⚠️ LAST CALL – consultation on a legislative pardon for those convicted of “witchcraft” ends tomorrow (15th Sept) 🗓

If you’re interested in helping achieve a legislative pardon for all those convicted of “witchcraft” during the Scottish witch trials be sure to have your say before the consultation closes on the Scottish Parliament Website ⬅️

After an official apology being given earlier this year by the Scottish First Minister on International Women’s Day this is the next step in achieving justice for & memorialisation of all those, mostly women, who suffered so much after being falsely accused of witchcraft during the witch trials of the Early Modern Period ⚖️

There has also been an acknowledgement & apology this year from The Church of Scotland for its role in the trials, showing we’re well on the way to achieving our goals. So, please take the time to add your voice to the government consultation if you haven’t already 📄

For more information & updates follow the Witches of Scotland podcast & campaign 🎧

Hopefully it won’t be too long until justice is served & then a state national memorial created 🤞🏻

📸 Featured Photo credit: Pexel

“Proposed Witchcraft Convictions (Pardons) (Scotland) Bill” – Public Consultation now live 📄

💥 Please consider voicing your support for a legislative pardon for all those convicted under the Witchcraft Act 1563-1736 – with apologies from both the State & the Kirk being given earlier this year, it’s now time to pursue the next step in achieving justice for these innocent people. You can read the proposal document & fill out the consultation online here ⬅️

⛏ A similar bill pardoning those convicted during the miners’ strikes was passed recently, so there’s a real chance of success if we can show public support for those unjustly convicted of witchcraft too.

🐍 For previous articles related to the Witches of Scotland campaign for justice see the “Scottish Witch Trials” & “Witchcraft” Topic Tags 🏷

📚 For more background information, links, podcasts, books etc on the trials see the “Witchcraft Beliefs & The Witch Trials” page in the Resources section 🔍

📸 Featured Photo credit: Pexel

Church of Scotland Apologises for Role in Historic Witch Trials

📰 Following the recent decision from CoS to allow their ministers & deacons to perform same-sex marriages comes even more good news on a different front – an acknowledgment of & apology for the harm done during the witch trials of the Early Modern Period:

The General Assembly has accepted a new motion brought forward by Rev Prof Susan Hardman Moore to “acknowledge and regret the terrible harm caused to all those who suffered from accusations and prosecutions under Scotland’s historic witchcraft laws, the majority of whom were women, and apologise for the role of the Church of Scotland and the General Assembly in such historical persecution.”

This comes following the publication of the paper ‘Apologising for Historic Wrongs’ produced by the Kirk’s Theological Forum.

Quoted from the Church of Scotland’s FB page – see embed below ⬇️

There have been individual ministers at various local memorial events for the accused in recent years, so it’s great to now see an official collective announcement 👏🏻 With a State Apology already been given, I’m sure a legislative pardon & a national state monument are not too far off now 🙂!

📢 International reaction: advocacy group that fights for those accused of witchcraft in modern day Africa – they hope that moves like this will help prompt African churches to move to end such accusations, & similarly praised the Scottish state apology given earlier this year due to the Witches of Scotland campaign – here ⬅️

📺 See also recently released documentary on the North Berwick Witch Trials hosted by Lucy Worsley here or where you access BBC iPlayer.

📄 CoS Theological Forum paper mentioned above

🎧 Witches of Scotland campaign for justice

📸 Featured Photo credit: Pexel

Official State Apology on International Women’s Day 2022 for All those Accused of Witchcraft during the Scottish Witch Trials

🎥 Watch FM Nicola Sturgeon give an official state apology to all those accused of witchcraft during the Scottish Witch Trials of the Early Modern Period – a historic moment that’s been a long time coming. Link: https://www.facebook.com/WitchesofScotland/videos/520775759398188/ ⬅️ Keep an eye out for the Public Consultation coming out soon as that’s the next step to achieving a pardon for all those convicted & a national memorial 📝

🎧 You can listen to the apology instead along with the reaction from WoS here on the Witches of Scotland Podcast

📰 Alternatively you can read some details if you’re not able to watch or listen at the moment here in this news article

