Touchstones of belief: a rich legacy of Charms and Amulets in Scotland by Professor Hugh Cheape

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Touchstones of belief: a rich legacy of Charms and Amulets in Scotland

Charmstones have the power to fascinate and to inspire when we see them in pictures or enshrined in glass cases; we may even have one sitting on the mantelpiece! We understand them as reflections of folk belief or part of a transcendental or even supernatural world. In Scotland, in common with most world communities, we have a rich legacy of charms and amulets existing in many forms throughout our history and guessed at in our prehistory. What does this mean while medicine was as much faith as understanding? Or how can we better understand Saint Columba when he picked up his miraculous stone from the bed of the River Ness? Was this charismatic figure of our earliest history ‘saint’ or ‘seer’? This is the material culture of a supposed ‘otherworld’, offering daily protection from disease and death and tangible evidence of how people faced a pandemic. As the stuff of museum displays, charms and amulets become disassociated from their lifescapes context and, more importantly, from language and belief systems that are still part of our daily experience.

Speaker Bio

Professor Hugh Cheape has devised and teaches a postgraduate programme, MSc Cultar Dùthchasach agus Eachdraidh na Gàidhealtachd (‘Material Culture and Gàidhealtachd History’), at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, the National Centre for Gaelic Language and Culture. He holds a Research Chair in the University of the Highlands and Islands. The MSc has grown out of his curatorial and ethnological work during a career in the National Museums of Scotland. He has published widely in the subject fields of ethnology and musicology, including studies in Scottish agricultural history, vernacular architecture, piping, tartans and dye analysis, pottery, charms and amulets and talismanic belief.

Witchcraft, Wunderkammer and Weirdness!: Steve Patterson’s Cornish Cabinet of Magic and Folklore

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Witchcraft, Wunderkammer and Weirdness!: Steve Patterson’s Cornish Cabinet of Magic and Folklore

The “Museum of Magic and Folklore – West Cornwall”, started in 2021 as an independent and un-funded pop-up museum/exhibition set up by Steve Patterson in the old C18 vaults beneath the streets of the historic maritime town of Falmouth, Cornwall, not a few hundred yards from Victor Wynd’s own exhibition in the Maritime museum. Its aim was to be a kind of evocation of the magic inherent in the Cornish landscape. In it was a weaving together of displays of Cornish folk customs past and present, artifacts of witchcraft and magic and exhibits by contemporary artists including Tim Shaw and Tony ‘Doc’ Sheils. As luck and magic would have it, what was a pop-up museum has morphed once again, taking root in a more permanent Falmouth venue – becoming “Gwithti a Pystri – a Cabinet of Magic and Folklore”

In this presentation we will be going on a walking tour of the “Gwithti a Pystri” via a short film produced by Gemma Gary and Jane Cox of Troy Books. We will also be exploring some of the mysteries of folklore, folk magic and the museum as a numinous transformative space.

Steve Patterson is an author, woodcarver and folklorist who lives and works in an off-grid shack in an old granite quarry in west Cornwall. He is an auto-didactic outsider researcher, meta-antiquarian and artificer of strange and wonderful things. He has been involved with small museums since the 1980’s and has worked with the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic in Cornwall since the mid 1990’s. He currently runs the “Antiquarian Adventures in Meta Reality” podcast and is director of “Gwithti an Pystri – a Cabinet of Folklore and Magic” museum in Falmouth, Cornwall.

Curated and hosted by Dr.Amy Hale

Dr. Amy Hale is an Atlanta-based anthropologist and folklorist writing about esoteric history, art, culture, women and Cornwall in various combinations. Her biography of Ithell Colquhoun, Genius of the Fern Loved Gully, is available from Strange Attractor Press, and she is also the editor of the forthcoming collection Essays on Women in Western Esotericism: Beyond Seeresses and Sea Priestesses from Palgrave Macmillan. Other writings can be found at her Medium site and her website

The Bewitching of Anne Gunter: England’s Best Documented Witchcraft Case by James Sharpe

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Bewitching of Anne Gunter: England’s Best Documented Witchcraft Case by James Sharpe

