This past June 13–Gerald Gardner’s birthday–I found myself with the opportunity to go to Cleveland, Ohio. And of course I jumped on that, for Cleveland is the current home of the Buckland Museum of Witchcraft and Magick, and I’ve been trying to find time to see that ever since it opened last year.
As I’ve likely mentioned before, Raymond Buckland is largely credited with introducing Gardnerian witchcraft to the United States. Around 1962, the year he immigrated to America with his family, Buckland became fascinated with witchcraft and began a correspondence with Gerald Gardner, who eventually invited him to come back to Britain and be initiated. Gardner arranged for the initiation to be done by Monique Wilson and her husband Scotty in November 1963, and Gardner was in attendance at the rite. In fact, Buckland snapped what is now a rather famous photo of Monique Wilson and Gardner during that trip. He went back home and initiated his wife, Rosemary, and they eventually went back to Britain for further training under the Wilsons.
I do not know if Buckland visited the Isle of Man during his initiation trip, but I believe his visit with Rosemary to the Wilsons was on the island. Gardner had died by that point and left the museum to the Wilsons, who moved their family to the island to take on and expand the business. Buckland apparently looked around and thought “I could do this.” Shortly thereafter, he started a small witchcraft museum in the basement of his house on Long Island in 1964. By 1966, the collection had grown a bit (and frankly, Rosemary and their sons were probably a bit tired of the stuff and the people…wouldn’t you be?), so Buckland moved his collection to a house on Bay Shore, where it thrived and further expanded. In 1973 following his separation and divorce from Rosemary, Buckland moved the collection to Weirs Beach, New Hampshire and operated the museum in that location until 1978, when he disbanded the museum and put the collection in storage. The items bounced around for some time after that. At one point, Buckland had sold or given the items to be used in a witchcraft museum in New Orleans, but that was a poorly done affair and Buckland eventually got most of the items back. Eventually, the items were entrusted to a coven in Columbus, and in April 2017, they were finally made available to the public at the current Buckland Museum of Witchcraft and Magick in the Tremont neighborhood of Cleveland.
The current museum is a labor of love and a side hustle for the curators, Steven Intermill and Jillian Slane. As such, the hours it is currently open are fairly limited: Wednesdays from 5-7pm, Fridays from 5-8 pm, and Saturdays from 12-5 pm. If these times do not work for one’s schedule, they also open by appointment. For me, it was a little tricky to be able to arrange a travel schedule to hit one of those times, and I think I would have made an appointment if I was to do it over again. If making an appointment, my advice would be to keep in mind that the curators have lives and day jobs and to contact them a good couple of weeks before you want to see the collection.
My first impression on stepping into the museum was definitely favorable. They’ve got exposed brick walls all over the place, bright pops of color catching your eye, and a definite 1970s vibe going with the music and wall of vintage books that immediately greet you. The museum is just one large room, so the curators have created a little vestibule to block off the collection from unpaid eyes by installing an enormous bookcase and stocking it with used books on witchcraft, paganism, and the occult that they have sourced from their own libraries, various acquaintances, old metaphysical haunts, garage sales, and used book stores. All the books in the vestibule are available for purchase, and there are certainly some gems. I spied an excellent copy of Leo Martello’s Witchcraft: The Old Religion as well as what looked like a first edition of Isaac Bonewits’s Real Magic. There are also several less-thrilling titles in the mix (I’m looking at you, Edain McCoy and your ancient Irish potato goddess), but I’m sure that there’s just about something for every visitor there so long as they take time to peruse the titles. The vestibule also houses other ‘gift shop’ items like various t-shirts, coffee mugs, and pins with the museum logo as well as more metaphysical items like crystals and gemstones, a few ritual tools (I believe by Aimee Temple), and occult posters (Madame Talbot) and artwork. The sale of all of these items helps keep the museum going, and I was pleased by the high quality of the items I saw for sale.
