31 August 2018 – 6 Jan 2019
The intriguing objects displayed showed how our ancestors used magical thinking to cope with the unpredictable world around them. They ranged 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 asked us to examine our own beliefs and rituals, and aimed 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.
To illuminate the links between past and present, specially commissioned works by contemporary artists provided dramatic responses to the themes of the show, conjuring demons, flames and the scuttling of malignant spirits.
The Discovery of Witches, Matthew Hopkins, 1647
'Poppet' of stuffed fabric with stiletto through face, South Devon, 1909–13
Disease of the eyes caused by witchcraft, from Opthalmodouleia , Germany, 1583
Love Ring inscribed 'Vng temps viandra’ (a time will come), c. 1500
'Witches' ladder', found in the roof of a house in Somerset, 19th century
Prognosticator, used to calculate bloodletting times, France, c.1500
John Dee’s purple crystal, Europe, 1582
Apprehension & Confession of 3 notorious Witches, London, 1589
Microcosmic Man, Germany c. 1420
Helen Duncan's 'Ectoplasm', c. 1939
Ceremonial Sword, 1501-1600
The Ashmolean would like to thank the exhibition sponsors for their generous support