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The Museum of Witchcraft

A Brief History & Guide to the Displays

Index of the Displays

Page 3: The History of the museum Page 6: What is Witchcraft? Page 7: Images of Witchcraft Page 8: Persecution Page 9: The Wheel of the Year Page 10: Stone Circles and Sacred Sites Page 11: The Hare and Shape-shifting Page 12: Healing Page 13: The Wise Woman Page 14: Protection Page 15: Mandrakes Page 16: Curses and Cursing Page 17: Ritual Magic and Golden Dawn Page 18: The Richel Collection Page 19: Satanism and Devil Worship Page 20: The Horned God Page 21: The Goddess Page 22: Scrying and Divination Page 23: Spells and Charms Page 24: Sea Witchcraft Page 25: Working Tools
It is the museums policy to display items relating to witchcraft and magic, with a bias toward Cornish and English artefacts. The museum strives to be impartial and show all aspects of our subject, demonstrating the historical beliefs and practices of witches and magicians. A steady flow of donated exhibits enables us to regularly update our displays, and we maintain an impressive archive and library which can be accessed by members of the Friends of the Museum of Witchcraft. The Friends of the Museum of Witchcraft is an independently run organisation that raises funds by subscription and donation to help purchase new display items, conservation tools, and equipment. Details are available from the reception desk.

The History of the Museum

Cecil Williamson first opened the Museum of Witchcraft on the Isle of Man in 1951. Previous attempts to open the museum in Stratfordon-Avon were thwarted; witchcraft was not welcome there! Born the son of a military man in Paignton, Devon, Cecil often spent his holidays with his uncle, the vicar of North Bovey. It was here he first encountered witchcraft when he intervened to stop some thugs persecuting a local witch. She befriended the young Cecil and started him on his path to becoming one of the most important characters in modern witchcraft in Britain. Williamsons magical education continued in Rhodesia where he worked on a tobacco plantation. He met African Witchdoctors and realised that the principles of witchcraft are universal. He returned to Britain in 1930 where he mixed with leading experts of the day including Wallis Budge of the British Museum, anthropologist Margaret Murray and historian Montague Summers. During World War II he was even employed by MI6 to work as an undercover agent collecting data on the occult interests of Nazi military personnel. It is believed Cecil used his knowledge of the occult to encourage Rudolf Hess to fly to Scotland where Hess was captured and interned. In 1946 Cecil met the man often referred to as the father of modern witchcraft, Gerald Gardner. They became friends and business partners but their relationship soured and ended in bitter fighting and mistrust several years later. The museum archives hold a collection of letters that demonstrates the rise and fall of their partnership.

Williamson bought the Witches Mill in the Isle of Man and converted it to a restaurant and witchcraft museum which opened in 1951. Gardner was employed as Resident Witch and courted much publicity through the media. This coincided with the repeal of the Witchcraft Act in 1951. The two men wanted to take the Witches Mill in different directions, hence the breakdown of their relationship. Williamson sold the building to Gardner in 1954 (who continued to run it as a museum until his death on 12th February 1964) and moved his collection to Windsor. Royal Windsor was not happy to house a Museum of Witchcraft so he was forced to move again to the Cotswold village of Bourton-on-theWater. Here he received numerous death threats and the museum was repeatedly firebombed; there were even dead cats strung up on trees in his garden. It was time to move again, so in 1960 the museum relocated to Boscastle where it has remained ever since. Cecil ran the museum until midnight at Halloween 1996 when it was sold to the current owner Graham King. Cecil Williamson died in 1999 at the age of 90 and we hope the museum will remain a lasting tribute to this remarkable man. 16th August 2004: This date entered the history books as one of the worst floods in modern British history. Boscastle was swamped by over 3 metres of flood waters after approximately 20 centimetres of rain fell in hours. Graham King, owner of the museum and a local coastguard, was the first to raise the alarm. The museum was severely damaged with over 2 metres of sewage and water knocking down walls and filling up the entire ground floor. As you walk around the museum youll see the flood line marked on the walls.
This picture shows some of the mud and sewage that was left in the museum. The dotted line shows the level the flood water settled at in the museum. Waves and surges went even higher!

