Cunning-folk offering a wide range of mostly supernatural services were a common part of European popular culture until at least the early twentieth century. Still, insight into how they established themselves as people with extraordinary abilities is limited. In this article I approach two of the best-documented cases of nineteenth-century Norwegian cunning-folk. The preacher-prophet, healer, and clairvoyant Knut Rasmussen (‘Vis-Knut’, 1792–1876) and the diviner and sorcerer Eilev Olsen (‘Spå-Eilev’, 1814–91) were ‘living legends’ who attracted clients from all over the country for more than fifty years. A wealth of historical and folkloristic sources allows us a rare glimpse into their early career stages and the dynamics by which two uneducated day labourers managed to become central actors in a local power play. An analysis of the local ‘folk religious fields’ details strategies, practices, and narratives used to cater to different factions, to convey claims of supernatural efficacy, and to create a regional market.
The Prophet and the Sorcerer: Becoming a Cunning-Man in Nineteenth-Century Norway