Dear Mummy, it’s a harsh and blustery winters day as we make our trip to Boscastle. There aren’t many daylight hours left in mid-winter as we drive down winding roads deep in North Cornwall with the sky threatening a storm.
The picturesque harbour of Boscastle is one of Cornwall’s most romantic places, however on a day like today it is sinister and dramatic. It is a place steeped in history, associated with artists and authors who have been inspired by its rugged beauty. It’s also a working harbour set in a long narrow valley which runs down to a steep and rocky entrance to the raging sea. Waves crash against the rocks and the icy wind nips at my nose.
My folks remember watching Boscastle on the news after the horrendous flooding and mudslides in 2004 and it really is quite exposed to the elements. Thankfully the damaged buildings have been restored bringing the village back to life.
We’re on the hunt for The Museum of Witchcraft and Magic and ever since the smaller exhibition in London was held by The Last Tuesday Society we’ve been on a mission to explore the main collection. My mummy is fascinated by Pagan Witchcraft. She has made her annual pilgrimage to the Coven of Witches at Burley in the New Forest for years (which was home of Britain’s most famous witch’ Sybil Leek). She also enjoys reading about Gerald Gardner who is often referred to the “Father of Wicca”.
I am interested to find more about witches and explore the area of Boscastle. The landscape, coastline and quaint old buildings catch my eye as I point them out from the car window. Boscastle village also happens to lie on the fringes of the South West Coastal Path, which stretches all the way around the counties of Devon and Cornwall and is the longest footpath in the UK which reaches 630 miles in length. Woweee mummy! That’s some walk!
However we won’t be doing much walking today with the gale blowing us along Boscastle harbour. As we wander around we notice the old buildings have wonky rooftops and the crooked cottages as they have real character. But the The Museum of Witchcraft and Magic hasn’t always been in Boscastle. It opened in 1951 and was located on the Isle of Man with the collection exchanging hands numerous times. In 1960 the museum came to Boscastle and unfortunately, the museum and some of its collections were damaged during the floods of Boscastle in 2004. However, it remains in operation to this day, and can be visited on almost every day of the year with a lot of the exhibits magically protected from the damage…strange but true!
Boscastle has a magical feel to it and is hidden deep in a valley with a secluded harbour. It is close to Tintagel, legendary birth place of King Arthur and my daddy was disappointed to not visit Boscastle’s neighbouring village. However we were on another quest…
Nestled in a little corner of the village nearest the sea, we found The Museum of Witchcraft and Magic, the only museum of its kind in South West England. The collections inside are dedicated primarily to European witchcraft and houses a whole range of things to see (including Freemasonry, folk magic, ceremonial magic and Wicca exhibitions).
The first part of the museum focused on the stereotypes of the witch in popular culture. Paganism is often identified with the so-called “dark side” of the occult. I point to books that I’ve read before like, Meg and Mog, Winnie the Witch and the Wizard of Oz. The exhibition shows us stills from films like Harry Potter before going into the persecution and murder of witches in the 17th and 18th centuries.
Over 50,000 people worldwide were killed for practicing magic and seeing the list of names made us realise this fact and that it wasn’t morbid myth. Accusations of witch-craft in this period of time were often associated with devil-worship and Satanism. Witch-hunts were used to target any heretical (non-mainstream Christian) beliefs. A misconception is that witches were burned at the stake in Britain, but the reality is that they were almost always hanged. We read about wise women and the sisterhood who practiced the art of magic. Thankfully the era of witch trials ended with the Witchcraft Act (1735) which made it illegal to claim magical powers or to accuse anybody of being a witch.
The Museum of Witchcraft and Magic has loads of witchy objects but be warned this place is packed full of creepy and dark objects that might frighten very young kids. I on the other hand have a curious fascination for a 5-year-old.
The museum is a quirky house with twists and turns, nooks and crannies filled with glass cases of artefacts and manuscripts. The best bit for me was finding little wooden doors hidden with questions and answers at children’s levels. I found them in walls, tables and cabinets and they kept me amused while my folks browsed the exhibits. The displays weren’t too advanced for someone without any former knowledge of paganism and we could spend hours here reading and learning about the origins and practices.
The captions on the cabinets were fascinating, informative and accessible. My folks read them out to me so I could understand what the objects were in the cases. If certain items were deemed too adult my folks distracted me with something else. A lot of the time I found the displays memorable and beautiful, especially the artworks and models. We loved how the magical subjects have been portrayed by various artists, some godly and others otherworldly.
My folks learned about herbs and healing (which has led to further reading from my mummy), magic in wartime and maritime, protection magic and fortune-telling. We also found out about modern witchcraft and the different festivals/sabbats celebrated throughout the year.
Most of the exhibits in the museum feature artefacts related to historical folk magic and the cunning folk. I was taken with Joan Wytte, the Wise Woman, portraying the true origins of witchcraft. There is a room within the museum which recreates a tradition cunning woman’s cottage, termed “Joan’s cottage”, with a mannequin, surrounded by various herbs and fortune-telling tools waiting for someone to tap on her door in need of her help.
There are plenty of interesting items to examine from Poppets to Brigid Crosses, Ouija boards, Runes and Glass Spirit Bottles! My mummy wondered who’d used these artefacts before they were donated to the museum.
“Paganism is a spiritual path to some, a religion to others, that helps people to reconnect with the natural world, their ancestors, and the Otherworlds of myth and folklore,” Damh the Bard, of the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids (OBOD) BBC 2012
“Paganism has nothing to do with dark magic rituals or sacrifices – it’s a faith in nature-based deities,” David Spofforth of the Pagan Federation. BBC 2012
After an hour we headed back outside into the bright daylight and even though my folks could have walked around again to read more captions in-depth, I was clearly getting restless and craved food for lunch. Luckily for us there was a National Trust Cafe next door and we sat and enjoyed cake while discussing what we’d seen in the museum.
Along the way back up to the carpark we spotted The Cobwebs Pub and restaurant and wished we’d headed there for a hot lunch, looking through the windows it was clearly busy as half the village seemed to be in there warming up next to the fire. Cold and tired we headed back to Coombe Mill. It certainly was a day we will remember for a long time.
Would you visit The Museum of Witchcraft and Magic? It truly was a fascinating place!
Love Bella x
Keep your eyes peeled on our YouTube channel to see our visit to Boscastle – The Museum of Witchcraft and Magic.