The North Cornish coast is a magical place where the power of the elements makes itself felt on stormy, rainy winter days as well as gloriously golden summer afternoons. With that abundance of natural richness it is no wonder that the Southwest of the UK is a centre of attraction for people who celebrate the power of the earth, namely for pagans, druids and witches. You barely could have chosen a better spot for The Museum of Witchcraft than the small town of Boscastle, nestled into the slopes of the surrounding hills and amid rugged cliffs just by the Celtic Sea. It is a proper hideaway, remote enough that no street lights spoil the sublime vista of the starry night sky. The museum is located by the natural harbour in a quirky old house that looks small from the outside yet has surprisingly much space for the display of all sorts of magical paraphernalia.
Originally the museum was opened on the Isle of Man in the 1950s but moved to Boscastle in 1960. It houses the largest collection of witchcraft and Wiccan related artefacts in the world which comprises of images and books, medicinal plants and magical stones, and various puppets and dolls – my favourite being the Hitler pincushions which drew on the ancient use of image magic to strike down an enemy. Other fascinating displays are the human-shaped mandrakes – on lend from the Netherlands -, a sculpture of the Horned God of Wicca and the dark mirror used by the museum’s founder Cecil Williamson. Apparently, gazing into a mirror is one of the most ancient forms of divination, liberating the creative and intuitive aspects of the mind and enhancing spiritual awareness. According to another myth when a woman looks into a magic mirror long enough the face of her future husband will eventually appear, looking over her shoulder. Never being quite sure whether I am superstitious or not I refrain from trying – the outcome might be quite scary!
Over dinner we have the chance to speak to Simon Costin, the new director of the museum. He tells us the collection is likely to remain in Boscastle for another couple of years before the bigger part of it is going to be incorporated into the newly to be built Museum of British Folklore. However, Boscastle will not completely lose its quirky visitor attraction as the current place will still be kept as an outpost. Luckily, be it magic or not, I also get promised a lift back to London the next morning so that I needn’t embark on the lengthy train journey via Exeter.
Hence, at 5 a.m. on Monday I am waiting for Kerriann in the empty sitting room of the old hotel when all of a sudden I get the strong feeling of another presence just outside the door in the corridor. It is still pitch black night and the stormy, rainy weather doesn’t encourage me to wait in front of the hotel. Seconds later, the lights of a car turn around the corner and pull into the parking space. I feel relieved, grab my bag and run outside. On our journey Kerriann tells me she’d managed the hotel for a while. “There are a few ghosts in there, one keeps standing at the top of the stairs just next to the sitting room where you were,” she says. – And what about the little museum? – “Yes,” says Kerriann, “the place is haunted by a lot of ghosts, they are attached to all the different paraphernalia of witchcraft in there.” However during a devastating flood in 2004 which severely damaged the museum some of the more vicious spirits seem to have been swamped out and a rather agreeable crowd of ghosts has taken over. A shimmer of light at the horizon indicates the end of the night. “Would you like a cuppa?” asks Kerriann pointing to the inescapable Costa Coffee sign at the entrance to a gas station. We’re back in the normal world, obviously.