Monday, September 28, 2015

Drawing Competition pictures now on display in the Museum

We announced the winners of our second annual children's drawing competition a little while ago. The prizes have gone out to the winners and now their work is framed and on display in the Images of Witchcraft gallery.  They will remain there for a year (until the next children's art week).

Winter Crafts workshop

Following the success of our Straw Crafts Day last week, we are pleased to announce another crafty event on Saturday November 28th.

Lammas is over, and Yuletide fast approaching. Gillian Nott will be holding another straw craft workshop with a festive theme. Come and have a fun day making straw angels, stars, tree decorations, cards and much more.  The day will run from 10am until around 3.30-4pm.

Places are very limited.  Tickets £20 per person (to be paid on the day).  To book a place, please contact Judith Hewitt at the Museum.  01840 250111 or email

Watch trailer for Crowley play (in Exeter this October)

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Visit by local moot

We were very pleased to welcome members of the Plymouth and South West Devon Pagan Federation Moot to the Museum today.  They had a tour of the Museum with Peter and then had a look around the library as well.  Their group also joined the Friends of the Museum organisation.  We look forward to seeing more of them all in the future.  Here is a photo of the group outside the Museum in the beautiful Boscastle sunshine.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Research on Gardner by a young enthusiast

We recently received this email:

In July you welcomed me and my daughter Miriam to the museum and she shared that together with her classmate Ella, they had created a poster presentation for the California National History Day - (Their poster presentation was on Gerald Gardner).

They submitted and presented a poster to represent their school at the competition in San Francisco  which they won as best work and then moved to state-level and the big competition  in Sacramento on California State Level. They were both in 5th grade (10 years old) and there is no national level they could compete in.

I am sending you both posers as JPG to show how far the work by Gerald Gardner reaches. The girls selected a topic that interested them rather than following the mainstream of topics, mostly about the civil rights movement and US presidents. 

Thank-you so much to Miriam and her father Florian for visiting the Museum and sharing their story.  Miriam really enjoyed looking at our collection of Gardnerian objects and the Museum staff were really impressed by her knowledge and enthusiasm.  

Friday, September 25, 2015

New window display installed for Samhain

Continuing our window displays to represent the festivals of the year for Samhain we have decorated the stag's antlers with talismans and amulets and the window also contains amulets from the Museum's collection.  Here are the texts as displayed in the window and some photos of the window display.

The Wheel of the Year
The Ancient Festivals
The year can be divided into eight major festivals which mark the passage of the Sun through the year and relate directly to the agricultural cycle.  This is significant to many people (including witches)  The current festival is:

Halloween or Samhain
31st October
Samhain is the most important of the cross quarter days celebrated by witches. It marks the beginning of winter, and is the eve of the Celtic New Year. On this night the Veil between the Worlds of life and death is at its most thin and the ancestors return to feast and celebrate with their living kin.

Of all the old pagan festivals, it is the most popular; children dress up as ghosts and witches and spooky fun is enjoyed by all. The origin of Trick or Treat may be to do with the Lord of Misrule, as boundaries dissolve mischievous spirits play havoc on mortals.

The Christian Church calls it All Hallows Eve or All Souls Eve. In the Midlands, Soul Cakes were baked and parties of “ Soulers” would go from house to house begging for these cakes in memory of the dead.

Celebrate Samhain by honouring the return of the Dark, for within it are the seeds of rebirth.  Send love and blessings to those of your family and friends who are dead, tonight they are near.

The window display features a display of amulets and charms.  Displayed with some information about them.

Amulets, Charms, Talismans
“An amulet protects us from what?...From witches, hobgoblins and little folk, from evil spirits that dwell in dark woods, at crossroads or in water, and in particular, from the evil eye.  Who or what does it protect?  The vulnerable or precious, such as hunters, babies, cows, houses and tractors.  Who protects us?  God, Allah, ancestors, benign spirits of the natural world.  With what?  With a complexity of materials and objects that range from such things as misshapen stones, cloves, rattling nutshells and moles’ paws, to blue glass beads and mirrors that express ideas of reflection and confronting an eye with an eye.”

October 31st is a liminal time, a time when the veil between the worlds is thin.  For many, this makes it a time to practise magic, a time when one may see more or gain more knowledge than would usually be available.  October 31st is a time when spirits are abroad: scary for some but entrancing to others.  To mark this special day, we have decorated our window display with magical objects: amulets, charms and talismans.  The stag itself is a protective symbol with horned amulets appearing around the world.  Stag’s antlers also adorn the outside of many houses perhaps because of the belief that a sharp point can pierce evil preventing it from entering the home or because they are symbols of regeneration and fertility.   You can find more about these types of objects inside the Museum in our protection magic display.

