Discover Christmas gifts we know they'll love

Tabitha Stanmore

Cunning Folk

Cunning Folk

Life in the Era of Practical Magic


In Cunning Folk: Life in the Era of Practical Magic, historian Tabitha Stanmore will transport the reader to a time when magic was used day-to-day as a way to navigate life's challenges and to solve problems of both trivial and deadly importance.

Imagine it's the year 1500 and you've lost your precious silver spoons - or perhaps your neighbour has stolen them. Or maybe your child has a fever. Or you're facing trial. Or you're looking for a lover. Or you're hoping to escape a husband...

At a time when nature's inner workings were largely a mystery, people from every walk of life - kings, clergy and commonfolk - who faced problems or circumstances they were powerless to control sought the help of 'cunning folk'. These wise women and men were often renowned for their skill at healing the sick or predicting the future, fortune-telling and divination, and for their knowledge of spells and potions. Occasionally and tragically, some were condemned as witches for using their powers for ill. But this has tended to obscure the fact that the magic they practised was a normal and accepted part of daily life.

In Stanmore's richly peopled and highly entertaining history, we see how this practical or 'service' magic was used and why people put their faith in it. Each of the stories in the book acts as a micro-drama of medieval and early modern life with its pre-scientific worldview, animating vividly people's intimate fears, hopes and desires, many movingly familiar, some thrillingly strange. Told with great wit and warmth, these very human encounters help us to understand why, at that time, seeking magic was not necessarily irrational at all, and also bring into view the ways in which many of us rely on magical thinking today.