"Finally, she is naturally sagacious and observant, and discovered her integrity in face of court.... She showed her firmness against the temptations of becoming a witch; particularly against the last assault of Satan; wherein he persuaded her at least to go to their meetings, and she answered that she would not follow such a base fallen creature; and he rejoining that she would go to hell, however, for her other sins; and she answering that he was a liar from the beginning, and the blood of Jesus would cleanse her from all iniquity: whereupon he disappeared, and she perfectly recovered upon the Sabbath thereafter; was a happy end put to this fearful tragedy of witchcraft, and confirms to conviction the reality of it.
"As to the murdering of the children, and the minister libelled: you may observe several extraordinary things appearing in them; particularly, the witnesses depone, the minister to have been in excessive torments, and of an unusual colour, to have been of sound judgment; and yet he did tell of several women being about him, and that he heard the noise of the door opening, when none else did hear it. The children were well at night, and found dead in the morning, with a little blood on their noses, and blaes at the roots of their ears; which were obvious symptoms of strangling....
"The second part of the probation consists of several adminicles, proven by unsuspected witnesses, which lead us to suspect those panels to be witches, as so many lines drawn from a circumference to a centre, and as an avenue to the positive probation thereafter adduced; and these either strike at the whole panels in general, or some of them in particular....
"You see that none of them doth shed tears; nor were they ever discovered to do it since their imprisonment, notwithstanding their frequent howlings....
"In particular, you see how Katharine Campbell was provoked by this girl's discovering her theft; whereupon she has brought in the rest of her confederates to act the mischiefs; how Campbell did curse and imprecate in a terrible manner; how she staid out of her bed at night, and was frequently drowsy in the morning....
"Margaret Lang, that great impostor, has been a great masterpiece of the devil: she has confessed unnatural lust, which is known to some of your number; she sat near the door where the charm of hair was found, which the girl declared did keep up her tongue; and upon burning thereof, it was loosed. The girl fell in fits upon her approach; she has notable marks; particularly one, which the confessants declared she lately received; and, by inspection, it appears to be recent. When she came from her private conversation (no doubt with the devil) she raged as if she had been possessed, and could not but declare that she expected a violent death. She looked in the face of James Millar's child, and asked her age, whereupon that child sickened the same night, and named Margaret Lang on her death-bed. It appears she was ready to show to Janet Laird a sight of her mother, who had been three years dead....
"Margaret Fulton was reputed a witch, has the mark of it, and acknowledged, in presence of her husband, that she made use of a charm, which appeared full of small stones and blood; that her husband had brought her back from the fairies....
"As to the Lindsays, they all have the mark, and were all of a long time reputed to be witches. John Lindsay, in Barlock, was accidentally discovered by the girl's taking a fit upon his coming to the house. John and James Lindsay were dilated by a confessing witch in anno 1687, which confession is publicly read before you, and there was money given to the sheriff-depute for delaying of the pursuit. James Lindsay appeared to William Semple suddenly, and flew about like a fowl for an opportunity to strike him....
"It is true, some of these indications may be in one, and others of them in another, either from nature or accident, and yet that person not be a witch; but it was never heard nor read that all these indications, which are so many discoveries by providence, of a crime that might otherwise remain in the dark, did ever concur in one and the same individual person that was innocent....
"As to the third part of the probation, we remit the positive depositions of the confessants, and against whom they do concur, wholly to your own perusal or examination; only you would be pleased to notice, 1st, Something which do very much sustain the credibility of their testimonies, arising from their examination in court. 2dly, We shall explain to you the import of the word Nota, which is added to the interlocutor of the judges admitting these last witnesses.
"First, Elizabeth Anderson is of sufficient age, being seventeen; but so young and pointed, that her deposition appears not affected by melancholy: she accused her father to his face, when he was a-dying in the prison, as now there are two of her aunts in the panel, which certainly must proceed from the strength of truth, since even Dives retained a natural affection to his relations; she went on foot to the meetings with her father, except only that the devil transported them over the water Clyde; which was easy to the prince of the air, who does far greater things by his hurricanes....
"James Lindsay, it is true, is of less import; yet, by his weeping when he came in, and was admonished of the greatness of his guilt, it appears that he had a sense of it.... He does not file the panels all at random, but tells what occurred to his senses.
