BOSCASTLE, Cornwall – The Museum of Witchcraft in Boscastle is currently opening up a residency for artists who wish to produce work inspired by its archives.
It is inviting applications for the residency, which will take place in the spring/summer of 2020, and says that it is ideally looking for artists who work in “the mediums of drawing, painting, sculpture/ object making, photography, film/ media, AR/VR, illustration, textiles, sound, and artists’ books.”
The residency is being paid for by the Friends of the Boscastle Museum of Witchcraft, a UK registered charity. They’re making around £1,000 available for transport and accommodation, with the length of the residency dependent on the scale of the project.
They ask that at least one piece of work should be made available at the end of the project for exhibiting in the Museum of Witchcraft, noting that space is a little tight. It is also intended that work will be exhibited at the Annual General Meeting of the Friends of the Museum in December 2020; hopefully the artist will be present at that meeting.
For those interested, the museum is inviting open applications, and suggests that potential applicants might like to come to an artists’ open day at the museum on Saturday 7th September 2019. Applications will close, appropriately, on 31st October 2019 and the successful candidate will then be selected by a commissioning group representing the Friends of the Museum and the museum Director.
The museum itself is generally considered by the British Pagan community to be a jewel in the crown of contemporary Pagan culture in the UK. The Patron of the Friends of The Witchcraft Museum, a separate but obviously related organization, is currently Professor Ronald Hutton, and Friends trustees include Julian Vayne (a familiar name to anyone interested in chaos magic), Nick Miller, Judith Noble and Sharon Day.
The Museum of Witchcraft is one of the oldest occult and magical museums in the world. The Museum was originally founded by Cecil Williamson in Stratford-upon-Avon, but local opposition obliged him to move the then Folklore Centre of Superstition and Witchcraft to an old windmill at Castletown in the Isle of Man in 1948.
Williamson himself had first encountered magical practice in Devon in 1916, intervening to defend a woman who was being accused of witchcraft by locals, and was subsequently introduced to African magic in Rhodesia.
Due to the repeal of the Witchcraft Act in 1951, he renamed his establishment ‘the Museum of Magic and Witchcraft’ in 1951. Having become friendly with Williamson after a meeting in London’s Atlantis Bookshop, Gerald Gardner also became involved with the running of the museum.
Williamson is said to have been hired by British Intelligence in 1938 to investigate the occult interests of the Nazis – it’s not clear how much of this fascinating story is actually true, however.
Williamson later sold the Isle of Man museum to Gardner, who invented a more exciting history for it and ran it for the rest of his life. Ownership passed to Monique Wilson after Gardner’s death in 1964 but the collection was sold to Ripley’s ‘Believe it or not’ organization in the early 1970s. The Isle of Man museum is no longer in existence.
Williamson moved his own version of the museum to Windsor, where he once more encountered local opposition, and then in Gloucestershire, where his premises were subjected to an arson attack. The museum ended up in Boscastle in 1960.
In explanation of his choice of location, Williamson said:
Three miles away from this spot you can find this pre-historic maze stone carved into a living rock face, proof that from ancient times man and his magic making with the world of spirit were active in this area. The centuries have passed and times have changed and yet all around us in this quiet corner of England there is a strange feeling that we are not alone and that the shades of persons passed on and over into the world of spirit are very close. That is why this Museum of Witchcraft is located here. One is standing on the edge of the beyond.
Graham King bought the museum in 1996, taking ownership at midnight on Hallowe’en, and ran the museum for many years despite a crisis in 2004, when a huge flash flood swept through the town and the museum itself, devastating local properties and washing cars out to sea.
King saved many objects from the museum, but earned the respect of the town by making human lives a priority and assisting the coast guard in their efforts to make sure that everyone was safe. No lives were lost in the flood, although a waxwork figure of a crystal ball reader was found in the wreckage and initially assumed to be a human body.
King’s efforts after this serious event led to the further development of the museum and on his retirement, on 31st October 2013, he gifted the museum and its contents to Simon Costin, Director of the Museum of British Folklore.
With over 3000 objects and 7000 books, the museum is not only the repository of a significant collection of magical artifacts, but is also a major source of research for academics and amateur researchers alike. It is invaluable to anyone who is interested in the beliefs and practices of cunning folk and it is to be hoped that much of interest – to the Pagan community and beyond – will come out of this new residency.
Anyone interested in becoming a Friend of the Museum, can do so online via their new membership system. [The Friends say that they have obviously propitiated the gods of communication, but do let them know about any issues.] Their annual conference is scheduled for mid-September.
Editorial Update: Approximately 30 minutes after the publication of this article the Museum of Witchcraft in Boscastle issued the following statement on Instagram: “Following literally hundreds of expressions of interest this initiative is now closed to entirely new applications. In the interests of fairness, anyone who has already expressed interest here [prior to 12:30 on 7th August – no other applications will be accepted] will be added to the long list if they complete the standard online form, which can be obtained by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Emails requesting the forms will be only answered if they are received by the MWM prior to 00:59 on 7th August 2019. Thank you to everyone for your interest!”