Merry we meet.     Merry we meet.     Merry we meet.     Merry we meet.




Merry we meet.     Merry we meet.     Merry we meet.     Merry we meet.






James "Cunning" Murrell

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

(The Master of Witches) 

Written and compiled by George Knowles 

James Murrell was one of England’s most famous “cunning men”, who during his time was widely acclaimed for his magical powers of healing, herbal remedies, divining lost objects, astrology, clairvoyance and casting and breaking spells.  As with many well known cunning men and women of the past, much of what they knew, their knowledge, skills and abilities was 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.

Cunning Murrell as he was commonly known, was born in the village of Rochford, Essex in 1780, 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.  Accordingly, he was the only child in his family to be given an education. 

His first employment was as a surveyor’s apprentice, before moving to London to work as a Chemist’s assistant.  It was while in London he most likely received some training in Astrology and Occult high magic.  We know that later he had a library containing such classical magical texts as were extent during those times, and most probably these were obtained while he was in London.  Sometime around 1812, Murrell returned to Essex and settled in the village of Hadleigh.  There he rented a small weatherboard cottage set in a narrow lane facing the south door of Hadleigh's St. James the Less Church, from where he started work as a cobbler making shoes.  However, as his reputation as a "wise man" spread, he gave up shoemaking and set himself up as an herbalist, healer and seer, a full-time “cunning man”.

Hadleigh's St. James the Less Church.

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 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, and owned an extensive library of magical books and papers, as well as a collection of working craft tools and magical objects.  Although none of these have survived, his library is said to have contained the works of Henry Cornelius Agrippa, Nichel Nostradamus 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. 

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 textbooks 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 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 set to task combating those responsible for 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.  Some stories say he married a local girl and sired as many as 20 children, though no records can be found to support this. 

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 unfaithfulness.  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 “barking like a dog” after being cursed by a gypsy women 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 had the ability to invoke the powers of Angelic spirits and Elementals, and charged his clients accordingly.  However, there was always dispute in the community whether he invoked angels or fiends from hell.  One story relates how he confronted a so-called “black witch” from Canewdon and commanded her to die immediately, and so she did??? 

What is known, is that he left a number of hand written manuals of conjurations and geomancy in his effects. These were found after his death, among which was a volume 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 magic, 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 died on the 16th of December 1860.  In his final hours, the village vicar tried to minister 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 this 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


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


Rituals contributed by Crone:  Samhain / YuleImbolcOstara /  BeltaneLithaLammasMabon




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




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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 /  ElderAlso see:  The Willow Tree (Folk Music)


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 Articles contributed by Patricia Jean Martin:   / Apophyllite  / Amber AmethystAquamarineAragoniteAventurineBlack TourmalineBloodstoneCalciteCarnelianCelestiteCitrineChrysanthemum StoneDiamond  /  Emerald / FluoriteGarnet /  Hematite Herkimer DiamondLabradoriteLapis LazuliMalachiteMoonstoneObsidianOpalPyriteQuartz (Rock Crystal)Rose QuartzRubySeleniteSeraphinite  /  Silver and GoldSmoky QuartzSodaliteSunstoneThundereggTree AgateZebra Marble




Knowledge vs Wisdom by Ardriana Cahill I Talk to the TreesAwakeningThe Witch in YouA Tale of the Woods


Articles and Stories about Witchcraft:


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


Old Masters of Academia:


Pliny the ElderHesiodPythagoras




Witches, Pagans and other associated People

(Ancient, Past and Present)


Remembered at Samhain

(Departed Pagan Pioneers, Founders, Elders and Others)


Abramelin the MageAgrippaAidan A. KellyAlbertus Magnus “Albert the Great”Aleister Crowley “The Great Beast” Alex Sanders "the King of the Witches” Alison HarlowAmber KAnna Franklin /  Anodea JudithAnton Szandor LaVey  / Arnold CrowtherArthur Edward Waite Austin Osman SpareBiddy EarlyBridget ClearyCarl Llewellyn WeschckeCecil Hugh WilliamsonCharles Godfrey LelandCharles Walton /  Christina Oakley Harrington /  Damh the Bard (Dave Smith) /   Dion FortuneDolores Aschroft-NowickiDorothy MorrisonDoreen ValienteEdward FitchEleanor Ray Bone “Matriarch of British Witchcraft” /  Dr. John Dee and Edward KellyDr. Leo Louis Martello /  Eliphas LeviErnest Thompson Seton /  Ernest Westlake and the Order of Woodcraft Chivalry /  Fiona Horne /  Friedrich von SpeeFrancis Barrett /  Gerald B. GardnerGavin and Yvonne Frost and the School and Church of Wicca /  Gwydion PendderwenHans Holzer /  Helen DuncanHerman Slater "Horrible Herman" /  Israel RegardieJames "Cunning" MurrellJanet Farrar & Gavin BoneJessie Wicker Bell “Lady Sheba” / John Belham-Payne John George Hohman /  John GerardJohn Gordon Hargrave (the White Fox) /  John Michael Greer /  John ScoreJohannes Junius the Burgomaster of Bamberg /  Joseph John Campbell /  Karl von EckartshausenLaurie Cabot "the Official Witch of Salem" /  Lewis Spence /  Margaret Alice MurrayMargot AdlerMarie Laveau the " Voodoo Queen of New Orleans" /  Marion WeinsteinMatthew Hopkins “The Witch-Finder General”Max Ehrmann and the Desiderata /  Monique Wilson the “Queen of the WitchesMontague SummersNicholas CulpeperNicholas RemyM. R. SellersMrs. Grieve "A Modern Herbal" /  Oberon and Morning Glory Zell-RavenheartOld Dorothy ClutterbuckOld George Pickingill /   Paddy SladePamela Colman-SmithParacelsusPatricia CrowtherPatricia Monaghan /  Patricia “Trish” TelescoPhilip Emmons Isaac Bonewits Philip HeseltonRaymond BucklandReginald ScotRobert CochraneRobert ‘von Ranke’ Graves and "The White Goddess" /  Rudolf Steiner /  Rosaleen Norton “The Witch of Kings Cross” /  Ross Nichols and The Order of Bards, Ovates & DruidsSabrina - The Ink WitchScott CunninghamSelena FoxSilver Ravenwolf /  Sir Francis DashwoodSir James George FrazerS.L. MacGregor Mathers and the “Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn” /  StarhawkStewart FarrarSybil LeekTed AndrewsThe Mather Family - includes: Richard Mather, Increase Mather, Cotton Mather /  Thomas AdyVera Chapman /  Victor Henry AndersonVivianne CrowleyWalter Brown GibsonWilliam Butler YeatsZsuzsanna Budapest



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



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