An exciting project just came to light involving Gemma
Gary's book Traditional Witchcraft (one of the Museum's best selling books) -
Mark Norman (Friend of the Museum) posted on Facebook today:
"I am delighted to be able to say that Gemma Gary's
well known and respected book Traditional Witchcraft: A Cornish Book of Ways is
now available as a CD audiobook, so you can listen in bed, on the move, or
wherever you like! For those that don't know it, here are the details of the
book: Traditional Witchcraft - A Cornish Book of Ways is a 21st century version
of traditional Cornish witchcraft, of the kind recorded by Hunt, Bottrell and
others. This is no neo-pagan or modern wiccan manual, but rather a deep drawing
up into modern times of some of the ancient practices of lore and magic
practiced by the white witches, charmers, conjurers and pellars of the Cornish
villages. Their presence was still current when the 18th and 19th century
antiquarians and collectors recorded them, and, although the 20th century
largely put paid to their activities, nevertheless their lore never completely
disappeared, and it continues to provide inspiration for practitioners today.
Gemma draws on this knowledge, not only from published material, but also from
the experiences and workings of ‘wise women’ and country witches living today.
"... this book is very highly recommended. It is essential reading for
anyone interested in modern traditional witchcraft as it is practiced in
south-west England today or indeed elsewhere in Britain" - Michael Howard,
The Cauldron The audiobook is unabridged and runs for 4 1/2 hours across 4 CDs.
The cost is just £14.99 + p&p (£3 in the UK) It has been an absolute
pleasure to be able to bring this book onto CD."
This is the final blog about our current exhibition - Witches and Witchlore: the illustrations of Jos A Smith.
One of the themes of the exhibition is the importance of this book - its influence. Throughout the exhibition, quotes have been included from different Friends of the Museum commenting on their experiences of reading the book and seeing the illustrations. We are really grateful to the people who so openly and eloquently expressed their connection with this work for us. It added further resonance to the exhibition and linked it in beautifully with the rest of the Museum.
Here are some their stories...
“I was a
bookish teenager, increasingly aware of how my interests had diverged from
those of my classmates, hunting through the local library for anything on
British folklore, witchcraft, the occult, the mystical...I told the assistant
something about being interested in the history of Halloween for a project, and
she directed me to Witches by Erica Jong. It was the first book I had
ever seen on witchcraft, and in many ways the most profound and important...I
cannot understate the impact those images had on me....page after page of
clues, of hints at what I might be, what I might become. They were a gateway into The
Craft for me. As an artist
myself I should not be surprised at the power of Jos's imagery, art is capable
of such rich and complex language without words, yet looking through the book
once again, over thirty years since I first held it, I find I am still moved to
tears by his work.”Deborah
Westmancoat, Friend of the Museum
evocative images of Jos Smith will always stay with me. 'Witches' was a volume
I purchased soon after it's first publication. Erica Jong's text probably did
more to awaken my desire to explore the mystery of witchcraft than any number
of the more straight down the line Wiccan books I had encountered. Here was a
witchcraft that was redolent of rebellion, transgression, the brooding power of
the sacred feminine and much more. Smith's illustrations described a world of
half-light, of blasted heaths and torture, but also one in which ancient
full-breasted goddesses and the bright light of summer swirled together to lift
the witch out of the dark and high into a translucent sky.”
Julian Vayne, Friend of the Museum
“I would spend hours immersed within the book; exploring the paths from image to image throughout which the dark and the light of witchcraft are expressed in equal measure. Tantalising glimpses are given of haunting landscapes within and beyond many images, and shifting, transitory forms and part-revealed presences pervade; for these are images of that which cannot be fully grasped or defined.” Gemma Gary, Friend of the Museum
and ideas of witchcraft may have moved on since then, but as an inspiration and
evocative piece of art without doubt it still stands the test of time.Back in the late 1980s when I
was keenly reading the works of the occultist Dion Fortune, I recall her saying
that “Fantasy is the ass that carries the ark” …that is to say that, far from
being just a romantic frivolity, images and myths are actually essential tools
to carry us through our inner worlds. I recall that at the time of
reading this Jos Smith’s illustrations to Witches instantly sprang to mind!” Steve
Patterson, Friend of the Museum
Hopefully this exhibition (which runs until November 2015) will continue to inspire new audiences. We are certainly getting wonderful feedback from Museum visitors.
