Photo © Ellen Rogers

Spellbound: Magic, Ritual & Witchcraft Exhibition at Ashmolean Museum

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End Date.


Do you believe in magic?

Have you ever touched wood?

Could you stab a photograph of someone you love?

Why tempt fate?

The Ashmolean’s autumn exhibition explores the history of a fascinating cultural phenomenon – magic. SPELLBOUND will display 180 objects from 12th-century Europe to newly commissioned contemporary artworks. They range from the beautiful and mysterious (crystal balls, books of spells), the bizarre and macabre (a unicorn’s horn, a human heart encased in lead), to the profoundly touching (the testimony of women accused of witchcraft, the lovers’ padlocks cut from Leeds Centenary Bridge). The exhibition explores the inner lives of our ancestors, offering an insight into how people in the past actually felt and what they did to cope with the world they lived in.

Looking at human hopes, fears and passions and asking visitors questions about their own beliefs and rituals, the exhibition 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.

Dr Xa Sturgis (AKA Magician, The Great Xa), Director of the Ashmolean, says: ‘Magic has always been a subject close to my heart and I’m thrilled that this exhibition takes such an imaginative and impactful approach to the subject. We may think that we’ve grown out of the magical belief of our forebears but SPELLBOUND makes clear that we still think magically.’

The exhibition has been supported by:

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

Don’t miss the Spellbound Live Friday event on Friday 26 October! Explore the exhibition after hours. Find out more here.