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Witchcraft, herbs and magic
Herb-craft and the image of the witch
In the popular imagination, the practice of witchcraft and the use of herbs are almost synonymous. Doreen Valiente in her 1973 “ABC of witchcraft past and present” states “The old word for the knowledge of the secret properties of herbs is ‘wortcunning’; and this has always been a particular study of witches.” We find this narrative of the witches being the healers, the midwives and the village herbalists coming up time and time again, not just from the practitioners themselves, but from academics from many different disciplines. I even came across a professional medical herbalist practice that clearly identified themselves with this narrative ...their slogan being “Witches have no plan B!”
In the Museum of Witchcraft and magic itself, the “Witchcraft and healing” display (below) is situated around a rack of medical herbs. This is not Cecil Williamson’s original display; this was sadly destroyed in the flood. It originally comprised of a set of shallow square display boxes with accompanying labels. Andrew Chumbley noted that they were 72 in number; a number pertinent to those familiar with medieval demonology.
History and tradition does indeed suggest that there is a close relationship between the practices of witchcraft and the vegetable kingdom, but that relationship perhaps is not as simple as it seems. Let us begin by looking at some examples of witchcraft and the world of herbs.
Whereas the witch of popular tradition takes to the air on a broomstick, the West Country witch is said to ride on Ragwort stalks. The Folklorist Robert Hunt in his 1865 classic work “Romances of the West of England” describes –
“Many a man, and woman too, now sleeping quietly in the churchyard of St Levan, would, had they the power, attest to have seen the witches flying in to the castle peak on moonlight nights, mounted on stems of ragwort (Senecio Jacoboea) and bringing with them the things necessary to make there charms potent and strong.”
This tradition is not just peculiar to Cornwall, it seems to be pan-Celtic, turning up also in Scotland and Ireland. In Scotland in Robert Burn's 1746 “Address to the Deil” he wrote “Tell how we’ you on ragweed nags, they skim the muirs an’ dizzy crags.” And in Ireland ragwort was known as “Boholaun Buidhe” or “The fairy’s Horse”. (In the Gaelic traditions faeries and witches often being interchangeable).
Dr Margaret Murray noted in her seminal 1931 book “The God of the Witches” that there seemed to be a great profusion of objects used to transport the witch to the Sabbat. She lists broom-plant, Ragwort, hemp, bean, any hollow stalk, ash twigs and even palm branches in the Middle East. Carlo Ginsburg lists an even greater assortment of pots and pans and household tools and objects.
This does raise the possibility that it was not the object itself that is of importance, but the way in which it was used. Murray speculated that it was the riding or ritual dance that was the key point, others such as Terence Mckenna have speculated that the object was a method of delivering the legendary hallucinogenic witch's salve to the rider through the skin of the genitals, anus and perineum. One of the earliest accounts of the use of the salve occurs in the account of a Bavarian physician Harttliepp in 1456. After describing the ritual gathering of its herbal ingredients he concludes “When they feel the urge, they rub their bench, their rake or their loading fork, and off they fly.” This account of the unguent being applied to the object rather than the person turns up in the earlier account of the trial of the Irish witch Dame Agnes Kyteller in 1324, when it was said that on searching her possessions there was found “A pipe of ointment, wherewith she greased a staff, upon which she ambled and galloped through thick and through thin, when in what manner she listed.”
Ragwort around midsummer on the cliff above Boscastle where the sea witches would dance with the wind!
The use of the “flying ointment” has become a keystone of the witch narrative; many have equated its use to that of the use of hallucinogenic plants such as ayahuasca or peyote by shaman in the new world. Numerous recipes have been recorded from across Europe going back as far as the C15. They all seem to roughly concur on the use of certain native plants with a narcotic component such as aconite, belladonna, datura, hellebore and hemp suspended in a grease base.
One may be tempted to think that the whole phenomena of the Sabbat may be put down to some kind of drug- induced hallucination, but there are problems with this theory. Its use was by no means universal and in spite of the profusion of tales of the use of such an ointment, apart from possibly the case of dame Agnes Kyteller, as Hans Peter Duerr in “Dreamtime” (1978), none of it seems to actually turn up as evidence at any of the witch trials.
