The 26th of January 2019 marks 10 years since I apprehensively walked the small gravel pathway leading to Cassandra Latham Jones’ cottage. I had an appointment to be interviewed for an apprenticeship as a Teazer of Penglaz the ‘Obby ‘Oss in Penzance. I did not realize Cassandra was also seeking someone to continue her community work as Wisewoman of St Buryan and this subject arose during our conversation. I volunteered to try both apprenticeships, as I had searched for the Old Craft throughout my spiritual journey.
The past 10 years have indeed been challenging in many ways and Cassandra warned me this would be so. During the first part of my journey I became involved in various spiritual practices and quickly discovered they did not resonate with me. This resulted in my departure from magical groups when the tuition did not provide the ancient connection I searched for.
Image John Isaac
It is essential to be robust emotionally in this work and there was no better person to test and teach me than Cassandra. She warned she would be a hard ‘taskmaster’ and this proved to be so.
I was born and raised within a strict religion (which has many traits of a ‘cult organization’) and this separated me socially from my local community. I had little knowledge of how communities developed and worked. I left the religion (shortly after leaving school) and moved to other locations, where I had minimal interaction within new communities.
It is vital for a Wisewoman to know her community and be approachable to members who may need assistance. The residents of St Buryan village were welcoming and I have learnt so much from living here since 2010. Communities are a ‘tribe’ or large ‘family’ who often have disagreements, but their deep connection and maturity enables them to resolve any disputes.
Image John Isaac – Graphics Chris White
Another form of our community work is through festivals and performances. Cassandra has been pleased with my ideas and inspiration, one in particular was the birth of the All Hallows Gathering. This came about after an arranged meeting with our wonderful Mari Lwyd community in Chepstow at the beginning of 2014.
The role of apprentice to someone renowned and respected within the Pagan community is something many Pagans fantasize and dream of. There are those who would give anything to have this position, so it was no surprise my path brought jealousy, competitiveness and feelings of entitlement from others. It seemed our acquaintances were happy about the situation at first, assuming that as Cassandra and I were so different externally, our working relationship would be short-lived. They may have hoped I would not have the ability to withstand the training but as the years passed and our working relationship was successful, the negative feelings surfaced. It became apparent that some hoped to gain the apprentice role by befriending Cassandra.
There were those who stated I was an ‘incomer’ and too new to the community to be chosen for positions as Teazer and Wisewoman. Others thought they had more of an advantage being Pagan and of Cornish descent. (I have never attempted to claim ‘Cornish descent’, I am proud of my birthplace in a historical part of Kent and do not create a false image to replace it as others have done.) Whatever their reasons for objecting, they showed no faith in Cassandra’s judgement and projected their negativity to add more obstacles to our path. I now understand why ‘Wisewomen of old’ worked solitary and did not socialize. Fortunately I found a few genuine and supportive friends during this journey and my focus is now upon them.
The quote by Rudyard Kipling comes to mind:
“If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you, If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you, but make allowance for their doubting too!”
Cassandra has taught me many valuable lessons as well as providing a home for me when unfortunate circumstances could have left me ‘homeless’. In return for her kindness and tuition, I was able to assist Cassandra by creating the Boekka Guise team when her role as Teazer in Penzance was no longer required. I designed new costumes and we created a new image for Penkevyll our ‘Oss. I choreographed dances and created new websites for Village Wise Woman (when former acquaintances took her previous site offline) and another website for Boekka (when a former member removed our site from the internet). I created my own website, a blog for Cassandra Grumpy Old Witchcraft, and media accounts for Cassandra’s Book Village Witch. I now maintain performance and business-promoting accounts on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. I also organized Wisewoman workshops and these have been successful.
In the past Cassandra would rely on others to help her with work on her cottage and I have been able to assist her with many tasks. This gave a wonderful feeling of achievement as we had not needed outside help but managed to accomplish these tasks between us. I also assisted her health-wise with a gentle fitness regime and suggestions on supplements and diet. I taught her Morris dancing that she successfully performed for seven years and enjoyed it, however she now tries to live her life at an easier pace.
At first when dealing with clients, I often asked Cassandra’s advice on her methods of communication. After 10 years of dealing with a vast variety of clients, I am confident to deal with these alone. My spells and charms have a high percentage of success and I have assisted many within the community. It is deeply satisfying knowing I have successfully helped others. This work is varied and unpredictable and each day brings a different challenge.