✨ This additional article about what obtaining a pardon for those convicted of witchcraft historically might mean for those who identify as witches & pagans today may also be of interest: have a read on the brilliant The Cailleach’s Herbarium website – personally I think education on how the definition of witchcraft has changed over the years is key to helping people understand & process this 🔑

Now on to the legislative pardon & national memorial 💪🏻

Lilias by Heal & Harrow – a song in memory of Lilias Adie who was accused of witchcraft but died in prison before being convicted, so she is one of the people the apology was so important to get for as well as a pardon because a pardon wouldn’t cover cases like hers, only those that were convicted

📸 Featured Photo credit: Pexel

The Paisley Witch Trials Revisited – John Shaw of Bargarran’s Manuscript (1696-97) Overview

When I wrote about the Paisley Witch Trials previously I mentioned that some sources give conflicting information as to who exactly was executed in 1697, both in terms of the number and even the actual names. This is unfortunately a common theme when it comes to the Scottish Witch Trials of the Early Modern Period due not only to how long ago they were – increasing the likelihood of documents being lost or damaged – but also to the lack of regard those accused were treated with. Therefore, you can end up different sources giving different names, people being given ‘generic’ names like “Janet/Jenny Horne” when that wasn’t really their name, and even some trial records simply leaving them completely nameless. So, after doing that article about both mass executions of “witches” that took place on Paisley’s Gallowgreen, with a particular focus of the earlier Pollok accusations as they’re less well known in Paisley than the Bargarran ones, I thought I’d try to revisit Bargarran mainly through a primary source from an eye-witness very close to the main accuser: John Shaw, Laird of Bargarran and Christian Shaw’s dad.

Before continuing I’d like to say that this was possible for me to do through the kind help of the staff at The Mitchell Library in Glasgow, where the original manuscript is held. If anyone wishes to see the document in person or enquire about obtaining photocopies please contact the library like I did. I’ll put a link at the end to where you can find the online record and make enquiries.

The manuscript is of some length so I’m going to break down what I’ve found across more than one article. As the title of this article suggests this will be an overview of this source, as well as what it had to say about who was executed in 1697 and Agnes Naismith’s legendary “dying woman’s curse”. Future articles will cover things like the cultural/folkloric elements present in the accusations and “confessions”, and how they relate to other trials, which hopefully people will be interested in too. I’ve been given kind permission to show parts of the photocopied documents, though again if you want to see them for yourself in full please contact the library.

I’ve also split the next bit into pages so people can jump to what interests them if they want to (otherwise the buttons to move to the next page can be found by scrolling down past the share buttons and related articles section):

Witches of Scotland Petition Progress

📰 Good news for anyone that’s missed it – the Witches of Scotland petition for a pardon, apology & state memorial for all those accused of witchcraft under the Witchcraft Act 1563-1736 has been continued so that they can give evidence to the committee, & to get more details of the Members’ Bill being organised by Natalie Don, MSP.

🎥 Watch it being discussed briefly (starting about 00:09:20) here .

➡️ Read more details about the current status of the Members’ Bill here.

🎶 In related news Heal & Harrow, a Scottish music project, are set to release an album next month inspired by the Scottish Witch Trials of the Early Modern Period – have a listen & pre-order your copy here or wherever you usually listen etc to music to show your support.

🎧 Additionally, Brian Smith of the Shetland Archives recently have a talk about the witch trials in Shetland, giving details on the history, folklore & religion as well as looking at particular cases. There’s also a brief chat with Prof Julian Goodare at the end & mention of the current Witches of Scotland campaign mentioned above. Listen here ⬅️.

🐍 Lastly, for more info on the history of the Witch Trials, Witchcraft etc in Scotland have a look at the relevant topic tags, related articles shown below, &/or the “Witchcraft Beliefs & The Witch Trials” section of the Resource Pages 🔍

“Witches, Pagans and Historians…” – Professor Ronald Hutton’s review of Max Dashu’s 2006 book on women in European Folk Religion

This is just a wee post to highlight a good read for anyone interested in things like the history of witchcraft and religion/spirituality in Europe. In his 2016 article “Witches, Pagans and Historians. An Extended Review of Max Dashu, Witches and Pagans: Women in European Folk Religion, 700–1000” Hutton picks apart various common myths and assumptions that Dashu unfortunately puts forward in her book regarding witchcraft and religion in Europe such as folk magic practitioners being pagan, being part of Goddess cults etc etc. She also puts forward other common modern Neopagan/‘Goddess Movement’-type ideas such as “The Cailleach” being a single Celtic Goddess which Hutton of course challenges. (For more info see “The Cailleach” & Witchcraft topic tags.) It’s worth nothing though that this is a balanced, in-depth review so he does mention anything he thinks Dashu has done well too.

