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 readers 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 1600 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 love. Or you're hoping to escape a husband … What do you do?

In medieval and early modern Europe, your first port of call might very well have been cunning folk: practitioners of ‘service magic’. Neither feared (like witches), nor venerated (like saints), they were essential to everyday life, a ubiquitous presence in a time when the supernatural was surprisingly mundane. For people from all walks of life, practical magic was a cherished resource with which to navigate life’s many challenges.

In Tabitha Stanmore’s beguiling account, we meet lovelorn widows and dissolute nobles, selfless healers and renegade monks. We listen in on Queen Elizabeth I’s astrology readings and track treasure hunters trying to unearth buried gold without upsetting the fairies that guard it. Much like us, premodern people lived in bewildering times, buffeted by forces beyond their control; and as Stanmore reveals, their faith in magic has much to teach us about how we accommodate ourselves to the irrational in our allegedly enlightened lives today.

Told with warmth, wit and above all, empathy, these stories take us deep into people’s day-to-day lives: their hopes and desires, their fears and vulnerabilities. Charming in every sense of the word, Cunning Folk is an immersive reconstruction of a bygone world and a thought-provoking commentary on the beauty and bafflement of being human.