last night I went to a talk by tamzin powell, an anthropologist into folklore and witchcraft. it focused on the continued existence of 'cunning folk' and their history in the wye valley and the forest of dean. this is a thread of what I learned!

so its first v important to note that this ain't 'wicca', which is a weird religious invention of the 1940's by Gerald Gardner and Alex Sanders. the proper term would be 'wita' which is the Saxon 'witan'-wise ones. also 'cunanen'- where cunning comes from

it's the most ancient role anyone in a community can play- it's the doctor, the therapist, the councillor, the surgeon. cunning folk were in every village in Britain until around the 14th century or so when the church turned the tide against them. they went from 'unwitchers'- removing curses, cleansing etc to a malevolent force in the mind of the church.

george borrow testifies to the existence of cunning folk as he walked through the forest and wye in the 1840's. folklorist and anthropologist Margaret Murray performed fieldwork in 1905! it's said that around this time cunning folk died out in the villages. the last woman to be tried for witchcraft under a 1735 act was this year!! elen hayward was a forest woman and healer who was sent to littledean jail. it caused an outrage in parliament and was a big deal in the media

there is an enormous list of real, living cunning folk from around the area-
Mother Locke of Trellech, the Witch of Penyclawdd, the Witch of New Star, the Witch of Llandenny, the Wizard of Trostrey, Old Jenkins of Tregare, Solomon Chiltern snd many others. it's well known that farmers and all sorts of people from as far as Hereford would come and see them for help

one of the big staples was lifting curses. cursing in Britain has always been about. we excavate countless lead Roman curse tablets in lakes and temples. this is where the 'familar' comes from- it doesn't have to be an animal it just needs to be something that you can transfer your curse to. slippers, cats, cups etc. a 'grimoire' is a book of spells and methods. it's Not exclusively pagan- Murray found Christian stuff, old romano-british stuff, Saxon stuff, Norse stuff all in the same books.

Murray spent a lot of time with Old Luke Paige of st Briavels who instructed her in magic in 1905. he had a black hen familiar that lived in the house. his bread and butter was 'bone setting', curing aches and pains with white comfrey which grows super abundantly around the wye. he told her that there were three types of magic black, white and domestic. he always denied he did black magic, but his wife told on him and admitted he would 'burn salt' for farmers if they asked which is v black!

we all know a bit of domestic magic- mostly protections. salt over the shoulder, lucky charms and never ever crossing a black cat why? coz if it rubs against you it will transfer all the curses it's holding as a familiar!

my whole thing is finding 'the old ways' that still persist in the landscape. there are cultural practices that we could probably trace back to the neolithic. the richness of iron age religion melding with imperial Roman and into the pagan dark ages gave us the mediaeval superstitions were familiar with. being attuned to energies is a type of cunning- seeing the magnetic crossings which birds navigate with on the ground, having the past drink the blood and speak with us again. it's all there

there are plenty of magic objects in churches and museums and on shelves in farmhouses. there's a hoop of bells which stops horses from being cursed that was lost in Trellech sometime in the 60's. theres a bone cup from Hereford which was stolen and returned from Hereford in 2017! Cornwall is still a place where old magic still lives and helps people. Cassandra Latham is a tax-paying Cornish witch who does stuff on youtube! I haven't checked her out yet.

obvs places like Romania, Benin, Nigeria, Indonesia still have witchcraft as a part of normal every day life. Romanian witches are currently battling the government in resistance to being taxed. politicians are genuinely shit scared.

so that's it. we've learned nothing but I've had fun so there we are. witches are real

@knownrobes Do you know anything about how this intersects with "hedgewitches" in the UK? From the few I met while I lived in the Midlands, they're healers and other benevolent types who are attuned to nature. Didn't get much more than that, though, and haven't investigated further. This thread reminded me, so maybe that's today's procrastination project. ^_^

@bouncinglime yeah!! she spoke about astral projection as a cunning skill, so I reckon the 'hedge' is taken to be a boundary which is crossed. incidentally this is where the trope of the flying witch comes from

@knownrobes woah really?! Very cool. Will definitely investigate myself, too. Do you have recommendations of sources other than Wikipedia?

@bouncinglime oh it's literally just conjecture on my part!
the following links seem kind of larpy Wicca stuff but they at least talk about it. when I get 5 I can check out nat library of Wales and Google books for references

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