Halloween Curator's Choice: A Dark Mirror from the Museum of Witchcraft

Graham King interviewed by Chris Broughton | 30 October 2012
a photo of a man looking into a dark mirror
Graham King peers deeply into Cecil Williamson's Dark Mirror.© Photo Chris Broughton

Curator’s Choice: In his own words... Graham King of the Museum of Witchcraft in Boscastle, Cornwall chooses Cecil Williamson’s dark mirror

"The Museum of Witchcraft is full of curios and its original owner, Cecil Williamson, was something of a curio himself. He sold us the building in 1996 along with its contents, but also had his own personal collection at home of objects that were particularly special to him.

When he died in 1999, his family wasn’t sure what to do with these objects and called us in to help clear them out. Among the items that had never been on public display was this beautiful dark mirror – it was sitting in his study on a little kid’s easel.

A dark mirror, or scrying mirror, is one that’s not fully reflective and which is used by clairvoyants for spirit contact. Mirrors are less expensive than crystal balls and we’ve got a good collection of them here. Some of them are very old, some quite ornate and we even have a portable one which folds up into a little travel case.

Cecil’s mirror is a beautiful thing to look at. The surround is an old picture frame made of painted wood. It’s a lovely piece of carving, with detailed leaves and fruit all around it. We’re not sure how old it is, but I would hazard a guess at 1820s or 1830s, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised to learn that Cecil mounted the mirror in the frame himself.

Normally, you find the surface of a dark mirror is concave, and often the makers would use the glass from a clock backed with black felt or put something else very dark behind it. The glass in this one is flat, but while I’ve not taken it apart I suspect that’s the case here – the glass is mounted on some sort of dark material, or the back of it has been painted black.

When Boscastle flooded in 2004, the water rushed into the museum and smashed nearly all the cases. The one containing the mirror was one of the few that escaped, but even so, the mirror was completely submerged. Nevertheless, it escaped with superficial water damage to the frame.

During his life, most people had never been quite sure whether Cecil was involved in magic personally or just ran the museum as a business, but this was obviously something he’d used himself and provided us with lovely evidence that he really had been practising magic.

I don’t think even his family had been aware of what he’d been up to. It’s funny, Cecil had been running the museum for almost 50 years, but it didn’t seem to have occurred to them and I think they were rather ill at ease with the situation.

I think out of all the exhibits in the museum, it’s the one that best represents Cecil, and it’s one that is often commented on by visitors as they leave. They’ll say, “Oh, that mirror was fabulous” but they can never put their finger on quite why – it just seems to capture people’s imagination.

I have used dark mirrors myself, but not this one. It’s really Cecil’s property - although he’s no longer with us I believe it still belongs to him. I suppose I feel much the same way about the museum, actually. I see myself as its custodian rather than its owner.

Whenever I look at the mirror, I most certainly get a sense of Cecil being in there, and when I go around cleaning exhibits in the morning I often find myself standing in front of it.

Whatever’s happening that day, I can’t help wondering what he would make of it. The mirror is a beautiful object in itself, but it sort of captures a bit of Cecil, as well."

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More pictures:

a photo of a bearded man in a room full of objects
© Photo Chris Broughton
a photo of a dark mirror
© Photo Chris Broughton
a photo of an oval dark mirror with the refelction of a man visible inside it
© Chris Broughton
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