The entrance, with its red curtains and its ghostly trees, immediately plunges into an atmosphere à la Twin Peaks. The exhibition Magical, which is held until March 5, 2023 at the Musée des Confluences, in Lyon, is not fiction: it presents magical practices from antiquity to the present day, through its objects, all over the world. A fascinating anthropological point of view, served by a superb museography, the darkness and certain background sounds can also impress the most sensitive visitors…
A small round table is placed in front of a screen on which are projected images of spiritism, very popular in the 19th century, and whose theoretician is none other than a Lyonnais whose bust can be seen: Hippolyte Léon Denizard Rivail, alias Allan Kardec. “You could say that Lyon was a cradle of spiritualism,” admits Carole Millon, project manager for the museum’s exhibitions. “Spiritualism, which is this idea of communicating with the dead, was born in the United States in 1847, with two sisters who said they could communicate with the spirits of their house. The phenomenon will experience incredible enthusiasm, even in Europe, at a time when there is great interest in hypnosis and the occult sciences. »
Victor Hugo follower of spiritualism
Talk to spirits? Yes, provided you bring together certain objects presented in the window: turntable, Ouija board engraved with an alphabet, where the spirits guide the hand of the medium, letter by letter, to deliver their message from beyond the grave…
It is then that Allan Kardec, a Cartesian teacher, leans on this mystery in a scientific way. “He wants to look further than simple communication with spirits, he will theorize it, talk about a religious and scientific revelation”, specifies Carole Millon. “By questioning his relationship to science, to religion, he will create a philosophical doctrine, theorized in numerous works. The most important being The Spirits’ Book in 1857, translated into several languages and regularly reprinted since. »
Kardec also creates The Spiritualist Review, which still exists, and forms spiritist circles, more developed in the city than in the countryside, where the social aspect of spiritism takes precedence over superstitions. “Among the people who follow this current we find great intellectuals of the time, like Victor Hugo, because it is also a question of finding loved ones, remarks Carole Millon. With magic, we quickly touch beliefs and intimacy. »
Half of 15-30 year olds believe in witchcraft
At the death of Kardec in 1869, spiritualist circles will gradually decline. His books will be distributed all over the world, with a particularly strong anchoring in Brazil. The exhibition, which does not seek to know what is real or not, aims above all to show that “magic, and magical practices, have been present since the earliest times, all over the world, despite a tumultuous history”, summarizes Carole Millon.
And that magic is still part of our daily lives, even without our knowledge. “In the West, with the witch hunt, with the Enlightenment, we wanted to keep a very rational side. And yet, nowadays, nearly half of 15-30 year olds believe in witchcraft,” adds the project manager. At the end of the route, visitors are invited to tie a ribbon of colored paper around fake trees, making a wish. Open or skeptical, everyone lends themselves to the game.
“This idea of magic in the broad sense, of being able to intervene on destiny, has never disappeared”, summarizes Carole Millon. It is also a form of hope, to tell oneself that one can modify the course of things by the intervention of entities. There’s always a little something that makes you want to believe it…” The exhibition curators, all scientists, won’t say the opposite: “We took great care to place the pentacle in the right direction! »