It was several days before staff and volunteer groups could gain access to assess the damage and begin the museum cleanup. Although the ground floor was devastated, the upper floor and library were untouched, so books and paintings were sent to The National Maritime Museum in Falmouth and the Royal Cornwall Museum in Truro to protect them from further damp. Cleanup and salvage of artefacts started as soon as possible and remarkably over 90% of the artefacts were saved. Unfortunately most of the archive material kept in the storeroom was lost. All the mud was painstakingly sifted and each item cleaned, disinfected and carefully restored. Walls were reinstated, new floors laid and the electrics checked and replaced. Display cases have been donated from all over the country, notably the Natural History Museum in London and the Puppet Museum in Eastbourne, and cash donations came in from all over the world. While most of the exhibits were elsewhere we took the opportunity to redesign the layout of the museum. Those of you who have visited before will notice a considerable difference. Although the flood was a disaster at the time, the museum staff have remained positive and have resurrected the museum so it is better than ever.

The Museum of Witchcraft reopened on 25th March 2005

What is Witchcraft?
It is generally accepted that a witch is someone who practises magic or sorcery; however the meaning of the word witch has changed through history. In the medieval period the term witch had almost entirely negative connotations. Later the expression White Witch was used to describe someone who practised good magic. Village wise women and cunning folk used magic to curse and cure. 19th century Cornwall was home to a good number of cunning folk or Pellars who made a living as healers, councillors and therapists. They were an important part of village life. Some witches made their income from lifting or banishing curses.
Tammy Blythe, Cornish Wise Woman. Picture courtesy of the Royal Cornwall Museum

Today, traditional village witchcraft and cunning still survives but it is hard to find. Modern witchcraft or Wicca is a nature based religion and lifestyle. Practitioners celebrate the changing cycles of nature with the eight major festivals of the year (sabbats) as well as full moons (esbats). Thousands of witches practise their in Britain today. Throughout the witches are quietly worshipping the Ones, revering nature and working magic.
Alex Sanders and coven members

craft land Old their

Images of Witchcraft
Here we show some of the stereotypes that have developed over the ages, from 16th and 17th century woodcuts to the more recent Harry Potter phenomenon. The word witch conjures up the image of an old hag with a pointy hat, a broomstick and a wart on her nose; but in ancient Greece and Rome artisans decorated vases and urns with images of young beautiful witches who were powerful seductresses. Over time the image changed from beautiful sorceress to ugly hag; servant of the Devil. Pre-Raphaelite painters returned to the ancient myths and painted witches as alluring young maidens for example, Circe (J.W. Waterhouse) and Morgan Le Fay, sister of King Arthur (F. Sandys). Cloth witches on broomsticks have long been popular as toys and household decorations, and hung above doors and windows as protective amulets. Our collection shows examples from Britain, the USA, and many from Eastern Europe, including Baba Yaga, the Slavic Arch Crone, Goddess of Wisdom and Death. Witches feature heavily in fairy tales. Grimms Fairy Tales and the stories of Hans Christian Andersen usually show witches as evil women bent on eating children or being unpleasant to princesses. The Malleus Maleficarum (Sprenger and Kramer, 1486), the most important and sinister book on demonology ever written, led to the trials and murder of thousands of men and women in the 16th and 17th centuries. Thankfully, recent books show witches in a more positive light. Most notable is the Harry Potter series which focuses on the importance of friendship and overcoming evil.
Carving of Meg Merrilies Witch from the Richel Collection

Persecution of Witches
July 1566, Chelmsford Essex: The first major trial for witchcraft in England was the case against Agnes Waterhouse. She was found guilty of bewitching to death and hanged two days later. During the next 150 years, thousands were condemned to death on flimsy evidence and confessions extracted under torture. Even possessing a cat (familiar) could be classed as evidence. It is not known exactly how many were put to death for witchcraft but estimates vary from 100,000 to several million. In England witches were usually hanged whereas in Scotland, Germany and France they were burnt. One common test of witchcraft was to throw the bound suspect into deep water. If they floated they were guilty and executed. If they sank they were innocent but usually ended up being drowned! This method was a favourite of the Witchfinder General, Matthew Hopkins (d1646), who was responsible for the trials and executions of hundreds of people in the eastern counties. Some clergy wanted to save people from the Witchfinders cruelty and being wrongly charged with witchcraft. They introduced Witch Weighing: weighing a person against a bible. If heavier than the bible, they were innocent.
Matthew Hopkins

