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Pagan Pioneers:  Founders, Elders, Leaders and Others


James "Cunning" Murrell


(The Master of Witches)



(Artistic impression of Cunning Murrell by David Hurrell, 2011)


Written and compiled by George Knowles

James Murrell was one of England’s most famous “Cunning Men”, who during his time was widely sought after for his magical powers of healing, herbal remedies, divining lost objects, astrology, clairvoyance and casting and breaking spells.  As with many of the well-known cunning men and women of the past, much of what they knew, their knowledge, skills and abilities were passed down verbally through family tradition and little was recorded or written down.  Over time therefore, stories about their exploits have been turned into legend making it difficult today to distinguish fact from fiction and myth. 

Historical records in old parish registers, on death certificates and in census returns have been found about the life of James Murrell, or “Cunning Murrell” as he was commonly known.  He was born the eldest child of Edward and Hannah Murrell in the village of Rochford, Essex, approx 1780, and baptised on 9th October 1785 in St Mary the Virgin Church at Hawkwell, a county of England with a long history associated with Witchcraft.  Murrell was the Seventh Son of a Seventh Son, which by tradition marked him for a life of magical empowerment.  As such, he was the only child in his family to be given an education.

It is probable that James Murrell married Elizabeth Frances Button on 12th August 1812 in St Olive’s Church, Bermondsey, and from 1814 to 1834 had up to sixteen children.  Sadly however most of them died as babies or young children.  By 1814, they were living at Hadleigh, where their first child William Murrell was born, baptised, died and buried all within the space of one month.  From her death certificate, it is known that Elizabeth Murrell died from inflammation of the chest on the 16th April 1839 aged 49 years.  She was buried five days later in the churchyard at St James the Less.

Murrell is further recorded in the census returns for Hadleigh in 1841 and 1851 as a shoemaker, and from the 1847 Tithe Map, it is known that he lived in a cottage in End Way, owned by James Tyrrell.  Murrell died from natural causes on the 16th December 1860 at the age of 79 years.  On the death certificate, his occupation is recorded as “quack doctor”.  He was buried on 23rd December by Rev. John Godson, the curate at St James the Less.  James, Elizabeth and their children were all buried in unmarked graves.

What we know of Murrell’s life is largely speculation gleaned from the many stories, myths and legends that still today abound about him today.  His first employment is said to have been as a surveyor’s apprentice, before he moved to London for work as a Chemist’s assistant.  It was while in London he most likely received some training in Astrology and Occult High Magick.  We know that he later owned an extensive library of magical books and papers, as well as a collection of working craft tools and magical objects, and most likely many of these he obtained while he was in London.  

Sometime around 1812, Murrell returned to the Essex and settled in the village of Hadleigh where he rented a small weatherboard cottage set in a narrow lane facing the south door of Hadleigh Church, and from there started working as a cobbler making shoes.  However, as his reputation spread, he gave up shoemaking and set himself up as an herbalist, healer and seer, a full-time “Cunning Man”.


St. James the Less Church, Hadleigh 

As a cunning man Murrell’s reputation was unsurpassed.  Not only locals, but also wealthy aristocrats sought him out.  His clients came from all across the country, particularly from Suffolk and Kent, and he regularly received mail from London keeping him in touch with events in the capital.  He possessed a tremendous knowledge of herbal remedies, medicine and astrology.  His library is said to have contained the works of “Henry Cornelius Agrippa”, “Nostradamus(Michel de Notredame) and “William Lilly”, as well as the classic Grimoire “The Magus” by “Francis Barrett”, from which he is thought to have learned how to use Sigils, Talismans and Amulets.  Sadly none of his library has survived. 

For his consulting room, Murrell used the front room of his cottage in which could be seen bunches of drying herbs hanging from the ceiling.  In one corner of the room was a large chest in which he stored many of his magical books and papers.  In another corner a table on which could be seen a magical knife, a human skull and various other magical implements.  Beneath the window was his desk and writing slope, with a high back chair in which he would sit and compile his notes and correspondences.  To one side of the fire stood a large brass telescope and on the other side two more chairs for guests or patients.