"Janet and Margaret Rodgers are instances of a singular providence; for they did confess, the same morning that the court did last sit, of their own proper motive, their being neither ministers nor judges beside them at the time....
"It is true, there are some few of the adminicles that are proven only by one witness; but as to this you may consider, 1st, That a witness deponing de facto proprio, is in law more credited than any other single witness. And this is the present case as to some of the adminicles. 2dly, The antecedent concomitant, and subsequent circumstances of fact, do sustain the testimony and make the semi-plenary probation to become full. But 3dly, The other adminicles, undoubtedly proven by concurring witnesses, are per se sufficient; and therefore you saw us, at the desire of the judges, forbear to call the far greatest part of our witnesses....
"We shall therefore leave you with this conclusion, that as you ought to beware of condemning the innocent, and ought to incline to the safest side; so, if these panels be proven legally guilty, then quoad bygones, your eye ought not to spare them, nor ought you to suffer a witch to live; and as to the future, you in doing otherwise would be accessory to all the blasphemies, apostasies, murders, tortures, and seductions whereof these enemies of heaven and earth shall thereafter be guilty, when they have got out. So that the question seems simply to come to this, Whether, upon your oath de fideli, you can swear that the panels, notwithstanding of all that is proven against them, are not guilty of witchcraft; in the determination whereof, we pray God may direct you in the right course."
The jury, after being enclosed nearly six hours, found the libel proven.
It only remains to be stated that the accused suffered the extreme penalty of the law, not for crimes committed, but on account of the superstition and ferocity of the period.
Victims of Superstition—History of Lady Glammis—Her Trial for causing the Death of her Husband and attempting to poison the King—Found Guilty, and Burned—Lady Fowlis an intended Victim—Hector Munro tried for Sorcery—Making an Image of the young Lady of Balnagowan—Elf Arrows—Consulting Egyptians—Trial and Acquittal of Lady Fowlis—Her Accomplices not so Fortunate—Hector Munro's connection with Witches—Charge against Sir John Colquhoun and Thomas Carlips for consulting with Necromancers—Love Philters and Enchanted Tokens—Eloping with a Sister-in-law—Bewitching Sir George Maxwell—A Dumb Girl detecting Witches—Witch-marks discovered before the Sheriff of Renfrewshire—Strange Confessions—Commission appointed by the Privy Council to try Witches—Witches ordered to be Burned—Alison Pearson's Intercourse with Fairies—Another Witch Story.
After witchcraft became unpopular, persons of youth, beauty, and rank, as well as people of old age, poverty, and deformity, often fell victims to superstition. The history of Lady Glammis is a painful one, exhibiting the gross darkness and ferocity of her time. Being beautiful, and in good position, her hand was sought by noblemen whose name and fame did, in some respects, honour to their country. As Lady Glammis could have only one husband at a time, she was compelled to reject proposals made to her by members of first-class families—a necessity that was not looked at in its proper light; for her refusals, both when she was a maid and widow, to enter into matrimonial alliance with the heads of noble houses, raised formidable enemies against her. Her influence at court was great; but this did not save her from being accused of witchcraft. The fair popular lady was tried in a criminal court for procuring the death of her husband by intoxication, or unholy drugging; for a design to poison the king; and for notorious witchcraft. She was found guilty, and burned.
Lady Fowlis was another intended noble victim. She and her step-son, Hector Munro, were tried, in 1590, for witchcraft, incantation, sorcery, and poisoning. The charges against the lady were the diabolical acts of making two images of clay, the one representing the young lady of Balnagowan, and the other personating Robert Munro (both of whom, it was alleged, stood in her way of advancement in life), which figures two notorious witches put up in a room, and shot at with elf arrows. As these operations did not terminate the existence of the intended victims, an attempt was made to poison them; but for a time this also proved unsuccessful. At length the young lady of Balnagowan tasted her sister-in-law's infernal potion, whereby she contracted an incurable disease. Disappointed at the draught not immediately proving fatal, Lady Fowlis sent far and wide for gipsies and witches, to consult with them as to what was best to be done. More clay images were made, and shot at with elf arrows. She was tried by a jury, composed chiefly of the Fowlis dependants, who acquitted her.
