phone mail2 facebook twitter play
Discover: The Museum of Witchcraft and Magic, Boscastle, Cornwall
Image Credit: The Museum of Witchcraft and Magic. Glen Bowman

Discover: The Museum of Witchcraft and Magic, Boscastle, Cornwall

15 April 2017 | Belphoebe New

Stories of witchcraft and magic have been a staple on the pages of children’s books and on our television and film screens, from Roald Dahl's witches through to Harry Potter. But far from being pure fiction, paganism has in fact been practiced throughout history. Evidence of pagan worship thousands of years before the birth of Christ has been discovered in the form of makeshift altars and a devotion to anthropomorphic Gods. In the present day, a modern Wiccan religion exists that celebrates compassion, kindness and the forces of human nature. The Museum of Witchcraft and Magic in Boscastle, Cornwall charts this history, with mysterious artefacts that tell the story of paganism and the presence of magic in modern society. We take a look around the museum alongside co-manager Judith Hewitt.

Boscastle is a sleepy fishing village that sits alongside the idyllic North Coast of Cornwall, a place so remote and picturesque that it almost feels as if it is on the very edge of the world. Standing alongside a trickling stream in this tranquil setting is the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic, the world’s largest collection of objects related to witchcraft, magic and the occult. ‘It gives an insight into an alternative history of the world, exploring the taboo of witchcraft and magic,’ Judith remarks, ‘as well as being a hub for practicing witches today.’
 
Spread out over two floors and with over 3000 objects on display, the museum is overflowing with weird and wonderful items that tell the story of witchcraft from ancient times to the present day. It was founded by Cecil Williamson, who had a lifelong interest in witchcraft and the occult, in collaboration with the founder of the modern pagan religion Gerald Gardner. Moving from various locations across the country, it took a while for the museum to find a permanent site that suited its topic - but eventually it found it's natural home in Boscastle, Cornwall.

The Museum of Witchcraft and Magic, Boscastle
The Museum of Witchcraft and Magic, Glen Bowman
 
Cecil himself famously summed up his decision to settle in the North Cornwall village because of its abundance of three things: ‘pigs, witches and boats.’ Indeed, the establishing of the museum in Boscastle almost feels as if it was a spiritual inevitability, as Judith explains: ‘The building itself dates back to the 16th century, and had a reputation locally as the witches’ house. We have the legend of the Cornish witch, who would sell tied knots to the sailors before they went to sea, promising that if they untied them on their journey they would have the weather they required for their voyage.’ It’s clear that Boscastle is still very much in tune with its pagan past. ‘It has an old-world feel here. This is a place where unusual ideas, beliefs, practices and people feel safe and can congregate.’
 
The museum’s displays are not just a conglomeration of oddities, but a comprehensive history of witchcraft through the ages and the images of witchcraft in popular culture. ‘We explore the stereotypes, the iconography of witches such as the hat and the broom.’ Friendly and familiar images of witchcraft in popular culture such as that of Harry Potter lead into darker territory, namely the widespread persecution of people believed to be practicing witchcraft between 1500 and 1700. The grisly details of the methods used to out witches are explored, as well as some of the texts which detailed the equal parts of intrigue and fear of having witchcraft in a community.

The Museum of Witchcraft and Magic, Boscastle
The Museum of Witchcraft and Magic, Boscastle. Mat Gilespie
 
The rest of the museum leads the visitor through some familiar and not so familiar symbols of witchcraft, the magic of modern day wise women, dolls used as cursing tools, a forest display full of spirits, including a hybrid statue of a woman and a hare, and a horned God. The divination room explores a connection with the unknown, from eerie black mirrors to familiar objects such as Ouija boards and Tarot cards. Judith mentions some of the most striking objects on display – something, she admits, is difficult to pick out. ‘The dark mirror owned by Cecil, the founder, is huge, dark and mysterious, and there’s this idea that you may look in and see another world reflected, like a portal. Many visitors see strange things in it. Personally I love this tiny little set of stones, used by witches in Devon as a portable altar. They’d carry it up to the top of Dartmoor at night and set up a fire in front of it, chanting and dancing around it drinking honeymeade, the fairy liquor.’
 
The legacy and enduring fascination with magic and witchcraft has seen the museum become one of the most popular museums in Cornwall. It has survived in sometimes adverse circumstances, namely the devastating flooding of 2004 which almost wiped it out forever. But with some help from the local community, it quickly reopened and now attracts more visitors than ever. Judith considers the museum’s appeal: ‘As people grow up, they maybe become more close-minded and shut off their imaginations and become quite riddled in scientific dogma. But witchcraft is empowering for people who feel that they don’t have any power, which is why children like it so much, and why it appeals to a lot of women as well. To have such a deep connection to another deep set of values, it’s having a power that comes from somewhere else.’ She sums up: ‘The religions that our ancestors practiced are more in touch with the natural world, and modern witchcraft is in some ways a reaction against modernity, against patriarchal rule, a different world view that is less about competition and more about compassion.’
 
