On the Shelf: Marsh Wizards, Witches and Cunning Men of Essex

I’m informed that Cadeucus Books‘ edition of Marsh Wizards is now out of print, so this might be seen as a guide to the book’s contents.

The book brings together five essays by two different authors detailing the folklore and occult practices of the people of Essex.  Especially noted are beliefs in cunning folk, individuals who used various remedies and charms to aid or hinder their neighbors, as best described in Owen Davies’ Popular Magic.  Sadly, neither of the authors met any of the old-style practitioners from the nineteenth century, but they did collect a great amount of valuable data on beliefs and traditions that were vanishing or becoming less prominent.

The first article is “A Wizard of Yesterday” by Arthur Morrison, originally published in 1900 in The Strand magazine (a familiar name to Sherlock Holmes fans).  In it, he describes the historic figure who inspired his novel Cunning Murrell.  He met the man’s son and was even allowed to view his manuscripts and reproduce a page in full color.  These, plus astoundingly detailed contemporary illustrations, make for an impressive piece.

This is followed by four articles by Eric Maple taken from the journal Folklore.  The first expands upon Morrison’s work on Cunning Murrell, while the other three detail tales of witches and ghosts in Canewdon, the Rochford Hundred, and Dengie.  George Pickingill, a popular figure in traditional witchcraft circles, gets  a mention here and there (sometimes as “Pickingale”).  Tales of witching and unwitching are common, and Maple notes a recurring motif in which magicians possess white mouse familiars that must be passed on to their descendants.  Most of these can be found at academic libraries in issues of Folklore, whether in print or through the JSTOR Arts and Sciences II database, so those who are interested but missed the book might not have far to go to read them.

Finally, we have the golden talisman on the front and back covers of the book, taken from its depiction in the plate from Cunning Murrell’s book.  This device is described in detail inside, and it is noted that it most likely originates from Francis Barrett’s 1801 book The Magus.  Such transmission from print back into handwritten manuscripts is a common feature of the grimoire tradition, and the talisman makes an attractive addition to the book.  I’m not quite sure what it does, so you’ll have to find out for yourself.

Published in: on November 6, 2008 at 1:11 am  Comments (2)  

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. “I’m informed that Cadeucus Books‘ edition of Marsh Wizards is now out of print”

    Oh, pooh!

  2. I have a copy of this book available and it is for sale, in perfect condition and with glowing gold talisman on the front and back. Email me for further information.

    email: wee-wizard@gmx.com

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