Cunningham, Scott (1956-1993) Prolific Wiccan author and expert on earth and natural MAGIC, best known for his books on magical herbalism, earth power, crystals, gems and metals and "the truth about Witchcraft." Born June 27, 1956, in Royal Oak, Michigan, Cunningham lived in San Diego from 1961 until his death in 1993. He began practicing WICCA in 1971. A full-time writer, he authored more than 30 fiction and nonfiction books and wrote scripts for occult videocassettes.
Cunningham was introduced to the Craft in 1971 through a book purchased by his mother, The Supernatural, by Douglas Hill and Pat Williams. Early on in life, Cunningham had had a strong interest in plants, minerals and other natural earth products, and the book piqued his curiosity. He read it and was particularly fascinated by the book's descriptions of Italian hand gestures used to ward off the EVIL EYE.
In the next two days, two other incidents added impetus to his interest in the Craft: a movie about Witchcraft shown on television; and a female classmate in high school who was involved in an occult and magic study group. Meeting on the first day of drama class, the two began talking, and Cunningham unconsciously made the evil eye hand gestures. The classmate recognized them and asked, "Are you a Witch" "No," said Cunningham, "but I'd sure like to be one." The classmate introduced him to Wicca. Learning magic intensified his interest in the power of nature. Cunningham was initiated into several covens of various traditions (see initiation) but eventually opted to practice as a solitary.
In 1974 he enrolled in San Diego State University and studied creative writing, intending to become a professional writer like his father, Chet, who has authored more than 170 nonfiction and fiction books. He wrote truck and automotive trade articles and advertising copy on a freelance basis. After two years in college, he realized he
had more published credits than most of his professors, and decided to drop out and begin writing full-time.
The first book he wrote was Magical Herbalism, though it was not his first to be published. That book, Shadow of Love, an Egyptian romance novel, appeared in 1980. Magical Herbalism was published in 1982. Between 1980 and 1987, Cunningham published 21 novels in various genres, six nonfiction occult books and one nonfiction booklet. Besides Magical Herbalism, his credits include Earth Power: Techniques of Natural Magic (1983); Cunningham's Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs (1985); The Magic of Incense, Oils and Brews (1987); The Magical Household (1987; coauthored with David Harrington); and Cunningham's Encyclopedia of Crystal, Gem and Metal Magic (1987); The Truth About Herb Magic (1992); Sacred Sleep (1992); The Art of Divination (1993); Spellcrafts (1993); and Hawaiian Magic (1993).
Cunningham anonymously wrote a booklet, The Truth About Witchcraft, which explains folk magic as well as the Wiccan religion. An expanded, booklength version of The Truth About Witchcraft, as well as a second title, Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner, were published in 1988. He also wrote The Magic of Food (1991), a book about the magical properties within foods.
Cunningham lectured to groups around the United States and occasionally made media appearances on behalf of the Craft. He viewed Wicca as a modern religion, created in the 20th century, incorporating elements of pagan folk magic. He said Wicca should be stripped of its quasi-historical and mythological trappings and presented to the public as a modern religion sprung from primeval concepts. The purpose of Wicca is to facilitate human contact with the Goddess and God; the differences between traditions, he maintained, are petty and distracting.
Like others in the Craft, Cunningham believed in reincarnation, but said many people place too much importance on exploring past lives. He said the present is what counts, and one's attention should be given to learning the lessons of the here and now.
Cunningham's intense devotion to his work and his prolific outpouring of writing perhaps was fueled in part by his intuition that his time might be limited. In 1983, at age 27, he was diagnosed with lymphoma. After surgery, radiation, chemotherapy and healing rituals and spells, the cancer was in remission.
In 1990, during a publicity tour in the midwestern and eastern United States, Cunningham began to suffer increasingly painful migraine headaches. In Salem, Massachusetts, he collapsed, semi-conscious, and was rushed to the hospital. He was diagnosed with cryptococcal meningitis complicated by AIDS infections. He spent several weeks in the hospital and then was transferred to the University of California San Diego Medical Center. He had no medical insurance, and friends and family set up a fund to help pay staggering medical bills.
