Updated: Jan 22
The history of the Witches Mill and the Witchcraft Museum that shared it's grounds played an important role in the development and survival of Wica, or Wicca. The museum was originally the brain child of Cecil Williamson, but would eventually be sold to Gerald Gardner who supported the museum from the beginning. The Mill has stood majestically in my mind as a pillar to the Craft. Cecil Williamson had much difficulty in England finding a suitable site, as there was much standing in the way of a Witchcraft Museum. He was later attracted to a site on the Isle of Man, where he sidestepped the objections to such a museum by calling the project "The Folklore Centre of Superstition." Hence the broken down mill found in Castletown.
Williamson moved to Castletown with his family in 1951 to renovate the outbuildings on the property into the museum he had desired for so long. Gerald Gardner, a friend at the time, followed soon after with his wife Donna, and bought the home where he would live out the rest of his life. Early on, Gardner shared collections of Witch artifacts with the museum in hopes of educating visitors on Witchcraft as he knew it.
It wasn't until 1954 after disagreements between Gardner and Williamson that the museum was turned over to Gardner and was revamped as "The Museum of Magic and Witchcraft". Gardner created a bit of fantasy with the history of the mill, according to the booklet that was published for visitors to the museum:
“The Mill got its name because the famous Arbory witches lived close there, and the story goes that when the old mill was burned out in 1848 they used the ruins as a dancing-ground, for which, as visitors may see, it was eminently suited; being round inside to accommodate the witches’ circle, while the remains of the stone walls screened them from the wind and from prying eyes.”
I guess if you want to attract people to a site such as this, a bit of embellishment would be needed… I believe Gardner’s motivations were to create a sense of awe and mystery however there is some serious stretching found in the booklet (which you can download and read here.)
Gardner used the museum as a platform to educate visitors. He wrote his first nonfiction books (Witchcraft Today, 1954 and The Meaning of Witchcraft, 1959) there which, in turn, would help the Craft survive and eventually spread to other countries.
Unfortunately after Gardner’s death in 1964, the Museum and its contents were passed down to Monique Wilson, who after running it for a short time, sold the contents to Ripley’s Believe It or Not - where it was eventually broken apart and passed around to A&B Trading Co in Florida, among other Florida dealers. Now, there is no judgement here as it seems the museum was a labor of love and not a large tourist attraction. I'll leave it to 'walk a mile in my shoes' as we have little idea about what Monique Wilson was actually going through at the time. In the 90’s we saw the collection get broken up even further and sold as single pieces. It is sad that this happened but I can find comfort in the fact that many of these pieces were purchased by Gardnerian initiates and stayed “in the family”.
Picture of the Double-Eyed Man sitting in what is described as Gerald Gardner's Throne in Ripley's Believe It Or Not
left: Monique Wilson inside of the Mill
upper right: The Witches Mill including the Witchcraft Museum Taken in the 1960s
middle right: The Witches Mill, Arbory Road, Castletown - Gardner can be seen standing in the doorway of the Tower
lower right: The Witches Mill with Monique Wilson sitting by the Wishing Well
Cecil Williamson went on to open another museum that was relocated several times until it finally settled in Boscastle where it still remains, owned by Graham King, who is educating visitors and tourists to this day. http://www.museumofwitchcraft.com/
After repairs and modifications the old mill is still standing and has been turned into apartments. It is still considered a symbol for many as both a historical site and one of the building blocks that helped solidify Wicca as one of the World Religions.
The Witches Mill, Castletown - 2006
© Copyright Kevin Tothwell and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons License.
Rare Clip Of Gerald Gardner In Castletown - On The Isle Of Man
For more on the history of the Mill and the History of Wicca read:
Gerald Gardner and the Cauldron of Inspiration by Philip Heselton
2003, Capall Bann Publishing