The Upstairs Gallery part three…
The upstairs gallery of the Museum was refurbished over winter this year. Previous blogs considered the re-display of the Horned God and the Goddess sections. Missed parts one and two? See: http://museumofwitchcraftandmagic.co.uk/news/the-upstairs-gallery-before-and-after-part-two-the-goddess/ This blog will consider the final part of the upstairs gallery: the Green Man, piskies, fairies and the spirit of nature more generally.
This section may seem new but several of the displays (and most of the objects) were in the Museum’s displays before, this is just the first time they have been brought together.
The pisky display before:
The pisky display now…
The piskies are displayed with the following text from The Book of Faerie by Michael Howard:
“Pixies and Piskies… small elf-like spirits…They have pointed ears, round faces and squinting eyes and dress in…a medieval type tunic, pointed cap and pointy toed shoes that curl back on their feet.
Various theories have been put forward to explain the origins of the pixy tribe. It is said that they are the departed spirits of druids or other pagan people who once inhabited the West Country or are the souls of unbaptised children….they love playing tricks on humans, but if left regular offerings…they will help around the house or farm…
Small images of pixies and piskies are still popular on key rings and fridge magnets sold to tourists in the West Country.”
We also expanded the previous display to consider stones that have connections with piskies and fairies such such as geodes (Crack open a stone and find it sparkles inside? You have found “the sparkling palace of some fairy spirit…these two sparkling fairy cups have been treasured and much used in magic making.” Cecil Williamson), fairy crosses, hag stones, elf darts and fairy loaves.
The Museum must have always had a pisky display as this is one of the oldest paintings in the Museum’s collection. The Museum founder, Cecil Williamson, can be seen photographed in front of it below.
Here is an excerpt from the interpretation panel that we have displayed with this painting:
The picture communicates many important ideas about piskies. They are small, associated with death, have a playful nature and their own morality. Why do people in Cornwall think of them like this?
“…they thought…that the Piskies were the spirits of the ancient dead, our Pagan ancestors who dwell in the Otherworld reality of the Cornish landscape, along side the living…One old story collected by William Bottrell…illustrates this view; the Piskies are described as being ‘not of our religion but star-worshippers.’
…Another interesting Christian justification for Piskies was that they were the old Pagan Gods of Cornwall and that since the birth of Christ they had been forever diminishing in size until they became muryans (ants), and would one day vanish altogether. It was thus taboo in Cornwall to destroy a muryans’ nest, and it was believed that if a piece of tin were placed in such a nest during the time of the new moon, the old Gods, in their ant-form, still had enough power left to turn tin into silver….” From Traditional Witchcraft by Gemma Gary
This section of the Museum also has a display of other items such as stangs, masks, paintings, representations of the Green Man and items used to commune with the spirit world.
The Green Man display before (to the right)…
The Green Man display now…
The top gallery now also has the wonderful Hare/Woman statue by Lionel Miskin in it (ironically and without planning it seems to be back in an old spot as this really bad black and white photo below from the 1990s shows. You can also clearly see the Horned God in the right corner wearing a white robe and surrounded by trees. He then wore a red robe for many years (still surrounded by ivy and branches) and he now wears a green robe and is surrounded by trees.
At the entrance to the gallery, we have a labyrinth stone and a poem from The Horned Piper by Nigel Aldcroft Jackson called Sabbat Song (reprinted with the permission of the author and publisher).
Sleep is waking, waking sleep
we ride the broom across the deep,
fair is foul and foul is fair
by bee and cat, by hound and hare,
the living die and the dying live
we turn the shears and the sieve,
to farers through the mystic night,
up is down and down is up
to seekers of the cauldron-cup,
lords are churls and churls are lords
we leap across the bridge of swords,
birth is death and death is birth
we tread the paths beneath the earth,
Bride is Hag and Hag is Bride
Between the times we rage and ride,
day is night and night is day
for farers on the witching way.
When we read this poem we felt it connected everything in the gallery together as well as evoking the tone of the gallery: a dark, mysterious place, a night journey, a place of Horned Gods and Goddesses, piskies, spirits, Green Men with a witch’s sabbat at the end (there is a large painting on the back wall of the gallery).
The top gallery has gone through many changes over the years.
From this in Cecil Williamson’s time…(you can see the Sabbat painting and the stand which are still in the top gallery quite clearly here)
Graham King changed the top gallery a lot during his ownership of the Museum…
In the picture below, you can see the old Goddess display in the right hand side (behind the green arch).
In the photo below, the Green Man display is now behind the green arch and the Goddess display has moved to the right of the door.
Which is pretty much where everything stayed until earlier this year…
The Museum doesn’t stay still, we continue to grow and develop to reflect our collection and our objects, the beliefs of magical practitioners, the interests of the general public and the thinking of scholars who have published books on witchcraft and magic (such as those cited here). It is amazing how when we move something some people seem to see it for the first time! The top gallery today:
Photograph above by Paul Ferbrache, photograph below by Carol Keith.