Throughout history, using legend and lore, we have sought to understand this night-time adventure. Witches have been condemned as the conjurers of nightmare sleep paralysis and faeries blamed for time loss or sleep-walking; we convince ourselves that ghostly spirits visit us at night with messages of hope or portents of danger.
In this illustrated lecture, Dr Romany Reagan will explore the creatures and meanings that fill our dreamscapes, from mediaeval British horrors to 19th-century curiosities and theories—and how these nocturnal happenings can play out in our waking lives.
Dr. Romany Reagan is an Arts Council England-funded research fellow with Museum of the Home, studying the hidden histories of women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, from mediaeval cunning women and herbal witchcraft to 19th-century feminist botany. Her research has explored the layers of heritage within Abney Park cemetery and an occult literary heritage of London’s Stoke Newington area, as well as ‘earth mystery’, psychogeography and folklore, legends and lore from the British Isles.
This event is part of the Museum of the Home’s Festival of Sleep, running from June through September 2022.
This week’s ‘fun fact’ has to do with one of my favourite research subjects—witches. Research into the history of women in medicine will inevitably lead us back to the witch hunts. (And yes, there will be ongoing research into this particular flavour of persecution still to come… )
This event marks the beginning of our Winter Festival as we all prepare our homes for the coming winter. As well as experiencing our galleries after hours, this Night In has a workshop, talks and music for all things magical.
Visit our home protections charms workshop with Dr Rebecca Beattie
Attend talks on witchcraft and folklore with Dr Christina Oakley Harrington and Dr Romany Reagan
Try our bespoke ‘hedge witch’ cocktail bar
Enjoy delicious food with cheese toasties from Grate & Grill and vegan/gluten free salads and fritters from Dorothy’s Deli
Dance to a DJ set by DJ AndyRavenSable and a live musical performance by ‘broken folk’ band the Lunatraktors
Written accounts of witchcraft, witch trials, cunning folk, and folk magic were largely recorded by the Church, with all the prejudices associated with a one-sided narrative. Given these practices were handed down generation to generation through oral histories as a form of intangible heritage, only the Church’s ‘official’ version of these practices has traditionally survived as our record. Luckily for researchers, instructions for creating witch bottles were written down and tangible items such a old shoes and written curses were tucked into walls kept safe from destruction in their hidden places. Stepping away from the ‘official’ texts to these scraps and personal finds can help us learn from another perspective about these practices, offering a fascinating look at the fears—and sometimes wrathful vengeances—secreted away in hearths and walls by our ancestors.
The following is an excerpt from a talk I gave at the Museum of the Home (formerly the Geffrye Museum) in November 2019, ‘Witch Bottles & Worn Shoes: Home Protection Folklore Practices’.
The forests are stripped of their leaves, the earth lies frozen, the rivers are frozen with the cold. And fog and rain, together with the excess of endless nights, have robbed the earth of its joy.
–Matthäus Merian, 1622
The time period now commonly agreed—by historians and climate scientists alike—to be the ‘Little Ice Age’ lasted from between 1300 and 1850 A.D. The cooling was only slight (ranging from 2-5°C, depending on the region), but it was enough to slam Europe, and much of the Northern Hemisphere, into a climate event that saw unprecedented storms, unseasonal frosts, and ruined crops. “This decrease was large enough to leave Iceland completely surrounded by ice and to freeze the Thames in England and the canals in Holland routinely—both otherwise unheard-of events.” (Oster 218)
While there was a general cooling over the course of this 500-year period, there were two cold snaps in the 16th and 17th centuries that further strained hardship to the breaking point. Here I have gathered the research of economists, meteorologists, and historians to tell the story of the Little Ice Age and how people offered up their neighbours for slaughter in the hopes of a summer that would never come.