What are amulets, charms and talismans?
“An amulet is a device, the purpose of which is to protect, but by magical and not physical means—a lump of meteorite worn against gunfire is an amulet, a bullet proof vest is not.”
“A charm is believed to bring good luck, health and happiness.  In so doing, it might also be expected to protect from bad luck, sickness and misery, but protection is not its primary function. ”
“A talisman is something thought to be imbued with some magical property.  It can both protect, and radiate power, and is often used in a ritual.”
“There is always some overlap in the meaning of the three words and they are often used indiscriminately.”
Extracts taken from Amulets by Sheila Paine (2004).

Black and White Pentagrams
Above the stag hang two pentagrams carved by Rory te Tigo.  The white one is a Spiderleg Pentagram and the black one is a Dura Mater Pentagram.  The pentagram has long been believed to be a potent protection against evil.  The white and the black also seem emblematic of this time of year as summer light fades into winter’s dark.
Rory’s comments on these objects:
“Whilst the Five Arms of the Spiderleg have the shape of the rune Sowelu (the life force) the arms of the Dura Mater Pentagram pierce each other...At the same time like in the Spiderleg Pentagram this creates a protective sphere around a person or place.”
“I made this Dura Mater Pentagram for the Museum of Witchcraft as a "Dark Sister" to the Spiderleg Pentagram as all "White" things have a "Black" counterpart that is necessary for the balance of all things.   You may notice that the moon at the top of the Dura Mater Pentagram is twisted by 90 degrees to the plain of the circle of the Pentagram.  This is to express that whilst all things are "under the moon" i.e. within the realm of the mother goddess the plain of the negative energy of the Dura Mater Pentagram is offset by 90 degrees to the positive energy of the Spiderleg Pentagram.”

Museum helps to inspire art exhibition

We received this lovely email and some photos the other day...

"I just thought I would send you some photos that were taken of my exhibition on Witchcraft at Stroud College.  I visited the museum in April and spent a long time there and gained a lot of inspiration.  You very kindly allowed me to come back on the Sunday and use your library.  I passed my Foundation Diploma in Fine Art and I am now going to the Arts University Bournemouth to do a degree in Fine Art.

Many thanks,

Rebecca Badsey"

The exhibition looks great, we wish Rebecca well and we're glad that the Museum provided her with help and inspiration!

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Michael Howard

We have just heard some very sad news.  Mike Howard, editor of The Cauldron and author of numerous books, has died recently following a short illness.

As well as being a long term supporter of the museum, he was also a friend to staff here past and present and will be missed.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Wonderful Straw Crafts workshop

We had a wonderful day of straw crafts at the Museum led by the "Corn Mother" herself - Gillian Nott.  Eight people attended (and one well behaved dog).  They started the day with no knowledge or experience at all and left very adept in this traditional craft.  Many thanks to Gillian and everyone who attended the day.  Everyone enjoyed their day and the event also raised money for the Museum.  We hope to do another similar event and more crafty events in future so watch this space!

Fascinating find inside library book

A visitor to the Museum's library yesterday found a cheque from 1952 inside one of the library books.  The book was called Phallic Worship by George Ryley Scott and the cheque was signed by the founder of the Museum - Cecil Williamson.  An interesting book and an interesting bookmark!

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Witchcraft Play

The following information was provided for us by Out of Joint who have very kindly offered the Museum some free tickets to this play!

Jane Wenham: The Witch of Walkern is by the BAFTA-winning writer Rebecca Lenkiewicz.

The University of Hertfordshire alerted us to the story, and supported a period of research. The resulting play is a gripping, haunting story inspired by real events in a Hertfordshire village in 1712 when the local "cunning woman" was accused of witchcraft.

Rebecca has written a rich and poetic play that explores sex, religion, superstition, nature, and the role of women in society.

To theatres in Watford, Leeds, Liverpool, Bristol, Salisbury and London, as well as rural touring in East Anglia and Essex.

