Thursday, 22 October 2015
Museum of Witchcraft at Empyrean 2nd September 2015
On Wednesday the 2nd of September I had the pleasure of once again attending a meeting of the Nottingham Empyrean Pagan Interest Group. This particular meeting was like many previous gatherings, noteworthy for the importance of the subject and those presenting.
The Museum of Witchcraft and Magic has a unique place in the documentation of the public face of Paganism, Witchcraft, Folklore and Magic. The Museum was originally founded in 1951 and today houses the world's largest collection of witchcraft related artefacts and regalia, together with a renowned research library.
As a paid up member of the Friends of the Museum of Witchcraft and recognising how unusual it is for the Museum to give a presentation this far from Cornwall, this was an event I was unprepared to miss, recognising both the importance and rarity of the event.
The MOW&M presentation was given by two charming representatives, Judith and Peter Hewitt, two of the current and relatively new management team. They began as one would expect, with a brief history of the Museum. Starting from its early days with Cecil Williamson and Gerald Gardner on the Isle of Mann, to the present home in the Village of Boscastle in the English Democratic Republic of Kernow.
The main part of the presentation was a series of visual chapters, each looking at a current gallery. This provided an imaginary walkthrough of the current displays, almost step by step. So following a brief introduction, we explored briefly the time of heretical persecutions and the English Witch Trials. At this point when discussing the weighing trial and suitable comparative weights, I couldn’t help myself and suggested that ducks were indeed used as a standard weight; as per the recommendations of Monty Python.
This section rather suitably led onto the next gallery and the place of Witchcraft within and without the law. This was rather an expansive subject area covering the Ancient World, the Modern World and everything in-between. Not unnaturally no mention of such a subject, following on from the persecutions, could fail to touch upon that magnum opus of King James (6th of Scotland and the 1st of England including Cornwall), Daemonologie of 1599. This book was ably used by Judith and Peter Hewitt, to illustrate the influence of printing and the spread of a learned class, would have upon the understanding of society upon magic. Ideas were perhaps for the first time documented and spread widely, equally leading to a more analytical approach to folklore.
At this point, the halfway mark in the presentation and if we were actually at the physical museum, the halfway point of the tour, we pause to discuss the Temporary Exhibition Space. Currently this area is displaying the paintings of Erica Jong, used to illustrate her famous work ‘Witches.’
We then jump to the next gallery and a suitable progression from the folkloric elements hinted at earlier, as here we look at objects herbs, healing and the Pellar. Those who have visited the Museum will be familiar with the magnificent cabinet of herbs on display. Another of the Museum’s famous exhibits is Joan’s Cottage, which has currently undergone renovation, complete with a new sound recording provided by persons linked to the Museum. It was noted that a definition of Pellar presented on the new recording was that of a White Witch, this was brought up later during the discussion post presentation. Members of the audience raising an objection partly based upon historical observation but in particular, perceiving it as a modern misconception.
The next gallery in our enjoyable virtual tour was that exploring the controversial area of Cursing. Here again we were reminded of another of the famous displays, the Poppet display. This section also included aspects of apotropaic magic; such as Witch Bottles, the Brigid’s Cross, Horseshoes, Keys and Hag Stones. One of the most amusing objects shown on screen was a Hitler Pincushion, in which the pins were inserted into the Dictator’s bottom. This was a fun example of sympathetic magic, in which rather imaginatively, pain was wished upon the German War Leader during the war years. Before journeying upstairs we were shown a slide of that iconic Museum artefact, the magnificent Hare Woman. Miniature replicas of this truly intriguing artefact were available for purchase after the presentation.
Those upper galleries of the museum are well known for being home to the items from the Bob Richel Collection and many objects of interest, from phallic wands, the Mano Fico and Old Hornie himself seated in a corner. Here subjects as wide ranging as the Green Man, Spare, Crowley and Satanism are covered in an almost overwhelming display of curios.
As we neared the end of our virtual tour, just like the real Museum, the objects of interest and educational information, continued to delight. The gallery dealing with matters of Divination, including magic mirrors, tarot palmistry and tealeaf reading, naturally held our attention. We were treated to slides of such curiosities as the Dark Mirror before moving to the next gallery, Sea Witchcraft and Sailing Magic.
Sea and Sailing Magic is a subject one would expect to be covered in a museum based in a coastal town and therefore, an assortment of locally relevant artefacts are included here. These range from knots tied for wind and obviously, the famous Witch Ball or glass float.
As we approached the end of the presentation we were able to cover even more folk magic, ranging from Moonraking legends (common throughout Britain), Three Bees being kept in a bag for luck and the practice of keeping horse chestnuts (conkers) in the corners of a room to deter spiders. This is a practice I may consider myself, although alternatively I could simply dust more frequently.
The latter galleries covered in the presentation brought the subject up to modern times by referencing the Gerald Gardner Collection and developments since the repeal of the Witchcraft Act. This section includes many items that once belonged to Gardner and coming right up to date, that famous hand painted Wheel of the Year. The final slides covered the Shrine, an award winning quite space and the new window displays.
The evening was a fascinating tour, educational and entertaining. It was a presentation that managed to keep the audience engrossed from beginning to end. The Museum of Witchcraft & Magic is now undergoing a series of changes to accommodate the merger with the Museum of British Folklore It is confidently hoped that far from having an uncertain future, it will continue to grow and retain its central and iconic place, within Paganism and Witchcraft.
Museum of Witchcraft and Magic (Facebook)
Museum of Witchcraft and Magic (Website)