The arts of the cunningfolk are long-established on the British Isles, in particular in the folklore of Essex country and thereabouts. Strange men and women, often living at the fringes of society, they were still sought out for their occult powers: the ability to heal, to harm, to lift and place curses, to find what was lost and to prevent such loss in the first place.
The work of the pellar, or cunningman, has transformed greatly over the years. Indeed, its practitioners believe that it has died out and revived itself many times, for they believe that the true steam of cunning is found beneath the realms of men, in the place of dreams. Many men and women, touched near to madness, have found themselves at the True Sabbat, a witches' gathering in the dreaming world, where they circle 'round a tree atop a hill beneath a night-black sky awhirl with strange, unknown stars. When they wake, they return with these strange lores.
Over the years, many strains of folklore that found its way to the British Isles has been absorbed into cunning practices: Biblical apocrypha, lore about the dead, faery stories and all manner of odd folklore. For example, so-called "toad witches" who were said to gain their powers from casting the bones of a natterjack into a river and snatching up the sole bone that shrieked as it floated upstream are considered part of the cunning practices, as were those initiates of the Horseman's Word, a fraternal esoteric brotherhood that purported to gain their powers from meeting the devil at a crossroads and learning a word that allowed them to command horses.
Part of the lore comes from Biblical stories, particularly those that found their way to Britain with gypsies. In this lore, they hold Cain as the first of the witchblooded, and his teachers Lilith and the Grigori, or certain fallen angels who taught their occult secrets to mankind through the witch-father Cain. Such legends also conflate him with Tubal-Cain, who is said to have been the first human to forge metal, taught by the fallen angel Azazel.
- Crafts: Cunningfolk make things with their hands, including small twig-dollies, magical symbols painted or carved on surfaces, wax effigies and similar household crafts. Many cunningfolk are also smiths.
- Medicine: A great deal of Cunning work involved the healing arts.
- Occult: Understanding the nuances of the world of spirits and the strange is vital and unsurprising for cunningfolk.
- Persuasion: A pellar must be swift with words, singing the praises of man and spirit alike, in order to achieve their ends.
- Survival: The wilderness is the greatest source of magical tools available to cunningfolk, so the witch must be comfortable in the out-of-doors.
- The Famulus: Cunning witches all use an animal spirit to gain their power. While this is represented by the Famulus Trait for moral witches, shifters employ their own animal-spirit for the same purpose a great deal of the time (although there is nothing to prevent them from gaining a proper Famulus, either).
- Angels, Devils & Edenic Lore: Concepts of a Natural Paradise are pervasive in Cunning; most pellars believe that their charms evoke the natural order of that era, employing angelic spirits to grant permission for such workings, or devilish entities who help them steal it away from heavenly auspices to do so.
- The Charm: The spoken word is of extreme importance to the Cunning witch. The magic of humanity is the spoken word, and rhyming and rhythm in its sound have magical effects. These are not eerie invocations in otherworldly tongues, either - most of them use the cadences of nursery rhymes and skipping game chants, with a sprinkling of "nonsense" words and strange names to them.
- The Dead: To the cunningfolk, the dead are part of the natural landscape, as ordinary as an errant breeze or field of clover. They are not necromancers, per se - instead, they interact with the dead through owl spirits and crossroads spirits.
- Dreaming & the True Sabbat: Most pellars are solitary witches - they do not usually gather in covens or cabals. Instead, they seek companionship with their own kind in what is called the "True Sabbat", a mythic gathering spot in Shadow that only a Famulus (or a shifter's animal spirit) can lead them through the Spirit Walk during the three nights of the full moon. It is a meadow field beneath a massive arching tree of indeterminate shape, with a mountain looming over them, and bonfire around which witches and their famuli dance in dizzying ecstasy. It is said that they commune with many of the potent spirits of their tradition there, and come to make the acquaintance of elder witches...some of whom are no longer even alive, but instead frolic at the Sabbat forever.
- Faerie Lore: Cunning witches also teach that the natural spirits of the world and the fey are closely linked one to the other, in ways mortals cannot understand readily. While they do not call upon them or magically compel them in any way, it is not unheard of for fey spirits to grant pellars favors, or to simply be drawn to them.
- Blacksmithing & Handicrafts: A major element of Cunning magic is the creation of things by the hands. From Cain's role as first smith to the witches who work spells by weaving, cutting, the making of dollies, and similar methods, magic-as-handicrafts is deeply tied into a pellar's work. Every pellar has a strong Crafts focus which they utilize in such instances.
- Bones: Pellars believe that bones are where the particular spiritual virtues of an entity crystalize during that entity's life. As such, they frequently use bones in their art - animal magics almost always include the bones of that animal in some way, and bones also represent the cumulative virtue of human knowledge. Many pellars throw bones to read fortunes or use other forms of divinity.
- Boundaries & Hedges: Cunningfolk are innately drawn to liminal spaces - dividing lines between things that are unlike one another. The act of passing through or violating those boundaries is an act of immense metaphysical power. As such, cunningfolk use boundaries and in-between spaces, times, and conditions for much of their magic, whether that means crossroads, dawn or dusk, seasonal equinoces and solstices, half-dreaming states, and the like.