Full details including a trailer, tour dates, blogs about witch hunts and more are here:


Celebrating 21 years this year, Out of Joint is one of the UK’s leading touring theatre companies. Under the artistic directorship of Max Stafford-Clark - former artistic director of the Royal Court Theatre - the company develops and produces theatre that is socially engaged, epic, inquisitive and entertaining. We co-produce with exciting theatres, in this case with London’s Arcola Theatre, and Watford Palace Theatre. Our shows have been seen on six continents.

Recent Artist Research Residency at the Museum

Photograph of the Museum exterior taken by Rachel with a pinhole camera.

Rachel Emily Taylor spent two weeks researching in the Museum.  Here she tells us about her work...

As part of my Fine Art practice-based PhD, I was awarded funding by the Arts and Humanities Research Council to undertake research at the MWM. I was granted 16-days to rummage through the witches’ library, explore the collection and photograph the building during the candlelit session... with my trusty 10 x 8” pinhole camera!

My PhD research is focused on biographical narratives within museums. I am exploring how art practice might communicate a historical character’s ‘voice’, with a particular focus on artefacts and museum captions. The MWM is a rich treasure trove of information that bridges these areas, brimming with stories and magic.

Whilst in the MWM library, I worked my way through Cecil Williamson’s original captions – some water-stained from the 2004 flood – to dig up gems of information and forgotten narratives. During this time I discovered links between Williamson and Edward Lovett, a prominent expert on amulets and author of Magic in Modern London (1925). Williamson collected a number of items from Lovett, including the Mole’s feet charms currently on display in the museum.

Alongside uncovering Williamson’s professional relationship with Lovett, I could not help be captivated by Williamson’s friendship with Joan Wytte. Regulars at the museum with know Joan; her skeleton was kept in the museum until she was reburied by Graham King. Within Williamson’s notes, I discovered profound information on their friendship and his detective work on her history. In his letters, Williamson described Joan as a “Guardian Angel” and she still is. As Helen Cornish wrote, Joan “is very much alive, and living in the Cornish landscape” (2003, p.94).

This photo of Rachel at work in the Museum library was very kindly provided by Tia Cordwell.

To keep up to date with Rachel’s research, visit:

Below are some photos that she took (the captions are based on ones in the Museum archive but they were re-typed by Rachel on rice paper).

Photograph above taken at Merlin's Cave, Tintagel.

Photographs above show the White Tower in Boscastle and are called "Calling Down the Moon."

Visitor tells us about Dartmoor burial

A visitor last week spoke with Joyce about some experimental archaeology that he had been working on and told us about this fascinating site.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Straw Craft Day tomorrow (Saturday)

We're looking forward to welcoming those people who booked to come to our day of Straw Crafts.  See you tomorrow!  If you're not one of the lucky ones, keep an eye on our blog to see how they get on and keep an eye open for future events at the Museum.

Museum object takes part in exhibition at Compton Verney

We're pleased to announce that one of the Museum objects will be appearing in an exhibition at Compton Verney in Warwickshire.  To find out more about the exhibition, click on this link and have a look at the promotional texts provided by Compton Verney below.

The object (which was collected earlier this week) is on loan until the end of December.  The object in question is:
Museum Number: 89
Object Name: Bottles with shells
Physical Description: Small glass bottle half full of mercury and decorated with shells on string.
Material made from: Glass, mercury, shells

And comes with this description on our online catalogue: Original text by Cecil Williamson: 'Mercury - or quicksilver - always regarded as a living mystical metal, beloved of witches and sages. This little bottle of mercury gay with its ring of small shells was used by a wise woman living in Penzance in about 1905. She earned money by telling the weather from it for fishermen. A Newlyn-based artist acquired this small bottle and treasured it as a totem, or house spirit charm which he swore brought him luck. He said the wise woman's name was Janie Rowe or Rouse, he was not quite sure which was the correct name.'

We're really pleased that this wonderful Museum object will be seen by a different audience and in a different context.

Upcoming play in Boscastle

Several members of the Museum Team are going - hope to see you there!

Memento Mori & Folklore - The Rather Grim Habit of Keeping Skulls

This interesting article by Pollyanna Jones includes an image of the Museum.

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

New Japanese Guide Available!

Many thanks to Akira Kusunose for his translation of the Museum guide into Japanese.

We hope to see many more Japanese visitors over coming years!

Object(s) of the Month: Coin Magic

Coins in the Collection

Coins were widely used in magic down the centuries and they continue to be carried as charms by people today.  Coins as magical objects often derive their power from the planets (especially the moon), angelic powers, saints, the King or Queen, or from their inherent material potency (gold, silver, copper).  The ‘lucky coin’ is the most common form of coin magic today: this was often a sixpence found in Halloween cakes (used in divination) and Christmas puddings, where it was then kept or carried as a lucky token.

