Sunday 2 September 2018

Impressions of Spellbound: Magic, Ritual & Witchcraft

Yesterday I went to Spellbound: Magic, Ritual and Witchcraft, the new exhibition at the Ashmolean in Oxford and I was lucky to get tickets for the first weekend it was open.

I knew a little bit about what was there, as I had read a long press release about it - which I shared on my blog a few days ago - and I was really looking forward to going.

It is an exhibition anyone interested in witchcraft and folk beliefs about magic needs to see. Although it isn't about modern pagan witchcraft, it is about how many people - even today - tend towards magical thinking. The first room has little in it except a ladder, a sealed bottle that reputedly contains a captured witch and some questions to consider, including: 'Do you worry about tempting fate?' and, 'Is there a witch in the bottle?'

Spellbound's overall theme is to get us to think about our beliefs and attitude towards magic, the supernatural and superstitions such as walking under ladders.

The exhibition contains a huge variety of different things: old objects found in chimneys or under doorsteps to supposedly protect a property; poppets and votive offerings; grimoires; transcripts of witch trials; art portraying views of historical witches and examples of modern magical beliefs including lovelocks displaying the names of the couples who wanted their relationship to remain unchanged forever.

Some of the items you are likely to have seen before if you have been to other displays of magical items. There is John Dee's black mirror, a poppet from the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic and several paintings that were previously in Witches and Wicked Bodies. A few things came from the Pitt Rivers Museum, which is just down the road. In fact, the displays at the Pitt Rivers show where the loaned items once sat. 

Over the next week or so I'm going to be blogging in more depth about specific aspects of Spellbound - particularly what it shows about poppets and magical dolls. But do buy a ticket and see the exhibition for yourself. You will enjoy it. While you are in Oxford, also visit the Pitt Rivers to see many more magical objects.

Spellbound: Magic, Ritual and Witchcraft runs from 31 August to 6 January 2019 at the The John Sainsbury Exhibition Galleries. Tickets are £12.25/£11.25 concessions. Details and tickets:

Photography is not allowed inside Spellbound, the photos on this page show the space outside the exhibition, the bottle supposedly containing a witch (from the press release), the Pitt Rivers display case and the cover of the book Spellbound: Magic, Ritual and Witchcraft.

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