Magic has not lost its power over us, as a spellbinding new show confirms to Laura Gascoigne.
AT the press launch for the Ashmolean Museum’s latest exhibition, its director performed a card trick. Among his more conventional accomplishments, Alexander ‘the Great Xa’ Sturgis is a magician and the subject of this show is close to his heart.
As befits the University of Oxford’s Museum of Art and Archaeology, ‘Spellbound: Magic, Ritual & Witchcraft’ is about more than prestidigitation. A collaboration between researchers at three British universities, it shines an academic light into historically dark corners of demonology, witchcraft and superstition.
It begins by ridding us of any smugness we might feel about the superior rationalism of our own era by confronting us inside the entrance with some searching questions, such as ‘Do you have a lucky charm?’, ‘Do little rituals make you feel less anxious?’ and ‘Do you worry about tempting fate?’—this last question posed beside a ladder that daredevil visitors can choose to walk under
The exhibition, Dr Sturgis admits, has an agenda: ‘It is essentially about the continuity of the need for magic and magical thinking.’ A large display of modern padlocks once attached to Leeds Centenary Bridge by contemporary couples wishing to seal their love stands as proof that magical thinking is alive and well and still breeding new strains of superstition.
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September 18, 2018