I remember coming across Dashu’s stuff when I was a teenager, following her FB page etc before I learned the version of the past she is putting forward is not an accurate one. As a feminist I do understand the appeal of the idea of a kind of matriarchal past where women were revered that we could perhaps then return to. However, the truth is that society – at least in much of Europe – has been patriarchal for a very long time, even before Christianity, and I strongly feel we do the women who came before us a severe injustice if we pretend it wasn’t. Like it really downplays or even outright ignores what they must have gone through in their lives. This isn’t to say they were all helpless, submissive etc – far from it – but it’s important to understand the societal background of women’s lives and their achievements in the past. Personally I agree with Hutton when he says Dashu’s assertions “derive from dogmatically held beliefs about how the past ought to have been.” Unfortunately these assertions do not appear to reflect reality…

📑 Link to paper: “Witches, Pagans and Historians. An Extended Review of Max Dashu, Witches and Pagans: Women in European Folk Religion, 700–1000” Hutton (2016)

📸 Featured Photo credit: Pexel

Witches of Scotland Interview

I was honoured (& nervous lol 😱) to be interviewed by Zoe & Claire – I’m a massive fan of the Witches of Scotland podcast & their very important campaign for justice ☺️

🎧 Caption: “EPISODE 42 JENNIFER WIGHT – THE ADDERS DEN – Listen to Zoe & Claire speak to Jennifer about Scottish folk history and to find out to what extent this connects with the history of those accused as witches. We talk healers, charmers, pagans,japanese anime and much more!” Have a listen here or on whichever podcast platform you prefer (Episode 42, running time: 50 mins)

⚠️ UPDATE SEPT 2022: I am no longer an admin for the SCW Facebook group mentioned in the interview, nor do I associate with its creator nor endorse any of his work due to information about his conduct that has recently come to light. Of course The Adder’s Den Facebook page is continuing as normal as it’s only run by me & has never been related to him or his work etc ⚠️

📣 FURTHER UPDATE OCT 2022: though not originally planned, after receiving several requests I’ve decided to set up my own group – if interested go to The Adder’s Den Facebook page where you’ll find the group link in the featured post &/or the About section 🐍

⭐️ For more information on the Witches of Scotland campaign for an apology for all those accused of witchcraft under the Scottish Witchcraft Act (1563-1736), a pardon for all those prosecuted, & a national monument see their website – they also have a Facebook page, Twitter & Instagram.

🎥 Watch the WoS petition being considered by the Petitions Comittee as mentioned in the episode

🐍 Previous article on the Witch Trials that took place in my hometown of Paisley – written after this interview was given but published before its release

📚 See also the Witchcraft Beliefs & The Witch Trials page in the Resource section for links to resources etc such as The Survey of Scottish Witchcraft also mentioned in the episode.

🏷 Scottish Witch Trials topic tag for more related posts

📸 Featured Photo credit: Pexel

“A Dialogue Concerning Witches & Witchcrafts”

“Is that witchcraft ? Some Scripture man hath tolde you so. Did the divell teach it ? Nay, the good woman at R. H. taught it my husband: she doth more good in one yeere then all these Scripture men will doe so long as they live.” 

The above quote is from a character – the Good Wife R – in “A Dialogue Concerning Witches & Witchcrafts” by George Gifford (or Giffard) which was first published in 1593. The copy I found available to read for free online was published in 1842, and was a re-print of the second edition published in 1603.

