MNCH evokes a spellbinding exhibition on medieval magic


Visitors to the Natural and Cultural History Museum will be able to explore unicorn horns, witch bottles and much more at the “Magic in Medieval Europe” exhibition, on display from Saturday 23 October.

Curated by Martha Bayless, professor of English and director of the UO’s Folklore and Public Culture program, the exhibition takes an enchanted journey through the Middle Ages, a time when Europeans generally turned to magic stones, toads dried and names written with blood to help explain or control the world around them.

The exhibit uses medieval manuscripts, images and artifacts to explore the origins of everyday superstitions.

“These elements help reveal some of the motivations behind magical thinking,” said Ann Craig, director of the museum’s exhibits. “A key point to remember is that the belief in magic is not just a medieval phenomenon, but something that is still very much present today.”

Exhibits will include “magical” metals, fossils, spells and a historical copy of Malleus Maleficarum, Europe’s most famous witch-hunting manual, written in the 15th century by a Catholic clergyman. A number of specimens will be particularly appealing to Harry Potter fans, including a mandrake root and a bezoar, a stone-like mass taken from an animal’s stomach with special powers, on loan from Mount Abbey. Angel.

Visitors can also explore a diorama of a typical European peasant dwelling and learn how to appease its disturbing house elves.

In an interactive exhibition, visitors can interpret their dreams using a medieval painting. In another, they can enter the wizarding world and identify their own pet.

“But be forewarned,” Bayless said. “Most pets are on the creepy, creepy side of life. Vermin and parasites were believed to be either controlled by the devil or in fact demons, so flies, worms, snails, rats, mice and toads were all in cahoots with the witch.

The museum will mark the exhibition’s unveiling with a week of celebrations from Saturday October 23 to Sunday October 31, featuring indoor and outdoor activities for visitors of all ages, including Halloween mask making. The festivities will take place during normal museum hours, 10:00 am to 5:00 pm Wednesday through Sunday, with night hours on Thursdays until 8:00 pm Admission is free for ID card holders UO and families visiting campus during the Fall Family Weekend.

Craig said the exhibition and opening celebration were designed in part to stimulate community spirit amid the challenges of the pandemic.

“We are all ready for a little magic, mystery and fun in our lives,” she said. “Whether you’re coming for a spooky date or bringing the family for a Halloween party, the exhibit is sure to live up to it.”

By Kristin Strommer, Museum of Natural and Cultural History

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