Behind the Scenes & Into the Magic Workshop

Behind the Scenes & Into the Magic Workshop

Our intern, Jeff Goodwin, from the University of Boulder, Colorado, attended Julian Vayne’s workshop last Saturday, here is his write up of the day…

When you work with a collection of objects at a museum every day, it is difficult to imagine seeing them in a new light. As interesting and unusual as the collection we house at the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic is, when you encounter the objects every day as you wipe down the glass or sweep the floors you begin to grow comfortable with them – they become old friends. But this changed for me when we had our workshop last week, Behind the Scenes & Into the Magic, with Julian Vayne.

Julian is a Freelance Heritage Engagement consultant (and author of (amongst others) Wonderful Things – Learning with Museum Objects as well as his new book, Getting Higher – the Manual of Psychedelic Ceremony, which you can pick up online or in the museum shop!) and occultist. He led us through a series of activities aimed at opening our minds and allowing us to engage with the objects in the museum in new and interesting ways. We started by engaging with our own magical objects that we were invited to bring. Though we each gave a brief description of the objects we had and a short history or anecdote, we were encouraged to hold each other’s magical objects and let them tell us their own stories. After some brief meditation, we engaged in a bit of psychometry, allowing the objects to speak to us and getting impressions from them. There were some rather interesting results, from strong emotions, to mystical journeys, to beautiful and creative imagery.

Above: the magical objects brought by the group to the workshop.

As Julian so eloquently explained to those in attendance, objects are gateways to our collective memory and history. This is why we have museums. In fact, he informed us of the history of the word museum – it’s a temple of the muses, the goddesses of inspiration and daughters of Mnemosyne, the goddess of memory (and where we get our handy mnemonic devices from!). So, as the ancient Greeks obviously understood, we are inspired by our past. We fill these temples of the muses with objects from our past that help us better understand the world around us in the present.

Above: workshop attendees exploring objects from the Museum store.

Next, armed with our new-found skills at letting the objects speak to us and our open minds and hearts, we took a journey through the museum. Our objective was to find an object that spoke to us – a gateway, in this moment, that opened up the world of the museum to us. For me it was a seahorse in the Sea Witch exhibit. As I said, I go through the museum daily, and the Sea Witches are always my favorite, but on this day, that seahorse spoke to me. Something about its delicate beauty and brittle fragility took my mind away to the vastness of the sea. Something about imagining such a tiny, fragile creature existing in such a tempestuous, alien world set my imagination running (or, rather, swimming). I gained a deeper understanding of why such an object would be used in protection charms.

Above: getting close to the objects from the Museum store.  

Next we went up to the library to engage with a selection of objects that had been pulled from the museum storage. Again, after some mediation and clearing our minds, we let the objects tell us their stories. I had helped get the objects out of storage the day before and, in the process, had done some research on what we knew about each object. There were some fascinating stories about many of the objects hidden away in the museum documents. But equally fascinating were the stories the objects told to us that day. Sometimes we get so caught up in ideas about what is true and what is not (in a historical, objective sense) that we forget to look for our own truths – the truth in the way we experience the world around us. This is no less valuable than objective facts. In letting the objects speak to us, we can come at them from an entirely different perspective and gain knowledge and insight to them that would be completely inaccessible through the lens of objective fact. As magic teaches us, there is no right or wrong way to experience the world around you. After all, a seahorse could just be a dried up dead fish – or it could be a powerful piece of magic and inspiration. I prefer the latter.

Above: objects for the day were chosen from the Museum store by Joanna Varanda (an intern from Falmouth University).

Here is a selection of the feedback from those who attended the workshop:

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