The Magic of Magic by Joanna Varanda

The Magic of Magic by Joanna Varanda

We were very fortunate to have Joanna at the Museum recently.  She is studying at Falmouth University and did a two week long internship at the Museum.  We were all really impressed with her work and look forward to seeing her here again soon.  Here is her write-up of her time at the Museum…

When I was invited to write a blog article for the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic’s blog, I was terrified. I smiled and nodded at Judith, Peter, Joyce and Hannah… and then panicked because I wasn’t sure of what I was going to say to them. How exactly is it that overwhelming gratitude can be put into words? But don’t tell my lecturers I said this!

Above: Joanna at the Museum

As an English with Creative Writing student at Falmouth University, doing an internship in the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic gave me the best of not two, but three worlds. One, I gained a formidable experience of library cataloguing, by putting some of the Museum’s previously uncatalogued assets into their system. Two, I enjoyed being in an academic environment, where I got to know interesting visitors, staff and contributors. And finally, the third (and best) part: I will now be able to have a place where I can go and do some solid research for my own writing. Won’t I?

Above: the library “No, I won’t leave!”

My cataloguing adventures focused mostly on the Museum’s audio estate. From Cecil Williamson’s lost interviews, to Pagan chants, all the way through to the trance sessions of the late Alex Sanders, I had the pleasure of hearing it all. In fact, my favourite bits were indeed these Alex Sanders tapes. In some of them, I could hear Sanders talking as if he was incarnating an extra-terrestrial being called The Avatar, from a planet called Ganymedes. I confess, I may not know much about Sanders, but I did notice that his voice seemed a tad different during these sessions, when I compared them to other more ‘regular’ recordings. For one, his speech didn’t seem as fragmented or incoherent.

I later found out that Sanders would also use a device called ‘The Machine’ during these trances, which can be seen in the last room of the Museum (photograph above), “where it still goes on today”… He would stand, sit or lie down in it, while his friend Derek Taylor would act as his scribe. If you ever get the chance to look at this object, I dare you to say that it doesn’t at least look a little bit weird!

The most brilliant part of all of this was realising that these tapes came to be in the Museum’s hands (and in mine!) because they were donated. They passed on from friend, to friend, to friend, until they found their little corner in Boscastle. Which made me realise just how much of what was inside the MWM came to be there due to the precious cooperation and friendship of those that have visited it over the years. What fascinated me even more was knowing that there is a group of people called (fittingly) Friends of the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic, who are willing to give hours of their own time to help organise workshops, walks, and just overall contribute to the magic of Magic. It’s like the Museum belongs to everyone!

Above: the view from one of the office windows.  Joanna said, “I feel like the Museum belongs to me now too.”

Another task that I was assigned to during my time in the MWM was picking out the objects for this past Saturday’s workshop: Behind the Scenes and Into the Magic, with Julian Vayne. I got the chance to dig my hands (with gloves of course!) into the enchanting secret room where all the objects are kept. My favourite ones were the West African horn and pouch, where a spirit had been trapped to help women conceive… I don’t want to know how.

Above: selecting objects from the Museum store.

Another one, was a Chinese Cursed Idol made out of a root.  According to a newspaper clipping that is attached to this idol, it was first owned by a man who was found in a boat wreck, with all of the other crew members dead. He was staring deeply into the idol’s eyes, and wouldn’t let go. Later on, when he returned home, his house burned down, with him inside it, as well as his wife. His son found that among the debris of the fire, the only thing that had been left untouched by the flames had been the idol. The son kept it as a memento of his deceased father, saying that he had nothing else to remember him by. But a few years passed, and the son’s own family came to be plagued with misfortune, until a priest came by and said that the idol was the reason for all of that malediction, and that it must be exorcised.

I didn’t feel anything when I touched it. To me it was just a smiley old chap with a long beard, and it made me smile too, so I guess that means the exorcism must have worked.

Above: What a happily Cursed Chinese Idol!

I must admit, it bothered me for a while that I wasn’t fully aware of all of the stories behind of what I saw, heard and experienced at the Museum. I even felt quite ashamed of writing down in some of Alex Sanders’ tapes, descriptions such as “several voices in background”, because I simply didn’t know who was speaking. But as Judith and Peter said, now someone will be able to find them in the Museum’s catalogue, and provide their own expertise into finding out their mysteries. How magical is that?

Which in conclusion, made me see that one of the most precious lessons that I learned during my time at the MWM was how much a person can be like a museum. Throughout our lives, every bit of knowledge that we accumulate is transmitted through the wisdom that other people donate to us. In our minds, each of us comes to create their own collection of experiences, memories and characteristics that, sometimes, we don’t really know much about. Now and then, someone will come along and give us a gift, whether it is their time or their expertise, but most importantly, something that will help us to find out more about ourselves.

So, thank you everyone for helping me find out more about myself.

And thank-you Joanna, for your time, hard work and enthusiasm and for this thoughtful blog post too.  

Above: just some of the cassettes, DVDs and other items Joanna helped to catalogue while she was here.

Joanna told us about her graphic novel (written in Cornish) when she was with us at the Museum.  It has just featured in the newspaper the West Briton: congratulations Joanna – we are all pleased that your work is getting the attention it deserves!

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