In 1999 I published a book entitled The Bewitching of Anne Gunter: a horrible and true Story of Football, Witchcraft, Murder and the King of England (Profile Books). This concerned the alleged bewitchment of Anne Gunter, aged twenty or so, the daughter of a gentleman called Brian Gunter, resident at North Moreton, then in Berkshire, since boundary changes of 1974 in Oxfordshire. Briefly, Anne fell ill in the summer of 1604, demonstrating symptoms which defied diagnosis. It was eventually decided that she had been bewitched, and suspicion fell on three women in the village: Agnes Pepwell, who had an established reputation as a witch, her illegitimate daughter Mary Pepwell, and Elizabeth Gregory, who although largely free from any established associations with witchcraft was apparently the most unpopular woman in North Moreton, regarded as an all-round troublemaker by her neighbours. More specifically, bad relations between Elizabeth Gregory and the Gunters can be traced back to 1598 when Brian Gunter inflicted fatal injuries on two members of the Gregory family in the course of a brawl engendered by a village football match. As Anne Gunter’s sickness continued, suspicions of witchcraft against the three women hardened. Agnes Pepwell ran away, but Mary Pepwell and Elizabeth Gregory were tried as witches at the Abingdon assizes in March 1605 (two of the first people to be accused of witchcraft under the new Witchcraft Statute of 1604) and acquitted.

Matters should, officially at least, have ended there, but Brian Gunter tried to re-open the case when James I, recently crowned king of England, and someone with a known interest in witchcraft, visited Oxford University in August 1605. Another of Gunter’s daughters was married to the Regius Professor of Divinity at Oxford, and it was probably though this connection that Brian Gunter was able to set up a meeting with the king. This proved to be a terrible miscalculation on Gunter’s part. James referred the investigation of the case to a team drawn from senior members of the Church of England, who at that time were developing a very cautious approach to witchcraft accusations and the related matters of demonic possession and exorcism. The upshot was that Brian and Anne Gunter were tried at Star Chamber for malicious prosecution, and the relevant dossier provides the richest documentation available for any witchcraft case in England – the standard records of English witch trials, unlike those generated by some continental jurisdictions, are usually very terse and lacking in detail. What I want to do in this talk is reconsider the Anne Gunter case so as to present the audience with some of the perhaps unexpected complications which arise when a witchcraft case is studied in detail, and to examine how the course of a witchcraft accusation could be shaped by a variety of contexts: those of the community in which the initial accusations arose, the legal system under which the supposed witches were tried, and the ecclesiastical politics and theological positions which were so often crucial in determining the course of a witchcraft accusation once it attracted the attention of officialdom.

Speaker Bio

James Sharpe completed his BA and DPhil in Modern History at the University of Oxford. After temporary posts at the Universities of Durham and Exeter he was appointed lecturer at the university of York in 1973, and continued to work there throughout his career, being promoted to a professorship in 1997. He has published twelve books and around sixty learned articles and essays. His initial work was in the history of crime in England in the early modern period, but he has also written extensively on early modern English witchcraft, his first major work on the subject being Instruments of Darkness, published in 1996, and focussing on the history of witchcraft in England c. 1550-1750. He retired in 2016, but remains research active, and is currently Professor Emeritus in Early Modern History at the University of York.

Robert Aickman – Master of the ‘strange story’: a Zoom talk by R. B. Russell & Rosalie Parker

Robert Aickman (1914-1981) is remem­bered today as the author of fascinating ‘strange stories’, and also as one of the saviours of Britain’s inland waterways. In Aick­man’s mind these two apparently differ­ent interests were allied; he was an ideal­ist and a Roman­tic who sought the ‘world else­where’ of Shakespeare’s Cor­io­lanus, because the modern world was not for him. Aick­man believed that an alterna­tive realm could exist in life and the creative arts, and he sought to offer this in his fiction, and to build a utopia through the restoration of Brit­ain’s in­land waterways.

Aickman wrote two volumes of auto­biography, The Attempted Rescue and The River Runs Uphill, and both are full of colourful personal details. However, his own versions of events cannot always be relied upon.

Ray Russell has now written the first full biography of Aickman (Robert Aickman: An Attempted Biography, Tartarus Press, 2022), disentangling and examining the myths that have sur­rounded the man and his life. In this Zoom discussion he will discuss Aickman and his life along with Rosalie Parker, who has shared in this quest.

R.B. Russell runs the award-winning Tartarus Press with Rosalie Parker. He has had four collections of short stories, three novellas and two novels published. His non-fiction includes an Arthur Machen gazetteer (Occult Territory), a collection of essays (Past Lives of Old Books), and Sylvia Townsend Warner: A Bibliography.

Rosalie Parker is the editor at the award-winning Tartarus Press, which she runs with R.B. Russell. She is the author of four short story collections: The Old Knowledge and Other Stories (2010), Damage (2016), Sparks from the Fire (2018) and Through the Storm (2020).


