The world’s oldest witchcraft museum comes to London
Words Mark Hooper
Portrait Luke Stephenson
With over 3,000 objects, it is the world’s oldest and largest collection of items relating to witchcraft, magic and the occult. But, unless you happen to be in the small village of Boscastle on the north Cornish coast, the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic may have passed you by…
But this month the magic comes to London, as its owner, the set designer and creative director Simon Costin, brings the museum to his native Hackney for a unique ‘pop up’ at the Last Tuesday Society & The Viktor Wynd Museum of Curiosities in Mare Street. The creation of Cecil Williamson, who initially founded a Museum of Witchcraft in Stratford-upon-Avon, the collection moved to the Isle of Man in 1951 after local opposition, where Williamson joined forces with Gerald Gardner, the founder of modern Wicca, who became the museum’s ‘resident witch.’ After ‘creative differences’ (or perhaps more accurately, ‘occultist differences’), Williamson eventually left for the mainland, settling in the Cornwall in 1960. In 2013, Costin, already Director of the Museum of British Folklore, acquired the museum from the then current owner Graham King.
For Costin, ‘British Folklore’ is a wide-ranging, all-encompassing term. He is dedicated to ‘re-appropriating’ British culture and the idea of Britishness – pointing out that modern nail art has just as much cultural resonance as the more esoteric items in his ever-growing collection. And there are plenty of those: from waxwork figures and effigies to the swords once belonging to the legendary Yorkshire long-sword dancer Trevor Stone.
But it is the magical and occultist that is celebrated in this exhibition: items from a Black Magicians altar, a waxen curse poppet and countless spells and charms are gathered – not to mention a series of photographs of haunted objects that featured in the book Of Shadows: One Hundred Objects from The Museum of Witchcraft and Magic that Costin put together with Sara Hannant.
‘I’ve always been obsessed by museums,’ Costin told us when he first announced his plans in Issue 02, shortly after acquiring the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic from previous owner Graham King. ‘But the hierarchal structure of many museums means they appear patronising.’ Instead, his aim is, he says, ‘to drive something more emotional; essentially it’s the people keeping these stories alive.’
To that end, Costin will soon be lending his vast knowledge of local myth and folklore to our regular Hole & Corner county guides online – so watch this space for more enlightenment…
The Museum of Witchcraft and Magic pop-up is at the Last Tuesday Society & The Viktor Wynd Museum of Curiosities in Mare Street, Hackney until 28 February