Cornell might have a dream library, but it also has a collection that contains the stuff of nightmares. Among the school’s rare book and manuscript holdings is one of the most extensive collections on witchcraft in the entire world, with materials ranging from 15th-century witch-hunting manuals to Harry Potter coloring books.
For the last four years, Laurent Ferri, a curator at Cornell’s Rare and Manuscript Collections division, has been building the world’s largest collection of witchcraft movie posters. “To the best of my knowledge, this is the only collection of that sort in the world,” he says. The poster collection has more than 600 items so far, including lobby cards and other cinema memorabilia. (It’s currently being treated, processed, numbered, and catalogued.) “It’s a great resource for the study of the rich iconography of witches,” says Ferri.
The posters show witches from around the world, ranging from the innocent (Kiki, from Hayao Miyuzaki’s Kiki’s Delivery Service) to the sexy (Satan’s Cheerleaders) to the downright evil. The images can be graphic, but Ferri likes to point out that it’s also a richly aesthetic collection. Here are few selections.
Häxan, a documentary from 1922, traced the history of witches and their suspect activities: if the term “mockumentary” had been invented back then, this movie might have qualified. Criterion Collection calls it “scary, gross and darkly humorous.”
In 1958’s Bell, Book And Candle, Gillian (Kim Novak), a witch who runs an African art gallery, cast a love spell on Shep (Jimmy Stewart) to keep him from marrying a college rival—only to fall in love with him herself.
Literally translated as “Demon Witch Child” but released in English as The Possessed, this 1975 Spanish horror film tells the story of a 10-year-old child possessed by the vengeful spirit of a suicidal witch.
Released in English as The Witches, this film tells five short stories which feature people who, while not witches with supernatural powers, have secretly evil natures, or something to hide.
Another 1970s Spanish horror film, Inquisicion was set in the 15th century. A witch hunter falls in love with a witch, who’s sworn to Satan to kill men just like him.
Rosemary herself isn’t a witch. But her husband does make a pact with a satanic ritual cult, and a book on witchcraft clues her in that all might not be right with their neighbors.
In Suspiria, an American ballet student enrolls in a German dance academy where fellow students and staff keep mysteriously disappearing or being killed. Turns out, it was founded by a witch!
Join Ferri for a tour of the entire witchcraft collection on Obscura Day, a worldwide day of exploration on April 16.