Several of her witch accomplices were not so fortunate; they suffered the extreme penalty of the law. It was proved on trial, that Hector Munro had communed with three witches, in 1588, for the recovery of his eldest brother, Robert, who was dangerously ill. The witches "pollit the hair of Robert Munro, and plet the naillis of his fingers and taes;" but the charms were ineffectual, and Robert died. Hector, the panel, was unwell, and pronounced by women of skill to be incurable unless the chief man of his blood, George Munro of Abisdale, Lady Catherine's eldest son, should die for him. All things being ready, George was sent for to see his sick friend. When he came, a spell was applied, according to the directions of his foster-mother and certain witches. A grave was made between two manors, and at night the sick man was laid in the grave, where he rested until one of the witches consulted the devil as to what should be done next. The invalid was covered over with turf, while another witch, with a young boy in her hand, ran the breadth of nine rigs, coming back to the grave and asking who was her choice? The response came that Hector was to live and George to die for him. The ceremony being gone through three times, all the parties present, except the devil in bodily shape, returned home. Hector, like his step-mother, escaped punishment, though the evidence against him was lengthy and weighty.
In 1633 Sir John Colquhoun of Luss, and Thomas Carlips, a German servant in his employment, were charged with consulting necromancers and sorcerers, and with incest, contrary to the Act of Parliament 9 Queen Mary, and of an Act of James VI. Colquhoun was married to Lady Lilias Grahame, the Earl of Montrose's eldest daughter. The Earl being dead, Lady Colquhoun brought home Lady Catherine, her second sister (a beautiful young woman), to reside with her and Sir John. Colquhoun, fascinated with his sister-in-law's charms, made love to her, but, meeting with no encouragement from the young lady, he consulted with Carlips (a necromancer) and with several witches and sorcerers as to the best way of making her return his affection. They gave her philters and enchanted love tokens, including a jewel of gold set with rubies and diamonds. The enchanted jewel proved effectual: Lady Catherine's scruples were overcome, and she and Sir John eloped, making their way to London, whither they were accompanied by Carlips. Sir John and Carlips, though indicted, failed to answer the charge, and they were therefore declared rebels, and "put to the horn."
A singular account is given of the bewitching of Sir George Maxwell, who died in 1677. The story is founded on information supplied by his son. It appears that Sir George Maxwell, being in Glasgow on the 14th October 1676, was suddenly seized at night with a hot and fiery disease. He hastened home, fearing the worst; and it was well he did so, for he was long confined to bed of a painful disorder, that would not yield to his skilful physician's treatment. It happened about this time that a young dumb girl, a stranger, appeared in Polloktown. She came occasionally to Sir George's house, soliciting assistance. Observing the gentleman's state, she seemed much troubled, and, by signs, signified to his daughters that a woman had pricked Sir George's sides. The girl subsequently pointed out Janet Mathie as the person who had done the mischief. As suggested by the girl, Mathie's house was searched for a wax image, supposed to have been used as an instrument to torture the unfortunate gentleman. True enough, a wax image was found, with two pins stuck in it. Mathie was therefore apprehended, and committed to prison. In presence of the Sheriff of Renfrewshire, she was searched for insensible marks by competent inspectors, who found many devil's marks.
Sir George recovered slightly, but on the 4th January he became so poorly that his friends despaired of his life. Meantime, again acting on the dumb girl's suggestion, the house in which John Stewart (Janet Mathie's eldest son) resided was searched, and a clay image, having three pins stuck in it, lay in the bed where he slept. Stewart, and one of his little sisters, aged fourteen years, were instantly arrested. Being pressed to tell the truth, the girl apprehended told that the image had been made by her brother, Bessie Weir, Margery Craig, and Margaret Jackson, in presence of a black man, whom she understood to be the devil. Sir George, curiously enough, recovered after the second discovery of an image, the same as he had done at the finding of the former figure. John Stewart remained obstinate until his body was searched for insensible marks. These being discovered in great numbers, so confounded the man that he admitted his compact with Satan. In a judicial declaration he confessed his accomplices were his sister and the other women named. On further examination the girl admitted that she, as well as her mother and brother, had a paction with Satan.
Lord Ross and the Earl of Dundonald granted a warrant for the apprehension of Bessie Weir, Margaret Jackson, and Margery Craig. Margaret Jackson, who had reached the age of eighty years, like her accomplices, had many devil's marks on her person. She confessed being accessory to the making of images, with the intention of depriving Sir George Maxwell of life.
