As it’s the season for all things Halloween, the British Museum has launched an exhibition documenting the role of the witch in Western society since medieval times. Thankfully, the exhibit isn’t too cheesy or caricatured, and rather dispels the Disney clichés of witches, instead looking at the facts behind the fiction.
Throughout the exhibition, which inhabits three chambers in the museum, visitors are treated to various sketches, engravings and other artworks that explore the relationship between witches, sorcery and the artistic imagination. You’re filled in on key historical events and shifts in perspectives, as well as shown how witches were blamed for everything from hailstorms to sterility.
Through the use of the art, which dates from 1450 to the 1900s, you’re given an insight into how people could fall for the hysteria of witch trials and persecution as the proliferation of demonic mythology was circulated around Europe as printing technology became more advanced.
While the persecution and subjugation of women is a core theme of the display, it also looks at male sorcerers, satire, and the 18th century sexualisation of female witches. It would be easy to assume there would be a feminist theme, however the exhibition steers clear of any moral messages, and examines the broader results of fear, persecution and religious paranoia.
The exhibition is rather small, and unless you are particularly fascinated by the subject, it doesn’t prove enough of a reason to visit the British Museum by itself. However, within the sprawling architecture of the museum, there are sure to be many reasons to go to Russell Square’s best attraction, making Witches and Wicked Bodies a fine addition to your trip.
Witches and Wicked Bodies is a free exhibition that runs until January 11, 2015.
Words by Max Schwertdfeger and Sebastian Moss
Featured photo courtesy of The British Museum