What do witches look like and how can you spot one? What would you say if you could meet a witch hunter from the past or present? Would you be prepared to stab a photograph of someone you love with a knife? And if not, why not? Why is it that unusual objects, like four leafed clovers, are considered lucky?
These are just some of the questions asked by the new learning resource from The Boscastle Museum of Witchcraft. Made possible by funding from The Friends of the Boscastle Museum of Witchcraft the first phase of this project is ready and waiting for teachers and learners to use. With my Museum Education Consultant hat on I’ve been leading this project. Staff from the museum have of course been essential to our success. We’ve also been really fortunate to work with students from the Arts University Bournemouth (the premier practical film school in Britain) who shot the films embedded on the site.
The sample of objects presented from the Museum of Witchcraft collection allow educators to address a number of curriculum needs. Questions posed in Religious Education, Citizenship, History and Personal, Social, Health & Economic Education (PHSE). As an Internet resource this material is accessible across the globe and there are plans to introduce teachers to it from a range of different countries.
Many of the questions that the site raises (such as those about prejudice and superstition) are hugely relevant in the modern world. There are many nations where people accused of witchcraft can find themselves in prison or even executed. Meanwhile in other States, migrant workers and gay or transgendered people can find that they are the culturally scapegoated group.
Developing discussions about such emotionally charged issues using museum objects (from the past, and perhaps from ‘alien’ cultures) can help people explore ideas in a fresh way. Using objects can make discussions safer. We can reveal our own beliefs, hopes and fears but, by externalising them in terms of our feelings about an object, we don’t need to reveal too much personal stuff directly. We can compare how our culture is now with things were in the past, exploring both differences and similarities. We can make value judgements, and imagine ourselves in different situations (for example as a member of a community where a witch-hunt is taking place). Anchoring these explorations in the past, through the object, we can engage with these issues without the political, social and perhaps personal difficulties that might emerge if we were to do the same with a contemporary issue.
So please have a look at the site. If you’re a parent or educator you might like to try it yourself (the current site is aimed at Secondary School and older learners but we hope to create a version for younger learners in the future). Feel free to pass on the link to anyone you feel might be interested. The site contains full instructions on how to use it for both learners and teachers, and there are built in feedback mechanisms too.