Last year the social enterprise Fine Cell Work, which teaches needlework to prisoners, received a prestigious commission from Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum for an embroidered hanging. The central motif was to be based on a sixteenth-century astrological diagram carved on his cell wall by Hew Draper while imprisoned in the Tower for practising magic, but the design of the border squares was left to individual prisoners’ imaginations. One of them visualised a scan of his brain and captioned it: “THOUGHT is magic.”
The hanging is one of the contemporary works in the Ashmolean’s exhibition, “Spellbound: Magic, Ritual & Witchcraft” (until 6 January 2019), a survey of 800 years of superstitious practices the modern world is supposed to have left behind. The show’s curators, however, would disagree.