Incredible charms and amulets
Human Heart 12th-13th century
This shrivelled human heart was found inside its lead, heart-shaped case lined with silver, known as a ‘cist’, in county Cork, Ireland, back in 1863. In some cases, particularly if the man or woman was wealthy, the heart was removed from the body after death and buried separately. It is believed that the heart dates back to the Middle Ages, and could have been used for rituals of devotion, magic and love. Such love magic was used to bind one person to another romantically, for example in times of love sickness.
John Dee’s Purple crystal 1582
This purple crystal belonged to John Dee, the famous occultist who served as an advisor to Queen Elizabeth I. Dee was known for his interest in divination, particularly after his career at the royal court began to dwindle. He would read medieval magic texts to learn about rituals to summon angels, as well as to determine suitable stones that would allow him to communicate with spirits. Though Dee hoped to gain knowledge that would help mankind by conversing with angels, he also expressed his wish that they would help him uncover treasure.
Prognosticator c. 1500
In line with Medieval understanding, this instrument used to determine the most auspicious time to conduct bloodletting in patients. The prognosticator calculated this according to the position and movements of the Moon, and the 12 signs of the zodiac are also engraved all the way around it. Astrology had a big influence on medicine and by the end of the 14th century, physicians in various countries were legally obliged to consult the position of the stars before proceeding with an operation.
mirror of floron 16th century
Angels were not the only supernatural beings involved in magical divination, as some people tried to summon demons. The idea was to trap a demon in a glass, stone or mirror, where they would be forced to answer questions. This magic mirror is associated with the demon Floron. To work, a magic mirror was supposed to be made from polished steel, inscribed with the names of angels, and the maker had to be chaste and clean to successfully trap Floron. Beyond divining secrets of the past, present and future, magic mirrors were also used in rituals associated with love and healing.
“The idea was to trap a devil in a glass, stone or mirror, where they would be forced to answer questions”
ceremonial sword Late 16th century
Though this sword dates back to the 16th century, the rock crystal reliquary in the handle actually dates back even earlier. Rock crystal was popular because of the strong belief in the power of natural materials and it could be used to hold relics since the sacred fragment inside could be visible and would transmit its power of protection to the person who held it. This sword was actually a ceremonial weapon and given as a gift for a betrothal or marriage – as it is adorned with the Bourbon coat of arms, it was possibly a gift given to Princess Henrietta Maria for her marriage to King Charles I of England.
The use of poppets, small effigies believed to bewitch the people they represent, has long been associated with witchcraft. This particular one is made of stuffed fabric and is wearing an Edwardian style black dress, with its head skewered by a small stiletto dagger. Dolls like this one were used to cause injury and death, with the idea that injuries made to the poppet would correspond to the person it symbolised. The practice of sticking pins into a representative image or effigy was a common ritual of malevolent magic.
coral Brooc 1600-1800
This bright coral brooch depicts the Archangel Michael defeating the devil and is a powerful image of good triumphing over evil. As coral was a natural material, itwas believed to protect against harm, therefore making it an ideal choice for this brooch. To have a lucky charm or talisman was not uncommon and in fact they still persist to this day, as the belief that an object can offer the owner confidence, control and protection can be physically and mentally comforting.
Barn Door 17th century
Carved into this barn door are various hexafoil markings, which were most likely intended to protect the barn against witchcraft. These inscriptions were developed from the human need to protect property and of course, a belief in magic. Apotropaic charms such as these markings were made in consultation with cunning folk, otherwise known as folk magicians, who would visit homes to offer their advice. These charms usually consisted of geometrical shapes or religious monograms carved into supports of the home, such as on the beams or on lintels, to protect
them from witches.
witch’s ladder 19th century
This ‘Witch’s Ladder’ was found in the roof of a house in Somerset where, according to 19th and 20th century articles, a purported witch lived. It was believed that this witch used it as a metaphorical ladder, perhaps to gain access to a house or to cast a curse on someone. However, historians today believe that this object was actually a sewel, a tool for driving deer. For years, it has been labelled as a ‘Witch’s Ladder’ at the Pitt Rivers Museum, because the curators at the time wanted to identify it, provide an explanation and put it on display.
Bull’s Heart unknown
If an animal such as a cow or a sheep was believed to have died as a result of witchcraft, then its heart may have been cut out and stuck with pins, needles or even thorns. Afterwards, the heart would either be hung up to roast over a fire or placed inside a chimney, where it could smoke and shrivel and subsequently cause pain to the witch’s heart. This particular one is a bull’s heart that was pierced with iron nails and thorns before it was smoked. Although piercing poppets was deemed an act of witchcraft, piercing animal hearts was not considered in the same vein, since it was intended to harm witches.
This rare charm could be up to 900 years old.
Dee’s purple crystal was supposedly given to him by the angel Uriel
This brooch of Archangel Michael was found in Italy This poppet was found in Exmouth, Devon
This pierced bull’s a heart was found in Hill chimney at Shutes Farm, Somerset
This sword is decorated with symbols concerning the longevity and fidelity of love
This exact purpose of this object remains unknown
This 17th century calf shed door is from Laxfield, Suffolk