A History of Witchery: The Buckland Museum of Witchcraft and Magick

October 20, 2018 — I was in Cleveland, trying to gauge how much I wanted to visit the house where A Christmas Story was filmed. I was right there. Standing in the street in front of it. But there was a lot of people going in and out and hanging around and getting their photos taken on the porch with the leg lamp in the window. Plus the house itself was an awkward part of a tightly packed residential neighborhood across from a small museum dedicated to the house. In the end, it just didn’t feel comfortable. And I don’t like the movie that much, anyway. So I took a photo without really even aiming my phone and thought, “Screw Christmas. Let’s go celebrate Halloween.”

Because half a mile away was The Buckland Museum of Witchcraft and Magick.

The Buckland Museum is a small, one-room museum, the outside of which eschews its grander name for the simple, “Witch Museum,” paired with the silhouette of a broom hag and a black cat. Marketing needs simple messages.

Inside, it’s less of a Halloween vibe, though, and more of a 70s occult one. And what I mean by that description is that the museum feels like a room full of incense-scented magic straight out of a trippier decade.

The Buckland Museum of Witchcraft and Magic is dedicated to the history and culture of neo-pagan practices. I’m not going to try to parse all the sects and traditions that fall under that banner or don’t. Like the museum window, I’m going to keep this simple. This is a museum about witches and the occult. It’s also, or at one time was, the private collection of one Raymond Buckland.

Raymond Buckland was sort of the first major witch in the U.S. The spokes-witch for Wiccan practices in America, really. He was the U.S. version of Gerald Gardner, the British witch known as the Father of Wicca, and in fact, Gardner was a big influence on Buckland and this collection.

Buckland was born in London in 1934 and came to the U.S. in 1962. Somewhere along the line he got interested in magic and, particularly, Gardner’s brand of it. Eventually he met the wild-haired Gardner and carried on the Gardner tradition in the New World (as well as starting up his own brand called Seax-Wicca). It was Gardner’s museum on the Isle of Man that inspired Buckland to start putting together his own collection. And, in 1966, he debuted a small museum in the basement of his Long Island home.

It remained on that strange spit of New York land for about a decade, when Buckland had to pack up his broom and fly to Weirs Beach, New Hampshire, in 1976, after a divorce. The museum was living free or dying for three years before events had him heading south to Virginia and his collection into sad, sad storage.

Finally, he sold the collection, and it was showcased in a museum in New Orleans in 1999. It eventually came to Ohio in 2015, as did Buckland himself after a turn in California. They’re destinies were too intertwined. Today, the collection is on public display in the Tremont neighborhood of Cleveland at 2676 W 14th Street.

Basically, it’s a restless collection of esoteric oddity aggregated by a dude with his own drum.

Inside, I paid the five bucks per person for my family and then slid around the large shelf full of obscure magic books to see the full room in all of its mystical glory. After a quick primer from Jillian Slane, one of the museum’s two proprietors, I headed to the glass cases of artifacts that lined the wall, while my children gravitated to the table in the center of the room, playing with feathers and chalices and bowls and candles and other instruments of ritual magic. I am unsure what spirits and demons they conjured during their time there.

A lot of artifacts are packed into the small space…in the aforementioned glass cases, hanging on the wall, dangling from the ceiling. Buckland’s own artifacts are the centerpiece: His books, his magical implements, even 60-year-old tickets from the original incarnation of the museum when it was in his basement. Most prominent was his vivid purple robe that immediately made me look at my black t-shirt and jeans in disgust. Because red robes and ram horns is what I want to wear as I go through life, get my car washed, open the refrigerator. Some day my inside and outside will match.

And because Buckland was so prominent and well-connected in the Wiccan and occult communities, he got access to some cool shit. There was a whole case of artifacts belonging to Aleister Crowley, including the wickedest man in the world’s trident wand. Anton LaVey’s membership card in the Church of Satan was there. A spell cord made by Laurie Cabot, the witch who put Salem on the map in this regard. And plenty of Gerald Gardner items, including his broom hanging from the ceiling like a primitive Halloween decoration.

There were also more general witchcraft related items, like an old mandrake route and a pair of large, colonial-era nails from the house where the Salem Witch Hysteria started. Those two slivers of metal are more than the entire city of Salem displays around that historical event.

One piece stuck out a little more than the others. I think because it was spotlighted in a shimmery purple light in the corner. Inside of a glass case was a small, ornate box wrapped in twine and set in the middle of a circle of salt crystals. Above it, was an illustration by Buckland of a demon named Belphegor. He had horns and a tail and claws for hands and feet. A fluffy, triangular beard and a defeated cast to eyes made it look like he should be captioned, “I’m too old for this shit.” A placard below the glass case told a dime-museum story about Buckland helping a friend in the 1970s trap this demon inside of that very box…which has not been opened since.

Buckland died in 2017, but his legacy is being carried on by Jillian and her co-proprietor Steven Intermill, the latter of whom splits his time between working at the museum and working at the nearby Christmas Story House. Think about that life for a bit.

Most of the witch museums I’ve been to or read about are predicated on a historical witch trial from the region’s deep past. So it’s good to walk into one that’s so dedicated to preserving weirdo culture instead serving as a cautionary tale…even if I’m not wearing red robes and ram horns while doing it.