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BOSCASTLE, England — New exhibits and films are in the works at the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic. First up is “Dew of Heaven: Objects of Ritual Magic,” an exhibition of ritual items connected with Hermetic magic, Rosicrucianism, John Dee, Eliphas Levi, Aleister Crowley, the Golden Dawn and others; it opens Apr. 1. On May 5 there will be a screening of The Otherworld, a film written and directed by Gisela Pereira.
The Otherworld, according to information on the museum site, is “an original and mystical tale drawing on Pagan Celtic myths and Irish legends, and … aimed for the Pagan and mystical crowd.” It centers on some adventures of Lugh.
The museum at Boscastle is one of the oldest occult and magical museums in the world and is well known to the majority of British Pagans. Founded by Cecil Williamson in Stratford-upon-Avon, local opposition obliged him to move the museum (then the Folklore Centre of Superstition and Witchcraft) to an old windmill at Castletown in the Isle of Man in 1948. It was renamed the Museum of Magic and Witchcraft in 1951 as result of the repeal of the Witchcraft Act in that year.
Gerald Gardner was on board as the resident Witch; the two men had become friends after a meeting at the Atlantis Bookshop (which is also still going strong in London) 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. A friend not only of Gardner but also of Crowley, Williamson is said to have been hired by M16 in 1938 to investigate the occult interests of the Nazis.
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 his death in 1964 but the collection was sold to Ripley Entertainment Inc. in the early 1970s, and is no longer in operation.
Meanwhile, Williamson moved his own version of the museum to the mainland. It was located in Windsor, where Williamson once more encountered local opposition, and then in Gloucestershire, where it was subjected to an arson attack. The museum ended up in Boscastle in 1960, where it is still located. Williamson stated that
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 coastguard 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 found in the wreckage was 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 31 October 2013, he gifted the museum and its contents to Simon Costin, director of the Museum of British Folklore. With over 3,000 objects and 7,000 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.
Founder Williamson was himself a filmmaker, having started his career as a production assistant, and was related by marriage to film director Herbert Wilcox, so it seems appropriate that the museum is still continuing to hold screenings.
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