On the 17th January a third image was found under Janet Mathie's prison bed in Paisley, concerning which the dumb girl had given information; but it appeared to be the picture of a woman. The supposition seemed to be that it represented a lady belonging to the Pollok family; for against the whole household Mathie had taken an inveterate grudge.
The Lords of His Majesty's Privy Council, being informed of what had been done, granted a commission to Sir Patrick Gauston of Gauston, James Brisbane of Bishopton, Sir John Shaw, younger, of Greenock, John Anderson, younger, of Dovehill, and John Preston, advocate, with Lord George Ross as assessor, to try the persons in custody. The Commission held its first court in Paisley on 27th January 1677. Annabil Stewart, the girl of fourteen years, when brought before the court for the crime of witchcraft, stated that, in the previous harvest, the devil, like a black man, came to her mother's house and requested the declarant to give herself up to him, under pretence that if she did so she would never want. Enticed by her mother and Bessie Weir, she put her hand to the crown of her head, and the other to the sole of her foot, and swore that she yielded herself up to his Satanic majesty. She declared that she had a spirit that attended her, known to herself and the other witches by the name of Enippa. Declared further, that all the other witches had wicked spirits that assisted them in their evil deeds. She told who were present when the several images were made. One of the figures was put on a spit, and turned before the fire. As it went round, each and all of them kept repeating Sir George Maxwell, Sir George Maxwell. One night, she said, she saw her brother John Stewart with a black man with cloven feet.
In a second declaration John Stewart confessed that he, Bessie Weir, Margaret Jackson, and Margery Craig had a meeting with the devil on the night of 3rd January, when he, at the request of Satan, renounced his baptism. He was induced, he said, to do this, by the devil promising that he should not want any pleasure, or fail to see revenge on those who did him wrong. That evening, effigies of clay were made for taking away the life of Sir George Maxwell. John observed, when the devil was moulding the image, that his hands were bluish, and that there were handcuffs on his wrists.
Margaret Jackson, in her confession, admitted she was present at the making of an effigy and of a picture formed in Janet Mathie's house, and that they were made as instruments for taking away Sir George Maxwell's life. Admitted further, that, forty years before her apprehension, she had given herself from the crown of the head to the sole of the feet to the devil. These declarations were subscribed by Robert Park, notary-public.
All the accused persons, except Annabil, were found guilty, and ordered, together with effigies they had prepared for Sir George's destruction, to be burned. Annabil seriously admonished her mother to confess before she suffered; but nothing, we are informed, would move the obdurate and hardened old witch—so she perished, denying her guilt.
In the case of Alison Pearson, who suffered for witchcraft in Scotland in 1586, several strange revelations were made. She had had a stroke of paralysis, which so affected her that at times she suffered severely. She was a reputed witch, averred to have done serious mischief to her neighbours. For this reason, she was indicted for holding communication with demons. She admitted having intercourse with the Queen of Elfland and the good neighbours. When she fell into a trance, which happened often, she saw her cousin, William Sympsoune, of Stirling (who had been conveyed away to the hills by the fairies), from whom she received a salve that could cure every disease; and from this ointment the Archbishop of St. Andrews confessed he derived benefit. In an indictment framed against her, it was set forth that she, being in Grangemuir, lay down sick, and that there came a man to her, clad in green, who said, if she would be faithful to him, he would do her much good; but she, being afraid, cried out, and he went away; that he appeared to her another time, accompanied by many men and women, making merry with good cheer and music; that she was carried away by them; and that, when she revealed anything, one of the folk chastised her so unmercifully as to leave ugly marks and take away the power from one of her sides. In her declaration she stated she saw the good neighbours (fairies) making their salves, with pans and fires, from herbs gathered under certain planets, and on particular days before the sun rose. Among other revelations, she stated that her cousin, William Sympsoune, appeared to her in the shape of a fairy, and bade her sign herself with the cross, to prevent her being carried to Elfland; for it was dangerous to go there, as one-tenth of the witches were annually conveyed thence to the place of everlasting torment.
