October 2020 (Vol. 44, Number 04)
The Banner Says…
A Scottish witch hunt
As nature bursts with colour across Scotland, and
North America, many this month are fortunate to
witness autumnal foliage as colours come alive into landscapes. Colours start changing in September and natures show can last through November, but October really is the month that the bursts of red,
yellow and orange takes hold.
October of course finishes with the excitement for many kids at Halloween. What that will look like
due to Covid-19 I am not sure as countries across the world grapple with social distancing. Scotland’s
First Minister has indicated she does not want to stop the joy of trick-or-treating for children, but that she also would be taking steps to keep kids and their families safe from coronavirus infections.
The streets may have a rise in the number of witch sightings this Halloween but did you know Scotland historically was one of Europe’s biggest prosecutors of witches? During nationwide witch hunts in Scotland during the 1600s it is estimated of up to 4,000 people
were tried and thousands of women were executed for being declared a witch. Scotland had a quarter of the population that England had, yet three times the amount of prosecutions, with Edinburgh being the ‘witch capital’ of not only Scotland, but the world.
Fate already decided
Visitors can pay their respects to the accused women at the Witches Well located on the Royal Mile where more than 300 women were burned at the stake between the 15th and
18th centuries. As with most witch trials, these women were denied a fair trial, often with confessions made by torture, and their fate had already been decided for them.
The consequences were horrible and varied from drowning, strangulation, to being burned at the stake. The Witches Well is a bronze plaque that was placed in 1894 and features witches’ heads entwined by a snake, there are also other locations around
the Scottish capital with a gruesome history, but the witch hunt also took place right across Scotland.
In Fife the Noth Berwick Witch Trials were a huge event and ran for two years and implicated nearly 100 local women, they were also said to have given Shakespeare
inspiration for Macbeth. Also, in the beautiful Fife town of Culross women were imprisoned and tortured and, if lucky, were brandedfor life with an S for sinner or had
their ears nailed to the town stocks.
In Aberdeen during the 1500s St. Mary’s Chapel at Kirk of Saint Nicholas was a witches’ prison where the accused were chained before being executed and burned. As a form of punishment, some unlucky accused were rolled down a hill in a spiked barrel and if still alive were set alight.
In Glasgow’s stately Pollok House, five locals known as the ‘witches of Pollok’ were accused of being companions with the devil and sent to be burned at the stake. The accuser was Janet Douglas, a mute servant who became ill and later regained the power of speech
and immediately accused five local people of consorting with the devil. Rumour has it that Ms Douglas later moved to America and was involved with the Salem witch trials of 1692.
Thankfully by the mid-17th century most places in Europe stopped prosecuting witches.
Interestingly however the last successful prosecution under the 16th Century Witchcraft Act in Britain was in the 1940s. After that, all the Witchcraft Acts were repealed so it was no longer a crime.
In this issue
We do certainly have some spooky content in this issue as a nod to Halloween, or the Celtic festival of Samhain. From the Gorbals Vampire in Glasgow, or the ghost of Craigmillar Castle, to the ancient Celtic origins of Halloween. What we celebrate today may be different to our ancestors, but it certainly is fascinating to know the roots of
Also, the great folklore of tales to do with brutal histories, ghostly encounters and for some Glasgow kids just making sure you can keep away from the ‘bogie man’.
Another creepy thing is mortsafes, which protected the dead from opportunistic body snatchers. In 18th century Scotland, there was a large demand for human cadavers for
medical students to use in their studies and grave robbing became big business.
Iron mortsafe’s would be fastened around a coffin to protect it from would be thieves and
would remain until the corpse had decomposed enough, and would no longer be sellable.
People power certainly, eventually, prevailed when the sky(e) high tolls were abolished at the Isle of Skye. The Skye bridge between the island and the mainland opened twenty-five years ago this month in October 1995. It took a great deal of local push back and nearly a decade to remove, until the Scottish Government bought the bridge for £27m and ancelled the toll, and is still today a free road for all.
The Clan Buchanan celebrated their first chief in nearly 350 years back in 2018. This month we speak to one of Scotland’s newest chiefs, The Buchanan, on the long road to proving his claim as head of Buchanan’s and how he is navigating being a modern chief in the 21st century.
Remembering Valerie Cairney
Thank you to all the wonderful readers and friends from around the world who have reached out in regard to the recent passing of Val Cairney, the founder, and four-decade editor and publisher of the Scottish Banner.
My mother certainly touched many people over the years and that has been apparent with the many kind messages, calls, emails, cards and letters that have been received.
It certainly has made a terrible time somewhat easier and myself and my family thank the many who have let us know how special Val was to them. We have dedicated our letters page this month to just some of the messages we have received from so many, from all parts of the Scottish community and the world.
Val would be thrilled to see she touched so many, and so am I, and I know she will not be forgotten.
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