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Could it be magic?

1 November 2019

The nights are growing darker and colder, the trees are a riot of orange and red and the heating (probably after several arguments about just wearing a jumper) is on.

It all means that Halloween is coming.

As we batten down the hatches and wait for the approach of ghouls, witches and trick or treaters, the Collections Team have been investigating a mysterious object; the question is, could it be magic?

When packing collections for transport earlier this year, an unusual and beautiful walking stick caught the eye of Collections Manager, Dr Nadia Randle. Made from a single piece of solid glass it seemed far too delicate to be used as a walking stick. The slightest jolt could shatter its carefully twisted form and it was clearly not designed to help bare the weight of someone whilst walking along. It was a mystery to be solved, but with no clues in the old museum records Nadia put the mysterious item to the back of her mind…

That was until she visited the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic in Boscastle, Cornwall, whilst on holiday earlier this month. In one of their fascinating display cases was an almost exact replica of the weird and wonderful walking stick held in the Greenwich Borough Collections. Not a walking stick, but a “Witch’s Stick.”

A Greenwich Witch’s Stick?

With a bit more research it was revealed that these glass sticks were sometimes used as tools for the practice of witchcraft, even in the present day. The purpose of the stick varied depending on the intentions and type of witchcraft that its owner practiced, but above all they seem to have been protective a charm.

The label for the Witch’s Sticks on display at the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic indicated that:

“These items were often placed between a bed and fireplace. They were said to absorb the evil spirits that caused diseases, especially ague.” (Museum of Witchcraft and Magic, Boscastle; Glass Manufacturers Federation).

Other references to Witch’s Sticks also suggest they could be filled with tiny sweets or coloured threads. They were then “suspended above the chimney-piece so that if an ill-disposed member of the craft entered the house he or she would be obsessively compelled to count the contents.” (https://museumofwitchcraftandmagic.co.uk/object/glass-walking-stick) A very handy way of preventing another witch casting a spell on the home owner.

Sadly, as we have no information about where the Greenwich glass stick came from and when it came into the collection, we can only speculate if it was indeed used by a witch in the Borough and what kind of charms or spells it was used for. However, the collections team are certain to make sure it’s treated carefully – we don’t want to be cursed if it breaks!

Happy Halloween!