One Hundred Objects from the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic
Effigies, pentacles, masks and charms. Robes and blades, crosses and cauldrons. The Museum of Witchcraft and Magic in Boscastle, Cornwall, is a treasure trove of magical objects and books dedicated to the history of British folk magic and other forms of popular spiritual belief. Photographer Sara Hannant has selected one hundred of these strange, powerful pieces to be the subjects of her wide-ranging survey of the museum’s collection and, by extension, of diverse histories of magical ritual or everyday worship.
Square in format and shot against black backgrounds, Hannant’s images display a consistency of approach that allows the individuality of each unique object to speak with eloquence. But these are not the cold recordings of scientific documentation: dramatic lighting bestows a power to each image that reflects the original significance that every object would have had for its owner or maker. Hannant’s captions provide insights into their usage and history.
The project has been brought together as a book by the ever-brilliant Strange Attractor Press, while an exhibition of Hannant’s images is currently on show at The Viktor Wynd Museum of Curiosities in Hackney, London until 28th February 2018. Here, Hannant has specially selected a dozen images, with abbreviated captions, for The Learned Pig.
Nail man poppet
The making of effigies for positive or negative effect is ancient and international. The founder of the museum Cecil Williamson describes the object thus: ‘Male figure heavily stuck with pins from a French source made by a woman to be revenged upon a restaurant proprietor who had caused her daughter’s pregnancy.’
Kern babies or corn maidens were once a common sight at the end of the harvest
period. Traditionally they were made from the last sheaf of corn gathered from the harvest and were occasionally dressed in a child’s christening gown or with decorations cut from paper. In some villages, they were paraded through the streets and subsequently placed in the last pew of the local church, sometimes with an apple in their pocket. Alternatively the dolls were kept until the next sowing time when they would be burnt and the ashes scattered over the fields to ensure a good harvest for the coming year.
The horned god
The horned god figure represents Baphomet, the alleged deity of the Knights Templar, represented as a sabbatic goat with both male and female attributes, representing the ‘sum total of the universe’.
This ram’s skull was found at the museum founder Cecil Williamson’s home after his death. About his magical practice Cecil explains, ‘To the witch, the spirit world is a reality, a living thing. To her everything has a spirit, a soul, a personality, be it animal, mineral or vegetable… Come, let us show you what the witches and their spirits do…’
The rose cross
A rose cross thought to have been made by George Alexander in the 1970s. It is a replica of those worn by adepts in the Rosae Rubae et Aureae Crucis, the inner order of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. The rose cross is a lamen (magical pendant) worn over the heart by members during important operations. Its design is influenced by Rosicrucian legend, the Kabbalah and by Moina and Samuel Liddell MacGregor Mathers’ symbolic application of colour. The red rose and the cross of gold represents a reconciliation of divinity and humanity, which forms the basis of the glyph. A visitor to the museum explained that traditionally the rose cross is to be made and consecrated by its owner unassisted, and must not be touched by another person after consecration.
Coffin puzzle with beeswax poppet dolls
This coffin puzzle and beeswax dolls belonged to a clairvoyant and medium Madam de la Cour who lived in Exeter. The dolls have a slot provided in their back into which can be inserted written spells, nail parings, hair etc. and then sealed before enclosing within the coffin. When closed, the trick is to find how to re-open it. The founder of the museum, Cecil Williamson, described it as ‘Straight up and down ill-wishing black magic’.
Carved wooden witch mask
The traditional hag or old witchwoman resembles the masks worn during the Swabian Alemannic Fasnetin (Carnival) in Furtwangen, Black Forest, Germany. The Furtwangen carnival, like others in southwestern Germany, culminates with a parade of characters such as demons, devils and witches on Shrove Monday before ending on Shrove Tuesday and the subsequent deprivation of Lenten fast.
Charm for a parted loved one
The provenance of this object is unknown, though it is thought most likely to be a charm for a parted loved one. Hair is used in numerous traditional beliefs, cures, tales and divination practices. In many traditions, it is customary to keep a lock of a loved one’s hair as a keepsake or memento. Charms that include hair are often used in binding spells to engender love. In recent years, the yellow ribbon has become a personal and political symbol of tribute, protest and loss, used in song, stories and ritual enactment.
Brownie Pate’s athame
An athame is a black-handled blade used by many modern witches as a working tool. The athame is not used for cutting but for casting the circle and directing energy during a ritual. In Wicca the athame most commonly represents the element of fire, and is one of the four elemental tools, the others being the wand, pentacle and chalice. Founder of the museum Cecil Williamson gave this athame embellished with magical symbols to a witch friend, Brownie Pate, who kept it with her skull ‘Henry’.
Ceremonial robe from the Order of Artemis
‘Herne’, the high priest of the Order of Artemis, in Shoreham-by-Sea in Sussex, wore this ceremonial robe. Made around 1953, the robe has a sigil of power marked in silver ink on the right sleeve, identified by witches in the group when elevated to the third degree.
The cauldron is a tool for magic, a receptacle for the forces of transmutation and germination, and its role in spell casting is ancient. Modern witches sometimes light a candle in a small cauldron to represent the hearth fire.
Stewart Farrar’s pentacle
This brass pentacle engraved with Wiccan symbols belonged to the occultist and author Stewart Farrar (1916-2000). In Wicca the pentacle represents the element of earth and is often the centrepiece of the altar on which objects are placed for consecration or blessings.
Sara Hannant, Of Shadows: One Hundred Objects from the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic is at The Viktor Wynd Museum of Curiosities in Hackney, London until 28th February 2018.
Of Shadows: One Hundred Objects from the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic by Sara Hannant and Simon Costin was published by Strange Attractor Press in 2016.