Cunning

He would emerge at night wearing iron goggles, with a whalebone umbrella resting on his shoulder.  He could be seen by moonlight, gathering plants and planting witch bottles, but he moved without sound.  The goggles, it was said, allowed him to see The Other World, the parish of ghosts and demons, and he proclaimed his status to villagers and supplicants alike as “The Devil’s Master.”  On his wrist was a bracelet that allowed him to detect lies, and in his home was a mirror that allowed to him locate lost objects.  He was James Murrell, born in Rochford, like me, and resident in Hadleigh, next to the village of Thundersley where I grew up.  He died a hair over a hundred years before I was born, and I didn’t find out about him until I was in my twenties.  In my junior school years, I knew a red-haired girl from the Thundersley/Hadleigh border called Murrell, and I wonder if she was descended from one of Cunning Murrell’s twenty-odd children.  Cunning Murrell was probably the last of Britain’s cunning folk, our own peculiar working shamen.  A hundred years before I was born, Cunning Murrell was night-walking the same lanes as I did,  with his AR goggles and his wearables, dropping his mystic anchors, returning home before dawn to the tagging software on his screen.

 

Just ordered: The Cunning Man’s Handbook: The Practice of English Folk Magic, 1550-1900, Jim Baker (UK) (US)