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Witchcraft Museums - and what it means to own one

C. H. Williamson (1976)


To start with one has to be equipped with four things - namely the collection to be displayed - a building within which to show the collection - a largish sum of hard cash - and finally, most important of all "Town and Country Planning Permission" to open a Museum. This question of Planning Permission may come as a surprise to many people but I can assure you that as soon as "Local Government Authority" discovers that someone intends to open a Museum of Witchcraft in their area then one is in for a fight.

Twenty six years have passed since I opened my first Museum of Witchcraft at Arbory Road, Castletown in the Isle of Man. Since that time I have opened six other Museums of Witchcraft in various locations in the United Kingdom. At certain periods I had two Witchcraft Museums open at one and the same time. In each instance I experienced a tussle with the Powers that Be.

As all old time Witches teach -"There is a Reason for Everything" so in my own interests I set to work to discover 'why the opposition?' This is what I found. By and large the officers employed by Local Authorities are decent enough persons and are too busy to be fussed about Satan, Devil worship or even young females frolicking in the nude, they have their hands full trying to provide decent housing for the workers. The trouble starts at the Committee Stage, that is when the "Establishment" has their say. They it is who load the guns and pass them back for Authority to fire!

One eventually learns from experience, and so it was that I discovered that the string pullers are few in numbers and that one could develop counter measures and learn to live with the opposition. But the fact remains that not a year passes but that the Museum of Witchcraft is reported to the Authorities! After 26 years of this one can instantly type the complainant - and know how to trump their complaint with an answer that demolishes their case.

In spite of what the Mass Media claims in respect of this being the Permissive Age in which anything goes I can assure you that such beliefs in so far as Witchcraft goes, are very far wide of the mark. There is still plenty of acceptance among people about in 1976 that "Thou shalt not suffer a Witch to live..", none the less the above facts have to be borne in mind when presenting the collection.

Straight away let me say that the collections are not presented for the benefit or pleasure of living Witches, they know it all, in any case, and their numbers are so small that were one to rely upon their "Box Office Take" one would starve. The collections are not teaching collections like the majority of Municipal and National Museums who are entirely dependent for finance from the taxpayer, both local and National. The collections are single subject, i.e. Witchcraft and are in the category known as 'Interest', and so located, for financial reasons, in a 'Tourist Honeypot' area. They are aimed at the family unit. This of course places a number of self-imposed restrictions upon one. In the early years of my life as a Showman I did not take to this kindly. I made mistakes by breaking my own rules, and showing things that were of interest to myself or Witches. The great British Public soon made it clear that they had no interest at all in my private fancies, so it is that I learned to bow to Public taste, and by trial and error, to give the Public a show which is of interest to them, and them alone, for never as a Showman loose sight of the fact that it is their money. It is theirs alone to give or to withhold. When I hear them say, as they leave the exit, "Well that was very interesting," or "I thoroughly enjoyed that." I am indeed a happy man.


Strange as it may sound to some persons, one is not in the business just to make money. Money is important for it permitted a "Witchcraft Research Centre" to be founded in 1940 to carry on its work in the field. This behind the scenes work goes along unseen and unsung, and is a work without financial profit, for it is devoted to making cont- act with the Spirit focus which exists outside our material world.

As previously mentioned, I have drawn up a code of self imposed rules relating to what to put on public display and that which is withheld. This I regard as a Showman's duty, I am against all the secrets of the Craft being exposed to the Public gaze. There are numerous "Things" which could be shown but the latent power held within them would be a danger to anyone without occult training in the disciplines of the working of magick.

For what it is worth, I plead guilty to being advanced in years and a strong believer in the old time, grass roots type of Witchcraft. Such folk kept themselves to themselves and guarded their secret knowledge well. Today ALL is revealed, in so far as the secrets of Witchcraft are concerned. The books tumble off the Publishers presses, each one trying to out bid the others in its revelations of what the world of Witchcraft does, etc. This I find to be a sad state of affairs, for what indeed is Witchcraft, or a Witch for that matter, without a touch of mystique. Well, the old ones can give the answer in one word. As the spider says, "Given the right wind, you are bound to catch something." So too with a Museum of Witchcraft, as long as you keep the door open you are sure to lure, over the years, a wide range of interesting people, within your portals.