Another witch story. One night a gentleman in the west, riding home, was suddenly stopped by an unseen hand seizing his horse's bridle rein. Having a sword, he first struck at one side of his horse's head, and then at the other. The animal, now unrestrained, galloped home, when, on putting the horse into the stable, the gentleman found a hand cut off at the wrist, hanging to the bridle reins. Suspecting he had been waylaid by Janet Wood (a reputed witch in the neighbourhood), he called on her next day, and found her in bed. She complained of being ill. After conversing with her for a short time, he rose to take his leave, and held out his hand to shake hands with her. She offered him her left hand; but he refused to take it, saying it was unfriendly to use the left hand for such a friendly purpose. After a good deal of hesitation, she admitted that she had lost her right hand in an encounter she had the previous night when out on witch business. The gentleman produced the hand, and, on it being compared with her stump, it fitted exactly. The question then came to be, how the stroke took effect, for no ordinary sword could have injured the witch; and it turned out that it had been charmed by the owner's grandmother, a sensible old woman.
Edinburgh and Leith Witches—Black Catalogue—Witches Burned and Drowned—James VI. and the Witches—Complaint to the Scottish Privy Council of Barbarous Conduct—Relics of Superstition—Images found at Arthur Seat—Witch-finders in Edinburgh and Leith—Royal Commission to Magistrates and Ministers to search for and put Witches to Death—Wife of a Judge in Edinburgh meeting a Witch's Fate—Repeal of the Laws against Witchcraft—Opposition to Acts being Repealed—Judge of the Supreme Courts of Scotland against a Change of the Law—Witches in Edinburgh and Leith in the Sixteenth Century—James Reid—Agnes Finnie, the Potter-row Witch—Alexander Hamilton, the Warlock—The Devil and Hamilton burning a Provost's Mill—Janet Barker curing a Bewitched Man—Margaret Hutchison, a habit-and-repute Witch—Young Laird of Duddingston—Major Weir and his Magical Staff—A Magical Distaff—Agnes Williamson, a Haddingtonshire Witch—Elizabeth Bathgate of Eyemouth—Isabella Young of Eastbarns burned at the Castlehill.
Against Edinburgh and Leith stands a black catalogue of judicial murders of supposed witches and warlocks. At the Cross, Gallow Lee, between Edinburgh and Leith, and on the sands of the latter town, unknown numbers of unhappy creatures, male and female, were executed in a most barbarous manner, for the imaginary crime of witchcraft. Nearly all the victims were first tortured to make them confess, and afterwards some of them were worried, and then burned; others were hanged at the Cross, Gallow Lee; and not a few supposed witches were fastened to a stake on South Leith sands, and allowed to remain there until the tide terminated their miseries.
Of James VI., and the witches who persecuted him, we have treated in chapter XXIV.; but it may be further mentioned that in his time an unprecedented number of reputed witches were put to death in Edinburgh. His brutish judges displayed unwonted activity in bringing men and women to an untimely end, because they knew their zeal brought them into royal favour. A time, however, came when the nation could no longer suffer the barbarities of bygone periods to be continued. Accordingly, in 1608 a complaint was made to the Scottish Privy Council against persons in power for so torturing the hapless women that they died amid smoke and flame, blaspheming the Most High, and uttering imprecations against their fellow-creatures.
In the Antiquarian Museum of Edinburgh are a few relics of superstitious times. They consist of small figures, representing human beings, which were found in the crevice of a rock at Arthur Seat, and are, no doubt, figures formed for magical purposes. In the Museum are also to be seen implements of torture, to be more particularly noticed in chapter LXIII. Edinburgh and Leith, like every large town, had professional witch-finders. Royal commissions were issued to magistrates and ministers of the Church, giving them power to search for, torture, and put to death, either by fire or water, every one guilty of witchcraft. Rich and poor were suspected. Even nobles were accused of witchcraft; and the wife of a senator of the College of Justice, in Edinburgh, did not escape a witch's fate. As indicative of the belief in witchcraft in high quarters about the middle of last century, we find that, when the Bill for the repeal of the Act against witches was introduced into Parliament, in 1735, it was opposed by persons from whom better sense might have been expected. Notably among them is named a judge of our Supreme Law Court in Scotland. Let us look back, however, to years antecedent to 1735, and see how it fared with witches in Edinburgh and elsewhere.
Near the latter end of the sixteenth century, Janet Stewart, belonging to Edinburgh, Christian Levingstone, Bessie Aitken, residing in Leith, and Christina Sadler of Blackhouse, were noted witches, who did much mischief to persons and property.
