… intriguing miscellany …

witch poppet moppet witchcraft


Spellbound: Magic, Ritual & Witchcraft is a fascinating and wide ranging exhibition which starts on Friday 31 August.

Different sections are loosely grouped into themes: “How to Live Well in a Complex World”, “Love, “Magic and Mystery in the Home”, “The Idea of Witchcraft” etc. and there was much to enjoy across the three rooms.

I was fascinated by the Poppet wearing Edwardian dress from Museum of Witchcraft and Magic, Boscastle (above). I loved this beautiful Ghirlanda delle Streghe, a Tuscan feather and bone charm from the C19th, apparently placed inside a mattress to cause death. (Pitt Rivers Museum.)

feather garland italian

And still on the feathered theme, there is a wonderful Witches’ Ladder (below) which was probably a sewel, a type of scarecrow used to keep deer from crops. (Pitt Rivers Museum.)

scarecrow deer sewel

There was a strong section on c14th to c18th engravings showing witches’ sabbaths, temptations, etc.; some interesting contemporary installations – I’m very happy to be introduced to Ackroyd & Harvey, a couple of artists I hadn’t come across before; and a great selection of magical mirrors.

Although I savoured every bit, I did feel that the exhibition lacked a strong thematic through line; I was surprised to see a display focusing on Helen Duncan and Spiritualism for instance. I was also slightly bemused by the positioning of some descriptive panels: a few were too far away from the display cases for easy reference. I assume this was to place my first viewing of these objects in the context of a discovery – a couple of cases are set up as chimneys. But I wasn’t convinced it added anything but a search for the reference.

Minor quibbles, Spellbound is definitely a show to enjoy and admire.

Spellbound: Magic, Ritual & Witchcraft at the Ashmolean runs from 31 August until 6 January 2019 (Tue – Sun 10am – 5pm) and is definitely worth a visit. For more information, please visit the museum’s own website, here.

Instead of a catalogue, the accompanying book is a collection of essays by the curatorial team which is well illustrated and I look forward to reading it.