Photos of Museum objects going on loan to the Ashmolean Museum later this year

Last week, the Museum was visited by two photographers (Tom Last and Pauline Hubner).  They took photos of objects which will be going on loan to the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford later this year.  These objects will be taking part in the exhibition  Spellbound: Magic, Ritual, and Witchcraft which will run 31 August 2018 – 6 January 2019.

They have kindly shared the photos they took of the objects and we thought this would be a good chance to share a bit of information about these pieces.

Weighing Chair

“In June 1792, an old woman from Stanningfield in Suffolk, who could no longer face the accusations of witchcraft being made against her … had to resort to popular justice to clear her name… [In court] the old woman charged another with having called her a witch, which she said had very much disordered her head.  The justices told her, however that they could take no cognisance thereof and she was dismissed.  Having received no legal help, she handed herself over to the community to prove her innocence by extra-legal means.  First it was suggested that she be weighed against the Bible, but the clergyman refused to lend it, so she was forced to undergo the far more dangerous procedure of swimming.  She was swum in a local horsepond, was found to sink, and was then dragged out ‘almost lifeless’.  Her husband, who along with her brother and another man, held the rope at her swimming, was reported to have said that he thought it better to indulge her therein, than to suffer her to destroy herself, which she would otherwise have certainly done.” Owen Davies, Witchcraft, magic and culture, 1736-1951, pp.104-105

Why did this poor lady ask to be weighed against the Bible?  She clearly thought it was a way to prove that she was not a witch as she would weigh more than it.  But why did people think that this was a way to test for witchcraft?  There are very few English records to work from but there are examples of weighing apparatus in museums in Holland and Germany (though these do not have Bibles on them).

The idea of weighing a suspected witch against the Bible may be linked to the idea that witches were unnaturally light (they could fly after all).  Weighing therefore became a means of unveiling the witch and punishing them.  Or it may be to do with the fact that the Bible was not just any book – its heavy words would prove the guilt of the witch.  Bibles were sometimes used to hold down tables that were believed to have been moved by spirits (no other weight could do this, just the Bible because of its metaphorical rather than literal weight).

Or the weighing chair may have been a way used by local clergy to protect those accused of witches from an angry mob.  It was extremely unlikely that anyone would have weighed less than a Bible, and it is possible that these chairs were a means of controlling mobs who were unaware of the changes in the law regarding witchcraft after 1736.  The clergy may have played with people’s superstitions to save lives.  In Bexhill in 1780 for example, inhabitants persuaded a local clergyman to weigh two women who were thought to be witches.  Both were heavier than the Church Bible, and were therefore released.


The text below was written by Louise Fenton and appeared in our 2016 exhibition Poppets. pins and power: the Craft of Cursing.

In 1952 Cecil Williamson (the founder of the Museum) agreed to feature in a magazine article and was put in touch with a photographer called Juliette Lasserre. They were to become friends and in 1953 Juliette Lasserre wrote to Cecil Williamson asking for his help.

The letters can be seen in the Museum archive, they explain the situation that requires assistance. Miss Lasserre has friends, two sisters, who have fallen on difficult times. They have had to house a former Nazi wife (as was the requirement post-war if an occupant had spare rooms) and since have had injuries, illness and misery. The sisters known to Miss Lasserre live in Bavaria, Germany. She writes and asks if Cecil Williamson can help.

Although the letters to Miss Lasserre are lost it is clear from the letter below that he has offered to help. The letter is thanking him and explaining that the poppet will be made and that a weapon will be brought back.

The label that accompanied the doll states that it was made in EXMOUTH in 1909-1913. This aroused suspicion, as the location was one of Cecil Williamson’s default places. It was only when researching letters and cards that the story emerged.

This doll was made in Bavaria from the clothes of the person who was to be harmed in 1953. Miss Lasserre transported both the doll and the weapon used back to the UK to Cecil Williamson. At this time he vehemently denied participating in Witchcraft, however, he did create this poppet for the two sisters.

The doll has aged over time, she began with black hair as she was made as a likeness to the victim, this is now white.



Two witch bottles one with contents displayed next to it.