Ragwort turns up in the old herbals and has been used medicinally. Its active ingredient is a volatile oil called rutin. It is said that it may be applied externally as a poultice for muscular ache and sciatica as it encourages blood flow to the skin. This would tie in with the idea of the stalk being used to deliver the witches unguent. It is also however damaging to the liver and should not be taken internally. One of its folk names is “Stagger weed” owing to the fact that it is poisonous to cattle and horses if eaten, causing them to stagger around and eventually die.
Once whilst speaking on the subject at a talk in Penzance, the question was asked as to whether ragwort itself may have hallucinogenic properties. A lady in the audience who happened to be a toxicologist stood up and left us all in no doubt. She stated that ragwort was a cumulative poison, and that when it reached a critical level would kill you. If it did have any hallucinogenic effects it was due to the delirium resulting from organ failure. She concluded by saying that if you did think of using it in such a manner to travel to the Sabbat, it would be a one way ticket!
If the ragwort had however been used as a (somewhat risky) means of absorbing some kind of hallucinogenic ointment then this does indeed show a subtle and complex knowledge of herb lore, involving the interrelationship of a number of active ingredients in the context of a magical belief and a mythical narrative. So let us explore some of the other factors that may be at play. Maybe we do need to go back and explore the ragwort itself as phenomena.
Ragwort has a bright yellow flower which seems to erupt in to a spray of foliage. It has a characteristically ragged appearance from which it derives its name. It commonly grows on waste ground that has once been disturbed. In Scotland it was said to have grown up upon the battlefield of Culloden after the bloody defeat of the Scots in 1749, from which it got one of its folk names “Stinking Willy” after the English William Duke of Cumberland. It was also said to have been associated with the bombsites in London after the blitz. It also grows in great profusion on neglected farmland hence the saying “ragwort is a good crop for bad farmers”. The fact that it grows in liminal places may well add to the resonance of its use as a magical herb, witchcraft having a long and venerable relationship with the liminal and the “Other”. This as phenomena seems to apply to many other magical herbs.
It is, as I mentioned before, poisonous to live stock and the bane of farmers. It also has unusually 13 petals, thirteen being a number often associated with witchcraft and the uncanny. A final factor that adds to its significance is the fact that it seems to come in to flower around Midsummer, which of course in the Cornish tradition is the time when witching, is at its height. All in all we have a number of cumulative factors that make the ragwort a prime candidate for being the witch’s herb.
The four leaved clover
Another herb associated with both witches and fairies which appears in the writings of Robert Hunt is the four leaf clover.
The four-leafed clover seems to have a Europe wide mystique about it. The clover leaf is a low lying plant often found in grasslands. It normally has three leaves, but approximately one in every 1,000,000 leaves mutates to produces a 4 leaf clover. The possession of one is said to confer good luck upon its bearer.
Such is its popularity one can buy them commercially. A farm in Florida commercially grows them; one can buy Dutch growing kits, and in the 1980's Kentish folk magician Dusty Millar was also selling them. The magic however seems to be inherent in the act of finding them. It is said that if you find one you are variously said to be “Pure of heart” or in possession of the second sight!
An elderly lady in the village of Constantine in West Cornwall, keeps four leaved clovers which she finds in the fields around her house in the pages of her bible for “good luck”. August 2017
Two tales from Robert Hunt, however, tell of another dimension to the four leaf clover's powers. The story goes that at Bosfranken Farm near St Buryan in the far west of Cornwall a farmer was in possession of a fine red cow called Daisy. He had rich grasslands and the cow had a great udder that should have produced milk by the gallon, but every night she yielded a miserly half a gallon if he was lucky.
On midsummer night the milk maid was out milking late. When she got to Daisy she was surprised to find that her pail was full to the brim. To cushion her head whilst she carried the bucket she pulled a handful of grass and placed it upon her crown. Then all of a sudden all around her she saw the faery folk dancing and frolicking in the barn and the fields, some were drinking deep of the milk. The bemused milkmaid sat up into the night watching this strange spectacle. On her return she told this tale to the mistress of the house. Being older and wiser she examined the clod of grass in the candlelight, and sure enough found a four leaved clover that was responsible for this unexpected opening of the second sight.
This story appears in a number of variant forms in Northumberland, Ireland and across Europe from Scandinavia to Romania, the earliest version dating from the C13. Hunt also tells another tale that brings the said clover more into line with the previously discussed narrative.