Your host for this event will be the writer Edward Parnell, author of Ghostland: In Search of a Haunted Country. Edward Parnell lives in Norfolk and has an MA in Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia. He is the recipient of an Escalator Award from the National Centre for Writing and a Winston Churchill Travelling Fellowship. Ghostland (William Collins, 2019), a work of narrative non-fiction, is a moving exploration of what has haunted our writers and artists – as well as the author’s own haunted past; it was shortlisted for the PEN Ackerley 2020 prize, an award given to a literary autobiography of excellence. Edward’s first novel The Listeners (2014), won the Rethink New Novels Prize. For further info see:

Mighty Lewd Books: Pornography in the Eighteenth Century by Julie Peakman

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In this talk I will explore popular images emerging in erotica: female flagellants whipping their submissive charges; depraved monks corrupting innocent nuns; libertine rascals seducing young virgins; and rakes carousing with their whores, all of it was becoming increasingly available in Britain in the eighteenth century.

The famous diarist Samuel Pepys secretly admitted to reading pornography. He had got hold of the French original of L’Escole des Filles (translated in English as School of Venus) which had become available in London in 1668. He thought it ‘a mighty lewd book, but yet not amiss for a sober man once to read over to inform himself in the villainy of the world.’ Overcome by guilt, he burnt it. But this feeling of sin among British men was to lessen in line with the rise of the pornography trade.

This talk will explore the erotic book trade in Britain and the types of sexual fantasies being catered for. From salacious prints, erotic poems, obscene satires and graphic sexual novellas, an abundance of pornography was available. It could be found in London coffee-shops, in taverns and on streets corners along the Strand and Covent Garden, while books sellers stood a figure of a naked man outside their shop doors to advertise to clients what sort of book they sold. meanwhile, publishers would come under increasing persecution from the law.

Dr. Julie Peakman is a historian in eighteenth-century culture and an expert in the history of sexuality, erotica and pornography. She is Fellow of the Royal Historical Society and a frequent contributor to journals, magazines and television documentaries for BBC, Channel 4 and the Biography Channel. Her books include Licentious Worlds. Sex & Exploitation in Global Empires (2019); Amatory Pleasures, Exploration in Eighteenth-Century Sexual Culture (2016); The Pleasure’s All Mine. A History of Perverse Sex (2013); Lascivious Bodies: A Sexual History of the Eighteenth Century (2004) and Mighty Lewd Books: The Development of Pornography in Eighteenth-Century England (2003). She has also edited 6 Volumes of A Cultural History of Sexuality (2011); Sexual Perversions 1670-1890 (2009); and 8 Volumes of Whores Biographies, 1700-1825 (2006-7). She is also biographer of Peg Plunkett, Memoirs of a Whore (2014) and Emma Hamilton (2005). She is currently writing a book on sexual shenanigans in the metropolis, Intimate London, a story of whoring, sodomising, adultery and seduction.

Vodou and Art : Between the altar and the market by Leah Gordon on zoom

Leah Gordon explores the links between Vodou and art, in both Haiti’s rich art history and contemporary practice. Leah will discuss the use of image and artefact within Vodou ritual and the often, interchangeable role of artist and Houngan (Vodou priest). To conclude Gordon will explore the liminal space that contemporary artists currently inhabit whilst trying to negotiate their ancestral histories and cultural antecedents within a contemporary art market which still has a conflicted relationship toward ethnographic and ritual objects.

Leah Gordon will discuss these issues from her experience of co-curating ‘PÒTOPRENS: The Urban Artists of Port-au-Prince’ at Pioneer Works, Red Hook, Brooklyn, ‘Kafou: Haiti, Art & Vodou’ at the Nottingham Contemporary, ‘In Extremis: Death & Life in 21st Century Haitian Art’ at the Fowler Museum, UCLA, Los Angeles, as one of the directors of the Ghetto Biennale and as an adjunct curator for the Haitian Pavilion at the 54th Venice Biennale.

Speaker  Bio

Leah Gordon (born Ellesmere Port, UK) is an artist, curator, and writer. Her work explores the intervolved and intersectional histories of the Caribbean plantation system, the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, the Enclosure Acts and the creation of the British working-class. In the 1980’s she wrote lyrics, sang, and played for a feminist folk punk band. Gordon’s film and photographic work has been exhibited internationally including the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney; the Dak’art Biennale; the National Portrait Gallery, UK and the Norton Museum of Art, Florida. She is the co-director of the Ghetto Biennale in Port-au-Prince, Haiti; was a curator for the Haitian Pavilion at the 54th Venice Biennale; was the co-curator of ‘Kafou: Haiti, History & Art’ at Nottingham Contemporary, UK; and was the co-curator of ‘PÒTOPRENS: The Urban Artists of Port-au-Prince’ at Pioneer Works, NYC in 2018 and MOCA, Miami in 2019. In 2022 she will be exhibiting and curating at documenta fifteen, Kassel.