People are the life blood of a Museum, they are all important, they are the reason in the first place for a Museum being brought into existence, so it may be of interest for you to learn what the general public in the United Kingdom think about witchcraft. First they believe that Witchcraft does exist, but for the most part they think of it in terms of of ILL WISHING - spells - and charms. The majority expect to find their witch in a countryside background. They accept a Witch as being female, but regard a male Witch as a bad joke. Country Wisemen, Conjurers and Wizards they know to exist, and achieve their power over animals. Covens are accepted as established fact, as are witch meetings in field, forest or churchyard - always at night. Riding on and flight by broomstick is regarded as a fairy tale from children's story books. Free-for-all copulation in the nude with interchanging partners is accepted as fact, being a necessary part of the fertility rites, left over from Pagan times. The Black Mass, if accepted, is regarded as an excuse for a sex orgy for the benefit of those addicted to voyeurism, and so on, and so on ...In short, people in general, hold that Witchcraft does exist, but for their part they do not want to have anything to do with it.

As previously stated, many interesting people have visited my various Witchcraft exhibitions over the years. One such was the late Dr. G B. Gardner. In fact, he came - he saw - and he stayed with me, like Sinbad the Sailor. I had him round my neck until such time as I found him a house at 77 Malew Street, Castletown, Isle of Man, which he purchased, and only then did he move out to sleep. He was back again each morning for all the meals of the day for the rest of the summer season.


At that time he was trying to sell his book "High Magic's Aid" which he had paid to be printed. No one was interested. But I did manage to sell a fair number for him at the Castletown Museum. Dr. Gardner knew that I had been, during the last war, employed by H.M. Government on various projects against the enemy in which witchcraft was used. As a member of M.I.6 I was bound by the Official Secrets Act. Dr. Gardner was quite hurt to think that I would not give him the names and addresses of the persons engaged with me in those projects. Indeed, so cross did he become that he made a wax figure representing my goodself and gave it the full treatment. All rather stupid and childish. He was prone to outbursts of fury and bad temper if things did not go his way, but just like a naughty, spoilt, bad little boy, the tantrum soon wore off, and he would once more return to his charming, likable self, all smiles and soft spoken.

It was during this period that Dr. Gardner worked up his version of Witchcraft as a religion carried forward to the present day from a bygone age. Oh, there was so much fun in the baking of this particular cake! Big names in the Folklore Society, the fuss with the late Dr. Margaret Murray, and much else beside. When all has been said and done, let us be fair, Dr. Gardner has provided a large number of followers of his version of Witchcraft with much comfort and satisfaction. He has made many happy and for that he deserves a Thank You.

As a point of interest, I eventually sold the Witchcraft Museum in the Isle of Man to Dr. Gardner. For him it was an unfortunate episode in as much as he tried to hide the fact from me that he was the real purchaser, while throughout the whole transaction I knew exactly what the true facts were. To me it mattered nothing who the purchaser should be or the use to which the property be put, however Gardner contrived to dig a deep pit into which he fell and it cost him a lot of money to climb back out of his own folly. All rather sad and quite unnecessary.

In conclusion let me pay homage to the History of Witchcraft. The bad old ' Burning Days' - the Witch Trials and Tortures, the thunderings from a thousand pulpits against those unfortunate women who, for one reason or another, brought down upon themselves the wrath of the Establishment. They paid the price in broken bones, torn flesh and consuming flame.

Sad to say, that is what the public pay their money to see, but hold for one moment longer, there is more to it than that. A museum, to be worth its salt, should carry a clear message for all to see, and to understand. The Museum of Witchcraft's Message is: To the question -"Why so much bloodshed, suffering and inhumanity?" The answer is in the age old Witch's saying "Look up, look down, young man, there are other places, other things."

In short, 26 years of Witchcraft Exhibition has taught me that there is indeed a world of Spirit, and that the only question remaining for each one of us to find an answer to is, "How do I get there?". For my money, I will follow in the quiet steps of the unseen but ever present company of Witches who have learned the art of coming to terms with Spirit forces of this world, and who, in due time, will translate with them to the NEW DIMENSION.

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Published originally, without pictures, in 'Quest, a quarterly review of the Occult' No.28 December 1976. Uploaded to artcornwall.org 13.8.19