3808 – A Haitian magical box, c. 1930

Physical description:
A cigar box, painted gold. Contents include a dried toad, a dried rabbit head, and a poppet of linen with a birds skull attached, bound with human hair (fine, brown), red wax and dotted with rusted pins. Box is lined with green felt.
Museum classification:
Cunning Folk
Size:
5.5 INCHES x 9 INCHES x 3 INCHES HIGH
Information:

A cigar box, painted gold.  Contents include a dried toad, a dried rabbit head, and a poppet of linen with a birds skull attached, bound with human hair (fine, brown), red wax and dotted with rusted pins.  Box is lined with green felt.

The donor writes:

"THIS BOX HAS BEEN IN OUR FAMILY FOR 3 GENERATIONS. WHAT I KNOW OF IT IS WHAT I WAS TOLD BY MY GRANDFATHER (WHO WAS A SAILOR). HE TOLD US AS KIDS THAT HE HAD BROUGHT IT FROM HAITI WHEN HE USE TO SAIL THAT WAY ON. HE WAS ALWAYS ONE FOR THE SUPERNATURAL  AND THE OCCULT, SO I CAN SEE WHY IT APPEALED TO HIM."

The box was acquired by a Lincolnshire sailor born in the 1860s.  Upon his return to England with the box, his wife made him keep it in the garden shed following a run of bad luck.  Succeeding generations also kept the box out of the house.  It is possible that the item comes from a tradition of folk magic that blended Haitian and British traditions.  The 'Toadmen' of East Anglia acquired special knowledge and skill from catching and preparing a toad.  Similar items from the collection include a poppet making kit, and various charms using dried amphibians such as toads and newts.

Jeff Goodwin, an American intern working at the museum, has pointed out that rabbits are not native to Haiti. One possibility is that the rabbit's skull, and perhaps the dried toad too, were added to the box after it arrived in Britain as protection magic to combat the malevolent witchcraft embodied in the poppet. Scarborough Museum has two dried toads that were hung up in cottages in Devon to ward off witchcraft; one of them is dated to 1910 (information provided by Tabitha Cadbury). 

Resource:
Object
Materials:
Animal and human remains, wood, wax, metal, iron, felt, paint.
Copyright ownership:
MWM