Eric Maple looking at a holey stone and the old chest, the only artifacts left that once belonged to James Murrell (now held in the central museum of Southend-on-sea in Essex)

Murrell charged fees for his services; usually a halfpenny for curing warts and other simple herbal remedies, half a crown to break the spell cast by another witch, and the same for one of his own famous “Witch-bottle” spells, but if he was asked to call on the aid of “high spirits”, he would charge even more.  He always asked if their problem was “high” or “low”, meaning did they require magical or material help.  Material help would usually be an herbal cure, but if magical help were required he would then set about raising spirits or “good angels” as he described them.  These he would set to task combating those responsible for whatever the trouble.  

Most cunning men and women of the period were essentially eccentrics, and many had quite distinctive and colourful characters, the same can be said about Murrell.  He was a small man in stature, but had an aura of a great authority with piercing blue eyes and a ruddy complexion.  When out and about the village he wore a bob-tailed coat and a fashionable hard-hat, and always carried an umbrella.  He was often seen walking the country lanes, umbrella in one hand, the other tucked firmly behind his back, head down as he paced muttering loudly to himself lost in thought.  When asked to pay an away visit, he travelled only at night, sometimes going great distances, and always with his trademark umbrella. 

As a seer Murrell used a magical mirror, described as being something like a small birdcage mirror, which he used for divination and to find lost or stolen property.  At other times he would spread a black inky liquid on the surface of a bowl of water, in which many of those who consulted him insisted they saw events that had happened many miles away.  As an astrologer, his predictions were said to be uncommonly accurate, and he was able to predict events many years into the future.  One story claims he also had a magic telescope that allowed him to see through walls, which (if true) would have been extremely useful should a client suspect his wife of being unfaithful.  Another magical object he is said to have had was a “talismanic copper bracelet” worn on his wrist, which was believed to have the power to detect dishonest men. 

As a healer he was renowned for his ability to cure animals, simply by laying on his hands.  He could also break a spell or curse inflicted by another witch, and exorcise demons from people and places.  His principal method of breaking spells and curses was a “Witch bottle”, which he filled with specimens of blood, urine, hair and nail parings taken from the victim, to which he added numerous other items.  One story relates how a young girl was left “barking like a dog” after being cursed by a gypsy women and was brought to him for a cure.  Murrell diagnosed witchcraft as the cause and prepared one of his famous bottles.  This he heated on his cottage stove at midnight, intending to send back a sense of burning to the originator of the spell and compel her to remove it.  However the bottle exploded under the heat and on the following day the half burned body of a gypsy woman was found dead in a local lane.  As for the young girl, she was cured and stopped barking???   

Murrell was often called the “Master of Witches” in the belief he could force any witch to do his bidding.  He was also believed to have the ability to invoke Angelic spirits and Elementals, for which he charged his clients accordingly.  However, it was always disputed in the community whether he invoked angels or fiends from hell.  A story relates how he once confronted a so-called “black witch” from Canewdon and commanded her to die immediately, and so she did??? 

What is now known is that after his death he left a number of hand written manuals of conjurations and geomancy in his personal effects, among which was a manual containing the names of his spiritual mentors, given as:  Adonay”, “Elohim”, “Raphael” and “Tetra” the strong and powerful.  In spite of his knowledge of the occult and his use of magick, Murrell was in fact an extremely religious man, and could recite the bible backwards.  He had many arguments with his local vicar, to whom he had but a cordial relationship.  Like many witches of old, he regarded clergymen and doctors as trespassers on his own territory. 

In December of 1860, Murrell became ill and foresaw his own death.  He called for pen and paper and calculated the day of his own passing, he was right, and he died on the 16th of December 1860.  In his final hours the village vicar tried to administer the last rights to him, but when Murrell could stand it no longer he fixed his piercing eyes on him and roared:  I am the Devil’s master”, at which the vicar ran from the room in fear.  Despite this Murrell was given a proper burial in the Hadleigh churchyard. 