The story tells of a lady by the name of Nancy Tregier of Pendeen again in the west of Cornwall. One day she set off on foot for Penzance market, feeling neighbourly she stopped off at the house of an old lady, Jenny Trayer to see if she could pick up any shopping for her whilst in town. Jenny Trayer locally had the reputation of being a witch. As she arrived at their cottage in Pendeen cove she saw through a crack in the door that Jenny was anointing her husband’s eyes with some kind of salve. Nancy waited a moment, and then made her presence known. The salve was secreted away and all carried on as normal. Jenny offered Nancy a small drink for the journey, as she left the room curiosity got the better of Nancy. She picked up the salve a dabbed a little on her own eye, once again hiding the salve before Jenny returned. Gossip was had, drink was taken and Nancy went on her way. Eventually Nancy reached Penzance market and began her shopping. No sooner had she began, when who should she see but old Tom Trayer walking amongst the stalls and bold as brass helping himself to whatever produces he took a fancy to. Nancy marched up to him and berated him exclaiming “Aren’t you ashamed to be carrying on such a game!” Tom appeared to be surprised and enquired as to which eye she could see him with. Nancy covered each eye in turn and sure enough noted that she could only see him through the eye she anointed with the salve. He immediately shot out his great bony finger and poked her in the eye and disappeared. From that day fourth she was blind in one eye. Hunt concludes that the salve contained four leaved clover “Gathered at a certain time of the moon, rendering fairyland visible and men invisible.”
Interestingly the folklorist William Bottrell records a similar story set near Lamorna in West Cornwall. He omits the ingredients of the salve, but the protagonist who loses her eye, “Old Bet”, herself later becomes a cunning woman. There are echoes of the idea of the ritual wound given to the shaman in their spirit journey that confers there powers.
Mugwort growing on the banks of the Valency River, Boscastle in Cornwall. June 2017.
Another magical herb I have a particular affinity with is the mugwort. This too is a curious plant that occurs commonly in waste ground. This example (above) is from the bank of the River Valency in Boscastle. It has a tradition of culinary, medicinal and magical uses. Back in the mid-1990s, when Graham King first took over the Museum of Witchcraft, there was much work done clearing out the garden behind the museum. Mugwort was one of the plants that seems to have been cultivated by Cecil Williamson, the founder of the museum. I took a small plant and transplanted it, and its descendants are still growing around me today. It is a native to Cornwall, but it also grows in profusion on the Isle of Man, where it is held in great respect, sprigs of which are worn at the “Tynwald” – the Manx national assembly; a tradition that is said to go back to the time of the Vikings. From his time living on the Isle of Man, this resonance would not have been lost on Mr Williamson. One cannot help betting that this particular specimen may have come back with him to Cornwall.
Fran - a gardener from Crean in West Penwith - co-ordinated much of the work done there. She was also versed in wortcunning and recognised that the Mugwort was a relation to the herb used in the eastern practice of moxibustion ; the burning of small incense cones on key meridian points in the body. Its virtue was the ability to transform energy. This in many ways placed mugwort as being a herb of some importance amongst those who had gravitated to the museum, a reputation that I feel has remained intact. I wonder if the magical importance that has been attributed to it in subsequent herbals stems from this!
Medicinally Mugwort seems to have been considered a women’s herb connected with problems regarding childbirth and menstruation. It has also been used as a smoking mixture and for flavouring tisanes and beer. The latter being the origin of its name. But it also seems to have a venerable magical pedigree.
As its name “Artemisia Vulgaris” suggests, it has a traditional association with Artemis, the moon goddess. Pliny extols its virtues as a charm for relieving fatigue in travellers and in averting the “Evil Eye”. In biblical folklore John the Baptist was said to have worn a girdle of Mugwort to protect him from the evils of the desert, giving it a special connection to midsummer – St Johns day. Back in old Blighty it turns up as the first herb in the Anglo Saxon "Nine herbs charm”, in which nine of the herbs sacred to the Saxons are listed along with allusions to their mythological provenance. The first verse runs –
“Recall Mugwort what you declared, what you established at the great council. ‘Una’ you are called, most senior of herbs. You prevail against 3 and against 30, you prevail against poison and against infection, you prevail against the harmful one that through the land travels.”
