Scottish Witches Executed 300 Years Ago for ‘Wicked’ Spells, ‘Sex with the Devil’ to Be Pardoned
The Great Scottish Witch Hunt of 1597, triggered after witchcraft laws were passed by James IV of Scotland, resulted in a series of nationwide trials with around 400 people, mostly women and girls, charged with various forms of diabolism.
Thousands of women accused of witchcraft in Scotland under the Witchcraft Act between 1563 and 1736 are to have their names cleared posthumously, reported
the Sunday Times.
A member’s bill on the issue in the Scottish parliament has secured the support of the administration of First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon.
According to Natalie Don, a Scottish National Party MSP, the bill could be passed as early as next summer.
“It is right that this wrong should be righted, that these people who were criminalised, mostly women, should be pardoned,” she was cited as saying by the outlet.
A petition lodged earlier this year by Claire Mitchell QC and writer Zoe Venditozzi as part of the Witches of Scotland campaign, launched on International Women’s Day 2020, sought a pardon, an official apology and a memorial in recognition of Scotland’s witches.
In its response to the petition, the Scottish Government acknowledged that the Witchcraft Act of 1563 – which remained in law in Scotland until 1736 – was discriminatory.
“It’s all about raising awareness to what happened to women and properly recording the history of what happened to women. Those accused were vulnerable members of society who were used as scapegoats – if we don’t recognise and deal with our past we go on to make the same mistakes,” Claire Mitchell was quoted as saying earlier.
An estimated 4,000 people had been accused of witchcraft
after laws passed by James IV of Scotland unleashed the nationwide Great Scottish Witch Hunt of 1597. It was the second of five national witch hunts in Scottish history, carried out under the supervision of Royal Commissions.
Among the hundreds of alleged witches accused of everything ranging from casting evil spells to conjuring up storms to sink the ships of King James VI to engaging in sex with the Devil and turning into owls, over half were executed.
A great majority – over 85 percent of those convicted - were women or girls. Mitchell claims she was, in part, inspired by the case of Lilias Adie, from Torryburn, Fife, who had been forced to confess to casting malicious spells and “having sex with the Devil”.
While sentenced to be burnt at the stake, she died in prison in 1704.
Individuals known to have a reputation as a healer or possessing plant knowledge were often singled out as targets for witch hunts, and were often blamed for everything from bouts of bad weather to plagues of mice, crop failures and disease.