Must Be the Season of The Witch (and the Occult and Magic)
October occupies a special place in the Gregorian calendar... and in our hearts and imaginations. As soon as September 30th becomes October 1st, you must watch Hocus Pocus while drinking Black tea. I don’t make the rules. But, ever since I can remember, I have been a sucker for every type of media that has to do with witchcraft, magic, and general spook.
So just as Halloween is impending, we travel to Cornwall in south-west England to steal a look at the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic, the perfect amalgam of the aforementioned and the occult. Cecil Williamson, a British Neopagan Warlock, founded a Museum of Witchcraft in Stratford-upon-Avon but later moved to the Isle of Man after local opposition in the 1940s. In 1951, The Folklore Centre of Superstition and Witchcraft opened with Gerald Gardner, the founder of modern Wicca, who was featured as the ‘resident witch.’ As time went on, Williamson returned to the mainland to set up a succession of witchcraft museums. Eventually, he settled in the Cornish village of Boscastle and opened the Museum of Witchcraft in 1960.
This brings us to today. With a selection of beautiful and mysterious objects ranging from shamanic amulets, talisman and ouija boards to grimoires and genitalia-shaped vessels, the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic is quite incredible. As a meaningful site for practitioners of Wicca, Paganism, and other esoteric traditions – the non-practicing public is welcomed too, including those interested in folklore, like myself.
In the spirit of Spooky Season, I present you with the most curious objects present in the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic’s collections.
Incense Stick Holder
Poppet of a Vicar Source: MWM This puppet pictured above is equally creepy and cool. Copyright information states that it is likely from Battle, East Sussex and Victorian, although a slightly later date of c. 1920 seems more likely. The Museum's Director has tried and failed to identify the church depicted in the painting attached to the back of the box. I would not want to be the guy inside the box, someone definitely had it out for him.
Photograph Source: MWM Perhaps the creepiest object I found is a photograph of a woman named Joan Wytte aka the Fighting Fairy Woman of Bodmin. According to folklore, she was a witch and clairvoyant who lived in Bodmin, Cornwall at the end of the 18th century. Her nickname, the Fighting Fairy Woman of Bodmin, is in reference to her short stature and her even shorter temper. According to Strange Remains, "The legends of Joan Wytte state that she was born around 1775 in Bodmin... She was infamous for her tendency to pick fights. During a particularly nasty fight, she injured a couple people pretty bad and was arrested. She became ill in 1813, while in jail, and died at 38 years-old." The photograph above was taken prior to her burial in 1998, as her bones had been interred for some time. They were also used for seances and other practices, and were eventually hung on the wall of the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic. Her bones are pictured here within a fleece lined blanket, along with a headstone and dish containing a clay pipe, tobacco, brandy, oils, herbs, and incense. It is alleged that while her skeleton was on display, they started to experience disruptive poltergeists... very spooky.
You can check out the MWM Collections for more photographs of her skeleton. If you're brave enough!