On display in the museum is a Scolds Bridle of the type used in the witch trials of women. It is a metal cage made to go over the head with sharp prongs which are forced into the mouth to pierce the tongue and cheeks. 1684, Exeter, Devon: Alice Molland was the last person to be executed for witchcraft in England. 1944, Old Bailey, London: Helen Duncan was the last person to be convicted of witchcraft in England.

A Scolds Bridle

The Wheel of The Y ear

Modern witches celebrate the changing seasons of the year, putting themselves in tune with the natural rhythms and cycles of the land. Most modern witches celebrate eight festivals called Sabbats: Samhain (Halloween), 31st October Winter Solstice/Yule, around 21st December Imbolc (Candlemas), 1st February Vernal Equinox, around 20th March Beltane (May Day), 1st May Summer Solstice, around 21st June Lammas, 1st August Autumnal Equinox, around 23rd September Astrological symbols are used to signify the way the movements of the sun, moon and stars are reflected in these cycles of the land. As Above, So Below.
This Wheel of the Year was painted by Vivienne Shanley.

Stone Circles and Sacred Sites

Some places in nature are considered sacred by witches. Ancient man marked some of these sites by erecting monuments like stone circles, standing stones, tumuli and fogous, or by marking rock faces with ritual symbols like labyrinths. The labyrinth is thought to mark a portal to the otherworld. Here we display a slate-carved labyrinth from the village of Michaelstow which is very similar to those carved at Rocky Valley between Boscastle and Tintagel. Feel free to slowly finger-walk the labyrinth. Be careful, it can induce a trance-like state. Many sacred sites have no monuments or markers but are equally important. A grove of ancient oaks, the meeting point of two streams, a cave, a quiet glade in an ancient forest; these are the places for witches to honour nature and work their magic Different sites are suitable for specific forms of magic or for the various seasonal celebrations. A witch may celebrate Lammas (August 1st) in the traditional manner by climbing a sacred hill and lighting a fire, then choose an ancient long barrow or fogou to conduct a rite for Samhain (October 31st). Stonehenge is a well known venue for Summer Solstice celebrations. Many monuments throughout Britain are aligned to mark the rising or setting sun at a specific festival: A prehistoric observer standing in Stannon Stone Circle on Bodmin Moor could have observed the sun rising over the massive Logan Stone on Roughtor at Lughnasad (Lammas).
(Tintagel and the Arthurian Mythos, Paul Broadhurst)

Note: Some sacred sites have been damaged by irresponsible visitors lighting fires, carving names into rock faces and leaving non-biodegradable offerings. Please respect these sites and remember the local legends of Spriggans, spirits that will take revenge on those who damage their sacred places!

Let the place change you, dont change the place!


The Hare and Shape Shifting

The belief that witches can shape shift into a hare is ancient. Stories of hares disappearing after being shot are to be found in all parts of the country. An old woman is usually found soon after with gun-shot wounds to her body. In 1662, Isobel Gowdie of Aulderne confessed that she and fellow coven members transformed themselves at will by saying three times: I shall go into a hare, With sorrow aud sych aud meikle care And I shall go in the Devils name Ay while I come home again. And to return to human form they said: Hare, hare, god send thee care. Im in a hares likeness just now, But I shall be in a womans Likeness even now. Historically, the hare was revered as a sacred creature associated with fertility and spring. In Northern Europe the hare was sacred to the Spring Goddess Eostre or Ostara, and still has ritual connections with the Christian festival that bears her name. Although the hare is usually associated with fertility, abundance and good Ceramic Hare-Woman fortune, it is also associated with madness. The ceramic Hare-Woman on display was made in the 1960s by Lionel Miskin. He describes the imagery as the super-human animal headed Egyptian Gods, the black back for night, the pale front for day, the black Pluto figure in his Underworld tomb...and the two dancers for the music of existence. She was found under a caravan near Goonhavern in 1996 and is on loan to the museum. This small pewter hare was found above the window of a cob wall in a farmhouse near Liskeard at Easter,1998. Animals or images of animals were often concealed above or below portals for protection.