Peter and Judith Hewitt will be giving a talk at Nottingham Empyrean on Wednesday 2nd September at 8pm. The talk will be on the history of the Museum but the majority of it will be us guiding listeners through the Museum, talking about the different areas in the collection and looking at some objects in focus. We were really pleased to be invited after the organiser visited the Museum as we're keen to get well known farther north and provide information (and hopefully inspiration) to people who aren't able to visit the Museum regularly.
Welcome to the penultimate part of our online tour of our current temporary exhibition. The exhibition title is Witches and Witchlore: the illustrations of Jos A Smith. These works have never been displayed before and this is the first exhibition of Jos Smith's work in the UK. The illustrations originally appeared in the book 'Witches' published in 1981 with text by Erica Jong.
This section of the exhibition is dominated by these amazing animal paintings of a pig, toad, rabbit, cockrel, dog and goat. They feature in the book in a section on witch's familiars. We also have a raven on display in another area of the gallery.
Smith says of these images: “They are examples of a series
of birds and animals whose images come from things that I visualize using a
combination of trance techniques that I have put together from things that I
have learned from the Nyingmapa sect of Tibetan Buddhism, shamanist trance that
I learned from an anthropologist (Michael Harner) who has studied the Siberian
shamans, and non-drug induced altered states.”
The next image is a little controversial. For this reason it is covered by a curtain in the gallery. Top photograph shows the image covered and below you can see the striking image.
This provocative image has a large text panel next to it which includes a quote from Jong and a brief exploration of the connections between sex and witchcraft.
Erica Jong: “In some sense, the word “witch” is synonymous
in our minds with the word “woman”.
Perhaps this is because we associate woman’s creative powers with the
manipulation of vast, unseen forces. Or
perhaps we intuitively understand that during the long centuries when women
were themselves the semi slaves of society, they were naturally drawn to
witchcraft as a cure for their powerlessness, a means of manipulating a world
that otherwise manipulated them. In any
case, we always imagine the witch as female – and the Devil as male.”
As part of the exhibition, we have tried to explore how the images in this work have influenced its readers. Julian Vayne, Friend of the Museum, commented on the significance of this image for him:
“Another favourite is the image of the devil and a bonneted, but
otherwise naked, witch. In this scene there is an arresting blend of raw sexual
energy, beauty and an intimate tenderness. This artwork stands in the
tradition of the woman and satyr fresco painting from Pompeii, and the Pan
and she-goat sculpture from Herculaneum. Smith's vision subverts the
morbid fantasies of the inquisitors and instead connects us with this ancient
and erotically joyful artistic lineage.”
Exhibition runs until November. Part Five (final part) coming soon.
We were paid a visit last week by Elaine Gill (the new voice of Joan in our Wise Woman's cottage!) The new collection of spells and charms which visitors listen to were collated by Steve Patterson, Gemma Gary and Jane Cox. They are old West Country ones and are performed brilliantly by Elaine - a West Country woman. With sound effects such as crackling fire, mewing cats and screeching owls it is really evocative. Here is a photo of Elaine and Steve with Joan in her cottage.
The new cottage soundtrack has been going down well with visitors. Everyone at the Museum liked the old recording but it had played for over ten years and it was felt that now was a good time for it to be refreshed. It is nice for repeat visitors to experience something new and it is a good opportunity to introduce visitors to different charms and spells. All that has happened is that Joan has expanded her repertoire!
The cottage soundtrack will be available as a CD for sale soon and a book about Joan's cottage will also be published in the foreseeable future. The CD features an introduction by Steve and some great music at the end.
Many thanks to everyone involved for all their work on this project!
The Cornish sun does like to fade things and it is time for us to change the visitor comment sections of the Museum's exterior. We've replaced our old Trip Advisor comments with some new ones (see below).
And we've changed the visitor comment card board outside the Museum. The previous set of visitor comments were wilting! Here is the new board and some of the best comments.
Glad to know there are so many happy visitors out there!
It was a beautiful evening in Boscastle last night. The sun had beamed down all day with people swimming in the Harbour and eating ice creams by the thousand.
We arrived back at the Museum after walking our dog last night to see a most beautiful sight - Pan's shadow on the Museum. In the top photo you can see the sun setting in the Harbour. Below you can see the outline made by Willow Pan on the Museum. It certainly livened up that old drain pipe!
The window display was also looking particularly nice in the light of a golden setting sun. If you look carefully you can also see Pan's legs...
Pan was made by Woody Fox and is on loan to the Museum from him (thanks Woody!)
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.
