Over the past couple of years, the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic has been devoting attention to the academic study of magic and the occult, most visible in the launch of their Journal, The Enquiring Eye, with the goal to revive the Witchcraft Research Centre that its founder, Cecil Williamson, envisioned the Museum to be.
This September has seen the launch of the Equinox Colloquium, the Museum’s second conference, now accompanying the Annual Conference in Spring.
As the title suggests, the Colloquium covered the Autumnal Equinox (handily falling on the weekend between of the 19th to the 22nd) with research papers, two dramatic performances and a folklore walk. It was a cosy affair and what it lacked in numbers it made up amply in enthusiasm. Speakers from across the UK and from as far afield as California and Queensland have presented on the topic of Accusations and Persecution.
The Colloquium coincided with the start of the Banned Books Week, and was chosen by the American Library Association as one of the featured events on their website. To highlight the importance of freedom of speech and the long term stigma associated with books of magic, the Museum staff have created a reading list from banned esoteric texts and invited speakers at the Colloquium to read some excerpts. These readings will be available on the Museum website, released daily during the week.
This series of readings, titled ‘Banned Books at Bedtime’, starts with the talk by Dr Thomas Waters, the keynote speaker at the Colloquium. His presentation of the history of cursed books highlights the worrying shift from historical book curses being employed to protect the texts against theft and misuse to the modern understanding of ‘cursed books’ as a label leading to censure.
On the topic of books, the Colloquium provided the platform for the launch of Dr Waters’ book, Cursed Britain, which he touches upon in his presentation. Furthermore, the event hosted a comprehensive range of texts from Troy Books, a publisher chiefly involved with esoteric and folklore material.
The mix of academic research, dramatic narration of the experience of the accusers and accused (one of the plays explored the Pendle Witches case), involved discussion in the cosy Long Bar and bracing walks along the Boscastle cliffs have made the conference a memorable affair and, hopefully, a staple fixture in the Museum’s calendar.