A Wise One examining the maladies of a villager.

The Hedgefolk, known by many names such as Cunning Folk or the Wise Ones are practitioners of an ancient and secret art, such as the making of potions, trinkets and other petty magical items. This disparate group uses many names and its traditions are so old Sigmar Himself is said to have benefited from its skills. But the Hedgefolk have their enemies, and prolonged persecutions — especially from the Cult of Sigmar and the Colleges of Magic — have left them shattered, and diluted their once-respected title of “Hedge Wise.” Now, a Hedge Wizard is seen as nothing more than a dangerous and untrained magic-user, something Hedgefolk despise but are powerless to influence.[1a]

But, despite the best efforts of their opponents, Hedgefolk continue to operate, walking the fringes of the Empire, tending those who need their skills. They monitor their local communities, recruiting new members sympathetic to their goals, and seeking out the Blessed Few, those they believe are granted by the Gods the ability to fully master the old ways of Hedgecraft.[1a]

Overview Edit

Across the Empire, the Hedgefolk service their local communities by providing potions, lotions, tonics, and medicines to tackle ills of all kinds. Using skills passed from master to apprentice for uncounted generations, they can be found on the edges of villages and hamlets where the cults have little direct influence and their talents are needed.[1a]

Were this the extent of their activities, the Hedgefolk would not attract so much attention from Witch Hunters and Magisters. Most Cunning Folk also sell an array of potions and talismans of a dubious kind, such as love philtres, lucky charms, protection pouches, and similar items, all of which are deemed to be the province of witchcraft by many overzealous Sigmarites. Worse, a minority — called the Blessed Few by the Hedgefolk — channel magic. Although they believe their powers to be granted by the Gods, Imperial Law does not agree. As far as the authorities are concerned, the Blessed Few are Witches, and when found guilty, they are burned.[1a]

Because of this, the Hedgefolk are a solitary and secretive lot, keen to avoid contact with those who may report them as Witches, whether they have any real power or not. Despite this, they are often significant figures in their local communities. Regardless of what superstition may plague their clients, when a husband’s eye begins to roam, or a daughter is bedridden with a fever, or a wife has complications during childbirth, most come to the Wise One’s door looking for help. Because of this, the community often closes ranks when outsiders come knocking in turn.[1a]

History Edit

Practitioners of Hedgecraft have wandered the Reik Basin for as long as humans have lived there, and Hedgefolk from different parts of the Empire have developed many divergent origin stories. Where some Averlander Hedgefolk may claim ancestry from mythical Brigundian Priest-Kings from prehistoric times, most Nordlander and Ostlander Hedgefolk contest they are last remnants of an ancient cult to Halétha, a Goddess they claim protects communities from the Forest of Shadows.[1a]

By comparison, many Middenlander Hedgefolk believe they are blessed by Ranald, which is why they take the name “Cunning Folk,” and the average Wissenlander “Wise One” believes himself to be blessed with “Knowledge of the Hedge” by Verena. Whatever the local variances, all the Hedgefolk seem to share one common belief: At a very early point in history, one of the Gods blessed a select few with the power to protect Humanity from evil. Because of this, the Hedgefolk have always considered themselves to be more akin to benevolent Priests than to reviled Witches. [1a]

In the earliest of times, Hedgefolk — often going by the title Hedge Wise, or Hedge Wizard — walked openly in the communities they tended. They peddled potions, charms, and amulets as required, and sometimes acted as advisors to local chieftains. As established figures of their communities, they were widely accepted, and as their powers were believed to be holy, few had any reason to speak out against them. Even the rise to prominence of the modern Cults did little to impact this, and the Hedgefolk lived alongside early Priests just as easily as they lived amongst ordinary folk, for their skills were needed. Nevertheless, some Cults were always suspicious of the Hedgefolk — notably, the Cults of Taal, Ulric, and Sigmar.[1b]

The Talutens of Talabecland aggressively exported worship of Taal, their patron, and styled him as the king of all nature; however, the Hedgefolk claimed the wild areas were full of dangers only they could tackle, so they two groups were often in conflict. Similarly, the Teutogens of Middenland worshipped honourable Ulric, and tried to emulate their God in all their actions; however, the Middenlander Hedgefolk openly admitted to tricking their enemies, and many revered the treacherous Prince of Cats, Ranald, a God openly despised by many Ulricans. Most antagonistic were the Unberogens of Reikland — their new patron, the Man-God Sigmar, stood for the Empire and defence of the community, directly competing with the Hedgefolk who claimed to defend their folk from the unknown dangers of the forests and open places. Unsurprisingly, all three cults were outspoken in their opposition to the Hedge Wizards.[1b]