More Treasures from The Museum of Witchcraft & Magic with Simon Costin – Zoom

Join Simon Costin, the museum’s director, live from the museum in Cornwall where he will show and discuss some of his favourite treasures from the collection. The Museum of Witchcraft and Magic, formerly known as the Museum of Witchcraft, is a museum dedicated to European and world witchcraft and magic, located in the village of Boscastle in North Cornwall, in the south-west of England. It houses exhibits devoted to folk magic, ceremonial magic, Freemasonry and Wicca, with its collection of such objects having been described as the largest and most important in the world.

The museum was founded by the English folk magician Cecil Williamson in 1951 to display his own personal collection of artefacts. Initially known as the Folklore Centre of Superstition and Witchcraft, it was located in the town of Castletown on the Isle of Man. Williamson was assisted at the museum by the prominent Wiccan Gerald Gardner, who remained there as “resident witch”. After their friendship deteriorated, Gardner took over the running in 1954, renaming it the Museum of Magic and Witchcraft. Gardner’s Castletown museum remained open until the 1970s, when Gardner’s heir Monique Wilson sold its contents to the Ripley’s Believe-it-or-Not company.

Later in 1954, Williamson, who had removed his collection from the Isle of Man opened his own rival back in England, known as the Museum of Witchcraft. Its first location was at Windsor, Berkshire, and the next at Bourton-on-the-Water, Gloucestershire; in both cases it faced violent opposition and Williamson felt it necessary to move, establishing the museum in Boscastle in 1960. In 1996 Williamson sold the museum to Graham King, who incorporated the Richel Collection of sex magic artefacts from the Netherlands in 2000. The museum was badly damaged during the Boscastle flood of 2004 but thankfully, due to the quick thinking of Graham and his staff, virtually nothing was lost. In 2013 ownership was transferred to Simon Costin and his Museum of British Folklore.

Simon Costin studied Theatre Design at Wimbledon School of Art and since leaving in the mid 80’s, Simon has grown to become an internationally respected art director, set designer and curator. Costin’s artwork has been displayed in many exhibitions worldwide, at venues as diverse as a forest in Argyll, the ICA in London and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. His lifelong passion for Folklore has resulted in the launch of the Museum of British Folklore, a long-term project which aims to establish the UK’s first ever centre devoted to celebrating and researching the UK’s rich folkloric cultural heritage. Since 2013 he has also been the owner and director of the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic in Cornwall.

Welsh Fairy Tales by Viktor Wynd on Zoom

Let Viktor Wynd share a nightcap with you, tuck you into bed and tell you Fairy Tales to send you into a deep sleep of strange dreams. Be warned these are not the Ladybird or Disney versions and may not be suitable for the tenderist ears.

Wales has some of the richest, most marvellous and most wonderful fairy tales – Viktor Wynd will tell you some more of his favourites, replete with supernatural beings and strange happenings.

Viktor Wynd, proprietor of London’s eponymous (nay infamous) Museum of Curiosities, Fine Art & UnNatural History has spent the last twenty five years telling stories to audiences across the globe. Fascinated by traditional fairy tales his repetoire includes tales from The Brothers Grimm, The Arabian Nights, Scandinavia, Russia, Italy, France, Irieland, Africa, Papua New Guinea & North America – so far.

Cornish Bards and Witch Hunting in Cornwall in the early Twentieth Century

Still widely consulted and appreciated, the works of the nineteenth century Cornish folklore collectors Robert Hunt, William Bottrell, and Margaret Courtney were published against a background of profound upheaval within Cornish society, as its traditional industries collapsed and a third of its population emigrated to the American continent and to the antipodes. Their successors, the folklorists of the early to mid twentieth century, are less well known, but their collections were of similar scope and likewise amassed during a period of societal change. Two of the most significant of them were William Henry Paynter and Barbara Catherine Spooner, both of whom were active as folklore fieldworkers during the inter-war period. This talk sets their practices in context, using archival and published sources, and explores beliefs in the supernatural at a time when such beliefs were in retreat.

Speaker: Jason Semmens, M.A., is the Director of the Museum of Military Medicine and an independent scholar with particular research interests around the history of vernacular beliefs in the supernatural in the South West of England from the sixteenth to twentieth centuries.

Your host for this even is Dr. Amy Hale is an Atlanta-based anthropologist and folklorist writing about esoteric history, art, culture, women and Cornwall in various combinations. Her biography of Ithell Colquhoun, Genius of the Fern Loved Gully, is available from Strange Attractor Press, and she is also the editor of the forthcoming collection Essays on Women in Western Esotericism: Beyond Seeresses and Sea Priestesses from Palgrave Macmillan. Other writings can be found at her Medium site and her website