A case re-opened: the science and folklore of a ‘Witch’s Ladder’

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This article retraces the process by which a feathered rope, discovered in the roof of a house in Somerset, came to be displayed as a ‘Witch’s Ladder’ in a glass case showing ‘Magic and Witchcraft’ at the Pitt Rivers Museum. This ‘retracing’ has revealed a set of alternative associations that the feathered rope has had: with other museum objects and written documents, as well as with a range of people. Although presented in the museum as a ‘matter of fact’, its original function is revealed to have been a ‘matter of concern’, enabling this ‘object’ to emerge from its glass case as a ‘thing’ (Latour). Retracing its network and the historical process by which it became a museum object has meant engaging with the scientific ambitions of E.B.Tylor and his notions of independent corroborating evidence, as well as with the more ‘folkloric’ practices of literary folklore.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)302-322
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of Material Culture
Issue number3
Early online date8 Sep 2010
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2010

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