James Reid was instructed by the devil how to heal infirm people by the application of silk-laces, south-running water, and grease. He cured Sarah Borthwick by giving her south-running water from the Schriff-breyis well, and casting salt and wheat about her.
Agnes Finnie, an indweller in the Potter-row, Edinburgh, was indicted before a judge and a jury, on twenty articles of indictment, charging her with witchcraft and sorcery. The libel set forth that she had been guilty of laying on and taking off grievous sickness and diseases from people. Under one count it was set forth that Finnie having had a difference in June preceding with Christina Dickson, the accused, in great wrath, uttered these words, "The devil ride about the town with you and yours," and that shortly thereafter the said Christina's daughter, in her return from Dalkeith to Edinburgh, fell and broke her leg, which was caused, if the libel was truly drawn up, by the devilish threats and sorceries of the said Agnes Finnie. By way of aggravation of her crimes, it was stated she had confessed, at her first examination before the South-west Kirk-session of Edinburgh, that she had been commonly called a rank witch. She was convicted of nearly all the charges brought against her, and suffered accordingly.
Alexander Hamilton, a warlock, was indicted for sorcery. He was enticed away by the devil (so the complainant made it appear), in the likeness of a black man, to Kingstoun Hills, East Lothian. In consideration of the poor man renouncing his baptism, and promising to obey his Satanic master, that grim contractor, on his part, engaged that the accused should never want. The panel thereafter often called Satan up by means of beating the ground three times with a fir-stick; and he answered to the summons, sometimes like a corbie, and sometimes like a cat or dog. By the devil's assistance, Hamilton injured those who hurt him. In particular, he burned Provost Cockburn's mill, full of corn, by pulling out three stalks of corn from the Provost's stacks, and burning them at Gairnetoune Hill. From the indictment it would appear the devil instructed him how to prepare an ointment from the oil of spikenard and heart's grease, to cure diseases. A lady of rank having offended him, he and two witches, in Salton Wood, raised the devil, who appearing, gave him the "bottom of blue due," and bade him lay it at the lady's door, and that the panel, having disposed of the "bottom of blue due," as directed, the lady and her eldest daughter died soon thereafter. All the charges being solemnly admitted by the criminal, he was worried at a stake and burned.
Janet Barker, a servant, confessed to the magistrates and ministers of Edinburgh that she had cured a young man who had been bewitched, by giving him a waistcoat she had received from the devil; and by placing under a door a black card which she had also obtained from Satan.
Margaret Hutchison was found guilty, in 1661, of being habit-and-repute a witch—a supposed fact spoken to by the young laird of Duddingston; and of putting a disease on her servant maid, and thereafter removing it to a cat, soon after found dead near the servant's bed.
Major Weir, who ended this life, or rather whose existence was ended, in Edinburgh in the year 1670, was an enchanter who performed many unaccountable actions in his day. According to the statement of his sister, his whole magical power proceeded from a staff he possessed. The major's sister had at the same time a distaff which often spun yarn for her without any one handling it. At night she left the distaff empty, and in the morning it was full.
In the year 1662 Agnes Williamson, residing at Samuelston, Haddingtonshire, was indicted for witchcraft. She was charged, inter alia, with taking the strength out of her neighbour's meal by her enchantments; with raising a whirlwind, and thereby throwing her neighbour Carfrae into the water, where he saw her and other witches swimming about; with telling a neighbour that Carfrae would lose five hundred merks, and, by her sorcery, setting fire to his malt kiln; with renouncing her baptism, and taking the new name of "Nannie Luckfoot." The jury brought in a verdict of guilty as to her being habit-and-repute a witch, but they acquitted her of all the other charges.
In the beginning of the seventeenth century Elizabeth Bathgate, spouse of Alexander Pae, maltman in Eyemouth, was prosecuted at the instance of the Lord Advocate for sorcery. The charges exhibited against her were eighteen in number, from which the following are selected:—
"Causing the death of George Sprot's child by giving it an enchanted egg. Throwing the said George Sprot into extreme poverty by her sorcery. Making a horse sweat to death through the same means, and killing an ox by dancing on the rigging of the byre in which the animal stood. Using conjurations and running withershinns in the mill of Eyemouth. Standing bare-legged in her 'sark-vallie-coat,' at twelve o'clock at night, conferring with the devil, who was dressed in green clothes. Receiving a horse shoe from the devil, and laying it in a secret part of the door, that all her business in-doors might prosper. Casting away and sinking George Huldie's ship with several persons therein."
