Paul Kidby was the illustrator of Terry’s Discworld books. Much of the exhibition shows his illustrations for the novels - which are gorgeous and also heavily influenced by British folklore.
However, my favourite part was a shamble tree (pictured right) - and anyone who goes there can learn how to make one to add to the display.
Shambles first appear in The Wee Free Men, which I admit I haven't read yet. According to both mediawiki and the description at the Maidstone exhibition:
A shamble (also called a shambles) is a handmade device used by witches to detect or amplify magic. It can even be used for protection or to send a spell. The device itself is not magical. Shambles are like spectacles, they help you see, but don't see for you. A conversant witch can assemble a shamble in a matter of seconds using stuff like strings, twigs, leaves, feathers, beads, coloured paper, an egg or even a beetle. The whole thing looks like a "cat's cradle", or some sort of nest made of rubbish. The ingredients are not really important, although the centre should contain a live ingredient (e.g. an egg or a beetle.Now, that might be fictional magic, but it makes sense to me. When I create or enchant an object for spells or rituals - whether for candle magic, poppet-making or anything else - I often use whatever I have to hand rather than going out and buying things specially. I also believe most of the magic comes from the witch herself and the energy raised. Physical things are mainly just a focus.
The magic lies in its assembly and use, which is to catch the moment. "The way you tie the knots," said Miss Level, who was a Research Witch, "the way the string runs - the freshness of the egg, perhaps, and the moisture in the air - the tension of the twigs and the kind of things that you just happen to have in your pocket at that moment - even the way the wind is blowing. All these things make a kind of... of picture of the here-and-now when you move them right."
The witch who trained me explained that all magic does is tweak the threads of the Web of Life. So, anything using string or wool is a perfect representation of that. The other objects you incorporate can have traditional symbolism - a four-leaf clover for luck, for example - or they can relate to the place, time and those who are with you.
At Paul Kidby: Discworld and Beyond, these were the instructions to make a shamble:
- See what items or fluff you have in your handbag or pocket or use stuff from the box
- Tie two sticks for your main frame
- Use the string to tie all your bits to the twigs
- Hang your shamble from the tree
If you do make a shamble, please don't leave it tied to any living tree outdoors without permission of the tree and its human owner. Plastic and other artificial fibres don't rot away and can be a hazard to wildlife as well as eventually harming the tree itself.
Another interesting fact is that the young witch Tiffany Aching had a shepherd's crown hanging from her shamble. This was used in the title of Terry Pratchett's last book. Shepherd's crowns are fossils of sea-urchins. Real-life witch Doreen Valiente also prized them highly. She collected them on walks in Sussex and made them into a necklace, which she wore when practising magic.
Paul Kidby: Discworld and Beyond runs until Sunday 2 September at Maidstone Museum, St Faith's Street, Maidstone, Kent, ME14 1LH. Tickets are adults £4, children £2. https://museum.maidstone.gov.uk/whats-on/
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