Cunning Folk in Britain

The cunning folk in Britain were professional or semi-professional practitioners of magic in Britain, active from the Medieval period through to the early twentieth century. As cunning folk, they practised folk magic – also known as "low magic" – although often combined with elements of "high" or ceremonial magic, which they learned through the study of grimoires. Primarily using spells and charms as a part of their profession, they were most commonly employed to use their magic in order to combat malevolent witchcraft, to locate criminals, missing persons or stolen property, for fortune telling, for healing, for treasure hunting and to influence people to fall in love. Belonging "to the world of popular belief and custom", the cunning folk's magic has been defined as being "concerned not with the mysteries of the universe and the empowerment of the magus, so much as with practical remedies for specific problems." However, other historians have noted that in some cases, there was apparently an "experimental or 'spiritual' dimension" to their magical practices, something which was possibly shamanic in nature.

Although the British cunning folk were in almost all cases Christian themselves, certain Christian theologians and Church authorities believed that, being practitioners of magic, the cunning folk were in league with the Devil and as such were akin to the more overtly Satanic and malevolent witches. Partly due to this, laws were enacted across England, Scotland and Wales that often condemned cunning folk and their magical practices, but there was no widespread persecution of them akin to the witch hunt, largely because most common people firmly distinguished between the two: witches were seen as being harmful and cunning folk as useful.

The British cunning folk were known by a variety of names in different regions of the country, including wise men and wise women, pellars, wizards, dyn hysbys, and sometimes white witches. Comparable figures were found in other parts of Western Europe: in France, such terms as devins-guérisseurs and leveurs de sorts were used for them, whilst in the Netherlands they were known as toverdokters or duivelbanners, in Germany as Hexenmeisters and in Denmark as kloge folk. In Spain they were curanderos whilst in Portugal they were known as saludadores. It is widely agreed by historians and folklorists, such as Willem de Blécourt, Robin Briggs and Owen Davies, that the term "cunning folk" could be applied to all of these figures as well to reflect a pan-European tradition.

Read more about Cunning Folk In Britain:  Societal Role, Services, Magical Beliefs and Praxes

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