This text refers to the second bottle (with the contents): ‘An example of the famous bellarmine type jars and bottles much beloved by witches for use as spirit houses and hexing bottles. This one was found built into the wall of a bombed-out house in Plymouth in the Sutton Harbour area. The bottle was wax-sealed and the items within had been set in a dry hide, that is no liquid within the bottle. The items extracted can be seen in the glass covered box alongside. From the evidence to hand everything indicates that whereas the bottle is of considerable age, its filling and its concealment would have taken place between 1895 and 1912. None the less it is a good example of a west country witchcraft used for retribution magic most likely from an aggrieved employee against his or her employer or master if an apprentice.’ Cecil Williamson

Photos courtesy Tom Last.


Guided tour for Barncoose Limb User Group

The Museum welcomed twelve members of Barncoose Limb User Group yesterday.  The organisers of the group saw Judith Hewitt, the Museum Manager, present a talk on Halloween in October in Falmouth which inspired the visit to the Museum in April.  The group were given a guided tour by Judith for around an hour and seemed to have thoroughly enjoyed their visit.  It was lovely to meet such a lovely group of enthusiastic, interested and open minded people.  

To arrange a talk, group visit or tour please email Judith at the Museum:

Dutch article about the Silent Listener: the life and works of JHW Eldermans

Many thanks to Wilmar Taal for sharing this article and for the translation.  The article can be read in English below or in Dutch here: 

Haagse ‘magiër’ herleeft in Britse huis voor hekserij



The Silent Listener. The Life and Works of J.H.W. Eldermans – being the title of a book about Johannes Hendrik Willem Eldermans (1904-1985) from The Hague, which has been launched yesterday in the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic in Boscastle (United Kingdom). Eldermans was a probation officer in The Hague and lived in the Van Reesstraat in Bezuidenhout and became postumously known thanks to a donation of thousands of drawings, manuscripts and sketches and some 150 sculptures to the British museum for Witchcraft. The collection amazed experts in the field of Hermetic sciences like Ronald Hutton (University of Bristol) and Wouter Hanegraaff (University of Amsterdam). The new book is written in English for the reason that Eldermans is better known abroad than in his own former homestead The Hague.

Although some publications appeared in 1986 and 1989 with drawings by Eldermans (Greet Buchner’s Witches herbs and Henriëtte Gorter’s To see gnomes is to look in a different way) Johannes Hendrik Willem Eldermans (190-1985) became known after the year 2000 in circles of witchcraft and esoterics. That year a bequest of Bob Laurentius Richel is donated to the Museum of Witchcraft, in which many works by Eldermans. Professor Ronald Hutton thought the collection to be of great importance and Dr. Wouter Hanegraaff sent student Tessel Bauduin to Boscastle to help catalogue this collection. In 2010 a book about Eldermans appears from Three hands Press, titled The Occult Reliquary and in 2012 Eldermans becomes better known due to his involvement with the research on the Round House near Nunspeet. In 2014 Wilmar Taal MA starts with a research into Eldermans’ life and works. This research will lead him to archives from Leeuwarden to Tilburg and from Rotterdam to Almelo. The research even crosses the countries boundaries as collections in Switzerland, Austria, France and Great Britain need to be studied.

414 pages

This resulted in the new book by Wilmar Taal consisting of 414 pages. Many stories about the life of Eldermans have been thoroughly researched and placed in a correct perspective. Where many thought him to be a top civil servant he appeared to be a simple probation officer. Who thought he was a member of secret societies will find out his spare time was mostly filled with drawing and writing. And those who think he was a magician might be disappointed he only studied magic and didn’t practice it. His heritage is mildly spoken impressive. Of his enormous collection of drawings, sketches, manuscripts and objects are around 6000 pages recovered. Part of it is in the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic, another substantial part is in the Zentralbibliothek in Zürich, Switzerland, a thousand pages are in private property in Austria and there are many more smaller collectors and museums who own some works by Eldermans. And then the family had kept some of his things. An oversight is given in the second part of the book. In the last part the legacy of Eldermans is the subject: the stories that go around and his importance for esoterics.

W.B.J. Taal MA (1969) studied Cultural Studies at the Open University The Netherlands and graduated in 2004 specialized in History, Literature and Philosophy.

The book is available from the Museum’s online shop:

The Silent Listener Paperback

The Silent Listener Hardback


See the full historical diary archive here