Goodwin Wharton, the Fairies, and Cunning Practice

Beachcombing’s blog includes a new post on the seventeenth-century Parliament member and Lord Commissioner of the Admiralty Goodwin Wharton.  Wharton (1653-1704) is best known for his ongoing magical experiments, conducted with a cunning woman named Mary Parish.  I’ve met and read about many sincere practitioners of magical arts, but Parish does not seem to have been one.  J. Kent Clark’s biography describes how Parish strung Wharton along with an endless series of promises made by God, his angels, the queen of the fairies, etc., for honors, treasures, and sex.

Clark has done us the good grace of reading through British Library Additional MSS. 20,006-7, Wharton’s autobiography of half a million words.  Within there are suggestions as to folk magical practices that have parallels elsewhere.  For example, take this one:

Some of Mary’s experiments required the addition of a little natural magic.  The most dramatic of those involved ‘a certain pea.’ Planted at the proper astrological hour, raised under carefully prescribed conditions, and consecrated by competent authority, the pea possessed a wonderful virtue.  When it was placed in the mouth, it rendered its owner invisible.

I’ll quote a similar ceremony, if only in object and outcome, from the Grimorium Verum:

One begins this operation on a Wednesday before sunrise, being provided with seven black beans. Then take the head of a dead person, and put one of the beans in the mouth, two in the nostrils, two in the eyes, and two in the ears… The next day, which is the ninth day, return once more, and you will find your beans have matured. Take them, place each in your mouth, and look at yourself in a mirror; if you do not see yourself, it is a good one.

We also have another piece of folk magic, paralleling the belief in the magical power of the t0ad-bone, to bring about emotional control or invisibility:

With proper astrological and biological preparation, a frog bone could be transformed into ‘a lodestone of love and hatred’.  Applied in one fashion to the skin of the beloved, the bone evoked instant love toward its possessor.   Applied in another fashion, it dispelled unwanted love and invoked enmity.

This makes me wonder how much other material of use in illuminating actual magical practice at the time might lie within Wharton’s manuscript.  Thus, there might be more than one reason that this work bears re-examination.

Published in: on November 14, 2012 at 6:17 pm  Leave a Comment  

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