The Cunning Men and Wise Women of Old

A relevant article featuring George Pickingill a fascinating cunning man.

Today the popular image of witchcraft in the mass media and in books and magazines is largely defined by ‘Wicca’, a form of neo-pagan witchcraft created by a retired English civil servant called Gerald Brosseau Gardner (1884–1964) in the 1940s. It is now established worldwide as a post-modern, ‘nature religion’ with a spiritual emphasis on Goddess worship. Modern witchcraft, however, did not begin with Gardner and it has a hidden history before Wicca. This history has connections with the famous occultist Aleister Crowley and also with Australia.
From the 1800s onwards there were several revivals of witchcraft in Britain based on historical precedents. These forms of pre-Wiccan witchcraft are variously known today as traditional witchcraft or ‘Traditional Craft’, the ‘Old Craft’ or ‘Elder Craft’, the ‘Sabbatic Craft’, ‘The Nameless Arte’, and ‘The Crooked Path’. There is also plenty of evidence from historical sources, folklore accounts, court cases and, later, newspaper reports in Britain, of the activities of ‘cunning folk’ and other practitioners of folk magic. In popular terminology and belief they were variously known as ‘white witches’, ‘wizards’, ‘sorcerers’, conjurors’, ‘pellars’, ‘planet readers’ (astrologers), and ‘hedge doctors’ (herbalists). These magical practitioners operated widely in both the rural and urban areas of the British Isles and they were consulted by all levels of society from farm labourers to the owners of large country estates.
These cunning folk or ‘white witches’ offered a wide range of services to their clients. They were popularly believed to possess the Sight (the ability to foresee the future and events at a distance, now called ‘remote viewing’ by parapsychologists), exorcise ghosts and banish spirits and poltergeists, cast spells to attract love and money, locate lost or stolen property and missing people using divination or by consulting spirits, and heal the sick using the ‘laying on of hands’ or herbal remedies. Most importantly, as far as their clients were concerned, they could counter the malefic spells cast by so-called ‘grey’ or ‘black’ witches. In some cases the cunning man or wise-woman acted for the general population and the authorities as unofficial witch-finders. However, all types of witches were believed to be able to cure and curse, hex and heal.
Although there are obvious similarities with some of the modern magical practices carried out by Wiccans, most of the methods and techniques used by the old-time witches bear little resemblance to those used by the neo-pagan witches who appear today in the press or on television. Often the cunning folk practiced dual faith observance and the charms, amulets, prayers and incantations they used invoked Jesus, the Virgin Mary, the Trinity and the company of saints. Psalms were used for magical purposes as spells and they still are in some modern traditional witchcraft circles. With the coming of the new religion of Christianity and the suppression of ancient paganism, objects such as the cross, saints’ medallions and even holy water were widely used by folk magicians because they were believed to possess ‘virtue’ or magical energy and had inherent healing power.
Read more here New Dawn Magazine

20th Year of a Magical Journey

A fantastic Samhain weekend is over and the Celtic new year begins. It marks 20 years of my personal spiritual path. This path is entirely different to the religion I was raised to believe. The excitement of my first awakening to a new spirituality will remain a prominent memory as I put aside the indoctrination of the past and summoned the courage to explore another.
I received a warning from a renowned Pagan in London to watch out for “space cadets” and take my time finding the right path. It was an exciting period of my life, eager to acquire as much knowledge as possible and experience everything!
During the early days I worked alone and the rituals I performed were beautiful and very familiar to me. After a year of personal study I took the step of self initiation. This was the most important step during my development, a private dedication between myself and the powers that be.
After experiencing the energy one person could raise within a magical circle, I contemplated working with a group. I replied to an advertisement from the Pagan Dawn wishing to recruit new members for an Egyptian group. It was a different way of working and the energies raised were considerably strong. I met other members of this group who became constant friends.
Between attending groups I also taught friends how to perform ceremonial rituals.

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Venturing into the Morris dancing world with a Kent team introduced me to members of Wicca. I became a member of a Gardnarian group and the rituals were happy joyful occasions. The group would meet at my place of residence and there I learnt how to set up a group altar and prepare a larger space.

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After leaving this group I was initiated into an Alexandrian group that worked with Egyptian deities. The training and rituals were well structured and it was during this training I discovered that the Wiccan path began during the 1950s. This was disappointing as I had been searching for ancient ways rather than a modern belief system.

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I replied to an advertisement for new members to join a Traditional Cornish group before moving to Cornwall. I applied with a view to becoming a member of the group after a few years of correspondence and visits. I moved to Cornwall during my 13th year of development and met Cassandra Latham Jones in 2009 and eventually I found what I had searched for. It is easier to connect with spiritual energies of  land and sea here than within the surrounding areas of London. There are however some beautiful sites in Kent such as the Coldrum Stones that were  just a few miles away from my home there.

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Moving into a new community is not as easy as one thinks. Genuine people are few, but when you do find them, they are of great value. Others can be suspicious and territorial. If they decide to dislike you, nothing you can do or say will change their minds. I have learnt that it is not always important to a community how talented one is if they are not associating with the “right clique” or born in the “right place”.  Some allude to  a birth connection with Cornwall to feel more accepted, but I am proud to be a Kentish Maid.
When one is talented at their craft, they can meet interesting and genuine like-minded people who show support. Alternatively talent and success can bring groups of jealous detractors. Their aim is to project their own negative traits onto a mutually agreed person in order to make life unpleasant and drive them away. If one finds themselves in this situation, it is vital to remember that only a person that has something special about them that others covet, it will attract the detractors.
Cornwall has a variety of people. Some are genuine good- hearted souls who want to live a peaceful life and do what they can to help others without an ulterior motive. Some create a “fairy-tale image” and place more importance on the glamour but have a lack of any real substance or power. Some can use others under the guise of friendship for their own personal gain only to cast them aside when they are no longer useful. Some seek fame and fortune and will attempt to discredit others whom they view as a threat. I now believe the “demonic forces” some religions speak of  are actually within the personalities of some who can use and abuse beliefs to feed their own egos and gain power over others. It is sad that a spirit being is often scapegoated to provide a distraction from a person taking responsibility for their own thoughts and actions.
When one focuses upon the positive aspects of life, the Cornish landscape and the ocean are wonderful. They are good for the soul and to see them daily is truly a blessing.

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I am now accustomed to the seasons and changes of the atmosphere. As I walked to the village church one evening I was greeted by a beautiful crescent waxing moon and the star of Venus adjacent to it, bright and beautiful. Nothing tastes of the sea more than a raw oyster and fresh seaweed from the shore. To awake in the morning and see a murder of crows feeding from the field behind the cottage is wonderful. To sit on the beaches and cliffs listening to the music of the sea is divine.
Here in Cornwall, the beaches, coves, woodland, stone circles, holy wells, quoits and ancient buildings are all nearby. Focusing on these aspects of life reminds me of how blessed I am.
My 20 year spiritual path led me here and I have worked hard during this journey. This is where I will stay!