18th October, 2023

Witches Away/Witches Present

Our second twin exhibition for the telephone kiosk museums open from 18th October coinciding with the changing of the season and that spooky time of year.

Both seek to cast a thought provoking spell on us all as it sparks our curiosity about witchcraft and rituals and the objects associated with them. Each installation leads us to question our thoughts about the stories we know and have yet to discover about people's belief in witches and evil spirits as well as their role to protect and bring good fortune.

These linked exhibitions evoke a sense of the past meets the present and how we may reimagine what we once thought about witchcraft and some of the humble everyday objects around us. Turning on their head some of the powerful concepts of what, who and why witches may be part of meeting very human needs.

"Witches Away!"

An exhibition of objects often associated with witches. The exhibition provides a fascinating insight into the human desire to ward off evil spirits.

Each artefact was and sometimes still is believed to protect against negative energy or an “evil spell” and bring good fortune.

Once a part of everyday life, this curious array some naturally occurring, some fabricated, has connections through the ages with a variety of cultures.

In the old days, witches, witchcraft, evil spirits, were part of everyday life. They were blamed for most domestic mishaps – the milk’s gone sour, the baby’s sick, the seed crop’s got mildew, the cider’s gone off. Someone must have cast a spell ..

The objects carefully curated by Barbara Farquharson include...

BOOT/SHOES Hidden in an attic or elsewhere to protect against demons, ghosts, witches and familiars. Place an old shoe or a boot in the rafters, where witches or their animal familiars might be, and if you’re lucky – they’ll fall into it!

HEX FOILS A form of magic protecting someone from harm, also known as Daisy Wheels or Witch Marks. Daisy wheels were often engraved on walls – you’d need some sort of primitive compass to do a good job. They’re both a web to catch a witch and something to bestow good fortune.

GARGOYLE A guard watching over to ward off evil spirits and negative energy. Being Christian didn’t mean you stopped needing to be protected. Roof gargoyles drain water off the church roof, they also protect against demons and evil spirits.

IRON HORSESHOE Lucky symbol, smells like human blood, found deep in the earth, with magical properties to repel misfortune.

HAG STONE A pebble with a natural hole in it to repel spells causing disease. Hang it by your door and witches or other evil spirits would fall into the hole. Alternatively, if you looked through the hole, you could to see through the disguise of a witch or fairy.

MUMMIFIED CAT A dead animal sealed into the wall of a house to scare away a witch’s familiar.

YEW TREE Planted in churchyards for its sacred powers to ward off evil spirits.

HOLLY Planted in hedgerows to knock a witch off their broomstick. Witches liked to skim along the top of hedges, or fly through the field gates. Plant a HOLLY TREE – a holy tree – somewhere along the hedge or on either side of a gate, and they’re stopped in their tracks.

Like most things, a holly tree would have multiple uses – yes, they kept the witches at bay, but their distinctive evergreen shapes also served as sight-lines during winter ploughing.

STONE AXE Placed by a front door to keep the wicked ones out. You need to place objects near or below your front door. From early times and right through to the nineteenth century, people thought that PREHISTORIC POLISHED STONE AXES were thunderbolts and had special powers.

FOSSILISED SEA URCHINS Also known as Shepherd’s Crowns, a source of protection, used to encircle the dead in burial grounds. Country people called them shepherd's crowns or fairy loaves - if you keep one in the house, the family won’t go short of bread. Or place one in the dairy and the milk won’t go sour.

In Branscombe and Beer you find fossilised sea urchins alongside worked flint tools, and in a famous Early Bronze Age burial on Dunstable Downs in the Chilterns, nearly two hundred crowns encircle the bodies of a woman and child.

GREEN PERSON A legendary folklore character, pagan symbol of life, death and re-birth. The “Green Person” for example is thought to be the spirit of the future…part human, part animal, part plant and part tree.

Perhaps we all need to be “Green People” … what do you think?

"Witches Present!"

An exhibition of objects often associated with white craft or white witchcraft or natural magic. Using the power of nature for good, for healing, protecting and making peace.

White witches are a feature of many cultures with a variety of beliefs and rituals. Characterised by a common goal to create positive change; appease spirits, cure illness or injury, control the weather or harvest, divine the future, create good luck and promote wellbeing.

Each artefact has a practical use or is a symbol. Practiced through all kinds of mediums from incantations to charms and spells to tarot readings and tinctures made with healing herbs.

Legends of witchcraft to harm or hurt have grown up through the ages. Myths driven by the desire to persecute and blame misfortune on those whose beliefs or knowledge are misunderstood or who challenge power such as women, healers, heretics and midwives.

The objects carefully curated by Sidmouth School of Art include...

CAULDRON A vessel used to mix herbs into potions and poultices.

TAROT CARDS Used to predict the future, fortune telling often by those discriminated against.

WANDS and DIVINERS A rod for reaching, pointing, finding water, a simple tool.

FEATHER FAN To conduct incense smoke to sanctify a space.

CRYSTALS Promoting healing, protection and good energy flow.

PENTACLES Five-pointed star symbolising Air, Earth ,Fire, Water, Spirit.

CANDLES Candle magic, easy spells to make a wish & mark changing seasons.

ANIMAL SKULLS Bones, feathers and fangs used to bind a guardian spirit animal.

HEALING HERBS Medicinal and healing properties, ingredients for good spells.

PUMPKINS Symbols of fertility & potential, each seed representing the next harvest.

APPLES With a pentacle at its core, nature’s symbols of love and lust.

BROOMSTICK Or besom made from twigs often birch or heather, used for sweeping.

The association with broomsticks as the vehicle of choice of witches has its earliest references due to the confessions (whilst being tortured) of a male "witch" for their dissent towards the church.

White craft perhaps prompts us to question how everyday household and natural objects used for good became associated with "dark magic", concepts connected with the persecution of dissenters and 'others' by those who hold power over them, after all ...

“Which of us hasn’t cast a spell as we blow out the candles and make a wish?!”