From broomsticks to crystal balls, it’s got it all
The Museum of Witchcraft & Magic can be found by the harbour in Boscastle, a picturesque village in Cornwall. It was created by Cecil Williamson in 1951, who had a lifelong interest in the occult, and originally opened the museum in Castletown, Isle of Man. The museum eventually settled in Boscastle in 1960 and at the time offered visitors a strange mix of displays and tableaux mixed with a rare selection of West Country objects.
The Boscastle location wasn’t chosen by chance, rather Cecil felt it was steeped in ancient magic with the spirit world remaining close for centuries. In the past, he said: “Three miles aways from this spot you can find a prehistoric maze carved into a living rock face, proof that from ancient times man and his magic making were active in this area.”
The Museum of Witchcraft and Magic, is the world’s oldest and largest collection of items relating to witchcraft, magic and the occult with over 3,000 otherworldly objects and over 7,000 books. Simon Costin is the museum’s current director and has overseen the running of the museum since 2013. Simon’s relationship with the museum started back in 2004 after flash floods hit Boscastle damaging the museum. He found himself watching the devastation back in London. “I had known of the museum for many years, but it had always seemed too remote reach,” Simon says. After getting in touch with the then owner, Graham King, Simon was a go-between with the Geology Museum in London which was decommissioning old mahogany display cases and arranged for them to be donated to the museum. “Graham asked if I would become the new owner and custodian in 2012 and in 2013 documents were signed on October 31st,” a spookily fitting date.
Since then Simon has been able to indulge his passion for all things magic which he’s been drawn to since childhood, voraciously reading books “which dealt with stories of the uncanny” as well as devouring his parent’s copy of the Reader’s Digest, Folklore, Myths and Legends of Britain.
“The majority of the objects are from Cecil’s original collection but we receive many donations from magical practitioners and we also actively check auction websites and of course, Ebay!” Simon says of the museum’s growing collection. Concentrating mainly on magical objects within the UK, the litmus test for artifacts becoming a part of the museum’s collection is establishing exactly “who the owner was and how the object may have been used”.
While the collection is already an eclectic mix, Simon and his team often take to the internet to scout objects and for a long time they’ve been trying to find a toadstone ring. “The toadstone is also known as Bufonite and was thought to be an antidote to poison and to be found in the head of a toad,” explains Simon. “Toadstones are actually the fossilised teeth of Lepidotes, an extinct fish from the Jurassic and Cretaceous period. Toadstone rings were first reported in the 14th century and were produced all the way to the 18th. They’re quite hard to come by, so are at the top of our list!”
The museum’s involvement in the British Library’s exhibition Harry Potter: A History of Magic, has seen it loan a plethora of enchanted objects including a 20th century exploded cauldron, a serpentine-shaped wand, a magical mirror that was used to practice divination and a black moon crystal ball, among many other things.
While these objects might be familiar to fans of the books, the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic has had it’s fair share of more unexpected artifacts over the years. “There is a preserved human head which was thought to be a medieval relic and was affectionately known as ‘Harry’,” explains Simon. “Some years ago the head underwent forensic investigation and turned out to be part of an Egyptian Mummy, and ‘he’ was a ‘she’! She is now called Harriet.”
As the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic's collection continues to grow and becomes even more enchanted, the museum provides us with a chance to look back at the rich history of magic and learn more about the many ways people welcomed the supernatural into their lives.