Cunningham recovered enough to resume writing and traveling, although his health was impaired and his prognosis was not good. In 1992, his vision began to fail, and he spent increasing time in the hospital. In January 1993, he sold some of his personal belongings and books and moved back home with his parents.
In February 1993, the spinal meningitis returned, along with an infection in the brain. Cunningham went into a coma for several days and lost his remaining vision. He returned home, where he passed away on March 28.
Cunningham left an autobiography unfinished at the time of his death. It was completed and published as Whispers of the Moon by David Harrington and deTraci Regula in 1996.
Harrington, David, and deTraci Regula. Whispers of the Moon:
The Life and Work of Scott Cunningham. St. Paul, Minn.:
Llewellyn Publications, 1996.
"Cunning" comes from the Old English term kenning, meaning "wise" or "knowledgeable." Other terms for cunning man and cunning woman are wise man, wise woman, sorcerer, wizard, conjurer, charmer, blesser, white witch and witch.
Traditionally, cunning men and women came into their craft by heredity, such as James MuRRELL, one of England's most famous cunning men. Others acquired their gifts by supernatural intervention, such as from FAIRIEs or the dead, or from divine intervention. Some, in fact, were revered in earlier times as semi-divine. Their abilities were from their gifts and knowledge, or "cunning," as opposed to any particular holy status in the church. The magic they practiced was a home-made amalgam of Christian prayers and rites mixed with pagan material, folk magic and occultism. Folk magical arts were passed along in oral tradition, embroidered, embellished and changed as time passed. Cunning men and women who could read possessed various magical texts, including famous grimoires such as The Greater Key of Solomon (see grimoires) or the Fourth Book of Agrippa.
Many cunning men and women were described as odd people, with strange or unusual appearances, or living alone or in semi-seclusion, who could "do a thing or two." Their animals were regarded as their FAMILIAR servants, or, when public opinion was charitable, as their "good angels."
Fees for magical services generally were small, as most clients were poor locals; thus, cunning men and women often lived on the edge of poverty themselves. The better ones were sought out by aristocrats, usually for procuring the love of someone or faithfulness from a wayward spouse. Court records in England show that not all cunning men and women worked cheaply. Some assessed the aristocracy for hefty 40- and 50-pound fees, even annuities. In 1492 a cunning man set a fee of 1,000 pounds for a charm to procure a husband for a widow, while a cunning woman of the same time period took 25 percent of all stolen goods she found through DIVINATION. By contrast, the Church of England took in slightly less than 100 pounds in offerings in a year. Some cunning men and women became wealthy enough to buy land and build homes.
Cunning men and women flourished up until about the late 17th century, when belief in magic was high. They served as a sort of unofficial police and as a deterrent to wrongdoing, for when crimes were committed, a cunning man or woman was consulted to divine the guilty party. Though magic declined in importance from the 18th century on, their presence in society continued even into modern times, especially in rural areas, albeit in a diminished status.
They practiced their magical arts as an open secret, conducting their business quietly so as to avoid prosecution under various anti-magic and anti-witchcraft laws. Sometimes they met with little interference from authorities, who looked the other way unless a client complained. Some, such as BIDDY EARLY, were regularly denounced from pulpits but were more or less not bothered because of their popularity.
During the Inquisition, however, cunning men and women became vulnerable targets for charges of Devil-worship and evil witchcraft. A proliferation of laws made it illegal to divine, heal and cast spells for virtually any reason. If a cunning man or woman was quite successful and competed with the church for the locals' meager wages, the church got rid of them by bringing charges of witchcraft. Some cunning men and women (mostly women) simply became scapegoats for waves of witch hysteria. But even prosecution failed to dampen public support in some cases, and visitors would throng a jail to seek a fallen cunning woman's services before she was likely executed for her "crimes."
The art of the old cunning man and woman lives on in modern times in a variety of guises: the astrologer, psychic or intuitive counselor, energy healer and herbalist. Some of these individuals consider themselves part of WlCCA or Paganism; others belong to mainstream religions; still others consider themselves part of no particular religion at all.
See charms; Old GEORGE piCKINGILL; pELLAR; powwOwiNG; spells.
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