Spellbound: Magic, Ritual and Witchcraft

31 Aug 2018 – 6 Jan 2019

Do you believe in magic? Even if you don’t, you probably ‘think magically’ sometimes. We touch wood to stop bad things happening, or take a lucky object to a job interview or exam in an irrational attempt to influence the outcome.

This is the first exhibition to examine how magical thinking has been practised over the centuries. With exquisitely engraved rings to bind a lover, enchanted animal hearts pierced with nails, mummified cats concealed in walls and many other intriguing objects, this exhibition shows that the need to use magic is driven by our strongest emotions: the need to be loved, our fear of evil and the desire to protect our homes. While belief in magic and rituals can be comforting, it has also led to the persecution of women as witches. This exhibition examines both the idea of the witch and the reality of how women were accused of witchcraft.

Even today, our tendency to think magically has not changed as much as we might think. To illuminate the links between past and present, contemporary artists have created new works inspired by the exhibition’s themes.

This exhibition is ticketed. Entry is free for the Ashmolean Members.


Timed tickets will be in operation.

Entry is FREE for children under 12 years, University of Oxford students and Members of the Ashmolean.

Tickets are discounted at 50% for children aged 12–17 years and Art Fund Members.

Concession tickets are available for senior citizens, students, those who are unemployed, and University of Oxford staff & alumni.

UK school groups can visit our temporary exhibitions free of charge. We offer teachers a previsit complimentary exhibition ticket. Booking essential.

Contact the Education team to arrange your visit (education.service@ashmus.ox.ac.uk)


The fastest way to book exhibition tickets is online. Click on the 'Buy Tickets' button above (visible once tickets are on sale) to visit our online booking pages.

To book exhibition tickets by telephone please call 01865 278 112.


The exhibition will be open late, until 8pm, on the following dates:

Friday 31 August
Friday 28 September
Friday 26 October – as part of a LiveFriday event
Friday 30 November


Click here to view all Exhibition Events

Exhibition Tours

Wednesdays 3.30–4.15pm
Free with the price of admission, no additional booking required


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








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 and the University of East Anglia. 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
Katherine Dowson

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