Spellbound: Magic, Ritual and Witchcraft

31 Aug 2018 – 6 Jan 2019

Spellbinding stories, fascinating objects...
from crystal balls and magic mirrors to witch bottles and curse poppets

Explore the history of magic over eight centuries in this immersive and thought-provoking exhibition. The intriguing objects on display show how our ancestors used magical thinking to cope with the unpredictable world around them. They range from the fantastical and macabre (a unicorn’s horn, a human heart encased in lead), the beautiful and mysterious (exquisitely engraved rings to bind a lover and medieval books of ritual magic), to the deeply moving confessions of women accused of witchcraft.

The exhibition asks us to examine our own beliefs and rituals, and aims to show how, even in this sceptical age, we still use magical thinking and why we might need a bit of magic in our lives.

To illuminate the links between past and present, specially commissioned works by contemporary artists provide dramatic responses to the themes of the show, conjuring demons, flames and the scuttling of malignant spirits.

This exhibition is ticketed. Entry is free for Ashmolean Members.




Timed tickets will be in operation. Full price adult tickets are £12.25 each.

Entry is FREE, and no booking is required, for: children under 12 years; University of Oxford students; and Members of the Ashmolean.

Tickets are discounted at 50% for: those under 25; students; children aged 12–17 years; and Art Fund Members.

Concession tickets are available for: senior citizens: those who are unemployed; and University of Oxford staff & alumni.

UK school groups can visit our temporary exhibitions free of charge. We offer teachers a previsit complimentary exhibition ticket. Booking is essential.

Contact the Education team to arrange your visit (education.service@ashmus.ox.ac.uk)


The fastest way to book exhibition tickets is online. Click on the 'Buy Tickets' button above to visit our online booking pages.

To book exhibition tickets by telephone please call 01865 278 112.


Entry is FREE for children under 12 years and no ticket is required. Tickets are required for children aged 12–17 years and these are discounted at 50%.

Some content in the exhibition may be unsuitable for younger children.

A family trail will be available at the entrance to the exhibition.


The exhibition will be open late, until 8pm, on the following dates:

Friday 31 August
Friday 28 September
Friday 26 October – as part of a LiveFriday event
Friday 30 November


Click here to view all Exhibition Events

Exhibition Tours

Wednesdays 3.30–4.15pm
Free with the price of admission, no additional booking required


The Ashmolean would like to thank the exhibition sponsors for their generous support








The Bagri Foundation  |  The Wellcome Trust  |  University of East Anglia

The Spellbound Magic Circle: Philip & Jude Pullman; Dasha Shenkman OBE, HonRCM; and others who wish to remain anonymous

The Patrons of the Ashmolean

The research on this subject under the title “Inner Lives: Emotions, Identity and the Supernatural, 1300 -1900” was generously funded by the Leverhulme Trust. Click here to find out more about the research.

Exhibition Curators

Lead Curators:
Dr Sophie Page, University College London
Professor Marina Wallace, Director, Artakt Associate

Owen Davies, Professor of Social History, University of Hertfordshire
Malcolm Gaskill, Professor of Early Modern History, University of East Anglia
Ceri Houlbrook MA PhD, University of Hertfordshire

We thank the artists who have worked with the curatorial team on developing new installations:
Ackroyd & Harvey
Annie Cattrell
Katharine Dowson

Exhibition design by Stanton Williams in collaboration with the Ashmolean


For press releases and images, or to contact the Press Office, please click here


Human Heart and Witches Ladder © Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford
Prognosticator and John Dee’s Purple Crystal © Science Museum, London
The Discovery of Witches 1647 © Queens College, Oxford
Poppet © Museum of Witchcraft and Magic, Boscastle
Opthalmodouleia © Bodleian Library, University of Oxford
Love Ring © Victora and Albert Museum, London
Three Witches © Lambeth Palace Library
Microcosmic Man © Wellcome Library, London
Helen Duncan's 'Ectoplasm' © Cambridge University Library

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