Amulets, charms, and witch bottles
Thinking about ‘magical’ objects in museum collections through collaborative interaction between academics and curators with Pagans, witchcraft practitioners and other communities with spiritual investment
IAA project type: Partnership grant
Duration of project: September 2023 to June 2024
Partner organisation: Tom Crowley
MOLA staff leading IAA project: Nigel Jeffries
Individual partners: Peter Hewitt: Folklore Museums Network, Sarah-Jane Harknett: Evaluation Associate at University of Cambridge Museums, Dr Christine Oakley-Harrington: founder of Treadwells bookshop in London, a cultural hub for London’s occult and Pagan community, Kirsty Ryder: PhD candidate and Pagan
Our aim is to enable a creative knowledge sharing space that will demonstrate the links and ideas which emerge from combining academic and curatorial perspectives with members of communities with spiritual investment (e.g., but not restricted to, Pagans, witchcraft practitioners, Wiccans and Druids).
To realise these aims we will:
- explore divergent interpretations between participants regarding amulets, charms and witch bottles as examples of British magical items which are curated in folklore collections in museums across the country,
- capture these via creative, accessible and immediate outcomes,
- evaluate the experience of participants
- identify partnerships, outputs and outcomes for further funding opportunities.
An ongoing evaluation by Sarah-Jane Harknett - the first of its kind with this focus - will also be delivered.
Partners with spiritual investment in folklore collections
The Folklore Museums Network and the Pitt Rivers Museum
Wider museums and heritage sector interested in engaging new audiences around folklore and magic
This project draws on insights obtained by Jeffries as the lead on MOLA’s Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) funded ‘Witch Bottles’ Concealed and Revealed project (Award no. AH/S002693/1; GtR (ukri.org)) and Crowley’s curatorial work. Our principal objective is to explore the links between British magical objects (e.g., witch bottles and amulets / charms) in museum collections and creative work by Pagans and witchcraft practitioners etc. who have a spiritual investment in them, and as representatives of a community which is often side-lined by curators, academics, and archaeologists.
This will be achieved through co-designed workshops led by Jeffries and Crowley with partners Ryder (Pagan and folk magic practitioner), Harrington (Pagan) at Treadwells - a bookshop in London and a cultural hub for London’s occult, Pagan and other spiritually invested groups - who both connect the application to this community and Peter Hewitt, head of the Folklore Museum Network - a specialist network promoting folklore collections and intangible cultural heritage, and whose presence ensures sympathetic curatorial buy in.
We will achieve our aims by Jeffries, Crowley, Ryder, Harrington-Oakley, and Hewitt co-designing and delivering the following:
Two collections-based workshops at the Pitt Rivers Museum (Oxford) hosted by Faye Belsey, Deputy Head of Collections to share the knowledge generated by MOLA and invited research collaborators and explore their contemporary resonances with spiritual practitioners.
Engaging creative practitioners from the spiritual community - a poet, a short story writer and a TikTok and Instagram influencer - who will act as respondents, each charged with producing a creative output. Their selection reflects that Paganism and associated beliefs are currently undergoing a resurgence in the arts and that TikTok and Instagram are major platforms for sharing information across this community, especially among younger members.
A ‘wrap event’ at Treadwells in which the partnership results and outputs will be presented.
The proposed outputs are:
- The results - including Harknett’s ground-breaking evaluation - will be published as a co-authored piece in an appropriate journal (i.e., Museum’s Journal).
- Five-minute film produced by acapmedia exploring the experiences of workshop participants.
- A short, published reflection from the spiritually invested creative participants will feature in a journal with a broad spiritual readership such as The Enquiring Eye.
- Creative responses (e.g., poems) from these participants and Instagram / TikTok content.
- A blog written at the end project by the project team for MOLA’s website.
- ‘Wrap event’ at Treadwells: showcasing our work, creative responses and the acapmedia film.
Proposed impacts are:
Members of spiritually invested communities will develop their creative practice around collections and gain access to curators etc for future collaboration.
MOLA and curatorial partners will understand contemporary significance of magical collections enabling creation of the biographies of these collections from c-17th to the present day.
Museum curators working with folklore collections will gain insights regarding engaging the spiritually invested community.
Comprehensive evaluation ensures clear learning outcomes for the museums sector.
Explore future partnerships and funding e.g., AHRC’s Follow on Funding or MOLA IAA partnership grant.