My friend Graeme Chappell sent me this photo that he took in the York Castle Museum. The photo is of a Cunning or Wiseman’s rattle, another example from the Whitby Museum can be seen here
The rattles are constructed of pine spills and decorated with charms and mottoes. Rattles were often used by shamanic healers. The rattle is often thought to represent the cosmos, the seeds or pebbles inside are spirits and souls of ancestors. Shaking the rattle activates these spirits who will then assist the shaman. (The Shaman. Voyages of the Soul. Piers Vitebsky. DBP 1995)
Below, a short piece that I wrote for the Bob Fischer show on BBC Tees
In past times when ordinary people were poorly educated, many held a strong belief in magic and witchcraft. If someone had problems they would often consult the local Wise Man. According to the late Edna Whelan, the last wise man of the moors died in the 1930’s. His name was Charlie Brocket and he lived in Ellers Cottage in Goathland. Charlie had a good reputation for producing Amulets and talismans against witchcraft, many of which were found when clearing out his house
The most famous wise man in our area was John Wrightson of Stokesley, he was the seventh son of a seventh daughter. Wrightson travelled around the district dressed in a long black cloak bedecked with bottles, jars, herbs and a human skull. He had a powerful reputation as a seer, healer and vet, people would travel from far and wide to consult him.
Blakeborough describes him as ‘a man endowed with marvellous psychic power and with the smallest amount of fakery possible’. However local writer and historian George Markham Tweddle considered Wrightson to be little better than a huge swindler.
In his book Yorkshire Wit, Blakeborough tells the tale of Nathan Agar. Nathan was a sixty year old man who wanted to marry an eighteen year old woman. Wrightson had advised against the marriage and foretold an unhappy future for Nathan, but Nathan was besotted with the woman and the marriage went ahead. Later, Nathan called to see the wise man telling him that his savings, five golden guineas kept in a sock, had vanished from its hiding place in the eaves of his house. Wrightson told him to go home and place a leaf of the bible beneath the front doorstep to his house and then carefully watch to see who stumbled as they entered . Nathan did this, the first person to enter the house was his young lodger, who stumbled, he was followed by Nathan’s wife who also stumbled. Nathan returned to the Wise man to inform him of what had happened. Wrightson told Nathan that he would find his property hidden in the pig-sty along with an old watch that Nathan had not missed. The wise man advised that Nathan should return home, keep his watch, give the five guineas to the couple and send them packing.
Wrightson occasionally fell foul of the law, in 1799 he was hauled before an enquiry in Bedale into the poisoning of Thomas Hodgson of Theakston and in 1808 he managed to get himself outlawed from the town of Malton. Ten years later he was re-arrested and en-route to Northallerton jail took some of his own medicine and died.