This short book is good for giving an overview of the beliefs ordinary people had about folk magic vs the beliefs that the authorities and elites had about it. Gifford was a Puritan Minister and a Cambridge University graduate, so it’s not surprising he has one of his main characters convince others to give up their beliefs that folk magic is a gift from God while witchcraft comes from the Devil. This character persuades them that all magical practices are related to the Devil, including those that appear to be good, and that they should rely only on God for protection from evil as only he has power over everything, even the Devil. However, as we can see from the quote above not everyone is convinced – when asked where she thought a particular cunning woman learned her craft from, a local woman says: “It is a gift which God hath given her. I thinke the Holy Spirit of God doth teach her”.

Although this book is concerning the situation in England during the Witch Trials of the Early Modern Period, there are many similarities to the divide in thinking between the authorities/elites and the common people in Scotland at that time too, so still a useful read.

📖 Read or download the text from archive.org here.

📜 Some additional info on Gifford here.

📸 Featured Photo credit: Pexel

The Paisley Witch Trials

When you think about the Paisley Witch Trials, you probably think of the Bargarran “witches” of 1697, of Christian Shaw, of Agnes Naismith’s legendary “dying woman’s curse” and of the horseshoe memorial at Maxwellton Cross. In this wee article I’d like to write about not only that trial, but also about the lesser known connection with the Pollock “witches” who were sadly executed in Paisley too in 1677. Both mass executions took place on Paisley’s Gallow Green, and the son of “victim” of the accused Pollok witches – Sir John Maxwell of Pollok – appears to have been among the many powerful local men named as witnesses in the Christian Shaw case 20 years later.

The Pollok “Witches” 1677

Sir George Maxwell of Pollok came from a religious Covenanting family and was reportedly keenly interested in witch trials. Around December 1676 he suddenly took ill, complaining of severe pains in his sides. Not long after that, Janet Douglas, a 13 or 14 year old girl known to the family communicated to them that she knew who was causing this and how. Janet appeared to have a disability that prevented her from speaking, so she made herself understood through gestures and demonstrations. She accused a local widow by the name of Janet (or Jonet) Mathie; and when the widow’s house was searched a wax effigy with pins in it was found in a hole behind her fireplace, just where young Janet had said it would be.

Janet Douglas is not the only case of someone with a speech disability that made them unable to speak claiming to have the ability to detect witches. Some seemed suspicious as to whether in her case it was genuine, but why might she have faked it? In Scottish folk belief people with disabilities were sometimes thought to have other supernatural abilities that most able-bodied people didn’t have such as having visions, so this may have made people more likely to believe her. She communicated her accusations through gestures, demonstrations etc and claimed to have got her information through both visions and a “voice above her head”. Some years later she is reported to have been able to speak, but not very clearly.

Young Janet went on to accuse 5 more local people of being involved and more effigies made of wax or clay were found with pins in them, again where she had said they’d be. Among the accused were 2 of the widow Janet’s children – including a 14 year old girl – her daughter-in-law, and 2 other local women who were also tenants of the Maxwell family. The motivations of the group are unclear with some sources speculating on individual personal grievances and others, such as The Scottish Survey of Witchcraft, suggesting it could have potentially been some kind of group protest against their landlord. It may have been that they felt they didn’t have any other way of pursuing recourse against a powerful man like Sir Maxwell, assuming that the accused did indeed make the effigies and that they weren’t planted.

Methods such as “witch-pricking” and the stocks, at least on the widow Janet, were used in order to try to force confessions. John Stewart (Janet’s son), Margaret Jackson (her Daughter-in-Law) and Annabel Stewart (her 14 year old daughter) all “confessed” to meetings with Devil, to making the effigies, and how they’d renounced their baptisms in order to make a pact with the Devil by placing one hand on their head, the other on their feet and pledging everything in between to him. This was a very common feature in Scottish witch trial confessions. Annabel also “confessed” to having sex with the Devil saying he was cold – another common feature – and Margaret Jackson said she thought she had been visited by the spirit of her dead husband in her bed at night, but later realised it was the Devil. On the other hand, Janet Mathie along with Marjorie Craig and Bessie Weir (the other 2 local women) adamantly refused to confess to any dealings with the Devil, even when Annabel pleaded with Janet to do so. Despite this they were still found guilty of witchcraft based on the words of their fellow accused and the fact that all 3 apparently had bad reputations locally.