By the Age of Three Emperors, the Hedgefolk, although not proscribed, were on the defensive. Where once they served most communities in the Empire, they had now been driven back to small villages and hamlets where the Cults held less sway and the old ways still were still observed. From Altdorf, successive Grand Theogonists called for their followers to hunt out Witches wherever they may lie, and they included the “Hedge Wizard” as a primary target. Similarly, from Middenheim, successive Ar-Ulrics called for a culling of the dishonourable, and included “Cunning Folk” as some of the worst examples of those without honour in their hearts. Only the Cult of Taal did not escalate its hatred of the Hedgefolk, instead concentrating its ire upon those who directly stood against it.[1b]

In the lead-up to the Great War Against Chaos, the Hedgefolk had managed to successfully hide themselves within isolated communities across the Empire. The constant warfare and political wrangling had distanced the common folk from their ruling classes, and the Hedgefolk were happy to hunker in the void this created, relying upon local loyalty for protection and employment. However, this all changed with the arrival of Magnus the Pious and his most controversial of creations: the Colleges of Magic. [1b]

The great call for the Hedge Wizards of the Empire to rally to Magnus’s banner to receive acceptance and tuition from the High Elf Mages Teclis, Finrier, and Yrtle did not go down well with the Hedgefolk. The call was seen as an insult to their profession, for the seers, illusionists, druids, elementalists, and other collected freaks answering the call were not, as far as the Hedgefolk were concerned, Hedge Wizards at all, but still used the title regardless. Because of this, and a multitude of other reasons, the Hedgefolk stayed away, and let the Colleges form without them.[1b] [1c]

Over two hundred years later, many Hedgefolk believe this may have been the greatest mistake they ever made, for now they are hunted like never before, not only by the Cults, but by the very institutions they spurned: the Colleges of Magic. [1c]

Hedgefolk today Edit

Centuries of persecution have left the Hedgefolk scattered and untrusting. Not only do they have Witch Hunters to contend with, wandering Magisters are a constant thorn in their sides, and customers who believe they have been cheated are quick to turn to the authorities with heartfelt accusations. Further, with the spread of the influence of educated groups such as Physicians’ Guilds and Apothecary Guilds, it is not uncommon to find such bodies sponsoring witch hunts to clear out competition to their legitimate business interests. Indeed, so hunted are they, it seems almost miraculous the Hedgefolk still exist at all; but, exist they do, and in significant numbers.[1c]

Structure Edit

The leaders of the Hedgefolk, called Hedgewises, typically use a mixture of respect and tradition to control the local Hedge Masters and Mistresses. Given most will have once been the Hedgewise’s apprentice, the apprentice of his apprentice, or are part of his extended family, this is often easier than many outsiders expect. [1c]

Due to this fairly rigid hierarchy, trouble can occur when a Hedgewise dies and his Hedge Masters cannot agree who should replace him; traditionally, it should be the oldest Hedge Master, but sometimes this falls apart in practice, especially if there are rivalries concerned. Such situations are dangerous, as the antagonism amongst the Hedgefolk can attract attention from their enemies. If an agreement cannot be arrived at quickly, the two groups typically splinter apart, with each claimant taking the title Hedgewise. Such splits can be highly acrimonious, and the division of the old Hedgewise’s territory can be a difficult process, one that can sometimes take years, or even decades, to resolve. [1c]

Amongst the Hedge Folk, experience and lineage is everything. Thus, the older apprentice outranks the younger apprentice, and having a renowned master grants you a greater respect than having an unknown master. However, one thing outranks all: being one of the Blessed Few. Although all Hedgefolk are taught the rituals and rites of Hedgecraft, only the Blessed Few, those the Hedgefolk believe are directly blessed by the Gods, can empower them with magical puissance. So, it is possible for one of the Blessed Few to be taught his powers by a Hedge Master without any magical capabilities at all; indeed, this circumstance has significantly increased in recent centuries, as repeated witch hunts have greatly reduced the number of the Blessed Few with the skill to teach their talents to an apprentice. [1c]

Due to the importance of the Blessed Few, the Hedgefolk are always on the lookout for those demonstrating the first signs of “being blessed,” which can manifest as any odd occurrence, such as flashing lights, sudden changes in character, unexplained deaths, or food spoiling for no reason. If one of the Hedgefolk spot such signs, the local Hedgewise should immediately be informed. Typically, he will move fast to determine the truth of the situation, and, if he finds one of the Blessed Few, he will take him on as a new apprentice. However, it is more common for the Hedgewise to find something else, such as Chaos taint or a passing Witch, and such situations will be handled by the Hedgewise as he feels appropriate. [1c]

