Archive for British Museum

The Collection of the Magical Dr. Dee, The British Museum

Posted in History, London, Museum, Superstition, Witches with tags , , , , , , , , , on February 12, 2014 by mysearchformagic

I’ve been back to the Enlightenment Gallery of the British Museum again this week, but not to see the creepy little merman. This time I was more interested in the items from the collection of Elizabethan astrologer and magician Dr John Dee.

The Museum has a number of objects which once belonged to the fascinating Dr. Dee in its collection. There are two wax discs which supported his ‘table of practise’, and another larger disc which held his mystical ‘shew stone’, a highly polished obsidian ‘scrying’ mirror used for divination. A small inscribed gold disc shows images of one of Dee’s magical visions, and the crystal ball was used by his assistant Edwards Kelly to conjure up his own mysterious images.

Magical Objects from Dr. John Dee's Collection

Magical Objects from Dr. John Dee’s Collection

A close advisor of Elizabeth I, Dee spent much of his later life dabbling in the occult, and travelled around Europe indulging in all sorts of bizarre experiments. However, he fell out of favour after Elizabeth’s death, and ended his days in penniless obscurity in Mortlake, now in the suburbs of London.

A portrait of John Dee, now in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford

A 16th Century portrait of John Dee, now in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford

It seems that Dr Dee was particularly keen to make contact with angels, which he attempted to do using his crystal ball and obsidian mirror. Was he successful? I guess we can only wonder. But staring into the inky black depths of that scrying mirror, maybe my eyes were playing tricks, but I thought perhaps I saw something…


A Merman, The British Museum

Posted in History, London, Museum, Sculpture with tags , , , , , , , , on October 8, 2013 by mysearchformagic

Whenever I visit the British Museum, my first stop is always the Enlightenment Gallery. This long, high-ceilinged room is lined with old-fashioned wooden display cases containing some of the objects that formed the original collection of the Museum, many of them donated by its founder Hans Sloane in the mid-18th Century. Although it is now known as a vast repository for historical objects, when it was first created the British Museum also included all sorts of wonders and curiosities, including natural specimens, books and manuscripts.

The Enlightenment Gallery, The British Museum

The Enlightenment Gallery, The British Museum

With its diverse selection of weird and wonderful exhibits, the Enlightenment Gallery is reminiscent of the Cabinets of Curiosity which were so popular in Europe during the 17th and 18th Centuries. Not surprisingly, amongst the coins, ancient sculptures, Greek pots and other treasures can be found a number of distinctly magical objects. My favourite is the tiny Merman, who skulks in the shadows of one of the lower cabinets near the middle of the room.

The Merman, The British Museum

The Merman, The British Museum

With its withered face, shocked expression and spiky teeth, the Merman is a scary little thing. Apparently the original owners claimed that it had been captured in the sea near Japan. Those cynical curators at the British Museum think that it might not be authentic, and is in fact the top half of a monkey stitched on to a fish tail. But I am not so sure.

What do you think?