Its reputation for magic seems to have followed it through history. In the C17 the poet Michael Drayton said – “In magic often used, mugwort and nightshade for the same,”
And at the end of Gerrard’s treatise on the medicinal virtues of mugwort, he concludes it has other virtues – “tending to witchcraft and sorcery, and the great dishonour of god: wherefore I do of purpose omit them, as things unworthy of my recording, to your reviewing.”
Later herbals tend to suggest its magical virtue is the aiding of Scrying or crystal ball gazing. Like the witches ointment on the riding staff the juice is applied to the crying tool, whether that be mirror, bowl, fishing float or crystal ball, rather than to the operator.
Text from Cecil Williamson’s collection. One of a number of labels describing the folklore of various herbs. Presumably one of the labels for his herb collection in the old museum display. Date unknown.
Wormwood, mugwort’s close relation, contains the narcotic alkaloid thujone and is probably best known as being an ingredient in the drink Absinthe. Paradoxically it has little magical lore attached to it, whereas its relatively chemically inert cousin mugwort seems to have the magical reputation. This begs a number of questions.
Pharmacology or something more?
Of the three magical herbs examined; one is deadly poisonous and the other two are inert. None of them are imbibed in any way, but all are said to have a considerable powers of shifting ones consciousness. These are by no means isolated examples, when one looks at the history of magical herbalism it begins to look less and less like a primitive form of pharmacology and more and more like something else existing in its own right.
These three examples all relate to what we would now call astral vision or travelling, there are numerous other examples of the magical use of herbs for healing, cursing, protection and for achieving any number of ends. In many cases herbs are only part of the formulae. Cecil Williamson wrote – “Apart from herbs and plants, witches use a number of items, chief of which are the skulls and the bones of humans, animals, birds and reptiles.” This refers to the strand of medicine in the early modern period known as “mumial” medicine, that is to say the use of body-parts in charms and cures. This gives us a hint of the underlying principles behind magical herbalism: it has nothing to do with the chemistry of the ingredients, but it is about the energy or life force they were thought to contain.
The ingredients used in herbal charms appear to be a mixed bag, and the physical ingredients themselves appear to be on an equal footing with the ritual actions and the magical symbols used in their construction.
It is this use of a diverse selection of ingredients and ritual actions that maybe hints at the nature of the herbal charm. There are a number of elements of the charm other than its chemical constituents that are important to both operator and recipient. The method and time of the collection of herbs are of equal importance to the material contents of the charm, as are the rituals associated with it. Cecil Williamson gives examples of the tools used in the preparation of the herbal charm being intrinsic to its nature. He has examples of the bone digging tools and the horn cups used in the preparations; and one must not forget the legendary cauldron with its inherent transformative qualities.
This charm to ‘unwitch’ oneself recorded from the trial of Ursula Kemp in 1582 (whose skeleton was once on display in the Museum) demonstrates this idea. “...Bad her take hogges dung and charvell, and put them together and hold them in her left hand, and the takein the other hand a knife, and to prick the medicine three times, and then to cast the same in to the fire, and to take the knife and to make three pricks under the table, and to let the knife stick there: and after that take three leaves of sage and as much of herb John and put them in to the ale, and drink it last at night and first in the morning.”
Another charm demonstrating this principle from Cecil Williamson's own book of charms is this “Club moss spell”: “Good this stuff! For diseases of the eyes and many other uses you know. But must be cut on the third day of the new moon when the crescent is thin and seen for the first time. Show the moon the knife with which the moss is to be cut. Your hands must have been washed at sundown in cold water and the moss must be cut kneeling. It is carefully wrapped in a clean white cloth with a black spot in the centre of same. The moss is washed in water taken from the nearest spring or stream to the point of gathering, taking care to observe the rules of the taking of water. This fluid is then used as a wash or fermentation or the moss may be mixed with fresh butter and made in to an ointment of many uses, chief of which is its use for the delights of love making.” (This charm was recorded by Hunt (p145) and Courtney (p151) with the addition of the incantation “As Christ healed the issue of blood. Do thou cut, what thou cuttest, for good!”).
The horn is a product of a living animal, so it has a spirit force. A bowl or cup fashioned out of horn has a certain power within it. The witch makes use of his power when mixing or preparing her powders and potions.
