In the 16th-18th century, the government of Scotland tried thousands of women for
allegedly practising magic, witchcraft and “satanic ceremonies”. Hundreds of women were
executed based on the allegation of practising dark magic, cursing the king, dancing with
the devil or even shape-shifting into animals and birds.
But three centuries later, the government of Scotland repealed the Act to which around 4
thousand people, primarily women, were tried as witches, of which two-thirds were executed and burned.
After a two-year campaign by the Witches of Scotland group, a member’s bill in the
Scottish parliament has secured the support of Nicola Sturgeon’s administration to clear the
names of those accused, the Sunday Times reported. The move follows a precedent by the
Massachusetts House of Representatives in the US that proclaimed victims of the Salem
witch trials innocent in 2001.
Scotland’s unwavering pursuit of witches between 1563, when the Witchcraft Act was
brought in, and 1736, when it was finally repealed, resulted in five “great Scottish witch-hunts” and a series of nationwide trials.
James VI of Scotland sanctioned the earliest witch-hunts, later James I of England and
Ireland, who believed witches plotted against his Danish bride by summoning up storms to
sink his ships. Among those accused in 1590 was Geillis Duncan – whose character
featured in the Outlander TV series – and who admitted under torture to meeting the devil to thwart the king’s ships.
Another, Agnes Sampson, had confessed that 200 women witnessed the devil preach at
North Berwick on Halloween, where the king’s destruction was plotted.
With witchcraft a capital crime, the convicted were usually strangled to death then burned
at the stake to leave nobody to bury. Many confessed under torture, which included sleep
deprivation, the crushing and pulling out of fingernails, and pricking the skin with needles
and bodkins to see if the accused bled.
The Witches of Scotland website notes that signs associated with witchcraft – broomsticks,
cauldrons, black cats and black pointed hats – were also associated with “alewives”, the
name for women who brewed weak beer to combat poor water quality. The broomstick sign
was to let people know beer was on sale, the cauldron to brew it, the cat to keep mice
down, and the hat to distinguish them at market. Women were ousted from brewing and
replaced by men once it became a profitable industry.
Claire Mitchell QC, who leads the Witches of Scotland campaign, said it was seeking
pardons, apologies and a national monument to the mainly female victims of the witch
hunts. “Per capita, during the period between the 16th and 18th century, we [Scotland]
executed five times as many people as elsewhere in Europe, the vast majority of them women,” she told the Sunday Times.
“To put that into perspective, 300 people were accused in Salem and 19 people were executed. We absolutely excelled at finding women to burn in Scotland. Those executed weren’t guilty, so they should be acquitted.”
Source: The Guardian