Merry we meet - Merry we meet - Merry we meet
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
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
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.
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
(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”???
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
First published on the 03 May 2007, 14:04:27 © George Knowles
Best wishes and Blessed Be
Site Contents - Links to all Pages
A Universal Message:
Let there be peace in the world - Where have all the flowers gone?
Wicca & Witchcraft
The Wiccan Rede / Charge of the Goddess / Charge of the God / The Three-Fold Law (includes The Law of Power and The Four Powers of the Magus) / The Witches Chant / The Witches Creed / Descent of the Goddess / Drawing Down the Moon / The Great Rite Invocation / Invocation of the Horned God / The 13 Principles of Wiccan Belief / The Witches Rede of Chivalry / A Pledge to Pagan Spirituality
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 / Satanism / Pow-wow / The Unitarian Universalist Association / Numerology: Part 1 / Part 2 / Part 3 / A 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 Dance / Shielding (Occult and Psychic Protection) /
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:
Animals in Witchcraft (The Witches Familiar and Totem Animals) / Antelope / Bats / Crow / Fox / Frog and Toads / Goat / Honeybee / Kangaroo / Lion / Owl / Phoenix / Rabbits and Hares / Raven / Robin Redbreast / Sheep / Spider / Squirrel / Swans / Unicorn / Wild 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
Rocks and Stones:
Articles contributed by Patricia Jean Martin:
Apophyllite / Amber / Amethyst / Aquamarine / Aragonite / Aventurine / Black Tourmaline / Bloodstone / Calcite / Carnelian / Celestite / Citrine / Chrysanthemum Stone / Diamond / Emerald / Fluorite / Garnet / Hematite / Herkimer Diamond / Labradorite / Lapis Lazuli / Malachite / Moonstone / Obsidian / Opal / Pyrite / Quartz (Rock Crystal) / Rose Quartz / Ruby / Selenite / Seraphinite / Silver and Gold / Smoky Quartz / Sodalite / Sunstone / Thunderegg / Tree Agate / Zebra Marble
Wisdom and Inspiration:
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:
(Ancient, Past and Present)
(Departed Pagan Pioneers, Founders, Elders and Others)
Pioneers: Founders, Elders, Leaders and Others
Aidan A Kelly / Aleister Crowley - “The Great Beast” / Alex Sanders - “King of the Witches” / Alison Harlow / Allan Bennett - the Ven. Ananda Metteyya / Allan Kardec (Spiritism) / Alphonsus de Spina / Amber K / Ann Moura / Anna Franklin / Anodea Judith / Anton Szandor LaVey / Arnold Crowther / Arthur Edward Waite / Austin Osman Spare / Balthasar Bekker / Biddy Early / Barbara Vickers / Bridget Cleary - The Fairy Witch of Clonmel / Carl " Llewellyn" Weschcke / Cecil Hugh Williamson / Charles Godfrey Leland / Charles Walton / Christopher Penczak / Christina Oakley Harrington / Cornelius Loos / Damh the Bard - "Dave Smith" / Dion Fortune / Dolores Aschroft-Nowicki / Donald Michael Kraig / Doreen Valiente / Dorothy Morrison / Dr. John Dee & Edward Kelly / Dr. Leo Louis Martello / Edain McCoy / Edward Fitch / Eleanor 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 Holzer / Helen Duncan / Hermann Löher / Herman Slater - Horrible Herman / Heinrich Kramer / Idries Shah / Isaac Bonewits / Israel Regardie / Ivo Domínguez Jr. / Jack Whiteside Parsons - Rocket Science and Magick / James "Cunning" Murrell - The Master of Witches / Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone / Jean 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 Spence / Lodovico Maria Sinistrari / Ludwig Lavater / Madeline Montalban and the Order of the Morning Star / Margaret Alice Murray / Margot Adler / Michael Howard and the UK "Cauldron Magazine" / Margaret St. Clair - the “Sign of the Labrys” / Marie Laveau - " the Voodoo Queen of New Orleans" / Marion Weinstein / Martin Antoine Del Rio / Matthew Hopkins - “The Witch-Finder General” / Michael A. Aquino - and The Temple of Set / Monique Wilson / Montague Summers / Nicholas Culpeper / Nicholas Remy / M. R. Sellars / Mrs. Maud Grieve - "A Modern Herbal" / Oberon Zell-Ravenheart and Morning Glory / Old Dorothy Clutterbuck / Old George Pickingill / Olivia Durdin-Robertson - co-founder of the Fellowship of Isis / Paddy Slade / Pamela Colman-Smith / Patricia Crowther / Patricia Monaghan / Patricia “Trish” Telesco / Paul Foster Case and the “Builders of the Adytum” mystery school / Peter Binsfeld / Philip Heselton / Raven Grimassi / Raymond Buckland / Reginald Scot / Richard Baxter / Robert Cochrane / Robert ‘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 Steiner / Sabrina Underwood - "The Ink Witch" / Scott Cunningham / Selena Fox - founder of "Circle Sanctuary" / Silver Ravenwolf / Sir 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 Leek / Ted Andrews / The Mather Family - (includes: Richard Mather, Increase Mather and Cotton Mather ) / Thomas Ady / T. Thorn Coyle / Vera Chapman / Victor & Cora Anderson and the " Feri Tradition" / Vivianne Crowley / Walter Brown Gibson / Walter Ernest Butler / William Butler Yeats / Zsuzsanna 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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