seek just a little bit further than what we see in front of our faces. And we have a new name in keeping with the times, Hedge Witches.
Norseman Sept 09.
Vardmadr, vinr !

20-12-2011, 10:15 PM
Very informative Norseman
Thank you for sharing

Bless, Raymond :smile:

20-12-2011, 10:34 PM
Just the right thing to read with my tea! Thank you! :D

21-12-2011, 07:49 AM
Just the right thing to read with my tea! Thank you! :D

And Hobnobs I hope ! :D

21-12-2011, 03:02 PM
Thank you so much for sharing this, Norseman. It answered many things I have wondered so much about. :smile: