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  • Published: 2 May 2024
  • ISBN: 9781529918298
  • Imprint: Vintage Digital
  • Format: Audio Download
  • RRP: $36.99

Cunning Folk

Life in the Era of Practical Magic




Opens a fascinating new window onto medieval and early modern life - a world where it's possible to meet the devil on the road, control the future through stars, and employ a fairy to help find gold

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.

  • Published: 2 May 2024
  • ISBN: 9781529918298
  • Imprint: Vintage Digital
  • Format: Audio Download
  • RRP: $36.99

About the author

Tabitha Stanmore

Tabitha Stanmore is a social historian of magic and witchcraft at the University of Exeter. She is part of the Leverhulme-funded Seven County Witch Hunt Project, and her AHRC-funded doctoral thesis led to the publication of her first book - Love Spells and Lost Treasure: Service Magic in England from the later Middle Ages to the Early Modern Period. She has featured on Radio 3's Free Thinking and BBC 4's Plague Fiction, and her writing has been published in The Conversation.

Praise for Cunning Folk

The best introduction to late medieval and early modern popular magic yet written ... Comprehensive, humane, lively, and a great read

Ronald Hutton, author of The Witch

A fascinating and intricately researched book that opens a window into another world

Tracy Borman, author of Anne Boleyn & Elizabeth I

This isn't just a book: it's a window on the hopes, passions and lives of Europe five centuries ago. We know the horror film version of magic. Tabitha Stanmore - uncovering a whole treasure house of long-lost private lives - adds the rich, fresh, human version

Michael Pye, author of The Edge of the World

Absolutely fascinating. Cunning Folk is a much-needed book that draws attention to a little-known but important aspect of daily life. Like all good history books, it tells us about ourselves as well as the past. It will both inform and inspire readers

Ian Mortimer, author of Medieval Horizons

I adore Cunning Folk. A truly fascinating and human book

Ruth Goodman, author of The Domestic Revolution

Packed with vivid historical anecdotes, this is an intriguing insight into the magical lives of past people and the history of our own superstitions today

Marion Gibson, author of Witchcraft

This is a brilliant book, written with wit and vigour, in which Tabitha Stanmore explores the pre-modern places where magic was real, offering not only practical solutions for ordinary problems but a way of feeling about the world, an emotional relationship between anxious humans, cosmic forces, and the mundane mysteries of their lives

Malcolm Gaskill, author of The Ruin of All Witches

Tabitha Stanmore’s engaging new social history of magic . . . full of such magical tips and colourful vignettes . . . She’s clearly a sharp reader of social realities, and sometimes offers clear-eyed social assessments of why magical rituals had real-world consequences . . . the result is this cheerful, colourful compendium of stories, which crackles with incident

Kate Maltby, Financial Times

Illuminating… Cunning Folk shows us that our forebears were seeking answers through the tools they had

Spectator