Bodmin Local History Group talk a great success

On Tuesday 10th April, Peter gave a talk at Bodmin Local History Group (BLHG).  The subject, “Protection from Witchcraft”, took the form of an illustrated history of various apotropaic (or evil averting) charms from Cornwall and beyond.  After a very warm welcome from organiser Ann, Peter discussed the important distinction between ‘witches’ and ‘cunning folk’ in the early modern period and then went on to talk about the ways cunning people served their communities – by finding lost goods (identifying thieves), love magic and of course, protection from maleficium.

What do cursing, black devil coachmen’s beetles and a wise woman from Helston have in common?  Well, it appears that one such wise woman had a penchant for using the little beetles in her ‘witch bottles’ which she deposited at crossroads.  This was part of a larger discussion of ‘witch bottles’ – the best archaeological evidence available to us of the practice, beliefs and concerns of those bewitched from about 1550 onwards.  Several examples of witch bottles from the Museum’s collection were considered, including some new research that will also feature at the upcoming Hidden Charms Conference in Salisbury (

We also discussed ritual marks at places of ingress in the home and upon objects – examples ranged from Cornish churches, a lead amulet from Hampshire, a protective mark in Shakespeare’s birthplace and even witch-marks in Sir Isaac Newton’s home in Lincolnshire. 

The evening was capped off by an analysis of a curious Bodmin story – that of a clergyman who was cursed and attended a seeming ‘sabbat’ at the charcoal pits near Cardinham Woods.  Was this poor clergyman ‘unwitched’ by a local cunning man or wise woman?  Watch this space for a full historical account of one of the strangest episodes in Cornish history!

After the talk, Peter was lucky to talk to three members of the audience who had some fascinating recollections of charmers and their practice from the local area.  It is hoped that this invaluable information will be supplemented by future interviews.  (If you have any similar information, please do contact the Museum:

Many thanks to Ann and everyone at the BLHG for their patient attention and kind words.  Peter has been invited back to give another talk soon, and we hope to see the BLHG here at the Museum in the not too distant future. 

Leave a Reply