Toil & Trouble: Witchcraft in Scotland

A new student-led exhibition will explore 200 years of suspicions and actions that fueled the myths we associate with witchcraft today. Toil & Trouble: Witchcraft in Scotland will examine the dark history of witchcraft in the country, particularly from the 16th to 18th centuries. The recently launched online exhibition has been curated by MLitt Museum Studies students at the University of Aberdeen. Drawing on the University’s rich collections, it will take virtual visitors on a journey of discovery examining aspects of early modern Scotland in an attempt to bring understanding to why witchcraft accusations were so rife at this time.

Objects ranging from a 17th century handbook for hunting a witch written by a king to devices used to punish the accused to more innocuous items thought to bring good luck will be used to consider the broader aspects of the subject, which has long fascinated the public imagination. The impact of gendered violence and oppression, the perceived difference between magic and medicine and the role of the church and religion will be introduced through the curation. As part of the MLitt Museum Studies the students select the topic, select items for display and work on every aspect of the exhibition from delivery to promotion.

The mysteries of witchcraft is Scotland

Caitlin Jamison, who worked on the interpretation for the exhibition, said: “I loved the process of delving into the mysteries of witchcraft is Scotland. In writing the content for this online exhibition, my classmates and I have tried to shape how people understand this important topic. Magic, medicine and religion collide in a way that still has resonance today, which makes it so fascinating to explore.”

Lisette Turner, part of the Design and Marketing curatorial team added: “It was important to me to be able to convey the other sides of witchcraft through its history. People often have preconceived notions of haggard women on broomsticks or hexing their neighbours. There is so much more depth to the topic than that. We wanted to change that visual representation with this exhibition and focus more on the naturalistic side of the craft and how often it was that ‘common’ women found themselves in trouble when thought to have toiled in anything seen as unholy.”

Toil & Trouble: Witchcraft in Scotland is available online at:

Photo: This Glaswegian woodcut block print depicts a scene from the famous narrative poem, Tam o’ Shanter, written by Robert Burns in 1791. In the poem, drunken farmer Tam, happens upon a meeting of witches and the Devil in the local haunted church and the ensuing chaos.

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