After Murrell’s death the landlord of his cottage buried his chest of magical books and other objects in the garden, but these were later dug up by one of his surviving sons, Buck Murrell.  The contents of the chest are believed to have survived until 1956, when most of the books and papers were destroyed, thought to be of no further use.  However, before being destroyed the novelist Arthur Morrison was able check the chest and record a description of its contents.  There were books on astronomy and astrology, old medical books, and books dealing with conjuration and geomancy, plus original copies of Nicholas Culpeper’s books:  The English Physician” (1652) and “The Complete Herbal” (1653), both annotated with comments in Murrell’s own hand.  

Since his death stories about Murrell have proliferated, and over the years turned into legend.  One of his most enduring prophecies concerns the survival of witchcraft in Essex:  There will witches in Leigh for a hundred years, and three in Hadleigh, and nine in Canewdon for ever”.  A contemporary of Murrell is George Pickingill of Canewdon, another cunning man believed to be the last of the “Masters of Witches”??? 



Book Sources:


Man, Myth & Magic  -  Ed Richard Cavendish

The Triumph of the Moon  -  by Ronald Hutton

The Encyclopedia of Witches &Witchcraft  - by Rosemary Ellen Guiley

The Dark World of Witches  -  by Eric Maple


Website Sources:



First published on the 03 May 2007, 14:04:27 © George Knowles



Best wishes and Blessed Be



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Correspondence Tables:


IncenseCandlesColours Magickal Days Stones and Gems Elements and Elementals




Traditions Part 1  -  Alexandrian Wicca /  Aquarian Tabernacle Church (ATC) /  Ár Ndraíocht Féin (ADF) /  Blue Star Wicca /  British Traditional (Druidic Witchcraft) /  Celtic Wicca /  Ceremonial Magic /  Chaos Magic /  Church and School of Wicca /  Circle Sanctuary /  Covenant of the Goddess (COG) /  Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans (CUUPS) /  Cyber Wicca /  Dianic Wicca /  Eclectic Wicca /  Feri Wicca /


Traditions Part 2 Gardnerian Wicca /  Georgian Tradition /  Henge of Keltria /  Hereditary Witchcraft /  Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn (H.O.G.D.) /  Kitchen Witch (Hedge Witch) /  Minoan Brotherhood and Minoan Sisterhood Tradition /  Nordic Paganism /  Pagan Federation /  Pectic-Wita /  Seax-Wica /  Shamanism /  Solitary /  Strega /  Sylvan Tradition /  Vodoun or Voodoo /  Witches League of Public Awareness (WLPA) /


Other things of interest:


Gods and Goddesses (Greek Mythology) /  Esbats & Full Moons Links to Personal Friends & Resources Wicca/Witchcraft Resources What's a spell? Circle Casting and Sacred Space  Pentagram - Pentacle Marks of a Witch The Witches Power The Witches Hat An esoteric guide to visiting London SatanismPow-wowThe Unitarian Universalist Association /  Numerology:  Part 1  Part 2  /  Part 3A history of the Malleus Maleficarum:  includes:  Pope Innocent VIII  /  The papal Bull  /   The Malleus Maleficarum  /  An extract from the Malleus Maleficarum  /  The letter of approbation  /  Johann Nider’s Formicarius  /  Jacob Sprenger  /  Heinrich Kramer  /  Stefano Infessura  /  Montague Summers  /  The Waldenses  /  The Albigenses  /  The Hussites /  The Native American Sun DanceShielding (Occult and Psychic Protection)  The History of ThanksgivingAuras  - Part 1 and Part 2 Doreen Valiente Witch” (A Book Review) /  Max Ehrmann and the "Desiderata" /    


Sabbats and Festivals:


The Sabbats in History and Mythology /  Samhain (October 31st)  /  Yule (December 21st)  /  Imbolc (February 2nd)  /  Ostara (March 21st)  /  Beltane (April 30th)  /  Litha (June 21st)  /  Lammas/Lughnasadh (August 1st)  /  Mabon (September 21st)


