Thursday, November 13, 2014

The Museum Team tell us about their library favourites

We recently catalogued our 7000th library item!  Thanks so much to all the people who have generously donated their books to us to help create one of the most fantastic collection of books on witchcraft, magic and much much more.  To commemorate having over 7000 works in our library, the Museum Team have chosen their favourite books and sections of the library.

It is hard to pick a favourite thing about the museum library, each book is a single thread in the complex web of magical instruction, personal opinion, outrageous views, poetic works that make your mind sing, artworks that transport you to other realms and academic research into our magical past, as a sister or brother that partners the museum object collection.
Those who have used the library will know, it entices you initially and then just by browsing the shelves you can get drawn to other paths and mysteries, time being the only constricting factor.

Lesser known are the 147 box files containing a vast array of occult related magazines, from pamphlets to glossies, it’s worth having a browse online if there are magazines of the past that you would love to see again, or maybe have contributed to, we may hold a copy here….

Since arriving here in April, I have made it my mission to read quite a few books from the library.  One of the most interesting was Blood and Mistletoe, a History of the Druids by Ronald Hutton.  I hardly knew anything about this subject and was a bit confused about the difference between the Druids of the Ancient Past, those of the Celtic/Welsh tradition which I knew had some association with bards and those Druids who seemed to be linked to Paganism and magic.  This book really helped to clear up a lot!  It traces the history of Druids from the classical texts and archaeology arguing that the archaeological evidence should really be allowed to speak for itself as the primary sources are so misleading. The book also considers the relationship between Druids and Stonehenge and charts along the way the influential thinkers who have shaped a lot of people's views of this topic.   Because of the difficulty of constructing Druids as historical reality, Hutton argues that people have constructed the Druids that they want to believe in.   Some people really like Druids and others really dislike them.  As a result of this, they have been used as symbols of all that is good and virtuous by some writers and of all that is damnable by others!  

I really like the wide variety of cassettes, videos, CDs and DVDs we have in the library - many of these items have not yet been catalogued but we plan to make a start soon.  Thanks to the generosity of donors and supporters of the Museum, the library can boast many occult films including silent films, 40s and 50s classics, avant-garde Japanese cinema and schlock-horror films.  

Some of my favourite things though are the old cassettes:  wonderful tapes such as ‘Dusty Miller (the Folk Magician) Chats about … Brown Magic’ (self-released, 1985) who explains aspects of traditional English earth and lunar magic; hag stones, the ‘out of work’ charm, a thunderbolt ‘money magnet’, and healing stones.  We have a series of fantastic interviews with MoW founder Cecil Williamson on CD, in which Cecil talks elegantly about a number of issues: his relationship with Gerald Gardner, Ursula Kemp’s mortal remains, and the joys of running a Witchcraft Museum, among many others…  

I have also really enjoyed listening to the great music/spoken word collections in the library collection.  Highlights include:  ‘Aleister Crowley:  The Gnostic Mass’ –  a live recording of the ceremony performed by the Gnostic Catholic Church in London 1994 (Talisman Tapes) including a spoken description/commentary and beautiful synth music by Alison Gould and Kenneth J. Rea.  The great fiddler Dave Swarbrick appears on ‘Pagan Roots: Esbat Music’ (Esbat Music, 1994), and Freya Aswynn, dedicated priestess of Wodan, is most impressive on ‘Songs of Yggdrasil:  Shamanic Chants from the Northern Mysteries’.  Any donations from collectors, record labels and enthusiasts are most welcome!

Choosing a favourite book from the library has turned out to be impossible, so instead I’ve opted for the strangest book I’ve come across. That wasn’t an easy choice either, but in the end I decided on The Necronomicon.

Originally a book that existed only in the imagination of H.P. Lovecraft, encapsulating the maniacal labyrinthine darkness of his Cthulhu Mythos, by a kind of eerie inevitability it has become real.

The museum’s copy is a handsome, only slightly sinister-looking, black-bound book, written by the mysterious ‘Simon’, and inspired by Sumerian and Babylonian magical texts.

It is a testament not only to H.P. Lovecraft’s enduring significance as a spokesman for our unease about our position in the Universe, but also to the way we continually reinvent and explore the nature of mythology and our relationship with the supernatural.

Above all, it is a testament to the role of the book as an embodiment of knowledge in all its power and danger – and so, I feel, not a bad choice of a book to sum up the role of the museum’s library!

You can search the library online to see what we have:

If you would like to spend time in the Museum Library when you are next in Boscastle, please contact the Museum to book a visit.

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