Most apprentices are not selected in such a fashion, for most are the children of existing Hedgefolk. No matter how they are selected, each apprentice is expected to follow the lead of his master, and in return is trained in the ancient secrets of Hedgecraft. How long this takes varies from Hedge Master to Hedge Master. Some require years of service and expect absolute loyalty in all things. Others take a far looser approach. Be it years, months, or in some rare cases, just a few weeks, eventually the master will be happy with the apprentice, and he will be raised as a new Hedge Master, granted the right to take on his own apprentices after a year and a day of mastery have passed. However, this is not the end of his service, as his old master still, traditionally speaking, has authority over him. [1c]

  • Hedgecraft Apprentice - Practitioners of Hedgecraft choose apprentices carefully. Most are family of existing Hedgefolk, but a significant minority are chosen for their natural talents, or because they are one of the Blessed Few: those blessed by the Gods with the power to empower their Hedgecraft. The life of an apprentice is typically a harsh one, with most existing as little more than servants to their masters, running errands, chopping wood, mopping floors, and so forth. Eventually, the apprentice will be taught all the skills of a Hedge Master, and will be freed to make his own way in the world.[1c][1g]
  • Hedge Master - Those fully initiated into the ancient mysteries of Hedgecraft are called Hedge Masters, although outsiders often know them as Wise Ones or Cunning Folk. Most live on the periphery of the communities they serve, and are known for their healing skills and the potions, tonics, and charms they sell. They lead private lives, keen to avoid those who may take offense at their trade and beliefs, and are generally welcomed by locals for the services they provide. A select few Hedge Masters work directly for their Hedgewise, seeking out and neutralising threats to the Hedgefolk. This is dangerous work, for it often involves direct contact with Witch Hunters and Imperial Magisters to better learn their movements and understand their motivations.[1g]
  • Hedgewise - The Hedgewise are the oldest, most experienced Hedgefolk. They lead their brethren and are responsible for protecting them from all ills. A Hedgewise may need to tackle a multitude of different threats, ranging from itinerant Warrior-Priests keen to spread Sigmar’s Word at the end of a hammer, to secretive Cults who could bring the wrath of the Witch Hunters down upon the local community. Indeed, many Hedgewise soon learn a deep hatred of the servants of the Ruinous Powers, for they bring unwanted attention to the Hedgefolk, and are anathema to their way of life. Because of this, it is not uncommon to find some Hedgewise crossing the Hedge to hunt real Witches with as much fervour, if not more, as the Magisters and the Cult of Sigmar.[1g]

Goals and motives Edit

Although every branch of the Hedgefolk differs subtly in its beliefs and individual goals, all share one ultimate aim: to preserve their ancient traditions from destruction at the hands of the ignorant; however, doing so is no easy task. Where most Hedgefolk react to enemies as and when they arise, recently many have chosen to be more proactive. [1d]

Hedgefolk can now be found infiltrating all levels of society seeking to learn the movements of their enemies and to influence those in power to act leniently to their brethren. Other Hedgefolk actively seek out those who many harm them, especially Chaos Cultists or untrained Witches, meaning some travel far and wide in pursuit of their enemies. But, as each Hedgewise has his own opinions on how to best protect the old ways, there is no consistent approach or universal plan. [1d]

So, while some groups of Hedgefolk are almost at war with those who would harm them, the majority live out their lives in peace in the quiet backwaters of the Empire. [1d]

Symbols and signs Edit

In the past, the Hedgefolk used a wide array of simple signs and verbal codes to introduce themselves to strangers and confirm their position as practitioners of Hedgecraft. This ancient tradition lasted until three centuries ago when Feliks Rymut, an Ostlander Templar of Sigmar, tortured an unnamed Wise One from Ostermark, and is said to have learned his secrets. The resulting massacre of Hedgefolk across the Veldt was terrible to behold, but worse was yet to come. [1e]

The following spring, Sigmarites posing as Hedgefolk, using the signs learned from the Ostermarker Wise One, infiltrated several groups of Cunning Folk across Reikland, then exposed them. The Witch Burnings of 2231 IC are still recalled in popular art, epic poems, and puppet shows to this day; it was an unprecedented event of such an enormous scale the sky was said to have darkened for over a month from all the smoke in the air. Unsurprisingly, word spread, and soon most Hedgefolk stopped using the signs and codes, fearful for their lives. [1e]

