Cunning Folk in Britain - Legacy - Historiography


Whilst the historian Keith Thomas had touched on the subject of English popular magic in his Religion and the Decline of Magic (1971), in a 1994 article on the subject of the cunning folk, the historian Willem de Bl├ęcourt stated that the study of the subject, "properly speaking, has yet to start." These ideas were echoed in 1999, when the historian Ronald Hutton, in his The Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft, remarked that the study of the cunning folk and European folk magic was "notoriously, an area that has been comparatively neglected by academic scholars." Nonetheless, articles on the subject were published in the late 1990s, primarily by the historian Owen Davies, who in 2003 published Cunning-Folk: Popular Magic in English History (which was later republished under the altered title of Popular Magic: Cunning-folk in English History in 2007). This was followed in 2005 with the publication of Emma Wilby's Cunning-Folk and Familiar Spirits: Shamanistic Visionary Traditions in Early Modern British Witchcraft and Magic, which took a somewhat different attitude to the cunning craft than Hutton and Davies, emphasising the spiritual as opposed to simply practical side to cunning folk's magic.

There are also examples of academic studies into specific British cunning folk. In 1960, the folklorist Eric Maple published articles on two nineteenth-century cunning men in East Anglia, James Murrell and George Pickingill. In 2004, Jason Semmens published a study of a nineteenth-century Cornish cunning-woman as The Witch of the West: Or, The Strange and Wonderful History of Thomasine Blight.

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