When you think "witch", what
comes to mind? A wart faced old woman in a black dress with a broom?
Actually, all it took was a birthmark or freckle, or singing and
dancing outside, or simply someone's accusation that could have you
executed as a witch.
Although there have been stories of
witchcraft since the beginning of time, persecutions didn't begin until
the 1500s. The Witchcraft Act of 1563 made it illegal for anyone to be
or consort with a witch. The first major persecution, the North Berwick
Trials, began in 1590 with King James I and VI. Returning from Denmark
with his new bride, a powerful tempest almost killed them. The King
believed witchcraft was the cause of the storm and had nearly 100
people arrested. Many were tortured and burnt alive.
Witch Hunt of 1661 and the Auldearn Trials of 1662 were prolonged by
accusations made by "witches" in order to save themselves. At the
Aberdeen Trials, 7 women were accused of using magic to murder others
and using body parts from the victims to create potions. The Pittenween
Trials of 1704 were based on the word of a 16 year old boy. Each of the
accused was tortured. One was even crushed to death under large stones.
It was later discovered that the boy had made it all up.
Renfrewshire Trials of 1695 began when 11 year old Christian Shaw
caught a housemaid drinking forbidden milk and threatened to tell her
mother. The housemaid told the girl that the devil would take her to
hell. Christian began having fits and visions, claiming that the maid
was torturing her. She vomited up feathers, hay, wax, stones, even a
hot coal. There were accounts of her floating around the room and
moving things without touching them. She also accused several others of
witchcraft. Over 20 men, women and children were imprisoned and
examined by "witch prickers". Several children and one minister were
found dead on the morning of the trials. Fourteen of the charged were
found not guilty. The remainder were hanged and burned. Christian was
cured after the executions.
The Witchcraft Act was abandoned in
1736. It is estimated that over 4000 people were executed as witches in
Scotland alone. Only 4 "witches" are recorded as being executed in
Ireland, and only 3 in Wales. So for those of you with freckles or
birthmarks (like myself), be thankful that things have changed!!
Kinnaird owns Kinnaird Bagpipes & Reeds specializing in Celtic
jewellery, food, Guinness clothing, gift items, pipe band supplies and
Highland dress including kilts and tartans. Sign-up for free articles
on Celtic history and events at http://www.kinnairdbagpipes.com