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.
The Forfar 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.
The 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!!
Rauncie 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
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