Cleveland's Occult Museum Spills the Tea Leaves on Occult History
Take a photo tour of the Buckland Museum of Witchcraft & Magick, where crystal balls, black mirrors, and glowing robes honor the father of modern witchcraft.
“When you think of witches, you think of nebulous forms,” says Steven Intermill, director of the Buckland Museum of Witchcraft & Magick in Cleveland, Ohio. “But you come here, you see things that were used by actual witches, and it sparks in your head, ‘These are people, too.’”
Founded by Raymond Buckland, the man famous for bringing witchcraft to the US in the ‘60s, Cleveland’s premier witchcraft museum is a single-story sanctuary, its walls and display cases cluttered with a hodgepodge of occult-related objects and ephemera. Inside, visitors can peruse everything from tasseomancy teacups and crystal balls to archival records of the Salem witch trials and the eponymous founder’s own sacred possessions.
Buckland was the first person in the United States to openly admit to practicing Wicca, the pagan, earth-centered religion whose followers are referred to as “witches.” He’s also credited with forming America’s first-ever coven, headquartering the like-minded group in Islip, Long Island.
As Intermill explains, the Wiccan leader began his career as a copywriter, but soon “felt there was something spiritual in nature that was lacking.” This led him to the work of Dr. Gerald Gardner, the so-called Father of Witchcraft, who ran a museum of magic on the Isle of Man.
Buckland and his wife, Rosemary—whose coven names were Robat and Rowan, respectively—made a pilgrimage to the self-governing British Crown Dependency, where the storied Wiccan subsequently took the couple under his wing. Upon returning to the States, Buckland followed in his mentor’s footsteps by deciding to exhibit his own collection of relics via an appointment-only operation in his Long Island basement.
While working a day job for British Airways, the globetrotting Buckland was able to amass artifacts from all over the world. Soon, his little museum was later the subject of a 1972 documentary, Occult: X Factor Or FRAUD, and newspapers like The New York Times began to take notice. The Metropolitan Museum of Art even requested to feature some of Buckland’s Outsider art pieces in a prominent exhibit.
The Buckland Museum was the first of its kind in the US to take an anthropological approach to showcasing the supernatural. At first, the museum was a traveling show, moving between New Hampshire, Virginia, and New Orleans, where it was ultimately placed under the care of Wiccan priestess Velvet Rieth, who was instrumental in preserving Buckland’s pride and joy. As Rieth’s health began to deteriorate in 2015, Intermill’s partner at the museum, Toni Rotonda, retrieved the items and brought them to the Temple of Sacrifice, a coven Buckland founded in Columbus, Ohio.
Intermill, who grew up poring over books about UFOs and Bigfoot, had always been drawn to the occult. “I was working at another tourist destination here in Cleveland, and one day I was thinking to myself, I like witchcraft more,” Intermill says.“I emailed Ray [Buckland],he put me in touch with Toni, we teamed up, and the rest is history.”
Buckland, who passed away in 2017, authored The Complete Book of Witchcraft, a comprehensive and well-respected guide to initiating covens. “He was very generous,” Intermill says of the founder. “He was generous with his time. He was generous with his things. He was generous with his heart.”
Today, Intermill leads small group tours through the museum’s magical aisles, telling the story of Buckland, his relationship with Dr. Gardner, and the museum’s development. Because the collection is simply too large, Intermill rotates display items into specific exhibits. Currently on view is a show exploring the tradition of reading tea leaves, featuring objects on loan from the Museum of Tasseomancy in Hamilton, Ontario.
Intermill notes that the museum welcomes visitors from all walks of life, perhaps the most famous being Lil Bub, the feline Instagram superstar born with a perpetually stuck-out tongue. “Everybody's cool, everybody's open-minded,” he says. “They tend to be people that have a creative spark to them—there’s kind of a deflector field in front of the museum that keeps the jerks away.”
The museum director was kind enough to share a few of his favorite standouts from the permanent collection with Thrillist, along with detailed explanations in his own words. (But, of course, in order to truly experience the mystical powers emanating from this wonderland, you’ve really gotta make your way out to Cleveland and see for yourself.)
Buckland’s illuminated robe
“The first thing visitors see when they walk in is our founder Ray Buckland’s illuminated ritual robe in a place of authority. He made it himself, it’s very impressive. He was very interested in the idea of making one’s own tool. And it’s purple, of course—a sign of spirit.”
Sybil Leek’s crystal ball
“Leeks was an extraordinarily famous fortune-teller, astrologer, and witch back in the 1960s—a real popularizer of the occult in America. And she was friends with our founder, Ray. This piece is luminescent—when you walk in, it’s already glowing.”
Original manuscript of Buckland's Complete Book of Witchcraft
“One of my favorite pieces to share is the original handwritten manuscript of Buckland’s Complete Book of Witchcraft—quite legendary in the cult scene. A lot of people, their eyes light up, and they say, ‘Is that Bucky's big blue book of witchcraft?’
It’s often people’s starter book on the craft, because it essentially contains the seeds for the popularization of witchcraft in the 1980s. It's surprising—everything on the page [here] is in the book. It shows Ray’s focus, how he knew exactly what he wanted to express.”
Antique mandrake root
“Lots of people know mandrakes from pop culture—Harry Potter, Pan’s Labyrinth—and they’re often surprised to see it's the real deal. There are a lot of legends about the mandrake—most famously, that they scream when you pull them out of the ground. This is about 200 years old and carved to look like a woman carrying children, so it’s what we refer to as a fertility totem.”
Gerald Gardner’s personal items
“We have some personal items that belonged to the great Witch Father Dr. Gerald Gardner, the founder of the modern witchcraft movement. They were gifted to Ray by Monique Wilson: his pipe, his wallets, and his attache case. Wilson was one of Gardner's top witches back in the day, and initiated Ray to the craft. It’s really cool.”
“We have a variety of scrying mirrors on display, the black mirrors people stare into to see fortunes, future and past—you know, ‘Mirror, mirror on the wall.’ We also have Ray’s personal one. People love staring into it for long periods of time.”