Today, the Hedgefolk rely upon personal introductions only, fearful to reveal their true nature to any not vouched for by a friend. Most Hedgefolk know the locations of nearby Hedgefolk, and often keep in close communication with each other, reporting the movements of Witch Hunters, known Magisters, and the like. This network allows travelling Hedgefolk to move from Hedgewise to Hedgewise, receiving personal introductions from one to the next in an unbroken line back to their own Hedgewise. At least, that is the theory; in truth, this rarely works, and most Hedgefolk pass by without knowing each other’s true nature. [1e]

Membership Edit

Until recently, most new Hedgefolk were drawn from the villages and hamlets they serviced, and were usually related to the local Hedgewise; after all, most groups of Hedgefolk have lived in the same area for many centuries, and are well integrated into their communities. [1e]

However, of late, a minority of the Hedgefolk have moved back to the towns and cities in an attempt to uncover any potential threats before they move into the forests. So, although most Hedgefolk are still drawn from the backwaters of the Empire, a growing number are inducted from urban areas, for the Hedgefolk need people who understand such surroundings intimately. [1e]

Recruitment Edit

The Hedge Masters and Hedgewise handle recruitment, with each choosing their new apprentices according to individual requirements and personal whim. There is no hard and fast standard: where it is common in Reikland to train boys and girls just past their Dooming, Ostlander Hedgefolk prefer to teach apprentices more experienced in life; where many Talabeclanders will only apprentice members of their extended family, fearful of revealing their skills to outsiders, most Wissenlanders Wise Ones will only take on apprentices from without their family, keen to spread Hedgefolk acceptance through as many local family groups as possible. [1e]

Similarly, techniques for approaching and recruiting new Hedgefolk are as varied as the people doing the recruiting. Where almost all Hochlander Hedgefolk require long oaths of obedience, Ostermarkers typically conduct incense-choked religious rituals, and hardline Nordlander Hedgefolk use scarring and branding to forever mark their apprentices, most simply sit down with their new apprentice-to-be and explain how things are going to work in the future. [1e]

Whatever the unique circumstances of recruitment, they will have been handed down from master to apprentice for many centuries, and will be afforded a great deal of respect. [1e]

Member Benefits and Responsibilities Edit

Being one of the Hedgefolk can be dangerous. Brewing potions, philtres, and the like may not normally be proscribed by law, but Witch Hunters often forget this when it suits them. Fortunately, the Hedgefolk are aware of this, and take measures to protect themselves. All Hedgefolk are supposed to provide help and asylum for other Hedgefolk when needed; however, whilst this will almost always be provided for friends and family, understandable suspicion means the same is rarely the case for strangers. Most Hedgefolk maintain a collection of hideouts, called Hedgeholes, where they can secrete endangered compatriots from trouble. The majority of these are camouflaged huts in the surrounding wilderness, but some are hidden chambers in walls, cellars, or attics. [1f]

Beyond this, Hedgefolk train their apprentices to support each other whenever they can. Whether another needs access to a rare herb, knowledge regarding local trouble spots, use of potion-making tools, or simply a place to lay one’s head for a night, the Hedgefolk have learned to help each other rather than turn to others and potentially expose their true nature. Normally, such services require some service in return, for the Hedgefolk may work together, but they are certainly not altruistic. What these services may be will vary, but most involve fetching an obscure potion ingredient, teaching some new skill, or concocting some brew or another; however, there is no standard. [1f]

Arguably the most important benefit and responsibility is the knowledge all Hedgefolk pass on from master to apprentice, and sometimes between themselves: Hedgecraft. This lore not only allows them to ply their trade, but it is the mainstay of their lives, it is the secret lore they so desperately wish to preserve for later generations. Passing on this knowledge is of primary importance, and all Hedgefolk are expected to take on at least one apprentice in their lifetime in order to preserve their way of life into the next generation. Indeed, some Hedgefolk, especially in the more-traditional Grand Provinces of Nordland and Middenland, make it a religious imperative to pass on their skills, so the Wise Ones and Cunning Folk of those areas are always on the lookout for new apprentices. [1f]

Hedgecraft Edit

Practitioners of Hedgecraft have served human communities in the Old World for countless centuries, and during this time the Blessed Few have mastered many elaborate practices to manipulate magic in relative safety. However, the rituals, spells, and charms they employ to cheat Tzeentch, fell Chaos God of Magic, are complex and exact, and often require a significant amount of preparation. [1f]

Source Edit

  • 1: Warhammer Fantasy RPG 2nd ED -- Shades of Empire
    • 1a: pg. 56
    • 1b: pg. 57
    • 1c: pg. 58
    • 1d: pg. 60
    • 1e: pg. 61
    • 1f: pg. 62
    • 1g: pg. 59

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