There has been a resurgence of ancient healing methods. Witches of old were expert herbalists and have passed down thousands of remedies.
Some Uses of Herbs on Display Meadowsweet: diarrhoea, nourishing the bowels. Echinacea: colds, flu, inflammatory skin conditions. StiJohns Wort: depression, anxiety and bruising. Garlic: antiviral, blood cleansing and infections. Borage: fevers, lung complaints and a diuretic. Burdock: boils, eczema, and rheumatic conditions. Sages: Sore throat, dyspepsia, blood cleansing. Wintergreen: an astringent, and for rheumatism. Juniper Berries: flatulence, kidney & bladder problems. (From Mrs Grieves Herbal)

Cure a wart by placing a piece of stolen meat on it then burying the meat; as it decays the wart will vanish. Or tie knots in a piece of string, carefully touch each knot to the wart and bury the string. As it decays the wart will be cured. If all that fails sell your wart to an ash tree. Place an offering of money or food under the tree and recite this spell: Ashen tree, Ashen tree, Pray thee buy this wart off me. Poppets (dolls) can be used for healing. The wax figurines we display were used to represent people who had some form of illness. They can be massaged with ointments or even have a pin stuck in the appropriate area to lance a boil. It is important to get permission from the ill person before any healing work is carried out. You may notice several items shaped like parts of the body such as the breast-shaped jars used to help women having trouble breast feeding. This is based on the principle that like affects like or Sympathetic Magic.


The Wise Woman

This display shows a typical late 19th century Wise Womans cottage. Joan sits at her table staring into the fishing float she uses as a crystal ball to see into the future. Tarot cards are laid out on the table from her last reading. Perhaps a young girl has consulted her regarding her future husband. Protection amulets hang around the room: a circle of conkers, hag stones, a horse shoe. A string of dried chillies hangs from the rafters to give extra warmth. A spirit house made from twigs and feathers is placed near the stairs to keep household spirits content and prevent them from becoming troublesome. She would often be asked to lift curses and heal the sick. Note the array of herbs on her dresser along with the mortar and pestle she would have used to mix her magic potions. She is surrounded by her animal companions (familiars) who help her with her magic. Familiars are magically attuned to the witch they work with and warn her about evil influences. Cats are the most well known familiars, but they can take the form of any other creature; for example, stoats, dogs, owls, snakes or toads. A typical spell she might use is the Witchs Ladder. Nine knots are tied into a rope whilst the following words are recited: By knot of one the spells begun By knot of two the spell is true By knot of three so mote it be By knot of four the open door By knot of five the spells alive By knot of six the spell I fix By knot of seven the gates of heaven By knot of eight the hand of fate By knot of nine the spell is mine!
Joan at her table in the Wise Womans Cottage


It is no accident that the Protection display has been placed opposite the Curses. We show examples of these charms found both locally and beyond. Mirrors are the simplest form of protection. Simply position one behind your door or visualise yourself surrounded by mirrors to deflect evil intent. Note the large witch ball which is similarly used to reflect evil. There are a number of examples of hag stones (stones with a natural hole) hanging on cords throughout the museum. They are usually placed above a door or window as protection. Tie your keys to a hag stone to prevent them from being lost. Our display features many charms with animal associations. The horseshoe is a well known symbol of good fortune, but ensure the ends point upwards when it is nailed above the door so the luck doesnt fall out. The horses skull on display was found suspended in a barn to protect the building and its occupants. Look below the main display cabinet and you will see a dead cat posed as if chasing a rat. Similar cats have been found buried in the walls of buildings all over the country and were used as an effective charm to deter rats and mice. Animal organs pierced with thorns or slivers of wood are sometimes found in the chimneys of old cottages. The organ represents the witch who has overlooked or cursed the house. As the charm disintegrates, so does the power of the witchs curse. A witch post carved with the typical symbols of hearts and crescent moons, as our example shows, is placed within the fireplace or door frame to protect the home.