Whether you’re a believer or an open-minded skeptic, The Museum of Witchcraft and Magic gives an unrivalled insight into a misunderstood practice and an alternative history of the world -spotlighting the traditions of ancient times that have been passed down through generations and quietly celebrated. 
 
The Museum of Witchcraft and Magic is at the Harbour, Boscastle, Cornwall, PL35 0HD. Entrance is £5 for adults and £4 for children and concessions. Find out more here.
 
 

Tell us what you think

You may also like

A Guide to the Dutch Season at the Brighton Fringe

A Guide to the Dutch Season at the Brighton Fringe

The very best of the Netherlands’ comedy, theatre and dance join the Brighton Fringe this year for the new ‘Dutch Season’. Fifteen of the most unique acts…

Cinema: What’s on this April

Cinema: What’s on this April

It’s April and the sun is slowly appearing from behind the clouds. You don’t want any of that though, do you? You’d much prefer to be…

Constable and Brighton at the Brighton Museum & Art Gallery

Constable and Brighton at the Brighton Museum & Art Gallery

When you think of John Constable your mind might wander to Suffolk fields and sleepy bays, or images of Hampstead Heath when it truly was…

Top 5 Sunday Roasts in Cambridge

Top 5 Sunday Roasts in Cambridge

A side of beef with a handful of parsnips. A lamb shoulder with a healthy dollop of mint sauce. This is the stuff that Sundays…

Exeter on a Budget

Exeter on a Budget

Exeter, Devon’s capital city, is a wonderful blend of busy city, serene nature and vibrant culture. Boasting a history that pre-dates the Romans yet retaining a…

FILM REVIEW: A Quiet Passion

FILM REVIEW: A Quiet Passion

Not many would have thought that coming round to the ripe old age of 70, Terence Davies—the eternal sage of British cinema—would be entering the most…

Win a Family Stay at Marwell Hotel and Zoo

Marwell Wildlife - Win a Family Stay at Marwell Hotel and Zoo

Looking for a family weekend this summer? We’re giving away a family stay at the amazing Marwell Zoo’s on-site lodgings, the Marwell Hotel.

A Guide to May Day in Cambridge

A Guide to May Day in Cambridge

It’s that time of year again. The May Bank Holiday is upon us, and students in Oxford and Cambridge spend the weekend trying to raise the…

A Sushi Lovers Guide to Bristol

A Sushi Lovers Guide to Bristol

Sushi is no longer considered the hipster fad it once was. It has become hugely popular across the country leading to an influx of restaurants…

A Guide to May Day in Oxford

A Guide to May Day in Oxford

For those outside the Oxbridge axis, the last night of April will mean very little. For an Oxford local, however, it’s one of the most fun…

Most popular

Win Two Tickets to the Brighton Fringe’s Spiegeltent and a Meal for Two!

Brighton Fringe - Win Two Tickets to the Brighton Fringe’s Spiegeltent and a Meal for Two!

Roll up, Roll up! We're giving away two tickets to a fantastic evening at the Brighton Fringe’s Spiegeltent, plus a delicious meal!
Win Free Entry to The Canterbury Tales Experience

The Canterbury Tales - Win Free Entry to The Canterbury Tales Experience

We're giving away the chance to win free entry to an interactive tour through Chaucer's tales, meeting costumed characters and pilgrims along the way.
A Guide to the Dutch Season at the Brighton Fringe

A Guide to the Dutch Season at the Brighton Fringe

We celebrate the best of Holland's cultural offerings at the Brighton Fringe.
A Guide to May Day in Cambridge

A Guide to May Day in Cambridge

The May Bank Holiday is upon us, so experience it Cambridge-style.
A Hangover Guide to Brighton

A Hangover Guide to Brighton

Here are the greatest hangover cures following a night out in Brighton.
Win a Family Stay at Marwell Hotel and Zoo

Marwell Wildlife - Win a Family Stay at Marwell Hotel and Zoo

Looking for a family weekend this summer? We’re giving away a family stay at the amazing Marwell Zoo’s on-site lodgings, the Marwell Hotel.
Top 5 Sunday Roasts in Nottingham

Top 5 Sunday Roasts in Nottingham

We've scouted out the best roasts Nottingham has to offer.
5 Things You Didn’t Know About Oxford’s History

5 Things You Didn’t Know About Oxford’s History

We've compiled 5 of Oxford's lesser-known historical facts.
Bristol’s Hidden Gems: Alternative Date Ideas

Bristol’s Hidden Gems: Alternative Date Ideas

Here's a selection of some of the best unusual date spots across Bristol.
A Weekend Away in Arundel

A Weekend Away in Arundel

We spend a weekend in the beautiful Arundel, West Sussex.

Your inbox deserves a little culture!