2999 – Spirit Trap: Demon Trap

Physical description:
A horn covered with a skin cap with pouch attached with twine. Pouch now empty. Cap is attached via tacks or nails, possibly iron.
Horn: 29 cm. Pouch: 8 x 8 cm. Twine: 41 cm.

A West African, possibly Ghanaian, spirit trap.

This was part of a display on African Magic in the Museum, pre-1996. An interpretation card (written by Williamson, Cecil Williamson Object Label Collection No. 7340) reads:

"This object looks [sic] what it is and you all know what it is meant to be. It comes from the West Coast of Africa and was used in certain matrimonial matters. Points to notice The skin pouch was used to hold a White grease unguent. The horn is nailed to a wooden head covered with a special section of skin. The spirit force or demon resides within the horn cavity and the success of this instrument is dependent on its full co-operation and participation in the work in question. Never at any time must the horn be opened for in that way the captive demon escapes."


The phallic nature of the object may suggest that it was used for fertility purposes - Williamson suggests 'matrimonial matters' - but potentially it could have been used in agriculture.

It was found in a box of uncatalogued items with two labels in Williamson's hand: 'Witch-doctor. Mau-Mau. Sundry Items.' The other label reads: 'Witch-Doctor. Mau-Mau Relics'. (However, the Mau-Mau were a political movement in Kenya, and the West African attribution is more likely.)

Toby Green, writing about his investigation of West African magic in the 1990s in his book 'Meeting the Invisible Man', describes an amulet for protection against your enemies' weapons that involved putting a paper with extracts from the Qur'an written on it inside a ram's horn, together with gunpowder, and then sealing the horn with wax. Robert Milligan, in his book 'The Fetish Folk of West Africa' (1912), describes a similar amulet (again, for protection against your enemies' weapons) that consisted of a goat's horn believed to contain a spirit.

Horn, leather, twine, iron?