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Magic at the Museum

First time I have been to an evening event at the Horniman museum. I have always liked the place, though the natural history displays inevitably dismay me. At night, with strange 'witch opera' plus  cases full of charms brought out from the old collections plus added prosecco, one can't really go wrong.

It was quite festival like; there was something happening everywhere, films in the conservatory, doll making and music in the central square of the building. There's so much stuff at the Horniman one never gets to see much of it. Last night's focus was Magic: We started with an investigation of some seldom seem curios, old English talismans/amulets and superstitions combined with a series of 10 minute talks on these little forms of magic. From a recording of how people under hypnosis responded to a charm they held in their hands,to a druid explaining what wands are for, to an artist destroying a mass-produced lucky cat in front of us, the lectures were fascinating, though not as appealing as the objects;

The first two explain themselves, the bottle is a witchkiller. You put urine (hers? one's own? some animal's?) in the bottle and stopped it up, and the witch would no longer be able to urinate.Then she would die. No-one could tell what the sheep's heart covered in pins was for.

Annie and the Magicians
After this, we went into the gardens to see an actress by lanternlight telling us the story of Annie Horniman and the Golden Dawn.
Her father was an exorbitantly rich tea-merchant/collector extraordinaire. The Horniman tea-empire was on a par, if not greater,than that of Mr Twining or Mr Tetley, both of whom also lived at Forest Hill, content to make vast amounts of money; but Frederick Horniman was of a different inclination. Whatever the triumphs of the tea business, his  travels were unsatisfactory if he couldn't bring home an Egyptian mummy/ Indian statue/[insert strange artefact]. The house grew so full of jimcrack gewgaws that his wife objected and wanted it all removed. He wasn't having that, and instead built a house for the family up the hill a little. In that house, his daughter Annie along with Moina and MacGregor Mathers held the first ceremony of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. Annie funded them. She also got involved in funding the Abby theatre in Dublin, knew Yeats and Lady Gregory, toured Germany, smoked, drank, wore trousers, rode her bicycle and kept cats. In the end, when her father demolished both houses to create a museum for his life's work (keeping only the huge glass conservatory they brought with them from their home in Croydon) she moved to Marylebone and lived there till the end of her life.

Crocodile People
Last but not least was the talk in the natural history gallery on various strange customs around the world, hearing of the half-man half-jaguar god known as 'The Decapitator,' the royal history of Sobek, the use of dragon's tongues (Aka shark teeth) to remove poison from drink,tree frog venom as the universal panacea provided you burnt the skin off your forearm and rubbed it in, and the fascinating ordeals of the people around Black River in Papua New Guinea; It transpired that the first of the [...] people fell into the river and met [...]the crocodile spirit, who made a deal with him. If he and his people went through a process honouring their bond with the great crocodile spirit, they would in turn become the most powerful clan in the surrounding lands. The ordeal went like this: at the time of initiation into manhood, a man would be covered in tiny cuts, his nipples would become crocodile eyes, around his navel little holes for the crocodile's nostrils...it was immensely painful, so much so that a man could not go through it on his own, he needed his kin and friends to help him... In this way, the bond was secured,not just between man and crocodile spirit, but between man and community.  The cuts would have river mud rubbed into them so that they would become infected, and bobble up, like the ridges and scales of a crocodile's skin. The lecturer concluded that though she couldn't recommend it as an activity ('Please don't try this at home...') the clan did indeed become the most powerful in those lands. Possibly nobody wanted to face warriors so mad/inspired/dedicated they'd serrate their entire bodies in order to emulate crocodiles and cement relationships. It makes flagellants look positively lackadaisical.

The posse enjoyed it; I wanted more time, but the night flew away very quickly. There seems to be something similar but much larger happening on Sunday,  the Otherwordly exhibition on at the British Museum, but we are meant to be in Guildford  with marvellous mates for a birthday... Ah well, can't have everything. It's the sign of delicious times that good things clash with each other.


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Oct. 14th, 2016 08:04 pm (UTC)
Wow, fascinating
Oct. 15th, 2016 08:38 am (UTC)
Yes,always a very interesting place. This is the first of their evening events I've been to, I'll be keeping an eye out for others.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )



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