Part Three of our online tour of Witches and Witchlore: the illustrations of Jos A Smith begins with an enigmatic image of a floating item of clothing. This picture is accompanied by a reflection by Steve Patterson, Friend of the Museum:
“The recollection of the … darkly surreal image of the ‘ghost-shirt’ fluttering over the hedge still gives me a shudder of ghoulish delight. Oddly I cannot help but notice that these numinous images gave me a feeling strangely akin to the feeling I got on my first visits to Cecil Williamson’s Museum of Witchcraft in Boscastle in the mid-1980s when I first bore witness to his depiction of the “Silent world of witchcraft”.
The next image is truly amazing (and has been selling really well as an art print and card). It is hard to describe and this photo does not do it justice. A broomstick with a cat/woman transforming. Simon Costin, the Director of the Museum commented on the power of these images when he first encountered them in Erica Jong's book 'Witches',
“Being a visual person...the things that really enchanted me were the illustrations. I loved everything about them, the witch transforming into a cat astride a boom stick, the powerful horned figure created from a pile of twigs and the beautiful cover image showing the reversible flower Goddesses and crone.”
The next picture shows a poppet being pierced with a pin and a horned God figure created from sticks. The text which accompanies this last picture is from Erica Jong, “…there are poignant and quite reasonable bases for the attraction to witchcraft: the desire to return to a religion that honours nature; the desire to acknowledge the potent force of sexuality in our lives; the desire to question the failings of organized religions; the desire to learn ancient techniques of meditation and healing.”
Not all of the paintings are on the walls. Here we have a selection of images displayed on tables under perspex. The top photograph shows La Belle Dame sans Merci, a picture from a page in the book called "What does a witch look like" and a moonlit scene of a naked maiden wearing a moon headdress picking herbs with a sickle.
The small black and white image in the middle has the following texts with it:
Erica Jong: “What does a witch look like? She is either exceedingly beautiful or horribly ugly; bewitching in her physical graces or terrifyingly hideous. In either case, she menaces men, for her beauty both blinds and binds, her ugliness assaults and astounds the senses. Whether he meets an ugly witch or a beautiful one, man is victimized by female power - a condition devoutly to be unwished.”
And a personal response to the picture by Gemma Gary (Friend of the Museum):
"One of my favourite images is the painting accompanying ‘What Does a Witch Look Like?’ Here, an elderly witch flies upon her broom amidst the dark and tangled branches of a dusk wood. It takes me straight back to the purest childhood notion of the witch, and clears away the later, often impeding baggage and associations that accumulate around the word. For me, it also tells of the old and strong associations between the witch and place, a theme so often encountered in the folklore of landscapes.”
This next section shows a picture of Joan of Arc and the house from Hansel and Gretel. Erica Jong on Joan of Arc, “Joan was “guilty” of many practices associated with the witch: the refusal to say the Paternoster, the insistence on personal revelation of God, the use of costume (men's costume) to express her “otherness” .”
These are only selections from the Museum display panels. Hopefully you can come and visit us and see it for yourself before November.
Part Four coming soon...