In addition to normal usage implying ‘‘crafty,’’ cunning has
an ancient meaning of ‘‘skillful’’ or ‘‘wise,’’ especially when applied
to occult or magic knowledge. The Anglo-Saxon term
wortcunning means a knowledge of the medical and occult
properties of plants (wort) and was applied to herbalists. In the
course of time, the term cunning-man or cunning-woman was applied
to so-called white witches, who practiced simple spells
and claimed to discover those putting ‘‘the evil eye’’ on cattle,
and who also cured ailments by herbs and magic practices.
Cockayne, T. O., ed. Leechdoms, Wortcunning, & Starcraft. 2
vols. London Longman, Green, 1864–66. Reprint, N.p., 1968.