The heavy wooden door parts and a man with silvered hair welcomes you to the Buckland Museum of Witchcraft. A purple woolen robe stands sentry in its glass case while crowns and horned helmets line black walls. Years removed from their place in ceremonies, these talismans prove no less potent as the tour begins.
More than a disparate collection of the occult and macabre, the Buckland Museum owes both its name and much of its content to Raymond Buckland, an occultist and author who learned at the feet of Gerald Gardner, considered the father figure of modern witchcraft. After opening in 1966, Buckland’s original museum eventually met with financial problems in 1999 before changing hands and moving south to New Orleans. From here, the current Buckland Museum owner and curator, Steven Intermill, enters the saga. After reaching out in inquiry to state of the original museum, Intermill was forwarded to Toni Rotonda, a surrogate caretaker who had what remained of the Buckland Museum gathering dust in her attic.
“I called and she said ‘the museum’s all in boxes, but if you want to see any of it, come on down to Columbus,’” Intermill recounts. “I thought I was just going to go and it would just be a story I’d be able to tell my friends over drinks about seeing the original Buckland museum.” After a road trip and a mutual agreement that saw Rotonda put her collection on loan, the Buckland Museum of Witchcraft had been reborn. “I never thought it would go this far,” Intermill says. “Now, here we are.”
The ‘here’ sees Intermill taking root in his own small corner of Tremont with an increasingly crowded guest book that contains signatures from across the country, despite the location opening its doors less than a year ago. “We’ve shown a lot of growth since we’ve opened,” Intermill states. “We’ve actually doubled in size since then. Honestly, I wasn’t sure if anyone was going to show up at first.” The 300-plus guests that crowded the quaint building for the museum’s grand opening were a stark and welcome contradiction to his initial jitters.
Intermill believes part of Buckland’s importance rests in its inclusivity; its ability to draw a diverse patronage from seasoned occultists, novices, weekend sight-seers, and impassioned eccentrics in equal measure. “If 10 pagans walk in, at least 20 different interpretations of what being a pagan is enters with them.” He reflects, “everyone knows a pagan; whether they know it or not. We are living is a repressed society, where people’s spiritual beliefs need to be kept hidden. This is America, and we pay lip service to the First Amendment, but it’s important to realize why we have things like the First Amendment.”
Taking the guided tour is deceptively immersive. Intermill weaves throughout the space, narrating the histories of the objects on display as well as the engaging anecdotes of his personal quest to open the new museum. In one instance, he stands underneath a ragged and unusual broom hanging from the ceiling and gushes, “this is ground zero for Wicca.” A personal artifact of Gerald Gardner, this witches broom, or besom as its known around the Wiccan watercooler, was one of the few incredibly rare items Intermill was able to purchase before it was sold to Ripley’s: Believe it or Not like other Gardner memorabilia.
One would be remiss to not mention the museum’s permanent resident, Belphagor. As Intermill recounts, Buckland was once tasked by a friend to aid a summoning gone awry. Something dark had entered this world through a magician’s circle. After several days, Buckland was able to trap the spirit in a small metal box wrapped in wire and surrounded by a ring of salt and protective incantations. “Up until the last week of his life, [Buckland] would call me up, warning me, ‘Don’t open the box,’” Intermill admits. “Once, he was meditating and said he had a vision of someone offering me a large sum of money for the box. Later that weekend, someone came in and offered me $500 for the box.”
Tremont has served the latest iteration of the Buckland well, but Intermill acknowledges the effect of neighboring businesses closing down and considers relocating to a larger venue to allow for even more diverse offerings. “Once A Separate Reality [a record store] left next door, that affected part of our whole deal,” Intermill says. “The guys are like, ‘Hey, records!’ and the girlfriends are like, ‘Hey, I’m a witch!” so it was a perfect match.”
“We need a place that has foot traffic,” he elaborates. “We’re here at the edge of Tremont. We’ve got our eye on a couple locations that would have room, maybe to have a [psychic] reader setup, maybe some room to include more contemporary work.”
If the Buckland’s latest address does change, don’t expect a far commute. Intermill can’t help but espouse the dense legacy the occult maintains in Cleveland. Among his relics is the public assembly permit for the Samhian, or Halloween, ceremony held at Public Square in the heart of Downtown Cleveland in 1994. “If I move, it won’t be in a different city,” he says. “I think Cleveland is in an upward trend. [The occult] seems to be in a downward trend in our culture, right now. I think Cleveland has a healthy seed that seems to be growing every day.”
A Time for Magick
1963: Raymond Buckland receives ceremonial initiation from Gerald Gardner
1964: Buckland first visits Gardner’s museum on the Isle of Man, soon starts his collection
1966: The original Buckland museum opens to public in Long Island, N.Y.
1999: Buckland sells his collection to interests in New Orleans
2015: Toni Rotonda saves collection, brings it to Ohio
2016: Steven Intermill makes contact with Rotonda and Buckland, gains consent and collection
2017: Intermill opens the new Buckland Museum in Tremont, Ohio, April 29
2018: The demon, Belphagor, gets name dropped in an issue of PressureLife