How did the cunning man live safely in the the haunted forest?
His spaniel has been mentioned, and the tale says that it was a spayed bitch. Why?
John Aubrey in his The Remaines of Gentilism (1686-87) relates the following:
I believe all over England, a spaied bitch is accounted wholesome in a House; that is to say, they have a strong beliefe that it keeps away evill sprits from haunting of a House ; e.g. amongst many other instances, at Cranborn in Dorset about 1686, a house was haunted, and two Tenants successively went away (left the house) for that reason: a third came and brought his spaid bitch, and was never troubled.
Why should a spayed bitch have magical properties? Perhaps the lack of procreative ability concentrated the energies on psychic matters? This is a mystery that remains to be explained.
It is said, in another tale, that the cunning man had the help of his aunt, White Mary, in arranging things at his cottage: placing stones in a particular configuration, hanging ribbons in a special way on the ash tree, constructing the well surround in a way that kept the flow of sweet water running, and strewing herbs regularly to keep the surroundings wholesome.
These magical defences did not banish the spirits of the forest, but allowed the cunning man to live safely alongside them, to interact with them, and to live in harmony with the denizens of the forest. Bringing anything new into these arrangements might upset the equilibrium. This happened when the cunning man brought home a new wife. A story to be told another time.