On 20th February 1677, all except Annabel were strangled and burned at the stake on Gallow Green in Paisley. Annabel was considered too young so her sentence was postponed and she was to receive “spiritual guidance” instead. It’s unclear whether she was eventually executed, but her name does crop up in the trial records of another accused witch, Catharin Mactargett, in 1688. In these it’s alleged that Annabel was a “known witch” who taught Catharin what to do, so if she did survive her reputation unfortunately followed her. An interesting note about this case is that Catharin was “witch-pricked” by a man who had a speaking disability just like the young girl doing the accusing in Pollok.

The Bargarran “Witches” 1697

This is a very well-known trial that took place against a backdrop of strange goings on, the murder of a minister and panic about a group of people thought to be trying to murder children by possessing them, sticking pins in wax effigies and/or strangling them amongst other things. The main accuser in this case was 11 year old Christian Shaw, daughter of the Laird of Bargarran, who went on to be very successful in manufacturing high-quality thread. She and her mother are believed to have contributed greatly to the textile industry becoming very important to the town.

This case differed from many earlier witchcraft cases in that it involved possession rather than things like someone’s livestock dying or child falling ill etc. Christian was said to have been seized by violent fits, to have vomited up several strange objects such as pins, to speak to people that weren’t there, to have bite and scratch marks appear on her in front of witnesses, to complain of being strangled etc (I’ll put a link to where you can read a full account below – I’ve purposefully been as brief as I can with this one as it’s been covered a lot already). She was taken to a doctor but he couldn’t find any natural reason for these things happening, so her father went to the local minister who took it to the Presbytery of Paisley. All this had started after a servant, Katherine Campbell, was witnessed angrily cursing Christian because she had told on her for stealing a drink of milk. Christian had also recently had an encounter with a local widow, Agnes Naismith, who had a reputation for cursing people and bad things happening to them later. These women were the only 2 accused at first, but later this spiralled into a total of 28 – as well as claiming to see people in her room, Christian said she was also getting information on who her tormentors were and even what they planned to do “from a voice above her head”. Interestingly this is similar to how young Janet Douglas in Pollok claimed to get her information in addition to her visions. The Bargarran trial involved claims of wax effigies with pins too, amongst other things. Again I would recommend reading a fuller account of both cases in the links below as there are a lot of wider cultural themes in both of them.

In the end, at least 7 people were sentenced to be strangled and burned on Gallow Green on 10th June 1697. Katherine Campbell, Agnes Naismith, Margaret Fulton, Margaret Lang, John and James Lindsay (brothers) were all executed. A second John Lindsay may have hanged himself in prison before the sentence was carried out – some sources attribute this story to a James or John Reid with the second John Lindsay going on to be executed also, while others still have a unknown man being executed instead. So, potentially there could have actually been 8 people sentenced and 7 executed (see the list of sources such as The Survey of Scottish Witchcraft database below). Agnes Naismith in particular is remembered to this day as having cursed the townspeople and their descendants for what they had done, whether this actually happened or not. This was the last mass execution of accused witches in Western Europe, though sadly single executions continued in Scotland up until 1727 (or more likely 1722 according to some sources).

Paisley now has 2 memorials for those executed as a result of the Bargarran trial of 1697 – a round, stone monument on what’s left of Gallow Green and a metal plaque with a horseshoe at Maxwellton Cross that reads “Pain inflicted, suffering endured, injustice done”. As someone from Paisley I’m pleased that in recent years there seems to be more effort being made to educate the public on the historical facts behind this trial – this wasn’t the case when I was growing up. I really hope this will continue and that in future we’ll also remember those unjustly executed in the earlier 1677 Pollok trial too. (I know they’re remembered in the Pollok area where the events happened and that books etc have been written, so I don’t mean to suggest that they aren’t remembered at all, just that to my knowledge they aren’t often mentioned in Paisley)

⭐️ Note: article updated since first published to reflect that there may have been 7 people executed, rather than the 6 detailed in many sources, as a result of the Bargarran trial

💻 Links to sources, further reading etc:

(📸 Featured Photo credit: Me, Memorial at Gallow Green in Paisley – that & the horseshoe plaque are dedicated to those executed as a result of the 1697 trial)