Ryedale Folk Museum's new Believe it Or Not? exhibition set to open

Knitting Sheath with apotropaic mark.Knitting Sheath with apotropaic mark.
Knitting Sheath with apotropaic mark.
A new exhibition featuring more than 200 objects exploring folk beliefs and ‘magical thinking’ opens at Ryedale Folk Museum on March 23.

The exhibition Believe it or not? explores the traditions and rituals of our ancestors, and whether we are still ‘magical thinkers’ today.

Featuring heavily within the exhibition are the stories of those accused of witchcraft, explored through their own objects.

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These include a crystal ball that was passed down by those seeking to foretell the future, and four sigils or ‘spell tokens’, likely created as a form of ‘love magic’ by a magical practitioner or service magician.

Four sigils, or spell tokens.Four sigils, or spell tokens.
Four sigils, or spell tokens.

Ryedale Folk Museum Director, Jennifer Smith, said: “We have such a rich heritage in this region.

"This exhibition is a significant opportunity for us to share objects that explore how people thought in the past, which can sometimes be quite nebulous.

"These objects offer real, tangible examples of how people put their beliefs into practice.”

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It’s quite rare for museum collections to include the type of folk objects that were created and owned by those accused of witchcraft.

“We’re in a unique position to explore this topic,” Jennifer said.

“Often such objects were not considered valuable enough to be collected within their time, or else such items were feared and shunned because of their magical associations.

"Many of our objects reflect important aspects of folk culture that can otherwise be hard to access.”

Other items on display include:

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- a collection of medicinal charms accumulated by Victorian naturalist and folklorist William Clarke and part of the collection of Scarborough Museums and Galleries

- customs surrounding ‘witch bottles’, with items on loan from York Castle Museum

- and a range of folk objects embellished with protective markings from Ryedale Folk Museum’s collection.

Staff at the museum have been working with Brian Hoggard, author of Magical House Protection: The Archaeology of Counter-Witchcraft to explore objects with supposed magical and protective properties.

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Brian says: “I think within this exhibition visitors will find such a lot of unusual beliefs and practices to wonder at.”

Visitors can also explore the origins of folk dance, including Morris dancing and sword-dancing customs and traditions of the harvest.

Believe it or not? is on at Ryedale Folk Museum from March 23 to November 17, open every day except Friday, from 10am.