Once you pay the ‘gatekeeper’ your $5, you’re led on a tour of the collection (if you want…you can also self-browse). The collection itself is something that you could spend 15 minutes looking at or two hours, depending on your interests. When I visited it, there were a couple glass cases full of artifacts from Gerald Gardner and Raymond Buckland that I was fascinated by, and another case containing an assortment of athames and ritual cups from various practitioners. I very much underestimated how neat it would be to be near items that Buckland and Gardner and Eleanor Bone and Patrica Crowther had touched. These are people I read about all the time and who I thought had been alive in my imagination, but seeing items they’d made or handled–even if mundanely–hit me with a strange gut punch that made them all much more immediate and real. I remember standing in front of a case staring at a pipe that Gerald Gardner had smoked and thinking, “well, I guess now I get why my grandmother goes nuts over Saints’ relics.” It was an oddly moving and emotional experience.
In addition to the aforementioned pipe, the museum also has a wallet Gardner owned (you can see a corner of it in the left of the picture above), a besom of his, and the cross guard and hilt he had cast for magical swords. I was also charmed to see a pair of apothecary bottles that Eleanor Bone had passed on to Buckland, as well as an array of athames and cups from various practitioners including Sybil Leek, Christopher Penczak, Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone, and various members of the Buckland family. I was also surprised to see a headdress from Morning Glory Zell-Ravenheart, who was such a wonderful and warm woman. I only met her once, but she was so distinctive I knew that item was hers before I read the placard. I was also struck by Rosemary Buckland’s lunar crown and silver bracelet. She’s a person I would dearly love to know more about. I don’t know if she initially went along with the Craft because of her husband’s interests or because of her own, but she definitely had a major investment in it. I wonder if she completely walked away from the Craft forever following her handing the queenship to Theos and her divorce from Raymond. And I really do wonder about what their sons must have thought about all this. The museum did have an athame attributed to one of Buckland’s sons, and the placard said he was initiated when he was just seven years old! I wonder why they would have done so.
Of course, the museum had several items of Buckland’s himself. I was particularly taken by his athame and wand. The wand looked much more like a traditional magician’s wand than it did any of the crystal-bedecked or Harry Potter-inspired wands that are so popular today, and I was surprised by how short it was. There were also items like crystal balls and scrying mirrors that were once Buckland’s, but I particularly geeked out over a purple ritual robe and pentacle of his that was displayed on a mannequin. I immediately recognized it as Buckland wore it in a few publicity photos, and in person I was struck by how much it looked like the one the character Gahan wore in the initiation scene in Anna Biller’s 2016 film, The Love Witch. Biller certainly did fantastic research when developing her film, and I wonder just how much of Gahan was based on her idea of Buckland.
I was also rather charmed by a whole case of various mid-century witch brick-a-brac. There were all sorts of random items in there, including an “emergency athame” keychain and a plastic figure of Lisa Simpson done up as a witch. There was also a fair bit of jewelry in that case, too, including a couple pendants that the original Long Island coven used to wear. It was lovely.
The museum also had several items from Aleister Crowley and his magical orders there, with little placards saying they’d been passed on through Israel Regardie. There’s plenty of material in the Craft that can trace back to Crowley, but I’ve personally never thought of him and witchcraft together. I did share some pictures I took of those items as well as prints of pictures done by Lady Freida Harris who had done the artwork for Crowley’s Thoth tarot with a friend of mine who is a “recovering Thelemite” and he totally geeked out over them and similar items, so there really is something everyone under the occult umbrella could be interested in there.
The real fun of the museum, however, are the curator’s stories about all the pieces and of Buckland himself. I popped in about 45 minutes before the museum was to close, but had so much fun talking with Steven that I think I was there for nearly an hour after it closed! I felt so bad when I realized how late it had gotten, but Steven was very gracious about it. Definitely ask questions about the items when you’re there, for Steven and Jillian know far more information than the little placards can hold, and they can make great connections between the items.
I had a wonderful time at the museum and was only sorry I couldn’t stay longer in Cleveland. I heard that the nearby Christmas Story museum is entertaining (but would have been entirely lost on me as I’ve never seen the film), and the Tremont area in which the museum is located looked like a ton of fun. It’s also apparently a foodie destination in Cleveland, so I guess I missed out on some good eats and good parties. There’s always next time, though!