This collection of carved mandrake roots is on loan from the family of the late Bob Richel of Amsterdam. Historically, the mandrake was closely associated with magic and was valued as an aphrodisiac, a fertility drug and a powerful anaesthetic. It is mentioned in the Bible: Rachel uses its fruits to help her conceive Joseph. Mandrake should be treated with great reverence. The Greek Philosopher Theophrastus (4th century BC) recommends that anyone digging up the plant should draw three circles round it with a sword, face west and dance around it chanting about love. Medieval manuscripts depict the mandrake root as human in shape, and tell how it lets out such a terrible scream when uprooted that it would strike dead anyone who heard it. Dogs were often used to pull up the plant to save people from its fatal screams. It was thought that mandrakes sprang up beneath gallows and took on the shape of the person whod been hanged. The 17th century philosopher Rist believed the mandrake took its life force from the hanged man, and describes the plant being kept in miniature coffins. Our beautifully made coffins are from the Richel Collection and have a dark and mysterious quality, presumably relating to ideas of spiritual transformation and rebirth. It is said that you should never give a mandrake away - if you do it will either bring you bad luck or it will come back to you. The mandrake in the middle of those shown below was given to Bob Richel by the museum and it has returned to us since his death. Mandrakes have come back into the public eye since featuring in the recent Harry Potter books.


Cursing and Curses

Cursing or ill wishing is the use of magic to harm someone or something. Most cursing is based on Sympathetic Magic which is the belief that like attracts like. The best known and most effective method of cursing is the use of a poppet or doll fashioned into a likeness of the target individual which is then ritually harmed, usually by stabbing with pins. Placing something that belongs to the victim, like hair or nail parings, within the poppet makes the curse especially effective. One of the poppets on display here has human pubic hair sewn in place to ensure the spell works.


Many of the items in the museum show intricate work suggesting the seriousness with which the curses were carried out. To aid the concentration when constructing a poppet, repetition of the intent is required. Examples of this are the two knitted poppets. Knitting is an excellent way of focusing and involves a lot of input from the witch carrying out the curse. It would be simple to work strands of hair into the dolls for added effect. Nowadays the use of photographs is becoming more popular with pins being stuck into the picture of the intended victim. Many modern witches believe in the law of threefold return: that is, what you give out will come back to you with three times the intensity. Most Wiccans also live by the Wiccan Rede of: An it harm none do what you will In other words do whatever you like as long as it does not harm anything or anyone, including yourself. Not everyone lives by this rule and cursing still goes on today to some degree.

A Knitted Poppet


Ritual Magic & Golden Dawn

Several ancient systems of magic involve elaborate rituals and regalia. Ritual magic is not witchcraft but many of the theories and methods used by ritual magicians are incorporated into Freemasonry and modern witchcraft. Many of the people responsible for the revival of interest in witchcraft were also involved in these secret magical societies. The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn was one of the most influential occult societies of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It was formed in 1888 and involves a hierarchy based on the ten sephira of the Cabalistic Tree of Life plus an eleventh degree for neophytes (trainees). It is still in existence today. Pictured here are a Golden Dawn ceremonial staff and a ritual sword. Famous occultist Aleister Crowley was initiated into The Golden Dawn in 1898, but by 1900 had fallen out with the higher ranks and was expelled. He went on to found the AA Argentum Astrum in 1909. On display is a French AA robe which is lavishly embroidered with a lion, scorpion, feathers and a heart. Between 1581 and 1587 the Enochian system of magic was developed through the work of John Dee and Edward Kelly. It involves ritually summoning and commanding angels and spirits. The Knights Templar were founded in France in 1130. They initially protected pilgrims to the Holy Land but were later seen as a threat to the Church and accused of secretly worshipping Baphomet in their rites. There is a modern Order of the Knights Templar within Freemasonry and we show here a robe worn by a Preceptor of this order (circa 1950s). Other magical orders include: The Rosicrucians, Ordo Templi Orientis, The Hell Fire Club, Freemasons (some degrees) and M.M.M.