Being a Wisewoman is not an occupation one can ‘retire’ from as Cassandra has discovered. She still sees clients providing readings and consultations, but the business aspect is my responsibility. It is difficult to make a business successful, it takes a huge amount of work, promotion and advertising for a number of years before one can profit from it. Fortunately I enjoy the promotion and advertising which has produced wonderful results.
Image John Isaac
The discipline relating to power of the mind was another important lesson as this skill is essential in everything one does, particularly in magical work. The land and sea are abundant in power and harnessing its energies for one’s needs and desires is not easy. Creativity, curiosity and persistence can reap rewards from the Universe using the correct acquired knowledge. Awareness and desire is also essential along with willpower, knowledge and wisdom. To connect with the four powers: to Know, to Will, to Dare and to keep Silent requires the ultimate discipline.
Working within the Cunning Way and Folk Magic over the last 10 years has certainly been an adventure.
It has been eighteen years since I first read the book about George Pickingill – ‘The Pickingill Papers ‘ during my Alexandrian training, I felt a connection with the fascinating life of this intriguing ‘Cunning Man’ and eight years later the reason for this became apparent.
I enjoy ceremonial ritual and it has its uses, however the methods of Cunning/Folk Craft (for myself) give a stronger direct connection to the spiritual essence of land and sea, as the absence of ritualistic structure lessens distraction giving one’s focus more intensity.
The following article explains the Cunning Craft and Folk Practitioners:
Cunning folk – Traditionally the cunning man or cunning woman was a person who healed, worked magic, created herbal remedies, provided charms, anti-witch measures, spells, and fortune-telling services, they were paid a fee for their work. Cunning (knowledgeable) or (wise), originated from an Old English term kenning, this referred to professional or semi-professional practitioners of magic. Some acquired their gifts through heredity, their magic was a mixed bag of folk medicine and occultism. Folk magic was passed along in oral tradition, and embellished along the way, they employed practical remedies for specific problems. It was believed they could work with supernatural powers in order to increase the effectiveness of their work. In most (Cassandra would say and has taught that it would be ‘some’ rather than ‘most) instances someone could set themselves up as cunning folk, with no particular background or training, although some did come from a background of magical practitioners.
Up until the mid-nineteenth century there were several thousand cunning folk working in England, and although there was a higher ratio of men, the women were successful in their role. Many of the cunning folk working in Britain kept their ordinary line of work, while earning money as a professional cunning man or woman to boost their income. Most cunning men and woman were solitary practitioners and employed a variety of magical implements.
Some kept animal familiars and supernatural entities, known as familiar spirits, they were considered to be benevolent and helpful. It was believed the familiar spirit took the cunning person on a visionary journey to a place called Elfhame, (elf- home). In this trip the cunning folk’s soul would go with the familiar on a journey into a hill, to a great subterranean fairy hall, while there they would encounter fairies led by the king and queen, and take part in a feast. (Cassandra has taught that nowadays this could be translated into communing with the ‘spirit world’ within the local environment)
As most local clients were poor, fees for magical services were small. Their fees were much higher when a member of the aristocracy sought them out, and this was often to do with matters associated with love, money and bewitchment. The cunning men and cunning women who worked for the aristocracy, were much better off financially than those who only treated villagers. Some cunning folk received annuities, and others took a percentage of all stolen goods found through divination. (Cassandra has taught that yes, there would be a percentage of goods, but she would not say they were ‘stolen’.)
They were particularly popular for their charms, which they recited during their spell casting and divination work. They also created specific and very expensive charms for the aristocrats, writing down magical words in order to conjure, love, money, fertility and prosperity. The charms were sometimes written on parchment or paper, sewn into a bag, and either placed in the clients home, or carried about by them. By employing a variety of divination tools the cunning person was able to tell a person’s fortune and divine the name of their future love. They were often consulted to cast spells or charms to ensure a spouse’s fidelity and to find lost items. Some cunning folk claimed to have the ability to locate lost treasure, the cunning man or woman was called upon to overcome through magical means, the demon, spirit or fairy that was guarding it.
