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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A very interesting study of the British Cunning Folk,
This is a great book on the history of the Cunning Folk in Britain (and Europe, briefly) drawing evidence from the Middle Ages right into the twentieth century. Owen Davies uses various sources to draw together his work and relies heavily upon the trials of the Cunning Folk who were prosecuted by their customers. He also looks at inventories, written charms left behind, and occult pamphlets or booklets written within the time period.
'Popular Magic: Cunning-folk in English History' is a nice easy read which, believe me is not always the case when it comes to Historical works which tend to be extremely dry and well, boring. There's a lengthy bibliography at the back of the book as well as being indexed and fully footnoted (notes found at the back of the book). I was taught a history module by Owen Davies at university so I knew when I came across this book that it would be well worth the read! This book will be of particular interest for modern Witches, who would do well to understand the disparities between Witches and the Cunning Folk.
For anyone that is unaware, the Cunning Folk were basically Christian folk magic practitioners who sold their services to whoever needed it; they would often remove the bewitchment of so-called 'black witchcraft', curse others in return, cast love spells and perform divinatory readings (among other things mentioned in the book).
The book is well arranged and is divided into the following chapter headings: The Cunning Folk and the Law, For Good or Evil?, Who and Why, Services, Books, Written Charms, European Comparisons and Cunning Folk in the Twentieth Century. My favourite chapter was without a doubt the one on books used by the Cunning Folk; which was based on the evidence of one or two inventories of some Cunning Men. It was interesting to me that these people not only used Psalms in their practice but were rather well learned and even read the more avaliable Ceremonial Grimoires -- indeed many made use of astrological observances as well. Davies made an interesting point in the final chapter as to whether modern magic practitioners and Witches had any right to the word 'Cunning Man or Woman'; whether their magical systems and beliefs correspond to that of the Cunning Folk.
Having read the book I did come to the conclusion that the Cunning Folk were not witches, nor were they 'white witches' as they were variously described at the time. Modern Witchcraft is very dissimilar to what the Cunning Folk practiced and a lot of witches tend to honour Pagan gods, something the Christian Cunning Folk would have found abhorrent. The Cunning Folk were also in the trade for profit rather than spiritual development which is another huge disparity, indeed the lengths some Cunning Men/Women would go to to secure profit was something that Davies illustrated comprehensively. Some of the anecdotes in the work made me laugh, and 'brought home the history' as it were. I also found myself feeling sorry for a few of the Cunning Men that were tricked out of their wages by crafty clients!
Davies theorises on the decline of the Cunning Folk, and why this occurred. He came to the conclusion that they were no longer needed once the age of science and reason had moved in; a time when superstition and fear of witches was no longer of concern for most people, that was the true death of the Cunning Folk as a means of help to the people. This was an interesting point and the final chapter provided some advantageous food for thought -- what the culture may have gained technologically, they also lost spiritually and culturally.
Overall, a highly recommended and well researched book about a widely ignored piece of British history.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Cunning Folk! A Treatise.,
These were either men (mostly) or women who were usually local practitioners of magical arts providing a service to the community. These people helped others by helping them find lost belongings, how to escape from ill luck and many other such mundane problems. Unlike Witches, Cunning Folk were largely ignored by the authorities who often turned a blind eye to their work. These people were often fairly well learned and could read and write so that of course gave them an edge over ordinary folk for a start.
This is a really well researched book which makes use of court reports and press cuttings from the 18th century right up to the present day. The author is a Lecturer in History at Hertfordshire University so I would say that the material contained in the book should be 100% accurate. It would seem that the term Cunning Man is now falling out of use and being replaced by other names such as Shamans, Witches etc., however, how can we know what the neighbour does who lives next door or just down the road? Could they be a Cunning Man or Woman???
This is not the sort of book you would read in one go like for instance a novel but one which you could dip into as and when you wanted so you could learn just a little more about the Cunning Men and Women.
I'd recommend this highly.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Reading,
I have an interest in historical witchcraft, and this book is perfect for this. Davies' writing is interesting and erudite, but can easily be read by a casual reader (as I am) and is certainly not dry and dusty! He uses primary sources to describe the role of the cunning man/woman throughout English history, and it is fascinating to find a book which shows the difference between them and the witches of the time. Where witches were always considered malefic, cunning folk were consulted - often for unbewitching. Davies points out that for those who claim to be cunning folk today, they really would have to practise unbewitching, as that was an integral part of their practise.
It is also interesting that the cunning folk were essentially Christian folk magic practitioners, having a mixture of astrology/ceremonial magic and folk beliefs (for example, writing a specifically Christian formula and swallowing it as a cure for illness). Anyone interested in Christian magic would do well to read this book (and for that matter Christian Magic, Coptic Texts of Ritual Power by Marvin Meyer).
All in all a really interesting read written by an able author and first-class scholar.
5.0 out of 5 stars Exactly as described and arrived very quickly,
The book arrived the next day and in very good condition, exactly as described so i'm very pleased. Has also been very useful for my dissertation!
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars New Knowledge,
I knew nothing at all about this topic and came across it by chance on another website and thought it would be interesting, and it is. I'm on a second book at the moment and am finding it a bit heavy and academic. Whilst this one is well written and in depth, it is much easier to read and I'll definitely be revisiting it again.
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Good History,
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!
1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Reprinted and re-titled,
This review is from: Cunning-folk: Popular Magic in English History (Hardcover)
This book has now been reprinted and re-titled as "Popular Magic: Cunning-folk in English History".
4 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Derfel Cadarn,
An excellent book.
Even people who claim themselves to follow and practice pagan witchcraft should be enlightened by reading it and they would benefit from a thorough reading.
5 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Cunning Folk,
Popular Magic: Cunning-folk in English History is firstly a re-titled reprint of his book Cunning folk so if you have that book there is no point getting this one.
All in all a very interesting and informative book which is well written and remarkable accessible for a book written by an academic. I really have only few criticisms, it could have done with illustrations in places, and though the other chapters were quite comprehensive I thought the last chapter was a little weak.
My last criticism regards the author's use of his definition, firstly `he' decides on a definition of what a cunning person was and then discounts those who don't fit into his definition as not being cunning folk. Explanation: the author decides that the defining characteristic of a cunning person is (among the many arts of the cunning folk to choose) un-bewitching; if a person is no longer recorded as doing un-bewitching the author has decided that that person is no longer a cunning person. I really don't think that this holds much water after all cunning folk practiced/practice the magic that their clients ask for, it's therefore not surprising that as demand for a service falls away that they less likely to provide that service. Also as a service like un-bewitching becomes less socially expectable its provision becomes more concealed. Anyway who said that Cunning Folk 'had' to do un-bewitching in the first place.
0 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book,
A really great and informative read. greatly impressed, have passed on the title to others so they may try and get it, Thank You
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Cunning-folk: Popular Magic in English History by Owen Davies (Hardcover - 1 Jan 2003)
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