The Richel Collection

In March 2000 the museum inherited one of the worlds best collections of ritual/sex magic artefacts from the Dutch collector Bob Richel. He inherited much of it from his father-in-law Mr Eldermans. Due to the nature of the artefacts we believe Eldermans was involved with one or more magical groups. The magical societies represented in the display are: Aleister Crowleys AAArgenteum Astrum (Silver Star) and the Dutch group Ars Amatoria (The Art of Love), the O.T.O. (Order Templi Orientis), the MM (Medicinalia Magica) and Loge Heley.

There is an interesting combination of traditional witchcraft items such as scourges and birds feet with more ritual magic tools like the phallic wands. Note the painting of the ritual sword plunged into the skull.

Painting from the Richel Collection

Painting from the Richel Collection

Many of the artefacts represent male and female sex organs. Phallic pendulums and carved wooden vulvas show sex obviously played an important role in the rituals of this group as it does in many magical societies. Of interest are the depictions of hands (notice the middle fingertips are painted red), and the use of magical alphabets. We are still trying to decipher much of what was written. The collection is undergoing further study with the combined assistance of Bristol University and the University of Amsterdam.

Carved wooden hands


Devil Worship and Satanism

The media loves to incorrectly portray witches as evil devil worshippers and Satanists. The museum includes this display to try and correct these popular misconceptions. During the witchcraft trials in the 16th and 17th centuries witches were often accused of making a pact with the Devil, and were said to have attended Sabbats where he was invoked. To show their devotion they supposedly kissed him on the backside. During the 1980s there was much media The obscene kiss, coverage of alleged ritual Guazzos Compendium child abuse in which Maleficarum 1626 witches and Satanic cults were accused of incest, indecent assault and cruelty. A government inquiry concluded there is no evidence of ritual abuse and stated that it is doubtful whether the practice of this type of Satanic ritual abuse exists. Various Satanic groups exist, the most well known being the Church of Satan founded in 1966 by Anton LeVey, based in California, USA. He has written many books on the subject including The Satanic Bible. These groups have nothing to do with witchcraft. Some British groups, however, do believe in the Devil as Lucifer, Fallen Angel and Bringer of Light, not as the evil devil of the Christians.

Bronze devil candlesticks


The Horned God

Horned gods have been worshipped in most parts of the world since ancient times. The displays include images from China to Greece and other parts of Europe. His names and guises are well known: Herne The Hunter, Cernunnos, Pan, Azazel, Gwynn, the Dorset Ooser, Puck, and Robin Goodfellow. In ritual the high priest of a coven will sometimes wear an antlered mask and take on the image of The Horned One. He represents valour, sacrifice, life and death; both the hunter and the hunted. Christianity Bronze oil lamp has transformed the Horned God into its Devil with evil associations. Old Horny, as he is affectionately known, sits in the corner of the gallery and holds court over our array of early woodcuts, paintings and altar pieces. He is one of our most photographed exhibits and can be seen in many books on witchcraft.

Old Horny

Most of these Baphomet images are from the Richel collection and are based on the famous description by Eliphas Levi. The figure combines attributes of masculine, feminine and the animal world which symbolise perfection: the absolute. Dont miss the beautifully carved example located top left of the exhibit. It is said Baphomet was worshipped by the Knights Templar, although these claims come from confessions made under torture during the Inquisition - thus it remains a contentious issue.


Baphomet depiction from the Richel Collection

The Goddess
Modern witches worship the Goddess and her partner the Horned God. She is worshipped in many forms, often as a triple deity representing the Maiden, Mother and Crone - the waxing, full, and waning moon. In the Middle Ages, witches were sometimes accused of following the classical Goddess Diana. The Canon Episcopi, an ecclesiastical document written in 900AD, portrays Diana as leader of the witches: ...some wicked women, perverted by the Devil, seduced by illusions and phantasms of the night, to ride upon certain beasts with Diana, the goddess of the pagans In 1899, Charles Leland published a book entitled Aradia, The Gospel of the Witches which tells the legend of Aradia, daughter of Diana, who was sent to earth to establish witchcraft. Leland claims to have translated the book from a document given to him by a traditional Etruscan witch. Aradia is one of the many Goddesses recognised and worshipped by witches today. Hidden amongst the carvings in medieval churches, one may sometimes find a Sheela-na-Gig. She usually has prominent or enlarged genitalia held open by her hands, and is thought to be a fertility symbol or protective deity although no one is sure.