William H Paynter collected a great body of folk magic traditions around Cornwall about the same time Cecil Williamson was collecting. In his “Cornish Witchcraft” book (published posthumously by Jason Semmens in 2016), he gives an example of some herbal folk magic traditions used around the time of May Eve, when occult forces are supposed to be abroad: “...He must obtain a piece of mountain ash or rowan tree and fasten it above his door. No witch or evil spirit may pass the threshold of a house which rowan guards, tradition says. If mountain ash cannot be obtained, woodbine of honeysuckle may be used in its stead... if a man cuts four hazel twigs at the hour of midnight, three of them driven in to the beams of his house will prevent its destruction by fire, whilst the fourth, carried in his pocket will prevent him coming to grief, however drunk he may be!”
Who were the herbalists?
The popular narrative regarding herbalism is that it was an arte practised and preserved by the witchcraft profession. This provided their place in the community, but also became their undoing. Starhawk in “The Spiral Dance” states: “The rising male medical establishment welcomed the chance to stamp out midwives and village herbalists, their major economic competitors”.
Up until the Reformation the monasteries provided a basic form of medical care. The monks would have studied the pagan classical medical works of Dioscorides, Hippocrates and Galen. Much of their care was herb-based, many monasteries having their own herb gardens. Alongside this would have been a long established vernacular “Leech craft” tradition. One can only assume that most households had some knowledge of the herbal arts. Post Reformation it has been suggested (by Keith Thomas amongst others) that many of the functions of the Catholic Church; i.e. the mysticism, the means of relating to the dead, holy water and relics etc. and possibly herbalism, passed into the realms of the cunning practitioners.
Post-Reformation there seems to be an increasing secularisation of herbalism. Gerard (1636) and Culpepper (1649) both produced popular herbals which are still in print today, and a hundred years latter John Wesley, leading light in the newly formed Methodist movement produced his own herbal “Primitive Physick” (1747). Their method of approach was more in accordance with our modern ideas of medical herbalism, and they were both keen to distance themselves from what they saw as magical herbalism. Herbalism was still by no means just the preserve of professional elite, however. Culpepper himself commented on how most people had at their disposal a repertoire of remedies. He states: “All the nation are already physicians – if you ail anything, every one you meet, whether man or woman will proscribe you a medicine for it.”
Post-Reformation, Starhawk’s narrative begins to evaporate: not only are references to herbalism in the witch trials sporadic, the date of the last witch hanged in Britain, 1684, occurs only 14 years after the founding of the Royal Society in 1660, which would have been the hub of the emerging medical sciences. The new medical profession was indeed dominated by males hailing from the upper classes, but the witch persecutions seemed to diminish rather than grow as the medical establishment began to develop. The last witch trials seemed to be instigated by neighbours and women giving evidence against women rather than being instigated by any external agency. It seems that in the Bideford trials, Lord North came in at the last minute in an attempt to stop a mob lynching rather than starting the trial.
Maybe what was happening was not so much a repression of herbalism, but a kind of fission, as herbalism split in to two paths; one of which is the medical herbalism that were familiar with today, and the other the arcane art of magical herbalism. In the trial of John Walsh (Exeter 1566) we see how he is questioned to see if he derived his medical knowledge from accepted forms of medical knowledge or occult means: “Fifthly, being demanded whether he doth it by art naturally, or else by anye other secret or privy means: He answered that he useth hys physicke or surgerie by arte, naturallye practiced by him, as he sayth, and not by anye other yll or secret means. And yet he being demaunded whether he new the natural operation of herbs, as to weather they were hot or cold, he answered he could not tell.”
What were the theories behind magical herbalism?
It has been argued that much western esoteric thinking came from the Neo-Platonist movement which sprung out of North Africa, the Near-East and the Mediterranean rim in the 2nd and 3rd centuries, instigated by luminaries such as Plotinus, Porphyry and Iamblichus. They argued that at the centre of being was “the good” or “the one” – an unknowable divinity. From this emanated all ‘being’, which eventually terminated in the physical manifest world around us.
This Neo-Platonic view of emanation can in turn be divided in to two camps; the Aristotelian, being the idea that the universe is constructed out of separate consciousnesses and beings. This is the world of gods, spirits, angels and demons with roots that lay in the prehistoric world of animism and polytheisms. In the “Aristotelian” world; the power of mugwort would be thought to be derived from the guardian spirit alluded to in the Anglo-Saxon Nine Herbs Charm, or from the intersession of St John with whom the herb was associated.
