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Cunning Libraries: The Magic Books of Early Modern Folk Magicians – Dr Al Cummins

The libraries of cunning-folk – those local village wizards and wise-women of the early modern British Isles – ranged considerably from scraps of spoken and written charms, to a single imposing personal book of secrets, to heaving shelves full of magical tomes. The magics contained in such books ran from pious prayers to more suspicious “black magic” and from the techniques of folk magic and witchcraft to (frequently streamlined versions of) ritual conjurations of angels, devils, and the dead.

Such folk magicians employed a wide range of ephemerides, conjurations, and experiments. The sources they commonly drew on included potent astrological, alchemical, and nigromantic know-how. From Reginald Scot’s Discoverie of Witchcraft (an accidental best-seller which provided intricate details of the rituals of which it so disapproved) to (pseudo)Agrippa’s Fourth Book of Occult Philosophy – which collected a variety of instructions on divination and spirit conjuring – there was a wealth of printed as well as manuscript sources upon which these practitioners cut their eager teeth and worked their craft. Undoubtedly the most prized texts upon their shelves were the working-books: the collections of spells, recipes, formulae, and correspondences gathered on-the-fly by enterprising and experimenting folk magicians.

The “average” cunning-man and cunning-woman’s reading material still presents substantial evidence to modern practitioners looking to understand our magical forebears and their days and ways better. In this talk, contemporary cunning man and historian Dr Alexander Cummins will offer us a tour of such libraries, and present some key findings about the nature of magic, community, and knowledge along the way.

Speaker Bio

Dr Alexander Cummins is a contemporary cunning man and historian. His magical specialities are the dead (folk necromancy), divination (geomancy) and the grimoires. He received his doctorate on early modern magical approaches to the passions. Dr Cummins is the co-editor of the Folk Necromancy in Transmission series for Revelore Press and co-host of Radio Free Golgotha.

His published works include An Excellent Booke of the Arte of Magicke with Phil Legard (Scarlet Imprint, 2020), A Book of the Magi: Lore, Prayers, and Spellcraft of the Three Holy Kings (Revelore Press, 2018) and The Starry Rubric (Hadean Press, 2012) as well as contributions to collections by both academic and occult publishers on topics including talismanic objects, geomancy, planetary sorcery, cunning-craft, and nigromancy.

Dr Cummins gives classes and workshops online and in person. The Good Doctor’s work and services can be found at www.alexandercummins.com

Curated and hosted by Dr. Amy Hale

Dr. Amy Hale is an Atlanta-based anthropologist and folklorist writing about esoteric history, art, culture, women and Cornwall in various combinations. Her biography of Ithell Colquhoun, Genius of the Fern Loved Gully, is available from Strange Attractor Press, and she is also the editor of the forthcoming collection Essays on Women in Western Esotericism: Beyond Seeresses and Sea Priestesses from Palgrave Macmillan. Other writings can be found at her Medium site https://medium.com/@amyhale93 and her website www.amyhale.me.

Series from Dr Al Cummins on Necromancy and Cunning Craft

Rosemary & Revenants: Necromancy in Early Modern England – 3 Aug 2022

The Excellent Booke: A Manual of Sixteenth-century English Necromancy – 10 Aug 2022

Cunning Libraries: The Magic Books of Early Modern Folk Magicians – 17 Aug 2022