The Magic of Christianity

With the arrival of Christianity, many of the attributes of the Goddess were taken on by the Virgin Mary. In the Middle Ages and Tudor and Stuart times, most people who practised magic were devout Christians. Their charms called on the help of Jesus, Mary, angels and saints. They used crucifixes and the communion bread in healing and protection magic. In many countries, the Church still encourages magical practices such as placing wax images in shrines to heal the sick.
Wax Leg - a Christian votive offering


Scrying and Divination

Scrying is the ancient technique of seeing into the past or future using a crystal ball, mirror or any other reflective object. Scrying is a form of clairvoyance or clear vision. Scrying involves staring into a reflective surface like a crystal ball or dark mirror and focusing the eye, thus entering a state where apparitions appear. Calling down the moon is a tradition that involves using the reflection of the full moon on water. The Reverend Hawker of Morwenstow is said to have mastered this technique with the aid of a local witch. Mirrors have always been thought to have magical properties. Our dark mirrors are particularly rare examples. They are less reflective than conventional mirrors and are used as one would use a crystal ball. We display Cecil Williamsons dark mirror, and by quietly looking into it, one can be put in direct contact with the magical forces and spirits that were so important to Cecil. Try it!
Williamsons Dark Mirror

Tarot cards date from at least the Renaissance period and are very popular today. The symbolism held within the cards is extremely ancient. We keep an ever growing collection in our library. Ordinary playing cards can be used for divination and have the advantage of not being obviously occult. Dowsing with pendulums and rods is a form of divination and is also an accepted means of locating an underground water supply. Our exhibit includes some hand-forged Cornish dowsing rods. Tea-leaf reading (tasseomancy) is strongly associated with the Gypsies and the English. The reader Fortune telling cup predicts the future from the patterns made by the leaves. Ouija Boards are used to contact spirits and were popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. They went out of favour but have recently experienced a resurgence.


Spells and Charms

A spell is a spoken or written formula that is intended, by magic, to influence or cause an event. Old unusual objects and natural materials like plants are favoured for their mystical value, while human bones and skulls suggest a link with spirits and ancestors. On display is a collection of moles feet. Place them in a small charm bag and hang them around your neck to cure a toothache. Strapped Skull from a ritual altar We show a variety of boxes which are commonly used for spells. If you have a wart or something you want to be rid of, make a representation of it, place it in a box and tie with red string. Place it at a crossroads and whoever picks up the box is the new owner of your unwanted wart. So beware if you find a beautifully wrapped box where two roads meet never open it! Corn Dollies represent the spirit of the crop. The last sheaf of a harvest is woven into the shape of a man or woman and decked with ribbons. It is then kept over winter to ensure the fertility of the following harvest. In some countries it is ritually burnt as a sacrifice. Crying the Neck is the Cornish ceremony where the last handful of standing corn is cut, plaited, dressed with flowers and kept in the farmhouse kitchen until the following year. Sometimes mischievous spirits refuse to be banished so give them somewhere more fun to live. Spirit houses may be made from any material, decorated with twigs, feathers or hag stones, then placed in a quiet spot. Invite them into their new home and your problems should be solved.
Glass Spirit Houses


