When I think of witches (which is more than you think) I’m always drawn to Arthur Miller’s The Crucible and the events that occurred in Salem back in the seventeenth century.
Donald Trump might be claiming every two minutes that he’s the victim of a ‘witch-hunt’ but an investigation of the most powerful man in the world into alleged corruption and his extra-marital sexual exploits with various porn stars are a far cry from the pervading fear whole communities faced when being investigated for witchcraft.
A better comparison would be the Mcarthyism era of the 1950s with people across the board being accused of communism with feelings overshadowing facts whichever way you turned.
Witches have had a varied, mainly negative, press throughout history with the more positive pointing towards a kindly lady who provides healing in the community and the more negative painting a picture of a cursing harridan who was in league with the devil.
And then we have the witchfinders who used such tools as ducking stools to catch their prey although there are even several instances of women being hanged for simply looking crone-like.
Nowadays we still carry a strange fascination for witchcraft especially in modern literature whether it’s from Harry Potter to Terry Pratchett’s Discworld to Neil Gaiman’s Sandman or even Deborah Harkness’s A Discovery of Witches.
Each of the above writers paint a picture of witches as nuanced characters that are a far cry from the cursing, pointy-hat wearing, black cat wielding, cauldron-stirring stereotypes of Shakespeare’s Macbeth or Baum’s Wizard of Oz.
A Discovery of Witches itself has just been launched as a big-budget Sky television series with witches and vampires battling amongst the beauty of Oxford’s architecture.
And Oxford has really embraced this new-found love of witchcraft with its flagship museum The Ashmolean holding a special exhibition called Spellbound from now until January 6.
This immersive and thought-provoking exhibition exhibition gives visitors the chance to explore the history of magic over eight centuries.
The intriguing objects on display show how our ancestors used magical thinking to cope with the unpredictable world around them. They range from the fantastical and macabre (a unicorn’s horn, a human heart encased in lead), the beautiful and mysterious (exquisitely engraved rings to bind a lover and medieval books of ritual magic), to the deeply moving confessions of women accused of witchcraft.
The exhibition asks visitors to examine their own beliefs and rituals, and aims to show how, even in this sceptical age, we still use magical thinking and why we might need a bit of magic in our lives.
With All Hallows Eve approaching you might want to pop along to this exhibition to gather some arcane knowledge to protect yourself from malignant spirits during the witching hour but be warned… booking is essential.