Spellbound is the latest exhibition at Oxford’s Ashmoleum Museum, running until early next year. I’d read a couple of articles about it in the press, and being in Oxford to visit the Oxford Brookes uni with my daughter, decided to try and visit it at the same time. Most articles said pre-book but I risked it, and being early in the day, found it easy to get into.
The exhibition relates man’s view of himself with regard to the cosmos and to his belief in magic and superstition. Note wherever I use the term ‘man’ or ‘his’, I include all women as well but in a way you will see that the exhibition puts them firmly on different sides of the fence. It is the women who are judged and/or persecuted and the men are the ones who sit in judgement.
I loved the ancient tomes and manuscripts, the grimoires and the beautiful inked illuminations. I wondered aloud why they didn’t appear to make any mistakes in their writings, ie no crossings-out. Daughter said it was because they couldn’t spell so wouldn’t have known! She is probably right! The 15th C. Ars Noturia was opened at a page showing magic ritual whilst another early document showed a knight, safely stood in a circle, summoning a demon. Another document was handwritten by Matthew Hopkins, Witchfind General and there was a book of spells written by the cunning man, George Lambert. Sadly, there were also the confessions of those condemned as witches.
Amongst the artefacts was a crystal belonging to John Dee, Elizabeth I’s astrologer which he claimed had been given him by the Angel Uriel (John Dee! I’d read about him but to see something that actually belonged to him was amazing). There was a human heart held within a lead case, a poppet with a stiletto dagger through the head, charms and bottles and some unnerving, and horrific paintings such as that by Salvator Rosa, Witches at their Incantations, 1646 (below).
It is a wonderful exhibition and one I would recommend to anyone with an interest in magic.