Sea Witchcraft
Witches are greatly influenced by their surroundings and in Cornwall there has always been an affinity with the sea. Witches work with the elements and it was, and still is, believed that they can influence the wind and rain. Predicting and controlling the weather was vital to sailors, fishermen and farmers. Before going to sea, sailors would buy the wind tied in a handkerchief or rope from a witch. The wind was released by untying the knots as required. The first knot produced a gentle wind to fill their sails; the second knot produced a strong wind and the A sorcerer selling the wind tied in third a tempest. We have not found any knots to sailors. spells for calming the wind. 1555 One of the museums prized possessions is a caul, a membrane sometimes covering a childs head at birth. They were much sought after by seamen as they were supposed to prevent drowning. It is common to find glass fishing floats hanging in cottage windows in Cornwall. These are the local equivalent of witchballs and will offer protection from curses and evil. They can also be used for scrying. The museum shows many examples of charms made with the fruits of the sea; for example, shell charms for love and fertility, mermaids purses used as spirit houses, sea horse charms to protect against the evil eye, and lobster claws containing written spells to attract a good catch. If you meet some fishermen we recommend that you ask them about their superstitions and taboos. You will find many are still followed today.
A Mermaids Purse


Working T ools
On display is a vast selection of tools used during rituals. Some witches use beautiful, elaborate paraphernalia whilst others prefer simple handmade tools. An altar may be a simple cloth laid on the ground or a convenient flat stone in a sacred place. The four elements are represented along with the Goddess and God. Often something seasonal is included like flowers, grain or leaves. Earth: represented by a pentacle, a dish of salt or earth. Our pentacles are fashioned out of wood, brass and stone. Air: represented by feathers, a bell or smoke from incense in a censer or thurible. Our display includes Alex Sanders censer which he claimed was given to him by Aleister Crowley. Fire: represented by a candle or lantern. A log fire is recommended when circumstances permit. Water: represented by a chalice, bowl or cauldron. Water for use in ritual is often collected from a sacred well or special place. Athame: The black handled knife directs magical power and represents the God and male energy. It is never used to cut or draw blood. Bolline: The white handled knife is used for cutting magical herbs etc. and may be inscribed with magical symbols. Wands: are generally used for directing the flow of energy. Different woods have different magical qualities. Broomsticks/Besoms: are used to symbolically sweep the ritual area clean of any unhelpful energies. They are also a convenient means of transport for the more accomplished witch! Scourges: are used symbolically in some traditions during initiation. They are not used to cause harm to the initiate.


Modern Witchcraft
Since the repeal of the 1735 Witchcraft Act in 1951, it has been legal to practice witchcraft in Britain. Several personalities influenced the revival of witchcraft but none more so than Gerald Gardner and Alex Sanders. They both formed and documented systems of beliefs and rituals that incorporated traditional material gathered from practising witches. Gardnerian and Alexandrian Wicca form the basis of most, but not all, modern witchcraft. In Cornwall and other remote counties, remnants of the traditional craft survive unaffected by modern trends. Some witches meet in covens while others prefer to practise as a solitary or with their magical Painting of Gerald Gardner partners, but most will celebrate the same courtesy of Patricia Crowther seasonal festivals. Many prefer to work outdoors in ancient sacred sites but this is not always practical. Throughout the country thousands of temples or ritual areas have been created in attics, cellars and spare bedrooms of urban houses. Some witches prefer to work skyclad (naked) as clothing can impair energy flow. This is obviously not always appropriate especially if celebrating outdoors at the Winter Solstice! Modern witchcraft is a religion: witches worship the Goddess in her many forms and the Horned God. The religion does not have a set of rules other than Do what thou will, but harm none. Followers come from diverse backgrounds and all walks of life. Wicca or Witchcraft is a Pagan religion along with Druidry, Shamanism, Odinism and many others. Throughout the country there are many Pagan groups and organisations that arrange open rituals and social meetings that anyone can attend. Correspondence courses and training are also available.


The Harbour Boscastle Cornwall PL35 0HD e-mail: Or visit our website at:

The owner of the Museum of Witchcraft acknowledges the tremendous help and support given by: The late Cecil Williamson The Friends of the Museum The Pagan Federation The Children of Artemis Rosalie Basten John Hooper/Hoopix

Also in Boscastle

Books, Music, Incense, Pictures, Crystal Balls, Tarot, Crystals, Magical Artefacts and Paraphernalia. (Next to the Old Mill)

The Otherworld


The museum is totally dependant on visitors; unlike most museums it does not receive any grants. The museum cannot survive without you, our visitors. It is your museum.

Published by the Museum of Witchcraft 2011