- Wortcunning: The magic of the plant world is of incredible importance. Wortcunning, as pellars term is, is the employment of the magic of plant spirits to accomplish tasks in the world. Roses are the known symbol of secrets, so a pellar might use rose petals (and thus, employ a rose-spirit) to empower workings she does to protect secrets. This also extends to the use of spirits to boost the properties of physical plant biochemistries, improving (for example) the eye-improving qualities of eyebright, or the soporific qualities of chamomile.
- Horsemanship: The taming and riding of a horse is said to originally employ occult principles derived from Cunning work, and even today the best horse tamers use odd little whispered phrases and repetitive ritual behavior to calm and seemingly bewitch horses. There is even said to be something called the Horseman's Word, an esoteric fraternal organization among the upper class, made up of wealthy Cunning witches who focus on the symbolism of horsemanship and the taming of people as readily as they tame horses.
- Toad Witchery: The toad is one of many creatures understood to be emblematic of a pellar's work as witch: they are reviled but useful, frightening-seeming but peaceable, sing their songs into the dark night, and they leap from one place to the other, passing through boundaries and liminal spaces with a thought. There are many witches who call upon toad spirits in the natterjack rite, as well, and they are popular famuli.
Patrons of Cunning Craft
The cunningmen have invoked and called upon a wide variety of spirits over the years.
The Black Man
The core patron of cunning-craft, a sinister shadowy figure, often seeming to wear a cloak and hat, who is called upon to make an initiate into an adept. He is met at a crossroads, and carries with him the chill of the grave, though those who are ready to receive his blessing also regard him with an unusual sense of excitement. His exact identity, connection to the other spirits of Cunning work or similar associations are wholly unknown.
Cain & Lilith
Cain is the First Murderer, and the mark placed upon his brow is the mark of the outcast. Sent into the Land of Nod, he encountered Lilith, who taught him the ways of witchcraft, and introduced him to the Grigori. He is the First Farmer and the First Smith, and considered the patron of witches who craft things with their hands.
Lilith was the First Woman, and made out-cast for her refusal to be subordinate to Adam. Cast into the Land of Nod, she found there the Grigori, who taught her their forbidden arts, and she was cared for by the owls, who love and serve her. When she found Cain, she took him in and taught him to survive, as well as the arts of witchcraft.
These are the leaders of 200 angels in 1 Enoch that are turned into fallen Angels because they took wives, mated with human women, and taught forbidden knowledge. Their children were a race of giants called the Nephilim.
- Araqiel (also Arakiel, Araqael, Araciel, Arqael, Sarquael, Arkiel, Arkas) taught humans the signs of the earth.
- Armaros (also Amaros) taught men the resolving of enchantments.
- Azazel taught men to make knives, swords, shields, and how to devise ornaments and cosmetics.
- Gadriel taught the art of cosmetics.
- Baraqel (Baraqiel) taught men astrology
- Chazaqiel (sometimes Ezeqeel) taught men the signs of the clouds (meteorology).
- Kokabiel (also Kakabel, Kochbiel, Kokbiel, Kabaiel, and Kochab), instructs mankind in astrology and the commanding of spirits.
- Penemue "taught mankind the art of writing with ink and paper," and taught "the children of men the bitter and the sweet and the secrets of wisdom."
- Sariel (also Suriel) taught mankind about the courses of the moon (at one time regarded as forbidden knowledge).
- Samyaza (also Shemyazaz, Shamazya, Semiaza, Shemhazi, Semyaza and Amezyarak) is one of the leaders of the fall from heaven, and taught men the governing of others and the skills of leadership.
- Shamsiel, once a guardian of Eden, teaches the signs of the sun.
Spirits of Cunning Craft
Though less in power than the Patrons, these spirits are often worked with by Cunning witches.
- Crossroads spirits, which aid in magical workings by reducing the Gauntlet. These are Artifice spirits.
- Toad spirits, for laying hexes. These are all Nature spirits.
- Owl spirits or crow spirits, for dealing with ghosts and the dead. These are all Nature spirits.
- Landwights, for dealing with the health of the local area's land. These are Nature or Artifice spirits.
- Wort spirits, for invoking various plant-based occultic powers. These are Nature spirits.
Rites of Cunning Craft
- Exorcism by Smoke: Banish (•). Dice Pool: Presence + Occult. A rite in which the ritemaster burns a potent mixture of asafoetida, nettles, and blackthorn cuttings in a lead dish, walking around the space widdershins in which the spirit is known to dwell.
- Blood for the Cake: Harness the Cycle (•). Dice Pool: Wits + Occult. A celebration of solstice and equinox, marked with a few drops of the ritemaster's blood in wine which is then splashed on a simple cake appropriate to the season. Those who eat of the cake then gain the benefits of the rite. This must be performed at a liminal space of some kind: a crossroads, a graveyard, the border between forest and field, the shore, etc.