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The folklore, myths and superstitions surrounding magic, witchcraft and the occult have been around since recorded time began.
Throughout the ages, even from the Ancient Egyptians and Romans, magic has been all around us. It’s just been interpreted and practiced in different ways.
It has been a way of life in ancient times, even been encouraged by kings using soothsayers and persecuted by the teachings of other holy books.
When people imagine witches today, they have these images of the famous dark age witch trials of Pendle Hill in Lancashire or Salem in Massachusetts. But, did you know that in England witches were still persecuted up until the 1950s?
The Museum of Witchcraft and Magic in Boscastle aims to spread light on folk magic, witches, healing, the occult and pagan beliefs through time and today.
It has one of the largest collections of witchcraft and magic-related items in the world!
I remember I was 6 years old first visiting this museum. My dad lifted me up to get a closer look at the jar with a two-headed pig inside!
That image has stuck in my mind ever since. I was fascinated and a little spooked. But, it’s a museum I have always returned to in Cornwall over the years.
If you’re looking for truly unique things to do in Cornwall, this witchcraft museum has to be on top of your list! Here are all the amazing reasons why you MUST visit.
What is the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic?
The Museum of Witchcraft and Magic is a museum established in 1951 that aims to shed a light on the long history of magic, witchcraft and the world of the occult.
In the small cottage that lies on the quaint harbour of Boscastle is a museum that has over 10,000 artefacts to see inside.
From talismans, ancient goddesses, paintings, witch trial equipment, brooms, books and curiosities. You can find nearly everything related to the mystical and supernatural.
As well as owning thousands of magic-related artefacts, it’s now been recognised as a valuable education centre. It acts as a bridge of understanding and acceptance of something not always widely understood.
The history of magic & witchcraft in the UK
From pagan rituals, alchemy, white witch healers, wizards and fortune-tellers; there are whole chapters of history in the UK that can tell tales of magic.
Ancient stone circles and carvings, faeries and giants even Queen Mab & Merlin in the Arthurian tales!
However, it took a dark turn when witchcraft was officially made a capital offence in 1563.
‘Witch fever’ took over Western Europe and some 200,000 witches were tortured, burnt or hanged until 1750.
There were even ‘Witchfinder generals’ who were diehard puritan preachers and were relentless in their pursuit of righteousness.
Most of the accused ‘witches’ were old, poor and ‘crone like’ or simply had a pet cat.
They would suffer torture, trials and various ‘tests’ where it would be almost impossible to prove their innocence.
Although the death penalty for witchcraft was repealed in the 18th century, being jailed for the crime was not.
Witchcraft remained a criminal offence until 1950 when the 1735 witchcraft act was repealed.
It was after that time that the Witchcraft museum was born, free and most importantly legal to explore!
Cecil Williamson & the birth of the museum of Witchcraft
Cecil Williamson was a British screenwriter, film editor and Neopagan Warlock.
He founded the Witchcraft Research Centre which was part of the MI6’s war on the Nazis and also the Witchcraft Museum.
He was friends with Gerald Gardner, who was the founder of Wicca, also the notorious occultist Aleister Crowley.
He was first introduced to witchcraft and the occult as a young boy on a visit to see his uncle in Devon in 1916. It’s here he saw a young woman being publicly beaten and accused of being a witch so he stepped in to defend her. Afterwards, they became friends.
At boarding school, Cecil was also bullied and so a local witch taught him how to weave spells on the bully.
The bully then broke his leg on a skiing trip. His passion for magic grew and also the art of divination.
He continued to study the occult and during World War II he was hired by the MI6 as head of the Witchcraft Research Centre.
Goebbels and other Nazi’s were accused of harnessing magic and fortune-telling.
Eventually, after a failed attempt to set up a museum in Stratford-upon-Avon, he created the Folklore Centre of Superstition and Witchcraft on the Isle of Man in 1949.
It’s here he met Gerald Gardner and eventually he sold him that museum. Gerald Gardner ran that for the rest of his life.
Williamson then moved back to England and set up shop in Windsor but was booed out of the town.
At Bourton-on-the-Water, the museum was a victim of arson by angry residents. So, in 1960 he moved the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic to Boscastle in Cornwall.
Moving the witchcraft museum in Cornwall
Boscastle has long been an area associated with mythical legends, magic and even tales of the famous witches of Boscastle ‘selling the wind’.
The witches would capture the wind in knotted ropes. Sailors would buy these as the wind was required to fill their sails.
As the wind caught, the knot was untied and they would be blown on their way.
Cecil Williamson also chose this area due to the Rocky Valley Labyrinth stone carvings that are some 3 miles down the road.
He felt this was proof that from ancient times ‘man and his ‘magick making’ were common;
“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.”
As the museum grew with Cecil Williamson’s collection, so did its worldwide fame. Thousands of passing tourists, researchers and those with a passion for the occult came to visit.
