Boscastle has a tiny port with a natural harbour set in a narrow ravine and a picturesque village that makes you want to photograph everything you see! It is Located on the dramatic north coast of Cornwall and I was fortunate enough to be shown around recently durning my summer holidays.
The reason behind our trip was to see the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic. A family member had come across the museum and declared that I would love it and he was right! I have always been intrigued by anything claiming to be magical (even before reading the Harry Potter books).
‘The Museum of Witchcraft was the creation of Cecil Williamson, whose interest in witchcraft and magic began in childhood. Cecil initially founded a Museum of Witchcraft in Stratford-upon-Avon but after local opposition, moved to the Isle of Man and in 1951 opened The Folklore Centre of Superstition and Witchcraft. Gerald Gardner, the founder of modern Wicca, was featured as the ‘resident witch.’ As time went on, the two men’s interests became increasingly divergent and Cecil returned to the mainland to set up a succession of witchcraft museums.
Eventually, Cecil settled in the Cornish village of Boscastle and opened the Museum of Witchcraft in 1960.’ WMW Site
The museum itself seemed quite small and unassuming from the outside, it is the back part of a much larger building containing a very large National Trust gift shop and a coffee shop, but once you enter it is a lot larger then you expect.
Cecil explained the Museum’s location in this way: “Three miles away from this spot you can find this pre-historic maze stone carved into a living rock face, proof that from ancient times man and his magic making with the world of spirit were active in this area. The centuries have passed and times have changed and yet all around us in this quiet corner of England there is a strange feeling that we are not alone and that the shades of persons passed on and over into the world of spirit are very close. That is why this Museum of Witchcraft is located here. One is standing on the edge of the beyond.” WMW Site
“This stone came from a farm near Michaelstow and may have been used for contemplation of, and communication with, the otherworld.”
Having been in a rather odd museum a couple of days pryer to this visit my expectations were not very high, I thought that maybe there would be a couple of rooms crammed full of junk with a few interesting items and some history of local witches, but this museum was a real surprise! The museum is home to over 3000 objects and over 7000 books spread over two floors and showcases the history of magical practice in Britain from ancient times to the present day. There was room after room of beautifully laid out items with great lighting and lots of easy to read information as well as a lot of spooky/creepy items such as the voodoo dolls, pickled lizards, snake oil ointment, dried cats/rats and such….
The top right photo is of a stuffed fox with the wax death mask of a witch hoping to be recreated as her sprit animal, the photo underneath this shows a dried cat which are sometimes found concealed in old buildings – it is thought that concealed cats offer magical protection against rats and mice.
On August 16, 2004 a devastating flood swept through Boscastle and firemen searching through the debris after the flood were horrified to discover a woman body in the mud – fortunately it turned out to be the resident wax work witch “Joan” and here she is sitting in The Wise Womans Cottage!
Some of the things I did enjoy reading about were lucky charms as well as love tokens and protective amulets from the trenches. Teeth have always been a controversial thing to use in jewellery, I remember reading about a guy that had his wisdom tooth pulled out and had it set into an engagement ring to propose to his girlfriend, what I was most surprised about was how people reacted to this story, some thought it was the most romantic thing ever and so much more meaningful then a rock from the earth and some people were truly horrified at the idea of wearing a piece of someone else!
And then there are keys and coins! Keys (especially old ones) are thought to be magical and it is said that three keys on a chain will bring health, wealth and love.
“Coins as magical objects derive their power from the celestial bodies, angelic powers, saints, monarchs and from their inherent material properties of gold, silver, copper, etc. Their shiny quality have also made them useful as a defence against the Evil Eye, especially in Eastern Europe. In Britain there is a long tradition of wearing coins as protective amulets and healing talismans.”
Of course there were Ouija boards, Tarot cards, Runes stones and the cup of knowledge, a fortune telling cup made by Aynsley in the 1920’s that combines the use of tea leaves and cards.
There were obviously wands of both simple and elaborate designs and swords/daggers….
And then there was this magnificent piece….
‘Size:1000 x 400 x 200 mm (approx.)
Information: The Hare-Woman. One day during the summer of 1997 a charming couple got into conversation at the desk. After chatting for a while they mentioned that they had made an odd discovery of a large ceramic ‘hare woman’ beneath a caravan on their land. They told us ‘We have no use for her, but we think she belongs here’. We agreed, and gratefully accepted their kind offer. So the Hare-Woman came to the Museum, and until June 1999 the mystery surrounding her origin and inspiration remained. That she was made by someone with knowledge and interest in the world of magical symbolism was obvious, but who? Then, after a newspaper feature on the Museum which was illustrated by a large photograph of the Hare-Woman, we were contacted by the artist, Lionel Miskin, who made her during the 1960’s. He calls her his ‘big Bunny Girl’, and describes how he came to make the piece; ‘…my work associated the actual Playboy Bunny Girls with ancient tribal identifications with certain animals, dropping the specifically human aspects of consciousness in exchange for animal instincts. These instincts were held in the deepest respect by many cultures, as containing the deep knowledge and wisdom of nature.’ Talking about the imagery used in the piece he says; ‘…like the super-human animal headed Egyptian Gods, the black back for Night, the pale front for Day, the black Pluto figure in his Underworld womb……and the two dancers for the Music of existence…’ From the Bunny Girl to shape-shifting witches, animal totems and underworld ‘spirit guides’, Lionel Miskin’s Hare-Woman contains numerous references to the enduring power and symbolism of the hare or rabbit.’ WMW Site
It was a wonderful and interesting visit with so much to see and read but what I really enjoyed most was the handmade aspect of all of these items, this place really was worth the visit!