Rituals contributed by Crone:


Samhain / Yule Imbolc Ostara /  Beltane Litha Lammas Mabon




Tools of a Witch  /  The Besom (Broom) /  Poppets and DollsPendulums / Cauldron Magick Mirror Gazing




Animals in Witchcraft (The Witches Familiar and Totem Animals) /  AntelopeBatsCrow Fox Frog and Toads Goat / HoneybeeKangarooLion OwlPhoenix Rabbits and HaresRaven Robin RedbreastSheep Spider SquirrelSwansUnicornWild Boar Wolf /  Serpent /  Pig /  Stag /  Horse /  Mouse /  Cat /  Rats /  Unicorn




In Worship of Trees - Myths, Lore and the Celtic Tree Calendar.  For descriptions and correspondences of the thirteen sacred trees of Wicca/Witchcraft see the following:  Birch /  Rowan / Ash /  Alder /  Willow Hawthorn /  Oak /  Holly /  Hazel /  Vine /  Ivy /  Reed /  Elder


Sacred Sites:


Mystical Sacred Sites  -  Stonehenge /  Glastonbury Tor /  Malta - The Hypogeum of Hal Saflieni /  Avebury /  Cerne Abbas - The Chalk Giant /  Ireland - Newgrange /


Rocks and Stones:


Stones - History, Myths and Lore


Articles contributed by Patricia Jean Martin:


Apophyllite  / Amber Amethyst Aquamarine Aragonite Aventurine Black Tourmaline Bloodstone Calcite Carnelian Celestite Citrine Chrysanthemum StoneDiamond  /  Emerald / Fluorite Garnet /  Hematite Herkimer Diamond Labradorite Lapis Lazuli Malachite Moonstone Obsidian Opal Pyrite Quartz (Rock Crystal) Rose Quartz Ruby Selenite Seraphinite  /  Silver and GoldSmoky QuartzSodalite Sunstone ThundereggTree AgateZebra Marble


Wisdom and Inspiration:


Knowledge vs Wisdom by Ardriana Cahill I Talk to the TreesAwakening The Witch in YouA Tale of the Woods I have a Dream by Martin Luther King /


Articles and Stories about Witchcraft:


Murdered by Witchcraft The Fairy Witch of Clonmel A Battleship, U-boat, and a Witch The Troll-Tear (A story for Children) /  Goody Hawkins - The Wise Goodwife /  The Story of Jack-O-Lantern The Murder of the Hammersmith Ghost Josephine Gray (The Infamous Black Widow) /  The Two Brothers - Light and Dark


Old Masters of Academia:

(Our Ancestors)


Pliny the ElderHesiodPythagorasParacelsus /  Abramelin the Mage Archimedes AgrippaSocrates  /  AristotleAlbertus Magnus - “Albert the Great” /  



A "Who's Who" of Witches, Pagans and other associated People

(Ancient, Past and Present)


Remembered at Samhain

(Departed Pagan Pioneers, Founders, Elders and Others)


