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03/01/2024 - 10/13/2024 | Halle (Saale)

Magic – Forcing Fate

The new special exhibition 'Magic - forcing fate' in the State Museum of Prehistory Halle (Saale) is dedicated to a cultural-historical phenomenon that runs through all eras of human history up to the present day. Using numerous exhibits, particularly from several regions of Central Europe and the Mediterranean, but also from Haiti, it will vividly convey the omnipresence of magical thinking and actions from March 1st to October 13th, 2024.

People have always strived for a positive influence on their fate. The strategies they use have included magical practices since early times. With their help, people themselves become actors and are supposedly able to even defeat the laws of nature in order to influence their own fate. In the case of religious practices, with which there certainly is some overlap, people are always in the position of the supplicant.
The new special exhibition “Magic – forcing fate” highlights the omnipresence of magical thinking in cultural history up to the present day. 200 exhibits and groups of exhibits on around 450 square meters of exhibition space illustrate the fascinating and complex topic throughout all periods of human history. 44 institutions from seven countries (Denmark, Great Britain, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Austria and Germany) provided loans for the exhibition. Archaeological finds and written sources, but also art historical and folklore objects, offer a comprehensive overview of key aspects of magical thinking from prehistory over Antiquity to the Middle Ages and into the present.
After an introduction that summarizes the earliest concrete evidence of magic beliefs, but also the oldest references to possible attempts to contact supernatural powers, the exhibition introduces its visitors to the two basic forms of magic, "white" and ›black‹ magic or protective and damaging spells in their many different varieties.

The central installation
As is usual with the special exhibitions at the State Museum of Prehistory, an impressive central installation will captivate the visitors. It draws attention to the survival of magical thinking in the present, but also extends the perspective beyond Europe. Seven figures from a Bizango army confront the audience in a cage. The modern figures, some winged, crowned, injured and armed, created in Haiti before 2009, are among the most impressive works of art created in connection with Haitian Voudou. They embody resistance and struggle and call for questioning common ideas about Voudou, in which magic and religion are intimately intertwined. The idea of these fiery and warlike spirit beings goes back to the time of the struggles for independence against French colonial rule (1791-1804). The belief lives on in the secret societies that have existed since then and until today see themselves as protectors of social order – and have the reputation to be able to use black magic to accomplish this aim.
The neon lettering “The sleep of reason produces monsters” floating above the installation is a quote based on a work by the Spanish artist Francisco de Goya (1746–1828) and reflects the battle between rational and magical-superstitious thinking.

'White' magic - protective spells for people and homes
Between the perhaps most well-known protective magic are spells still used today in Mediterranean cultures to ward off the evil eye. Already in antiquity and in pre-Christian Egypt, representations of eyes, for example, were used in this regard, true to the principle of fighting like with like.
Amulets, which were intended to protect their wearers and especially children from illness and any other kind of adversity, exist in an almost unimaginable variety of shapes and materials. A wide variety of examples from prehistory to modern times bear witness to this in the exhibition. Egyptian scarabs (amulets in the shape of the scarab beetle), amulets found in Central Germany made of rock crystal, the tooth of a wild boar or a cowrie shell and many more illustrate the belief in the evil-defying effect of amulets that spans time and space.
Magical practices and objects that were believed to have magical powers were used not only to protect oneself or particularly vulnerable relatives, but also to ward off harm to buildings. They were meant to keep lightning strikes, fire damage, illness and death, damaging spells, evil spirits or demons away from the home. For this purpose, certain types of sculptures were installed, but in particular so-called building sacrifices in the form of animals or special, magically charged objects were placed in the house. Examples include mummified cats, toads and fox body parts.
A special category of magically charged objects are millennia-old Neolithic stone axes, which were repeatedly picked up in fields and were considered petrified lightning bolts from ancient times right up to the 18th century. Due to the popular belief that lightning never strikes the same place twice, these 'thunderstones' were placed in houses and roof trusses and even hung in churches as protection against lightning strikes.
Further exhibition sections in the area of 'white' magic are dedicated to protection against revenants and the use of magic to cure illnesses, and protection during pregnancy and birth.

'Black' magic - witches, curses, damaging spells
The belief in witches, which was widespread in medieval and early modern Europe, introduces the field of “black” magic. As an example of the various measures with which people tried to defend themselves against the supposed power of witches, a so-called witch's bottle from Greenwich (London) stands out. The bottle, actually a Bartmann jug imported from the Rhineland was hidden over 300 years ago and was found unsealed. With the help of modern methods, its contents could be analyzed: a strand of hair, cut fingernails and several sharp iron nails in urine were supposed to be used to free a bewitched person from their curse.
Sharp objects such as needles and nails also played an important role in the area of damaging and love magic. Both types of magic are sometimes inextricably linked, as they each aimed to manipulate the fate of another person and often used comparable practices. This is proven by objects from antiquity to modern times, such as the wooden damage doll from Saarland, which was made in the 20th century for the revenge of a young woman who had been abandoned by her lover. Nails driven into the wood were supposed to cause pain to the lover until he returned.

A look into the future and magic of modern times
The wish to know the further course of one's own fate and to steer it in favorable directions is also the basis of the numerous testimonies of oracles and astrology from ancient to modern times. The special exhibition presents various archaeologically documented forms such as the hepatoscopy and the lot oracles.
The founding horoscope of the University of Wittenberg shows that horoscopes were not only created for people, but also served to carry out projects such as construction work or founding acts under the most favorable circumstances.
The exhibition tour ends with a look at the magic of modern times and the survival of magical thinking into modern pop culture, which is impressively demonstrated not only by the most famous sorcerer's apprentice of our time, Harry Potter.

Information on participating / attending:
Opening hours of the State Museum of Prehistory
Tuesday to Friday: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Saturday, Sunday and public holidays: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Monday: only by appointment (groups and guided tours).
Closed on December 24th and December 31st every year.

Entrance fees from March 1, 2024
Adults EUR 10.00
Reduced EUR 8.00
Children/young people (6 to 18 years) EUR 3.00
Children (0 to 5 years) free entry
For further admission prices (e.g. groups, school classes, family or annual tickets), please visit the State Museum website:


03/01/2024 - 10/13/2024

Event venue:

Landesmuseum für Vorgeschichte
Richard-Wagner-Straße 9
06114 Halle (Saale)

Target group:

all interested persons



Subject areas:

Cultural sciences, History / archaeology

Types of events:

Exhibition / cultural event / festival




Dr. Oliver Dietrich



Event is free:


Language of the text:


URL of this event:

attachment icon Exhibition poster


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