Charmer

Charmer

[chahrm]
For the Kings of Leon song, see Charmer (song).
Charmers were English practitioners of a specific kind of folk magic, specialising in supernatural healing. Other folk magic traditions include those of the cunning folk, the toad doctors and the girdle-measurers.

The charming tradition is quite distinct from others and is based either on the charmer's possession of inherent healing ability by 'laying on of hands', ownership of an object that had healing properties or possession of a charm or charms in verse, typically deriving from Biblical sources genuine or apocryphal. The latter is the most common source of healing power among charmers.

Charmers passed down knowledge of their charms secretly from one generation to the next. This transference sometimes took place only when the charmer was at the point of death.

Charmers differ from cunning folk in two principal ways. They usually refused to charge a fee for their services (even refusing verbal thanks) though they did accept gifts in kind. They also did not attempt to heal those who believed themselves to be suffering from the effects of witchcraft or demonic possession. They restricted themselves to healing natural ailments, such as snakebite, toothache or burns. They would occasionally augment their charming with herbalism.

"There was no ambiguity about what charmers did. They were merely custodians of a God-given gift, not masters of equivocal magical forces. Consequently, people did not prosecute charmers as they did cunning-folk: there was little to accuse them of, as they imposed no charges and they did not provide faulty diagnoses since they did not diagnose."
Source: Owen Davies, Cunning-Folk

Charmers and Witchcraft

Charmers were not witches in any sense, though they were sometimes accused of sorcery by clergymen and clerkwardens; their clients did not make any such accusation, since they benefited from the charmer's services and did not consider them at all malign.

It seems that the charmer is the primary historical basis for the modern myth of the 'hereditary witch', since many of the characteristics of the latter (such as belief in inherent magical powers and transference of magical secrets down family lines) can be traced to the charmers.

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