After a long trial, she was acquitted.
In the year 1629 Isabella Young, spouse of George Smith, portioner, Eastbarns, was indicted for witchcraft and sorcery. There were many acts of witchcraft and sorcery libelled against her, extending over a period of many years. The Lords of Justiciary, before whom the trial took place, found her guilty, and sentenced her to be worried at a stake, and thereafter burned to ashes on the Castle Hill.
The Demon of Jedburgh—Recruiting Sergeant—Captain Douglas—An Apparition—Witch Shot in the form of a Cat—Isobel Gowdie, an Auldearne Witch—Sabbath Meetings with Satan—Poor Farmer Breadley—Disinterring Unbaptised Children—Strange Mixture—Singularly-constructed Plough—An equally singular Team—Attempt to shoot a Minister—Bessie Hay's Attempt to slay Harie Forbes—The Borrowstounness Witches—Their Trial and Sentence—A Pittenweem Witch—An Unearthly Horse—Merciful View of a Witch's Case—A Perthshire Witch—Water of Ruthven Well—A Changeling.
"The demon of Jedburgh" caused considerable annoyance in 1752. In that year Captain Archibald Douglas was on recruiting service in the town of Jedburgh. He had a sergeant under him, who asked permission to change his quarters, on account of the house in which he resided being haunted by a spirit of frightful form. The captain laughed at the inferior officer, and ordered him to stay in the lodgings appointed him.
At their next meeting the sergeant declared he had again seen an apparition, which threatened his life. Moved by a dream and the sergeant's statements, Captain Douglas resolved to inquire into the matters that so disturbed the non-commissioned officer. The latter told his superior that during the night a frightful spectre stood by his bed-side, that it changed into the shape of a black cat, jumped out at the window, and flew over the church steeple. Moreover, the sergeant informed the captain that he had learned the landlady was a witch, and the landlord possessed the faculty of second sight.
At night Captain Douglas accompanied the sergeant, and lay down beside him, leaving his sword and firearms near them. At midnight the captain was wakened by a noise, and, on looking up, observed a large black cat flying through the window. Presently the captain fired his pistol at the creature, and shot away one of its ears. Next morning the commissioned officer stepped into the kitchen to see what was going on there, when in came the landlady, and swooned away in a pool of blood. On removing her head-dress, he discovered a pistol-shot wound on one side of her face, and observed that one of her ears was gone. The officer swore he would bring her before the magistrates to have her tried as a witch. She and her husband entreated him to refrain from giving information to the authorities, and he, like a generous man, promised to keep silence, on the condition that they would abandon their wicked ways.
Isobel Gowdie, one of the Auldearne witches, was baptised by the devil, with whom she had many "Sabbath meetings." She and other witches appropriated Farmer Breadley's corn to themselves, and left him nothing but weeds. To secure the grain, they at one time disinterred an unbaptised infant, which, together with parings of their nails, ears of corn, and colewort leaves, they chopped and mixed together. At another time, to accomplish a similar object, a plough, having a colter and sock of rams' horns, was prepared, and a yoke of toads, instead of oxen, with dog-grass traces, made to draw it twice round the farmer's fields. The agricultural implement was held by the devil, and John Young, a warlock, goaded the team, while a band of witches followed, beseeching the ploughman to do his work effectually.
An attempt was made by the gang of witches to which Isobel Gowdie belonged, to shoot Harie Forbes, the minister of Auldearne, with elf arrows, shaped by the devil, and sharpened by his imps. Notwithstanding all this, the arrows missed the mark. Charms and incantations were next resorted to with the view of depriving the parish of a good useful parson, who had been instrumental, both in and out of the pulpit, in making Satan tremble. The flesh and gall of a toad, a hare's liver, barley grains, nail parings, mashed in water, were put into a bag. Bessie Hay, a celebrated witch, being intimate with Mr. Forbes, went into his room to slay him with the compound, but the good man was proof against infernal acts, and so escaped injury.
