EVENT REVIEW: Inside the Archives: Witchcraft for muggles

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8th October 

Palace Green Library

Review by Victoria Simpson

From the title, you could very easily misinterpret it as some fan event detailing the works of J.K Rowling and expect to be guided through the life of Harry Potter and pals, but that was not this type of event. Immediately upon walking into the room attendees eyes were met with dozens of books, visibly centuries old, laid upon white pillows. These books ranged from the late 1500s to the late 1600s and varied from accounts of the infamous Salem witch trials to a 1554 version of Macbeth presenting witches in popular culture. One thing was very clear upon entering; this was definitely not about Harry Potter.

Sarah Price, Head of Heritage Collections Education Team at the University Library, opened the event and welcomed everyone to rise to their feet and follow her not only around the tables but through a journey into witchcraft too. As Dr. Price navigated the visitors from book to book it was evident that I was less knowledgeable about witchcraft than my fellow attendees. Nevertheless, Price’s clear and concise explanations of stories such as Dame Alice Kyteler’s condemnation were basic enough for everyone to understand but detailed enough not to make you lose interest.

The experience was filled with so many fascinating facts. For instance, how people at that time would usually buy books and bind them themselves. In addition to that, even though when witchcraft trials are mentioned most would think of America, it was, in fact, Eastern Europe where most witches were burnt (over 300 in a 2 year period).

References to Durham were even managed to be squeezed in, paying homage to the event’s location. Attendees were shown a page that was used to wrap a will in 1592 with words about witches scrawled down the front. We were even informed of a story recorded to have taken place 6 miles from Lumley, about Graham the fuller whose actions led to two men being tried and found guilty.

One thing’s for certain – If you came expecting Harry Potter, you’d be very wrong.