It was eventually sold to Graham King in 1996. He took over the ownership and contents of the popular museum on Hallows Eve! But, it hasn’t been all plain sailing.
The Boscastle Floods in 2004 was a catastrophic blow for many houses and villages in the small harbour village.
Graham’s quick thinking salvaged most of the artefacts in the museum and it was quickly restored and reopened.
Now it is owned by Simon Costin, Director of the Museum of British Folklore, and the collection continues to grow all the time!
Visiting the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic today
Today, the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic is still one of the popular museums in Cornwall.
Every year it attracts thousands of curious tourists, neopagans, witches, wizards, warlocks and all those who have a passion for the mystical and occult!
So, if you are exploring the North of Cornwall on your holiday, you must schedule a visit to this incredible museum on Boscastle Harbour.
Here are all the reasons why!
1. It’s one of Cornwall’s most popular independent museums
The thing I love about this museum is that it’s an independent one that is mostly managed and run by volunteers – it has been this way for nearly 60 years.
It regularly wins tourism awards and sees thousands of wayfarers, students or witches-in-training to use their archives.
This library is filled with a unique collection of spell books, prose and studies on the occult!
I mean what could more intriguing than an Aladdin’s cave of mystical artefacts?!
The very name of the museum piques interest and you feel almost enchanted to go inside and see what’s in there.
2. It has the largest collection of objects related to witchcraft and magic in the world
With over 3000 objects in this small cottage and over 7000 books in their library, this museum has one of the largest and most unique collections related to magic on Earth.
Everywhere you look inside this labyrinth has some amazing artefact or photo to look at and learn something.
From ancient talismans, tarot cards, strapped skulls, familiars, and even a recreation of a wise woman’s cottage.
You can learn all about magic as a religion and a way of life. How it’s been perceived and persecuted over time and how it is still practised today.
Why are witches hats perceived as cones? What do black cats have to do with witches? Is the devil really associated with witchcraft?
These displays will answer questions you didn’t know you had.
3. You can learn all about the history of folk magic & healing
Whether you call them cunning folk, wise men, white witches or pellars in Cornwall, folk magic was commonplace in medieval times up until the 20th century.
Often cunning folk were used to combat witchcraft, lift curses, find criminals or locate stolen property.
They practised natural healing, charming, fortunetelling and were often called on for enchantments in affairs of the heart.
They would make potions, poultices, talismans and write inscriptions for protection that people could carry with them.
“Going to the pellar” became a popular phrase and even a threat! Although many wise women were Christians themselves, the Church regarded them as in league with the devil.
Inside the museum, you can see a recreation of a wise woman’s cottage, with her cat, tarot cards and all manner of herbs and potions nearby.
4. …and explore the notorious witch trials & persecutions
The peak of the witch fever and trials came around the reformation in the 17th and 18th centuries. Many of the cunning folk and some thought to be using black magic witchcraft were accused.
They were jailed, tortured, tested and eventually sentenced to death if they hadn’t already died from the ordeal they were put through during prosecution.
Torturing for a confession came in the form of ‘pilnie-winks’ (thumb screws) and ‘caspie-claws’ (a type of leg iron heated over a hot coals).
They were also put through various tests like finding the Devil’s Marks. Warts, Moles and birthmarks all became a sure sign.
There were also swimming tests – if the woman drowned she was innocent if she floated she was possessed by the devil’s power and sentenced to death!
You can find the names of many witches and wizards who were executed here and see the many witch-hunting instruments used to torture them.
5. It’s full of quirky and magical curiosities
I mentioned earlier that when I was a child, I remember wanting to look just a little closer at the famous two-headed pig in the jar here.
I remember it equally terrified and fascinated me as a kid. I almost thought I saw it in a dream until my most recent visit and I’m happy to report that it is still there now!
The museum is full of incredible and unusual things to see like this and every cabinet will have something that will intrigue you.
Harry Potter fans will love the fact that they have a huge mandrake collection here. These have long been associated with witchcraft.
But, don’t worry, although they are toxic these were often used to heal through brewing them.
You can find human skulls strapped to pentagrams, ram skulls, taxidermy and death masks. There is all sorts you can discover in this treasure trove.
6 . There are amazing occult images, art and paraphernalia
Over time the images of witches, the ‘horned god’ and cunning folk have changed massively.
The portraits of witches in medieval times were shown naked with demonic creatures, worshipping Satan, around flames and were often depicted as sexual deviants. They would be shown holding phallic objects or riding broomsticks.
By the romantic era, when people stopped believing in magical creatures, portraits changed to women holding sabbath, enchantresses and spell casting.
Over time, through acceptance and the commercialisation of witchcraft, this has developed into an art of free expression.
There is now all manner of art with witches, pagan symbols and the horned god all over the world. Plus, the many numbers of story books, witchy characters and cartoons.
