When many students at the University of Saskatchewan think of magic, Harry Potter or Mickey Mouse’s wizard hat is the first thing that comes to mind. A new exhibit at the Museum of Antiquities, with palm reading, molten metal divination and scrying for angels, provides a more accurate representation of magic through history.
Magic Ancient and Modern: Materials and Imagination has been running since Feb. 17 and will continue until Apr. 21. The exhibit was assembled by Frank Klaassen, history professor at the U of S, and David Porreca, professor at the University of Waterloo, in collaboration with the Museum of Antiquities and Tracene Harvey, museum curator, Create Cafe 3D Printing and many graduate and undergraduate students. The main goal of the exhibit is to help people understand the role of magic in different ages.
Klaassen explains that studying magic can give students greater knowledge of the imaginative process of ancient cultures and the way in which they viewed the world.
“We are … interested in the importance of imagination in magic. In part, we are interested in how the tools provoke the imagination. It’s our feeling that much of what magic is about — it’s in fact provoking the imagination. We are also interested in the people who come to the exhibit engaging in an act of historical imagination,” Klaassen said.
The exhibit has allowed Klaassen and Porreca to showcase their work and educate students about this intriguing topic. In addition, the project has brought together an entire community, as students from various disciplines and local artists worked together to resuscitate many of the artifacts that once existed, creating an exhibit that incorporates many hands-on activities. For example, Samuel Gillis Hogan, a history graduate student, assembled a section on chiromancy that guides visitors through a palm reading.
Kathryn Bloski, a fourth-year classical medieval renaissance major and student curator at the Museum of Antiquities, further explains these activities.
“We have an interactive key and psalter on hand for people to test out and see whether [someone is] a thief or not,” Bloski said. “[We also have] a molybdomancy section, the process of pouring liquefied lead into water and interpreting the wild and random shapes that it solidifies into. Visitors can watch this process through the videos on display.”
Elyse Jensen, a third-year computer science student, used Autodesk Inventor, Adobe Illustrator and a 3D printer to create replicas of artifacts used by John Dee, an advisor to Elizabeth I: a crystal ball holder, the Holy Almandal, which is a scrying table used to communicate with angels, and the Sigillum Dei, or the Sigil of God. Jensen describes her enthusiasm for the project.
“I really hope that people can see how amazing 3D-printing technology is, because I literally re-created an artifact that’s gone forever. I realized I can put what I am studying into this, and that’s really what I did, because there are a lot of uses for technology and history and in the preservation of history,” Jensen said.
Bloski, describing her experience at the exhibit, feels that magic plays a major role in society.
“My favourite artifact … is a 3D-printed replica of the Holy Almandal … Seeing the artifact in its glory was a unique experience that we don’t often get to have with objects from the past,” Bloski said.
However, as Jensen indicates, magic is also a revolutionary method.
“I learned that magic and connecting to the spirit world was the first time in history that women were put in positions of leadership … It really helped the feminist movement … [As a woman] in computer science, gender equality is really important to me. I think it’s really cool how much magic has promoted gender equality,” Jensen said.
Klaassen highlights that, even during this technological era, magic still captivates people’s attention and allows them to better understand humanity.
“Our role, particularly with humanities, is to understand what it means to be human,” Klaassen said. “And any exercise that helps one to understand in a more profound way what it means to be human — it’s a good thing.”
Gabriel Siriany Linares
Photo: Jeremy Britz / Photo Editor