Just in time for Halloween, an exhibit focused on witchcraft, magic, fantastic beasts, spirits, tarot cards and more from Vanderbilt Special Collections has opened at the Central Library.
“All Hallows: Witches, Magic and Things That Go Bump,” which is on display in the library’s fourth-floor lobby, draws largely from the Robert H. West Demonology and Witchcraft Collection.
“Professor West, who taught at Vanderbilt while earning his doctorate in English during the 1930s, had a very strong interest in the 17th-century witch trials in England and the United States,” said Teresa Gray, curator of special collections. “When West retired, he generously donated his rare books to our library.”
West’s books in the exhibit include a 1928 copy of Malleus Maleficarum, an English translation of the famous Latin treatise on witches and witchcraft, which provides advice for collecting evidence about witchcraft as well as instructions for the prosecution of witches.
“We also have an 1819 copy of John William Polidori’s The Vampyre, believed to be one of the first Gothic vampire stories in English; and the first American edition of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, published in 1833,” Gray said. She noted that The Vampyre is credited to Lord Byron, an English poet and politician, simply because the publisher thought the book would sell better with Byron’s byline. Polidori was Lord Byron’s physician.
Other books and highlighted passages in the exhibition focus on spiritualism and what was called “the unseen world,” according to Gray.
“During the Victorian era the belief gained momentum that after someone died, their spirit could be contacted to offer advice to the living,” Gray said. “Even Mary Todd Lincoln was organizing séances in the White House. So we have books that were published during the 19th century on how to make contact with spirits. In addition, we have publications from the 1920s and ‘30s in which mediums are recording what they claim to have been dictated to them by spirits in the unseen world.”
The exhibition also includes more recent books by authors Toni Morrison and Patricia McKissack.