The cunning folk were especially adept in creating charms that would repel or break the spells of other witches blamed for bewitchment. They were the only healers to offer a package of anti-witch measures and were especially effective curing malevolent sorcery. They were also called upon to protect, heal and locate lost animals, and to care for crops. The cunning folk used a wide variety of methods to heal their clients, using various herbs, plants, the laying on of hands, and conducting elaborate ceremonies. They practiced folk magic, known as low magic, and ceremonial magic known as high magic, their role was to attend to the physical and spiritual needs of their client.
Cunning folk flourished up until the late 17th century, this was a time when belief in magic was high, they took the role of unofficial police and were believed to be a deterrent to crime, and when crimes were committed a cunning man or cunning woman was consulted to divine the guilty party. From the 18th century onwards their place in society continued, and carried on into modern times, especially in rural areas. Many cunning folk operated in a very competitive market, and would often travel great distances to visit their clients, their profile was very important to them. They used crystal balls and scrying bowls in their work, also astrology and numerology. A Grimoire was a most coveted item and those who owned one added to their profile. (Cassandra has discovered that there is no documentation of any Grimoire sent to a Cunning/Folk Practitioner within Cornwall). Although they were predominantly solitary practitioners, there were some families who approached it as a magical business.
British Cunning folk were referred to as wizards, wise men, wise women, conjurers, pellars,( see the historian Jason Semmens’ paper – On The Origin of Pellar) charmers and white witch, and in the Late Medieval and Early Modern periods Britain was a place where folk magic was very popular. In France, the terms devins-guerisseurs and leveurs de sorts were used to describe cunning folk. In the Netherlands they were referred to as toverdokters or duivelbanners, in Germany Hexenmeisters, and in Denmark kloge folk. In Spain they were curanderos and in Portugal they were known as saludadores. Cunning folk and their use of white magic for healing and as a protection against black magic, was widespread in Germany. The primary role of the Italian cunning folk was healing,with the use of herbs and spiritual healing, their spiritual healing was believed to come from an inner power, known as la forza (power), la virtu (virtue) or il Segno (the sign), they were also consulted to remove curses.
Because of the usefulness of cunning folk, they were able to practice their magic as an open secret, and quietly conducted their business in such a way they avoided anti-magic and anti-witchcraft laws. They met with little interference from authorities, who chose to ignore them unless there was a specific complaint. The cunning folk were often denounced during religious gatherings, but because of their popularity and usefulness, were never pursued. During the time of the Inquisition, cunning folk became vulnerable targets, but in spite of this there was a huge amount of public support for them, because they were so important to those who required their services.
The disparity between witches and the cunning folk, was that witches were seen to do harm, and cunning folk were seen to be useful and provide a valid service. Cunning folk were active from the Medieval period through to the early twentieth century, when it is believed the declining belief in malevolent witchcraft, did away with the need for anti-witchcraft measures, which was a primary service offered by the cunning folk.
I began a ‘countdown’ to the new year from the 1st December to 1st January on our All Hallows Dark Gathering Facebook group. Each day I posted a photograph of a performer with a little information about them and expressed our appreciation for their contribution to the event. On the 2nd January, I was pleasantly surprised to discover Cassandra had written the following post :
“Before we get any further into the year I want to put a shout out about Laetitia Latham Jones. In case there is anyone who doesn’t realise this, she was the one who had the original idea of the Welsh Mari Lwyds meeting the Cornish Oss, Penkevyll at the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic. We now have this amazing annual Dark Gathering following that initial inspired idea. Laetitia has not only supported me in my role as Event Organiser over the years but has continued to create brilliant ideas which we have incorporated. We have her to thank for researching and discovering the wonderful Ancestor Chant, and now just recently she has applied her time and energies into the personal bios/reviews of a few recognizable characters from the Dark Gathering. Also let us not forget her wonderful performances as Penkevyll’s Teazer – the Art of which she is now teaching to her two apprentices. I would like to publicly thank her for her dedication and hard work behind the scenes to help maintain the Dark Gathering. May it go from strength to strength! ”
Image John Isaac
The last ten years have been what I would describe as a ‘roller-coaster’ and extremely challenging with drastic life changes, however I had the tenacity to continue. This has rewarded me with wonderful experiences within my work and performance life and I have met some fabulous individuals. I am intrigued to see what the next ten years have in store ….