Secondly there is the “Platonic”, that is to say that the universe is ruled by impersonal forces. This belief is key in the Natural Philosophy and Natural Magic of the Renaissance. Implicit in this is the idea that these forces could be understood through observation and experimentation and consequently manipulated, thus paving the way for “Science”.
In herbalism we get the development of the idea of the “Virtues”, that is to say certain herbs have a “sympathetic” relationship with a particular planetary force, thus are able to somehow channel its forces or “Virtues” in to our physical being. In this model the Mugwort would act as an intermediary and channel the divinatory virtues of the moon or the protective healing virtues of Venus. We first see systematic lists of planetary correspondences in the C13 works of Albertus Magnus, and the model is still going strong in the C17 works of Gerard and Culpepper.
This idea of virtue is by no means limited to herbs, it may be found in gemstones, colours and all manner of natural phenomena. There were a number of developments of this idea. It could be further refined with the use of magical ritual and astrology. The four elements were also said to emanate virtue, which corresponded to the elemental virtue in our own being. This became “humoral medicine”, which became the basis of much mediaeval and early modern herbal theory. Thus mugwort’s virtue would be increased if picked at a time when the Moon or Venus was well aspected, and, it being ruled by the element of water, mugwort may be used to cool a fever for example.
Implicit in this model is also the idea that once the virtue is contained with a physical host, then it could be transferred, thus also we get the idea of plants as charms, and also the development of mumial medicine. This incorporates the idea that life force in one being may be passed to another, hence the incorporation of bones and animal parts in to remedies, charms and spells.
This does of course beg the question; how does one know what virtue is within the herb? This is answered by the adoption of an idea known as the “Doctrine of Signatures”: That is to say that if an herb is intrinsically linked to a spiritual principle, then the spiritual virtue must somehow be imprinted in its physical form. Thus the mugwort leaves' silvery underside is a hint of its lunar origin, and its heady scent suggests a Venusian leaning. The scientist would argue that this is meaningless and subjective, but within this Neo-Platonic model there is no distinction between ‘subject’ and ‘object’, both are equally valid.
Both these models run counter to modern positivist scientific thinking in that they are holistic; there is no separation between the individual and the workings of the universe. In this model it makes sense to anoint your besom with flying ointment or to clean the blade that cut you rather than the wound itself, or indeed that a sprig of mugwort hung in your house will have the same effect as if it were swallowed.
In practice both the “Aristotelian” and the “Platonic model” tend to merge together. The mediaeval talisman draws on both planetary forces and Angelic intelligences. The Cunning folk use both their Virtue and the invocation of familiar spirits. Cecil Williamson was a devout Animist who communed with the spirit world, but also believed that the evocation of spirit-force was integral to the working of magic.
In conclusion I would like to put forward the idea that there is a tradition of herbalism inherent in post-medieval magical practice, but it is a very different creature to the kind of medical herbalism we are familiar with today. It may have superficial similarities, but it seems to be drawn from a very different world view.
It is a schoolboy error to attempt to scrutinise a non-scientific paradigm using a scientific model; it can only lead to obfuscation of the matter. But maybe there are other reasons for this application of the ideas of modern herbalism to historical accounts of magical practice. Diane Purkiss in “The Witch as History” (1996) suggests that the attempt to define the witch as an herbalist is another attempt to define women in the sexist stereotype of cooks/housekeepers/carers.
I would suggest that the defining of the witch’s use of herbs as a kind of proto-pharmacology serves only to de-enchant the tradition of magical practice, once again defining magic as an outdated absurdity and relegating it to the dustbin of history. Maybe there is something more to these accounts of magical herbalism than just the attempts of our ancestors to survive in a hostile world. Maybe there is something in these tales that leads us back to a vision of a Garden of Eden where we, the gods and the spirits and the landscape around us co-exist in a symbiotic harmony. Maybe we would do well to learn the lesson of the mugwort, the four leafed clover and the ragwort stalk, and open our minds.
Originally written for the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic event Saturday 23, 9, 2017
Steve Patterson is a folklorist, antiquarian and woodcarver. He lives and works in west Cornwall and has been involved with the MWM for over 20 years. He has run talks, guided walks and workshops on subjects antiquarian and arcane for some years and is the author of a number of books and articles on folklore, folk magic and the MWM.