Spellbound: Magic, Ritual and Witchcraft

31 August 2018 – 6 Jan 2019



The Times

"Irresistibly creepy"

The Telegraph


The Economist

Spellbinding stories, fascinating objects...
from crystal balls and magic mirrors to witch bottles and curse poppets

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 Financial Times

"Spellbound promises to be one of the Ashmolean’s most intriguing and unusual exhibitions"

Philip Pullman



The Art Newspaper




The Ashmolean would like to thank the exhibition sponsors for their generous support

Bagri Foundation
University of East Anglia








The Bagri Foundation  |  The Wellcome Trust  |  University of East Anglia

The Spellbound Magic Circle: Philip & Jude Pullman; Dasha Shenkman OBE, HonRCM; and others who wish to remain anonymous

The Patrons of the Ashmolean

The research on this subject under the title “Inner Lives: Emotions, Identity and the Supernatural, 1300 -1900” was generously funded by the Leverhulme Trust. Click here to find out more about the research.

Exhibition Curators

Lead Curators:
Dr Sophie Page, University College London
Professor Marina Wallace, Director, Artakt Associate

Owen Davies, Professor of Social History, University of Hertfordshire
Malcolm Gaskill, Professor of Early Modern History, University of East Anglia
Ceri Houlbrook MA PhD, University of Hertfordshire

We thank the artists who have worked with the curatorial team on developing new installations:
Ackroyd & Harvey
Annie Cattrell
Katharine Dowson

Exhibition design by Stanton Williams in collaboration with the Ashmolean


An illustrated exhibition catalogue is available to buy at the Museum and online.

Click here to buy online


For press releases and images, or to contact the Press Office, please click here


Human Heart and Witches Ladder © Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford
Prognosticator and John Dee’s Purple Crystal © Science Museum, London
The Discovery of Witches 1647 © Queens College, Oxford
Poppet © Museum of Witchcraft and Magic, Boscastle
Opthalmodouleia © Bodleian Library, University of Oxford
Love Ring © Victora and Albert Museum, London
Three Witches © Lambeth Palace Library
Microcosmic Man © Wellcome Library, London
Helen Duncan's 'Ectoplasm' © Cambridge University Library