🎧 Anyone who likes a chilling Christmas ghost story should have a listen to the latest Christmas Special of the Uncanny podcast – in it we’ve got someone from Scotland telling us about his experiences that centre around Christmas time – listen here or wherever you get your podcasts.
(⚠️The above mentioned Uncanny is a brilliant podcast in general, though for this particular episode I would flag one thing – Evelyn, who to be fair isn’t a folklore expert, unfortunately mashes together genuine traditional Scottish folklore/practices such as ”charring the old wife” & “the Cailleach” with imported modern Neopagan concepts such as ”the triple goddess/maiden-mother-crone” & “pagan sabbats” which have nothing to do with native Scottish traditions…This is obviously disappointing not only in terms of misinformation, but also in terms of horror/potential folkloric explanations for what happened – if you look beyond the imported “the Cailleach is the winter crone aspect of the triple goddess” & go into the traditional Gaelic lore, you’ll find various entities with the Cailleach titles that can be quite scary, dangerous & even deadly. This, imo, would make much more sense than any goddess in the scenario presented as well as avoiding misrepresentation of Gaelic culture 💭)
🏷️ Have a look at the “The Cailleach” topic tag for more info, folklore & resources regarding these Scottish Gaelic entities.
📚 There was also brief mention of the Scottish Witch Trials, so if you want to learn more about those you can look at the topic tag & resources section.
🔍 Lastly, you might want to search for previous posts on Christmas customs, folklore etc 🐍
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 📄
⛏ 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 🏷
📰 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.
🎥 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 📝
✨ 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 💪🏻
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):
Page 2 “The Manuscript” – overview of contents, comparisons to other sources, experience of/issues with looking at this kind of source, some images of manuscript
📰 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 🔍
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…
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.
“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.