Some coins are inherently potent.  In England, ‘touch pieces’ or ‘angels’– coins given by the monarch at a special ceremony – were used as talismans to counter scrofula (an intensely painful skin condition).  These special pieces were applied to the areas affected, and then later hung around the neck on chains.  The appearance of angels (usually the Archangel Michael) on these coins may have increased their potency, given the importance of angelic powers in ritual magic.  This Elizabethan silver sixpence in the Museum collection (note the hole) may have had a similar use.

Object No. 2331

Coins were 'set apart' as lucky or efficacious by simply bending them (see below):  this probably goes back to the medieval  'English custom' where coins were bent in prayer to a saint, and then the same bent coin deposited at the saint's shrine when the donor went on pilgrimage.  Bending coins later became a means of remembrance, but the idea of bending or breaking something of value for ritual purposes (a sword or shield for example) goes back as far as the Bronze Age.  

Object No. 2335.  A bent (and perforated) gold piece from the reign of Edward VI (1547 - 1553)

In the 1500s, Theophrastus Paracelsus used gold in many of his crafted pieces, fashioned in the shape of coins.  He treated a client for another skin disease, leprosy, using balsam, aurum potabile (liquid gold) together with a small coin of beaten gold inscribed with astrological symbols:

“Let this kinde of Sigil be made of pure Gold, and wrought into a Lamen in the hour of Saturn, but the Characters ought to be ingraven in the hour of Sun, when Moon is in and Sun in the same sign; which usually happens in July.”

Once engraved, the sigil was activated, but it only had a limited time-span:  “It ought to be renewed every year in July, for this Sigil loseth its force in a year”. The movement of Saturn, moon and sun, out of a particular alignment ended the efficacy of the sigil, reminding the patient of the origin of its power. When activated however, the entire object was efficacious: it was recommended that the sigil should be steeped in wine which the patient then drank.

This early remedy is echoed by a folk charm collected by Cecil Williamson in the twentieth century which links the feminine with both the moon and silver:

“Silver water, the ever popular cure all drink. The silver coins placed in the water must have an impression of a female head on them. The[se] ... were used by Charlie Wallace, of Rockcliffe, near Carlisle. Charmer Wallace charged a fee of a penny a glass and the coins had to be left in the water overnight. The water had to be drunk as the dawn sun came up.  A case of sun up water down.”  [CWOLC 7095]

Object Nos. 2346 and 2338.  The first depicts the female form of  'Provedentia', c. 276-282 CE.  

The immersion of coins in water overnight by the light of a new moon was also efficacious in the treatment of cattle, as this charm from twentieth century Dorchester shows:

“A small hoard of Roman coins, discovered when and where goodness only knows. But we do know that this hoard was treasured and used by a wise woman of Dorchester for making her cattle and horse medicine. Her method was to get smithy water and immerse the coins, in a little cloth bag, in the water over night at the time of the new moon.” [CWOLC 8040]

A selection of coins discovered in the Museum this year may turn out to be the charmed coins collected by Cecil Williamson in the mid-twentieth century:

From the high magic of the early modern period, to the folk remedies of the rural South West, it is clear that the planets were hugely significant in coin magic.  These charms all shared the same notion that the power of the moon and other cosmic forces could be harnessed and impressed into small pieces of metal for the protection and healing of human beings. 


CWOLC (Cecil Williamson Object Label Collection), Museum of Witchcraft & Magic, Boscastle Cornwall
7095, 8040

Herbert Appold Grueber, Handbook of the Coins of Great Britain and Ireland in the British Museum, (London: 1899)

Peter Hewitt, ‘Making and using magical objects in early modern England: apotropaia and objects of folk-belief in the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust collection’, in Hewitt The material culture of Shakespeare’s England: a study of the early modern objects in the museum collection of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, Unpublished Ph.D thesis, 2015.

Ralph Merrifield, The Archaeology of Ritual and Magic, (Batsford: 1987)

Theophrastus Paracelsus, Of the supreme mysteries of nature. Of [brace] the spirits of the planets. Occult philosophy. The magical, sympathetical, and antipathetical cure of wounds and diseases. The mysteries of the twelve signs of the zodiack. / Englished by R. Turner, philomathes. (London: 1655)