Museum of Witchcraft The world’s largest collection of paraphernalia and artifacts related to folk magic, witchcraft, Wicca and ritual magic is based in Boscastle, Cornwall, England. The museum was founded by researcher Cecil Williamson and a version of it was owned for a time by Gerald B. Gardner.
Williamson’s personal interest and research in witchcraft—he also founded the Witchcraft Research Centre— led to his acquisition of thousands of magical objects and items of occult interest. After World War II, he conceived of the idea of opening a witchcraft museum as a way of having his own business and continuing his research. His initial site in 1947 was Stratford-upon-Avon, the birthplace of Shakespeare and a popular tourist destination, but local opposition soon forced him out of town.
Williamson then selected Castletown on the Isle of man—a summer tourist attraction—as a quieter location. The museum reopened there at Whitsun in 1949 as the Folklore Centre of Superstition and Witchcraft. Gerald Gardner, described in the media as “the resident witch” of Castletown, officiated at the opening and sold his novel, High Magic’s Aid, there. The facility included a restaurant, the Witches kitchen, for which Williamson had specially made dishes embossed with witches on broomsticks. The restaurant was the idea of Williamson’s wife, Gwen, as a way to bring in business.
Gardner purchased the buildings and restaurant from Williamson in 1952, but no exhibits. He placed his own magical and occult objects in it.
Williamson moved his exhibits back to England, establishing a witchcraft museum in Windsor near Windsor Castle in 1952. It was a success with tourists, but local residents took a dim view of it, and Williamson was persuaded to move elsewhere. He relocated to Bourtonon-the-Water in 1954. Local fear of witchcraft received media coverage that helped his business, but Williamson was plagued with ongoing harassment, including sigils marked on his door, dead Cats left on his doorstep, and arsonry that destroyed a wing of the museum.
As his collection grew larger, Williamson needed a bigger facility. He moved again, to Loe in Cornwall, and finally in 1960 to Boscastle on the Cornish north coast, where he established it as the Witches House in the picturesque harbor area of the village.
In 1996, Williamson retired and sold the museum, including several thousand but not all of its exhibits, to Graham king and Liz Crow. king lives in quarters attached to the museum.
King, a Pagan with interests in Witchcraft, had his own business manufacturing specialist cameras in Hampshire but wanted to sell it. He saw a newspaper article that told of the museum being for sale, and if no buyer could be found the collection might be sold as individual lots. He became interested in buying the entire collection and business. The deal was completed at midnight Samhain 1996.
Williamson’s investigations had brought him a wide array of paraphernalia, sometimes purchased, sometimes given to him. Objects included tools for spellcasting, tools for ritual high magic, herbs and other ingredients, poppets, potions, Divination tools, clothing, magical jewelry, books and manuscripts, photographs, drawings and paintings, and more. There are Talismans made by Gardner, the ritual chalice that belonged to
Aleister Crowley, swords and an altar slab used by Alex Sanders, and artifacts owned by other persons famous in modern Witchcraft and magic.
Perhaps Williamson’s most celebrated exhibits were the skeletons of Ursula kempe, an Essex woman executed as a witch in 1582 (see St. Osyth WItChes), and JoAn wytte, the “Fighting Fairy Woman of Bodmin Town,” who died in jail in 1813. Williamson kept kempe’s remains for his private collection, but sold those of Wytte as part of the museum’s 5,000-plus exhibits. Williamson never publicly displayed all of his collection, believing that some aspects of the real witch’s craft must remain secret.
According to Williamson, Gardner did not own enough objects to fill all of his display cases in Castletown, and prevailed upon Williamson to lend him some of his talismans and amulets. Williamson agreed, but took the precaution of making plaster casts and imprints of each metal item. The objects were still in Gardner’s possession when he died in 1964. The museum and its contents were inherited by monIque wIlson, who, as Lady Olwen, had been Gardner’s high priestess.
Williamson said he asked for the return of his talismans and amulets, but Wilson declined. Williamson decided not to pursue the matter in court, but did pursue a more traditional remedy: a ritual Curse. He called upon the power of the Familiar spirits to “bring, and to cause, discomforture [sic] to the enemy.” Just how much discomfiture the curse caused is not certain. However, Wilson did not keep the exhibits long, but sold them to ripley’s Believe It Or Not in America. much of the collection has since been dispersed through sale; objects have even been offered over the Internet. Williamson kept the plaster casts and imprints.
King and Crow reorganized the museum and freshened the tableaux, moving some of the more sensational ones, such as a mannequin of a partially clothed woman laid out as an altar for a BlACk mAss. In keeping with Williamson’s original vision, most of the exhibits feature historical folk witchcraft and the “wayside witch” or village wise woman or Cunning Man. The museum also features modern Witchcraft and ritual magic, and shows the overlaps between Christianity, Paganism, Freemasonry, rosicrucianism, alchemy and so on. king retained a small case on Satanism, chiefly to educate visitors to the distinction between Satanism and Witchcraft. He added a room that recreates a traditional witch’s cottage, with its collection of herbs and divination tools, and a mannequin of a wise woman doing her craft at her table.
Exhibits also show the history of witchcraft and the persecutions, the role of stone circles and sacred sites in rituals, sCryIng and Divination, Healing, sea witchcraft lore, the Horned God, the hAre and shape-shifting (see metamorphosis) and working tools of the Witch and magician (see wItches’ tools).
The museum’s policy is to display all aspects of folk and religious witchcraft, including items related to cursing used in the past by village witches. Cursing is not officially condoned in modern Wicca/Paganism.
King removed Wytte’s skeleton for a proper burial. Her empty coffin remained on display.
The museum also functions as an information resource center for the media and public, and as an informal gathering place for Wiccans and Pagans. An independent club, “The Friends of the museum,” raises funds for the purchase of new exhibits.
The museum collection continues to grow with donations. many Witches bequeath their working tools to the museum in their wills, thus ensuring that their possessions are not abused after their death.
On August 16, 2004, Boscastle was hit by torrential rain and a flash flood. The museum suffered damage to some of its exhibits and closed for repairs until march 25, 2005. Supporters donated funds, books and artifacts.
- “Museum of Witchcraft.” Available online. UrL: https://www. witchcraft.co.uk/boscastle.htm. Downloaded November 4, 2007.
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