A copy of Anna McKerrow's book, Crow Moon, features in our Images of Witchcraft display. It is in a drawer with other books on witchcraft aimed at young adults. The book is based in Tintagel and the Museum features in it. Ann is a Friend of the Museum.
With the holiday season upon us, it is interesting to see
how popular Cornish pisky charms still are with visitors. We now stock them in
the museum shop, and they are one of our bestselling lines. We also have
several very fine old examples in the museum’s collection.
Traditionally, these little piskies were often sold with a
card claiming that they would not only bring good luck but also grant wishes – suggesting
that they could be viewed as a kind of familiar spirit. And in fact they are a
revealing survival of ancient beliefs about the relationship between humans and
the fairy folk, and in particular the idea that magical powers were often the
gift of the fairies.
In his book Daemonologie,
King James I mentioned that many witches used magical stones which had been
given to them by the Queen of Elfland. Although these stones were used for
healing, owning one could help to send you to the gallows or the stake.
King James argued that fairies were a manifestation of the
Devil, and one of the people who fell foul of this official prejudice against
fairies was the young Cornish wise woman Anne Jefferies, who lived at St Teath,
not far from the museum’s home in Boscastle. She was a famous healer, who helped
clients from all over southern Britain. However, she openly admitted that her
healing powers had been given to her by the fairies. Although she had never
been accused of harming anyone, the local magistrate (the notoriously corrupt
John Tregeagle) had her arrested for witchcraft, claiming that the fairies were
evil spirits. Anne spent a grim three months in Bodmin jail awaiting trial, but
fortunately the case against her was dismissed – though she was forced to adopt
a more low-profile life in Padstow.
Cornish piskies are delightful and amusing souvenirs, but
perhaps they owe at least some of their popularity to a sense of the ancient
magic still attached to them.
Our new window display for the Autumn Equinox is now in
place. The equinox marks the day when
the Sun rises exactly East and sets exactly West. At this time of year the Solar decrease
begins and the dark half of the year is upon us. Plants are dying back, the leaves are falling from the trees in the ever continuing wheel of death and rebirth. Day and night are equal this day. Light and dark, male and female all equal.
The theme for this window is the second harvest, the harvest of fruits.
To celebrate this, we have apples hanging from the Stag’s antlers (designed by Marti Dean), and a beautiful decorative swag of hops hanging from the ceiling.
We also have this beautiful cider bottle, sealed with wax
and ‘oak apples’ or galls. Cecil
Williamson wrote about this item:
“Charm bottle made for the protection of cider apple orchards
from frost, bugs of all sorts and to have the bees to fertilize the blossoms. Made by a green witch working the Ottery St
Mary area. Tightly corked and sealed with wax, seven oak apples, or to be
precise seven gall nuts from the oak tree, serve as a symbolic symbol. Entrapped inside the spirit of cider rests on
his sea bed of vintage cider, ever ready to burst forth should danger threaten.”
The Museum of Witchcraft and Magic is visited from people around the world. We try our best to make them welcome and now have foreign language guides available in five languages - French, Italian, Spanish, German and Dutch. The guides provide a very brief introduction to each of the sections in the Museum and have proven really helpful. They are available to pick up as visitors enter the Museum.
The translations were done by members of the Pagan Federation International. We are really grateful to them for their help. http://www.paganfederation.org/
If you would like to translate a guide into a language you know just email the Museum. We would particularly like a guide in Japanese and one in Polish (as we have a lot of visitors who would find that beneficial). We also get a lot of visitors from Scandinavia so if you know any of those languages please do let us know!
We received a lovely email the other day which told us that we were getting a substantial donation. The donation was administered by Graham King on behalf of the Richel and Eldermans Research Group.
This money will be used to help re-display this fascinating Collection. To quote from the email: "the Richel / Eldermans collection...has been in place over 10 years now,[it] is to be refurbished with a new display case, lighting and texts, it's a great opportunity to refresh the displays and show the exhibits in an updated format, particularly as the museum has many repeat visitors."
In case you don't know about the Richel/Eldermans Collection, here is a newspaper article about its arrival and also some images of the sorts of things it contains - lots of wonderful objects and artworks.
The refurbishments won't start until November but we have already had one significant delivery - a new cabinet to display the Collection in. This cabinet arrived on Thursday and it proved quite challenging to move! Here are Peter and Mark (Friend of the Museum) moving the cabinet. They were also helped by an anonymous passer by (thanks!).
Many thanks to the Richel/Eldermans Group for their donation and to Graham King for making it happen and for dealing with the bank on their behalf.