The museum has a huge art gallery and collection here which holds portraits, sculptures and even models. They are always adding new thought-provoking pieces that are collected for their display.
7. You can become familiar with modern day beliefs and practices
Although films, TV shows and books have shaped some of our views of how we see witches, magic and the occult today.
There are countless people across the country who believe and practice Wicca, Neopaganism and Druidry.
Astrology, positive affirmations, spirituality, moon cycles, gemstone healing and things like manifestation have also become really popular movements today. Something that is very akin to how traditional spells are cast with visualisations and incantations.
You can find out a lot of information on modern spiritual and occult beliefs that take place all over the world. From pagan rituals, solstice and equinox celebrations, Druidry, Wicca and also Satanism.
Although witchcraft is not illegal these days, it isn’t completely immune to prejudice, persecution and misunderstanding.
So, this museum really allows you to leave with an open mind or at the very least be more informed.
8. Make sure to purchase some mystical gifts to take home
If the museum has piqued your interest and you wanted to take home some further reading, some candles for spells, incense or charms – they have an amazing range of witchy wares that you can purchase.
Over the years, I have always picked up a few bits here for my personal collection. I have jute bags, car stickers, badges, books, charms and a number of other pieces that I’m fond of.
They also have a delightful range of t-shirts, postcards, old recreated posters and some really pretty jewellery too that I’ve always admired. Plus, some CD’s if you enjoyed the music while you were exploring.
9. Relax for a while in Joan’s Garden
Joan Wytte was a local lady who was born in 1775, her nicknames were the “Fighting Fairy Woman” or the “Wytte (White) Witch”.
Due to a tooth abscess that was causing her pain, she would often lose her temper and people believed she was possessed. Eventually, she was incarcerated for public brawling in Bodmin Jail!
The conditions were so bad she died of bronchial pneumonia at 38 years old.
Her bones were then kept for playing pranks by locals and finally, she was unceremoniously put on display at the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic.
But, on her arrival, she caused a lot of spooky happenings. A witch was invited to investigate and advised them that Joan wanted a proper burial.
So, her remains were finally laid to rest in a wooded area of Boscastle with a respectful ceremony. Her tombstone reads “Joan Wytte. Born 1775. Died 1813 in Bodmin Jail. Buried 1998. No longer abused”.
Joan’s Garden is the herb garden outside of the museum that has been named as a memorial to her.
It’s a lovely area to relax in with flowers, herbs, broomsticks, wicker displays and the famous witchy door!
10. You can attend one of their gatherings throughout the year
Every year a “dark gathering” takes place in Boscastle near All Hallows Eve. It has a whole range of shows, story telling and performances.
You can watch Morris dancers, bands and theatre show throughout the day that all have a mythical, magical, spooky, or dark edge.
Or, you can attend a late-night candlelight vigil. This gives you a chance to explore the museum at night and they even have storytellers to spook you with some ghost stories!
How do I get to Boscastle in Cornwall?
Boscastle is a harbour village that is just a few miles away from Tintagel on the west coast of North Cornwall.
It’s easiest if you have a car to drive the journey but I will warn you now that the tiny lanes to get here take some navigating!
There is a large visitor car park at Tintagel outside of the visitor centre that is clearly marked as you drive in.
If you were keen to arrive by public transport, bus number 95 will arrive here from Tintagel and it will take you around 15 minutes.
The Museum of Witchcraft and Magic is a quick 5-minute journey along a flat path from the car park.
The Museum of Witchcraft and Magic opening times
The museum is open from April to November each year and sometimes on special occasions in December.
When the museum is open in the season the opening times are;
- Mondays – Saturdays: open from 10.30am with last entry at 5pm. The museum shuts at 6pm
- Sundays: open from 11.30am with the last entry at 5pm and the museum shuts at 6pm
How long do I need to visit the Witchcraft museum in Cornwall?
Your visit to the museum can be as long or as short as you like! But, the minimum time I would say you need to visit is 30 minutes.
Most people typically spend around an hour here.
I think my friends and I spent a good hour and a half as we enjoyed reading all the displays, watching the exhibits, shopping and chilling out in their garden too.
Ticket prices for the Witchcraft Museum in Boscastle
Tickets prices for the witchcraft museum are;
- Adults: £5
- Children (6 – 17): £4
- Concessions: £4 with proof of scheme
- Family Tickets up to 2 adults and 2 children: £16
- Large Family Tickets are also available for £20
Children under 5 can go in FREE and only assistance dogs are permitted on a lead with proof of scheme.
Other magical thing to see around Boscastle harbour
Beyond the museum, Boscastle is a quaint and rather magical harbour town on coast of Cornwall and it is well worth exploring for a few hours.
There are plenty of shops, art galleries and cafés to take your fancy, plus many walks to the coast.
