Cunning Folk, Life in The Age of Practical Magic – Dr Tabitha Stanmore

In this talk, based on her book, Tabitha Stanmore transports us to a time when magic was used to navigate life’s challenges and solve problems of both trivial and deadly importance.

It’s 1600 and you’ve lost your precious silver spoons, or maybe they’ve been stolen. Perhaps your child has a fever. Or you’re facing trial. Maybe you’re looking for love or escaping a husband. What do you do?

In medieval and early modern Europe, your first port of call might have been cunning folk: practitioners of ‘service magic’. Neither feared (like witches), nor venerated (like saints), these people were essential: a ubiquitous presence at a time when the supernatural was surprisingly mundane and a cherished everyday resource.

We meet lovelorn widows, selfless healers and renegade monks; we listen in on Queen Elizabeth I’s astrology readings and track treasure hunters who try to keep peace with fairies. Much like us, premodern people lived in bewildering times, buffeted by forces beyond their control – and their faith in magic has much to teach us about how we accommodate ourselves to the irrational in our allegedly enlightened lives today.

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.

Speaker bio

Dr. Tabitha Stanmore is a postdoctoral researcher on the Leverhulme-funded Seven County Witch Hunt Project, investigating the people affected by the 1640s witch trials in eastern England. The aim of this project is to return the identities and stories of the accused (and their accusers) to their communities.

She is a specialist in English magic and witchcraft between the fourteenth to seventeenth centuries, and particularly interested in the role that the supernatural played in everyday life, culture and politics. Her doctoral research explored the use of ‘service’ magic – practical spells sold by professional magicians – in premodern England.

Her first monograph, Love Spells and Lost Treasure: Service magic in England from the later Middle Ages to the early modern period, was published by Cambridge University Press in December 2022 and Cunning Folk: Life in the age of practical magicwas published in spring 2024 with The Bodley Head.

don’t worry if you miss it – we will send you a recording valid for two weeks the next day

19th Feb 2025 7:30 pm - 9:00 pm

£6 - £10 & By Donation

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