Pagan Pioneers:  Founders, Elders, Leaders and Others


Aidan A KellyAleister Crowley - “The Great Beast” /  Alex Sanders - “King of the Witches” /  Alison Harlow /   Allan Bennett - the Ven. Ananda MetteyyaAllan Kardec (Spiritism) /  Alphonsus de SpinaAmber KAnn Moura /  Anna FranklinAnodea JudithAnton Szandor LaVey /  Arnold CrowtherArthur Edward Waite /  Austin Osman SpareBalthasar Bekker /  Biddy EarlyBarbara Vickers /  Bridget Cleary - The Fairy Witch of Clonmel /  Carl " Llewellyn" Weschcke Cecil Hugh WilliamsonCharles Godfrey Leland /   Charles WaltonChristopher PenczakChristina Oakley Harrington Cornelius Loos /  Damh the Bard - "Dave Smith" /  Dion Fortune /  Dolores Aschroft-NowickiDonald Michael Kraig Doreen ValienteDorothy MorrisonDr. John Dee & Edward Kelly /  Dr. Leo Louis Martello /  Edain McCoy /  Edward FitchEleanor Ray Bone - “Matriarch of British Witchcraft” Eliphas Levi /  Ernest Thompson Seton /  Ernest Westlake /  Fiona Horne /   Frederick McLaren Adams - Feraferia Friedrich von Spee /  Francis Barrett /  Gavin and Yvonne Frost and the School and Church of Wicca /  Gerald B. Gardner - The father of contemporary Witchcraft /  Gwydion Pendderwen Hans HolzerHelen DuncanHermann Löher /  Herman Slater - Horrible Herman /  Heinrich KramerIdries ShahIsaac Bonewits Israel RegardieIvo Domínguez Jr. /  Jack Whiteside Parsons - Rocket Science and Magick /  James "Cunning" Murrell - The Master of Witches /  Janet Farrar and Gavin BoneJean Bodin Jessie Wicker Bell - “Lady Sheba” / Johann Weyer  / Johannes Junius - "The Burgomaster of Bamberg" /   Johann Georg Fuchs von Dornheim  -  the “Hexenbrenner” (witch burner) /  John Belham-Payne John George Hohman - "Pow-wow" /  John Gerard /  John Gordon Hargrave and the Kibbo Kith Kindred /  John Michael Greer /  John Score /  Joseph “Bearwalker” Wilson /  Joseph John Campbell /  Karl von Eckartshausen Lady Gwen Thompson - and "The Rede of the Wiccae" /  Lambert Daneau /  Laurie Cabot  - "the Official Witch of Salem" /  Lewis SpenceLodovico Maria Sinistrari Ludwig LavaterMadeline Montalban and the Order of the Morning Star /  Margaret Alice MurrayMargot AdlerMichael Howard and the UK "Cauldron Magazine" /  Margaret St. Clair - the “Sign of the Labrys” /  Marie Laveau - " the Voodoo Queen of New Orleans" /  Marion WeinsteinMartin Antoine Del Rio Matthew Hopkins - “The Witch-Finder General” /  Michael A. Aquino - and The Temple of Set /  Monique WilsonMontague Summers /  Nicholas CulpeperNicholas RemyM. R. SellarsMrs. Maud Grieve - "A Modern Herbal" /  Oberon Zell-Ravenheart and Morning GloryOld Dorothy Clutterbuck /  Old George PickingillOlivia Durdin-Robertson - co-founder of the Fellowship of Isis /  Paddy SladePamela Colman-SmithPatricia CrowtherPatricia Monaghan /  Patricia “Trish” TelescoPaul Foster Case and the “Builders of the Adytum” mystery school /  Peter Binsfeld /  Philip HeseltonRaven GrimassiRaymond Buckland /  Reginald Scot /  Richard BaxterRobert CochraneRobert ‘von Ranke’ Graves and the "The White Goddess" /  Rosaleen Norton - “The Witch of Kings Cross” /  Rossell Hope Robbins /   Ross Nichols and the " Order of Bards, Ovates & Druids" (OBOD) /  Rudolf SteinerSabrina Underwood - "The Ink Witch" /  Scott CunninghamSelena Fox - founder of "Circle Sanctuary" /  Silver RavenwolfSir Francis Dashwood /  Sir James George Frazer and the " The Golden Bough"S.L. MacGregor Mathers and the “Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn” /  Starhawk /  Stewart Farrar /  Sybil LeekTed Andrews The Mather Family - (includes:  Richard Mather, Increase Mather and Cotton Mather ) /   Thomas AdyT. Thorn CoyleVera ChapmanVictor & Cora Anderson and the " Feri Tradition" /  Vivianne CrowleyWalter Brown GibsonWalter Ernest ButlerWilliam Butler YeatsZsuzsanna Budapest /  



Many of the above biographies are briefs and far from complete.  If you know about any of these individuals and can help with additional information, please contact me privately at my email address below.  Many thanks for reading  :-)



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