Apr 22, 2011
The Cunning Folk
Imagine a beautiful woman being searched for minor body imperfections that would prove she was a witch. This scene was played out all across Europe. In North America, most people think of Salem, but in truth the first witch trial held on the continent took place in Virginia. As a Virginia resident, I was intrigued to learn more, and the premise became the basis for my paranormal/historical novel, The Dreaming: Walks Through Mist.
Some of those accused of being witches were the cunning folk. "Cunning folk" was the term used in English society, but throughout Europe, they were practitioners of many arts, including healing, treasure seeking, finding lost property, fortune telling, and, of course, love magic. Also known as wise men/women, conjurers, and wizards, they were well regarded members of the community, but in many cases that respect likely bordered on fear.
A fine line separated the cunning folk from witches. Generally speaking, a cunning person performed good magic, while a witch performed black magic. They helped people's health, physically and spiritually. Opposition came from the doctors and clergy.
During the 16th and 17th centuries, the cunning folks' magical acts were made illegal under the Conjuration and Witchcraft Acts. Even before the laws went into effect, many clergymen felt they should be weeded out and killed.
Few met that fate because in general, people regarded them as valuable members of the community. Some historians argue that Europe had no shamans. When the narrowest definition of shamanism relating to the Tungusic language of Siberia is used, it's not surprising to arrive at this conclusion. However, when using the more accepted anthropological definition of healers as those who used magic for curing the sick, divining the hidden, and foretelling the future--often while traveling between the human and spirit worlds--it's easier to see that Europe did indeed have shamans in the cunning folk.
In England, the cunning folk often had familiar spirits, helping them pass between the the two worlds. Historians differ in their opinions as to whether the cunning folk ever reached the North American shores. At least two of the witch trials in Virginia seem to have been of cunning women. Joan Wright was a midwife and had been known for fortune telling people's deaths. She was tried in 1626. Later in the century, the most famous witch trial was that of Grace Sherwood's. She was a known healer and midwife.
Because of their commonness during the seventeenth century, I have no doubt the cunning folk did indeed reach Virginia. That feeling inspired me to write about my heroine, Phoebe Wynne, a captivating woman caught in the 21st century with a unique tale of crossing the ocean to Colonial Jamestown, followed by near starvation and a daring escape to a nearby Indian tribe. Seasoned police detective, Lee Crowley is intrigued by her story. A Native American himself, he's discovers a connection to Phoebe and his own past when she shows him "the dreaming."
Thank you for letting me stop by and sharing my tale of the European shamans. For further information, please visit my website http://kimmurphy.net/index.shtml ; or email me at Kim(at)KimMurphy(dot)Net.
by Kim Murphy
Witch trials in Virginia? Salem wasn't the first...
Psychologist Shae Howard treats a patient who claims to recall nothing of the current century. Under hypnosis, Phoebe Wynne tells an astonishing tale of an ocean crossing to Colonial Jamestown, followed by near starvation and a daring escape to a nearby Indian tribe.
Although Shae's ex-husband, seasoned police detective Lee Crowley, is intrigued by Phoebe's story, he remains skeptical regarding her claim that she's from the seventeenth century. A Native American himself, he does, however, admit to feeling a kinship with Phoebe. How is it that she seems to understand his pain and anger at being caught between two cultures?
Phoebe shows Lee "the dreaming," which reveals a misty world where the Powhatan people and Colonial Jamestown come to life... and connects him to his own past. Is Phoebe delusional? A witch? Or has she indeed traveled through time?