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A trip to Boscastle Museum

From Harry Potter to the latest spate of vampire and zombie films, it seems we can't get enough of magic and the supernatural.

Museum of Witchcraft

The Green Man, the Baphomet and the Celtic god Cernunnos are just a few of the other magical beings you'll meet here.

  • Call it leftfield, alternative, or plain eccentric, it's plain magical.
  • View a cornucopia of magical regalia from haunted skulls to medicinal herbs.
  • Discover the Cider Charm Bottle, concocted by a Green Witch in Devon to protect the apple orchards from disease.

And from the witchy-inspired fashions of self-styled sorceresses like Fleetwood Mac's Stevie Nicks in the 1970's, to modern stars of the big screen – Rachel Weisz's Wicked Witch of the West in Oz: The Great and Powerful (2013) or Tilda Swinton as Jadis the White Witch in Narnia (2005) – the witch has come a long way from the green-faced, wart-nosed hag of folk and fairy tales. 

As witches dip in and out of the spotlight and trends for witchcraft and magic come and go in the worlds of music, fashion, film and popular culture at large, Cornwall, as ever, goes its own way.

Call it leftfield, alternative, or plain eccentric, Cornwall has always stood apart from the crowd, attracting a raft of freethinkers and creative souls. Which is one of the reasons it's so appealing. Far away from the hubbub of the city, with ancient stone monuments on misty moors, Cornwall invites you to leave behind the grey streets of city life and slip into another place and time. Here, magic and folklore continue to bubble away under the surface, like ingredients in a well-tended cauldron, just as they have for hundreds of years.

The area around Tintagel on Cornwall's north coast is steeped in myth, lying at the heart of the King Arthur legends. No surprise then that nearby Boscastle is home to the Museum of Witchcraft. More surprising, perhaps, is that this is, in fact, the repository of the largest collection of witchy artefacts in the world.

Cecil Williamson, an influential figure in the world of witchcraft, founded the museum. It originally started out in the Isle of Man – where Gerald Gardner, another renowned name in Wiccan circles, ran it for some time – before relocating to Boscastle in the 1960's. It was badly hit in the 2004 floods that made national headlines – markers inside the museum show how high the water level rose – but dedication and hard work have restored it to its former glory and it's once again working its magic.

Along with the more obvious paraphernalia of broomsticks and crystal balls, there's a cornucopia of magical regalia from haunted skulls to medicinal herbs and mandrakes to marvel at – as well as a cast of real life witches and occultists to meet. An altogether homelier figure is Joan, the wise woman. Sitting in her cosy cottage by a crackling fire, her cat on her lap, her dresser stocked with herbs and potions, she is a reminder that 'witches' were also healers, drawing on knowledge of plants and herbs, passed down from one generation to the next, to create remedies, medicines, or spells for protection against sickness and disease. One such potion on display is the Cider Charm Bottle, concocted by a Green Witch in Devon to protect the apple orchards from disease. "Entrapped inside, " reads the caption, "the spirit of the cider rests in his sea of vintage cider ready to burst forth should danger threaten."

An altogether homelier figure is Joan, the wise woman. Sitting in her cosy cottage by a crackling fire

Aleister Crowley, notorious occultist and magician, dubbed by the press 'the wickedest man in the world' famously spent time living in a house on the moors near Zennor in West Cornwall around 1917. Dark tales abound of the ritual magic and debauchery which he and his set – including notable writers, musicians, artists and composers – were involved in. At the museum you can listen to a recording of Crowley reading spells and incantations – his strange and otherworldly voice is guaranteed to make the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end.

The museum is busting from rafters to floorboards with fascinating magical and witchcraft artefacts. Leave half a day to explore. As the museum states on its comprehensive website (where you can take a virtual tour) some of the exhibits may not be suitable for those of a more delicate disposition, but all but the most incurious of minds cannot fail to be intrigued by the glimpse into the otherworld on offer.

 

 

The Green Man, the Baphomet and the Celtic god Cernunnos are just a few of the other magical beings you'll meet here. You can also learn about the witches who sold the wind to sailors knotted up in a rope, hear authentic chants and spells, peer into dark mirrors, and find out how to rid yourself of your worries sewed up in a 'get lost' box.

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