Witchcraft & Secret Societies of Rural England

Witchcraft & Secret Societies of Rural England is a fascinating read. Subtitled The Magic of Toadmen, Plough Witches, Mummers and Bonesmen, author Nigel Pennick takes a tour of the ancient regions bordering Mercia and East Anglia looking in detail at the extraordinary lives of ‘ordinary’ people and offering a rich insight into their traditions and culture.

I was particularly interested in the chapter on Millers, Gardeners and Bonesmen – my own maternal great-grandfather, a wheelwright, having reportedly been killed when he was working on the waterwheel of a mill and a drunken man turned on the water power! As well as in the origins of  ‘blacking-up’ in rural tradition in the chapter on Ritual Disguise and Resistance (currently a contentious issue due to its confusion with the ‘minstrel shows’, on which information is also given) and the multiple stories of toads being used in traditional magic and … much too much to continue listing here!

As Pennick states in his introduction Keeping up the Day: “Unless we are from patrician or aristocratic families … we do not have much information about our forebears … Though their work sustained the famous who appear in history, they are forgotten.” Life was harsh for the majority of our ancestors, who lived in poverty bordering on starvation. Yet, although they were in the main illiterate, these working people were the wisdom keepers and practitioners of the rich traditions of this country. In writing Witchcraft & Secret Societies of Rural England Pennick aimed to preserve some of the knowledge and struggles of his own ancestors “then something of them will live on”. In this he has succeeded admirably and more than this the book is a wonderful tribute to all our English ancestors and a fount of knowledge for us and all their descendants.

Well researched and wonderfully illustrated, Pennick’s telling of local history and mythology is written in an accessible, interesting and enthralling way and kept me engrossed from beginning to end. Very highly recommended!

Book Details: Nigel Pennick. Witchcraft & Secret Societies of Rural England. Destiny Books; Reprint edition (2 May 2019). ISBN: 978-1620557600

Review Details: Witchcraft & Secret Societies of Rural England was reviewed by June Kent, editor of Indie Shaman magazine and this review was published in Issue 41.

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