A monthly guide to day trips across Ohio
I used to loathe weekend trips to Cleveland. I would often file them away under the auspices of “bummer” tourism. There’s the specter of an eternally hapless football team, the whiff of a once-burning river, blocks of ruin porn, the most obnoxious dive bars in the Rust Belt and a general pall of nervy discontent. At least those were the attractors most of my adult life. I could never seem to leave the Land without getting tragically lost.
So I must now admit, as an urban explorer, the roil I once got from the air up there has been surpassed as I’ve learned to love the authentic nooks and crannies that exist in Cleveland’s unique assemblage of neighborhoods — and the confluence of history and gentrification “seems” healthy, if not vibrant.
One such slow rise is happening in the west side’s working-class Old Brooklyn neighborhood, but not for the usual reasons. Sitting amid the tattoo parlors and ancient diners, there’s a storefront that looks like an unassuming alternative bookshop. Inside are the usual spooky tchotchkes, immaculate tomes on animal spirituality and sacred geometry, sage and smudge. Then you start to notice crystal balls for scrying, flyers promoting an upcoming seance and a set of imposing black velvet curtains cloaking a room in the back.
The Buckland Museum of Witchcraft and Magick fits snugly in that room. Hidden like a time-worn speakeasy, the quaint museum with jet black walls, pentagrams and low light is lovingly crafted and curated by occult enthusiast Steve Intermill, who treats the collection with a sincere reverence worthy of the Smithsonian.
Once stored in the basement of the high priest’s Long Island home during the 1960s, Raymond Buckland’s collection has now been preserved and celebrated. The story goes that Buckland, a protégée of Gerald Gardner (known as the father of modern Wicca), was so enthralled by what he saw on the Isle of Man that he left determined to bring the new religious movement to America (which he did), and to scour the globe to obtain relics that would approach esoteric folklore and the supernatural in an anthropological light.
With hundreds of curios packed into the space, there’s a ton of replay value, and it’s possible to discover something you didn’t see previously at every turn. It’s incredible that such sacred items from the usual occult suspects — Aleister Crowley’s trident, Anton LaVey’s Church of Satan membership card, a “demon” in a box captured by Buckland in 1970 — blend among tools of witchcraft that far predate the counterculture’s fascination with Wicca and neo-paganism. Buckland acquired pieces from colonial Salem, powders and potions used in spells and rituals, and, Intermill’s current favorite, a carved mandrake root more than 200 years old.
“Most of the artifacts we have were used in ritual in the 20th century,” Intermill said, “but this is a piece that was most likely used by the cunning woman at the edge of town. It’s carved to look like a woman with children, so it would have been used for fertility magic. I like to daydream that a descendent of someone that it was used to help has come in and gazed at it.”
The story of how Intermill became ward of Buckland’s curiosities is just as magical. By the ’80s, Buckland was living on a farm and running a coven in rural Ohio. He eventually moved to Columbus, where he initiated another coven with priestess and friend Toni Rotonda in the Hilltop neighborhood. Being an inquisitive fan and collector, Intermill started correspondence with the pair, with Rotonda eventually granting Intermill access to the collection, of which she remains the sole owner (Intermill runs the operation and preservation efforts with Buckland's blessing). Fortunately, Buckland lived to see the opening of the museum before he died in Sept. 2017.
“He passed five months after we opened the original space, so there was a lot of communication up until the week before he passed,” Intermill said. “He was very hands off, but I always keep Ray’s vision in mind.”
That vision is also in practice beyond just the museum. Intermill is well aware of the power of the objects in his possession and the need to share Buckland’s priceless dark arts relics, which, for better or worse, had been relegated to the shadows. Currently the museum is also hosting an exhibit of Hollywood photographer William Mortensen’s witch portraits from the 1920s and ’30s, and in the future Intermill hopes to include various seminars and workshops that make the somewhat daunting subject matter of the museum much more understood and approachable.
As to why such a place exists in Cleveland?
“There’s a huge witchcraft, as well as neopagan, community in the Cleveland area,” said Intermilll. “I like to blame the Metroparks. There’s nature everywhere here.”