Cunning folk

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Cunning folk – Scholars such as Owen Davies and Emma Wilby have distinguished between beneficent “cunning folk” and maleficent “witches” in early modern Britain. While cunning folk might offer healing, help find lost objects, divine the future, and establish the whereabouts of criminals, witches caused illness, infertile crops, and even death. Cunning folk often had “familiar spirits” as allies in their work and made journeys to the spirit world, elf home, or land of the fairies, while witches consorted with devils and made nocturnal travels to the Sabbath. Much of this nomenclature is tied up with the discourse of the witch trials, but the distinction between cunning folk and witches is demonstrable if markedly permeable. In her detailed examination of encounter-narratives between cunning folk and familiars/ witches and their devils, Wilby argues convincingly, if perhaps overstating the case, that “coherent and vigorous ‘shamanistic visionary traditions’ existed in many parts of Great Britain during the early modern period.”


Historical Dictionary of Shamanism by Graham Harvey and Robert J. Wallis 2007


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