Tour Scotland
Home Page


Scottish Witches

An Abundance of Witches
An Abundance of Witches: The Great Scottish Witch-hunt

Scottish Witches and Wizards
Scottish Witches and Wizards

Scottish Witchcraft Trials
Scottish Witchcraft Trials (1891)

Scottish Witchcraft
Scottish Witchcraft: History and Magick...

Witches Of Fife

Dirleton Witches

Dornoch Witches

Crook of Devon Witches

A History of the Witches of Renfrewshire


Scottish Witches

It was not until the beginning of the 19th century that the fear of witches began noticeably to die out. Before that it was seriously believed that certain women were endowed by the Devil with supernatural powers which they used for evil purposes.

This again is a survival of a pagan cult common to Europe. Long after the pagan world had become (nominally) Christian, people continued to practice the old rites.

A witch persecution mania spread over the continent in the 15th century. It took some time to reach Scotland, and it lingered there longer than in other parts. Today we dismiss witchcraft as an outworn superstition, but at that time any old and eccentric person was in real danger of being tried as a witch—younger people, too—and witch trials were far from satisfactory. Many innocent folk (even those of noble birth) suffered torture. In the 16th century, for instance, Lady Glamis was publicly burned for witchcraft on the Calton Hill, Edinburgh, “with great commiseration of the people, in regard to her noble blood and her singular beauty, and suffering all, though a woman, with man-like courage."

Witch Pools, where witch suspects were lowered into the water in ducking stools, occur here and there. There is one at Lunan, and, if I remember rightly, another at Abernyte called the Witches’ Dub.

Witches were also tried at Perth, Forfar and elsewhere. It was said that they held their revels at Caterthun (near Brechin), at the Loch of Forfar, at Petterden (between Dundee and Forfar), and in the vicinity of Kirriemuir.

Jean, the Witch, wife of Cardean, was well known around Meigle. She lived in a cottage alongside the Dean Water, with the Witches’ Knowe nearby. Jean’s sorceries were much in demand for the cure of cattle diseases. Her advice was often reasonable and good, but people feared her, and she was said to hold meetings, often very quarrelsome ones with the Devil. At Boglebee (near Kilspindie) there is a tumulus and two large stones. They are said to have been flung by the giant son of a witch who lived at Collace. He used her mutch as a sling, and meant to land the stones in Perth, but the string broke and they landed here.

The Devil appears in many Tayside place—names, and he seems to own a lot of property along the Angus coast especially. His “head” is there (an isolated stack of red sandstone) and so are his “anvil,” his “letterbox” and his “grindstone.” The anvil is a rock in the gloomy portals of the Dark Cave. The letter box is a chink in the rocks through which a turmoil of waters can be seen below. The grindstone can be heard, not seen—it is a whirring noise that occurs near Auchmithie at certain states of wind and tide. In olden days no Auchmithie fisherman dared go to sea when that dreaded sound was heard.

There is the “Devil’s Knapp” at Lunan, and the “Devil’s Knowe” at Brunton; there is the famous “Devil’s Elbow” on the Cairnwell Road to Braemar. And many others.
The Devil himself has appeared from time to time. It is recorded that he arrived in a cloud of sulphur smoke at a mill at Lethnot, but was soon routed completely by the local minister. The Lethnot district, incidentally, is notable for its old tales and superstitions. Its Whisky Road (or Priest’s Road) is now an almost forgotten hill-track, but at one time it was almost a main road for foot travellers between the Highlands and the Lowlands, and was well used by drovers, harvesters and smugglers, as well as by the minister of Lochlee, the “other half” of whose parish lay on the south side of Wirren, “the hill of springs.”

Scottish Witch Confessions

Almost all witches who have been executed in Scotland for this alleged crime have confessed, and their confessions are remarkahly uniform, particularly as to
their carnal dealings with the devil. This is not to be wondered at, as the report of the confession of one produced similar impressions upon the disturbed
imagination of another, and none confessed until they were reduced to a state of delirious and bewildered imbecility.

Kept without sleep, and incessantly tormented in their bodies by prickers, or in their minds by the clergy; excluded from all but their tormentors ; believing what they had been told of others, although conscious of their own innocence ; hearing of nothing but terrible horrors, expecting no mercy, and with the dread of the bale-fire continually before their eyes, when worn out with suffer-
ings, at last they were left alone without fire, light, or comfort, in some dungeon, kirk-steeple, or such place,
in the state of partial derangement to whch they were reduced, there can be no doubt that they dreamt of the
pitiable absurdities which they afterwards believed to be true, confessed, and were burnt, while their nearest re-
latives dared not, even to themselves, complain of the wrong.

Scottish Witch Tests

When a person was accused of witchcraft, pins were thrust into the body, and if the searchers happened upon a place where, from hardness of the flesh or any other cause, acute pain was not inflicted, tlns was an insensible mark, and held an infallible proof of the person being in league with Satan.

If the ministers and judges themselves had been properly pricked all over the body, after being kept from sleep four days, they would have been glad to remain still and motionless, if the pin had come into a place where it excited no pain. Yet by such test was guilt or innocence decided on, and many lost their lives.

Useful Scottish Witch

1597. Isobell Straquhan could not only produce love, but remove hatred. Walter Ronaidson had used to strike
his wife, who took consultation with Straquhan, and she did take pieces of paper, and sew them thick with thread
of divers colours, and did put them in the barn amongst the corn, and from henceforth the said Walter did never
strike his wife, neither yet once found fault with her, whatsoever she did.

He was subdued “entirely to her love.”

Scottish Orkney Witch

Some sixty years since an old weird woman lived in Stromness, who sold winds to mariners at a remarkably low figure. For the small charge of six-pence, “awful Bessie Miller” would sell a wind to a skipper from any
point of the compass he chose to have it.

In Orkney there are, it is said, old women still living who earn an “honest penny” by controlling nature; there is not a pain, from the first that a child can cause to the last a mortal endures in getting rid of mortality, but these crones profess to relieve.

We learn too, on competent authority, that old Orkney women still retain an unaccountable aversion to turbot, and avoid naming it when crossiun sounds and bays in boats.



Tour Scotland
Tour Edinburgh
Tour Island Of Skye

Rent A Self Catering Hoilday Cottage In Scotland

Share This Tour Scotland Web Page

Top Destinations
Tour Europe