Phil's Reviews > Popular Magic: Cunning-folk in English History

Popular Magic by Owen  Davies
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's review
Sep 09, 2009

it was amazing
bookshelves: occult-history
Read in August, 2008

Owen Davies’ Cunning-Folk: Popular Magic in English History (Hambledon and London, 2003) shows how cunning folk (known under a variety of labels) were a part of English culture (both rural and urban) up to the early twentieth century. He estimates for example, that by the nineteenth century, there were several thousand plying their trade across the country. Davies reveals that whilst prosectution was certainly an occupational hazard for them, in fact only a very small percentage of cunning folk were charged under the Witchcraft Act – because, he hypothesises, ordinary people made a distinction between “helpful” magic and “malicious” witchcraft. Cunning Folk is a thorough and engaging piece of historical research with some wonderfully funny moments – such as the account where a farm labourer took a cunning man to court because he had gone to consult him to reveal the identity of a thief who had made off with some produce – only to find that the lost stuff was in the cunning man’s rooms. I’d highly reccomend it to anyone with an interest in finding out how widespread popular magic was in England between 1500 and the 20th century.
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