A stroll along Boscastle Harbour to the headland is a highlight of any visit and you must have a look at the Devil’s Bellows which is a blowhole that can be seen over the cliff!
You can even walk on further to Warren Point or the Boscastle Coastwatch station.
When I was a child the Pixie house was one of my favourite shops set in a quirky 300-year-old cottage. It’s now been transformed into a quaint café called the Harbour Light Tea Garden which is lovely in summer.
Or, another great place to eat with a cosy pub atmosphere is the Cobweb Inn which is located inland.
More magical & spooky places to visit in Cornwall
Cornwall has long been associated with myths, legends and magic and there are plenty of places in this Celtic land that will make you feel like you’re in another world.
From ancient standing stones, mystical waterfalls, fairytale woodlands, historic castles and haunted pubs.
Here are all the magical and downright spooky places to visit in Cornwall!
Rocky Valley Labyrinth & St Nectan’s Glen
Cecil Williamson decided to build his museum in Boscastle because of the friendly locals and the fact that the Rocky Valley Labyrinth carvings were nearby.
He felt that this was proof of ancient magic making that took place in the area. The labyrinth symbol that is carved on the rocks has often been associated with fertility or life and is used in pagan rituals.
Many Neopagans visit this site from all over the world!
You can find the carvings behind a derelict mill on the east banks of the river Trevillett.
Nearby is the magical St Nectan’s Glen which is inside the Trethevy woodlands of Tintagel.
Here, you can visit a magical waterfall and hermitage. Although this was largely Christianised years ago, this was also an ancient pagan site.
The name St Nectan is as a Christianised form of the Cornish name for the water god Nechtan.
Tintagel Castle & Merlin’s Cave
For those who are a fan of the Arthurian Tales, Cornwall has so many sites across the county associated with King Arthur you’ll be spoiled for choice.
Tintagel Castle is the legendary spot where King Arthur was conceived with the help of Merlin who enchanted Uther Pendragon. Click here to find out more!
You can visit this amazing ruined castle on the rocky coastline and they have even built a new bridge so that you can access it like in Arthur’s time. There is also a statue of the legendary king on top!
Merlin’s Cave is a FREE location you can visit underneath Tintagel castle.
It’s a 300-foot long cave which is the legendary spot where the wizard Merlin used to live. Make sure you check tide times before you go.
Bodmin & Bodmin Moor
Bodmin has long been a town plagued with ghosts and was home to the infamous Bodmin Jail that is now a museum.
You can see just how horrible the conditions were all those years ago when Joan was kept here.
Bodmin Moor nearby is also full of ancient sites, standing stones and has a melting pot of myths, legends and stories to tell.
Dozmary Pool on Bodmin Moor is also another legendary site of the Arthurian Tales.
Here, the Lady of the Lake is said to have gifted Merlin the sword Excalibur. This was a gift for Prince Arthur to be the next King of England.
The Hurlers Stone Circles are another magical place you can visit which is said to the be legendary place where giants were petrified for playing hurling on a Sunday.
Or, you can visit the Cheesewring which is a bizarre rock formation formed thousands of years ago.
Bodmin Moor is also known for being haunted with many ghosts but none so famous as the Jamaica Inn.
This notorious Smuggler’s pub was a hive of criminals and cutthroats once upon a time. The ghosts of the outlaws and their victims still haunt the premises. If you’re feeling brave, you can check in for the night.
St Michael’s Mount
No place in Cornwall has as many myths and stories associated with it like St Michael’s Mount.
From Jack the Giant Killer, magic rocks, the call of mermaids and legendary curses. There is so much to uncover on this amazing tidal island.
For years, it has been a place of pilgrimage and you can still visit the handmade church and priory inside the castle today!
It was the home of the monks of the Benedictine order, the same order that was located on Mont-Saint-Michel in Normandy. St Michaels’ Mount can be accessed from Marazion in the east coast of Cornwall.
You can walk over on foot at low tide or you can take one of the many boats that cross the sea to the mount when the water levels are too high.
Land’s End, Sennen & Penwith
Although a little far from Boscastle, the area of Land’s End near Sennen has been a magical area for centuries.
There are all sorts of springs, wells, stone circles and dolmen chambers to check out.
The area around Land’s End and the Isle of Scilly is thought to be the legendary location of the Lost Lands of Lyonesse.
This is a mythical place that was mentioned many times in the Arthurian tales and is now thought to be under the sea. Check out my post on the area here.
Zennor has a long history of being inhabited by mermaids and Ballowell Barrow has been said to be haunted by dancing faeries for years.
At Sennen Cove there is the magical prophetic stone that you can find in amongst Boscawen-Ûn Stone Circle.
Or, you can visit the Men-an-Tol Crick stone that has a guardian of a Pixie! According to folklore he can perform miracles and can also heal you.