Certain witches—Annaple Thomson, Margaret Pringle, Margaret Hamiltown, relict of James Pollwart, William Craw, Bessie Wicker, and Margaret Hamilton, relict of Thomas Mitchell, sadly tormented Borrowstounness and other parts of Linlithgowshire, in the seventeenth century. Having entered into a paction with Satan, they did divers acts of wickedness, for which they were tried before Commissioners of Justiciary, specially appointed for the purpose by the Lords of His Majesty's Council. The indictment charged that:
"Ye, and ilk ane of you, are indytted and accused, that where, notwithstanding, be the law of God, particularly sett down in the 20 chapter of Leviticus, and eighteen chap. of Dewtronomie, and be the lawes and actes of parliament of this kingdome, and constant practiq thereof; particularlie be 73 act, 9 parliament, Q. Marie, the cryme of witchcraft is declared to be ane horreid, abominable, and capitall cryme, punishable with the paines of death and confiscatiown of moveables; never the less it is of veritie, that you have committed, and ar gwyltie of the said cryme of witchcraft, in swa far ye have entered in pactiown with the devill, the enemie of your salvatiown, and have renownced your baptizme, and have given your selffes, both soulles and bodies, to the devill, and have bein severall meetings with the devill, and wyth swndrie witches in diverse places: and particularlie, ye the said Annaple Thomsone had a metting with the devill the tyme of your weidowhood, before yow was married to your last husband, in your cwming betwixt Linlithgow and Borrowstownes, where the devill, in the lykness of ane black man, told yow that yow wis ane poore puddled bodie, and had ane evill lyiff, and difficultie to win throw the world; and promesed, iff ye wald followe him, and go alongst with him, yow should never want, but have ane better lyiff: and, abowt fyve wekes therefter, the devill appeired to yow when yow wis goeing to the coal-hill abowt sevin o'clock in the morning. Having renewed his former tentatiown, yow did condeschend thereto, and declared yowrselff content to follow him, and becwm his servant: and ye, and each persone of yow, wis at several mettings with the devill in the linkes of Borrowstownes, and in the howss of yow Bessie Vickar, and ye did eatt and drink with the devill, and with ane another, and with witches in hir howss in the night tyme; and the devill and the said Wm. Craw browght the ale which ye drank, extending to abowt sevin gallons, from the howss of Elizabeth Hamilton; and yow the said Annaple had ane other metting abowt fyve wekes ago, when yow wis goeing to the coal-hill of Grange, and he invitted yow to go alongest, and drink with him in the Grange pannes. And yow the said Margaret Pringil have bein ane witch thir many yeeres bygane; hath renownced yowr baptizme, and becwm the devill's servant, and promised to follow him; and he tuik you by the right hand, whereby it was, for eight days, grevowslie pained; but having it twitched of new againe, it imediatelie becam haill. And yow the said Margaret Hamiltown has bein the devill's servant these eight or nyne yeeres bygane; and he appered and conversed with yow at the toun-well at Borrowstownes, and several tymes in yowr awin howss, and drank several choppens of ale with yow; and the devill gave yow ane fyve merk piece of gold, whilk a lyttill efter becam ane sklaitt stane. And yow the said Margaret Hamiltown, relict of James Pullwart, has bein ane witch, and the devill's servant thertie yeeres since, hath renwncid yowr baptizme, as said is. And ye, and ilk ane of yow, wis at ane metting with the devill and wther witches at the croce of Murestaine, above Kinneil, upon the threttin of October last, where yow all danced, and the devill acted the pyiper, and where yow endeavored to have destroyed Andrew Mitchell, sone to John Mitchell, elder in Dean of Kinneil."
Then followed the order and warrant for burning the witches named in the indictment, couched and signed as follows:—
"Forsameikle as Annabil Thomson widdow in Borrowstownes, Margaret Prinkle relict of John Campbell ther, Margaret Hamiltown relict of James Pollwart ther, William Craw indweller ther, Bessie Wicker relict of James Pennie ther, and Margaret Hamiltown relict of Thomas Mitchell ther, prisoners in the tolbuith of Borrowstownes, are found guiltie be ane assyse, of the abominable cryme of witchcraft committed be them in manner mentioned in their dittayes, and are decerned and adjudged be us under subscryvers (commissioners of justiciary speciallie appoynted to this effect) to be taken to the west end of Borrowstownes, the ordinar place of execution ther, upon Tuesday the twentie-third day of December current, betwixt two and four o'cloack in the efternoon, and there be wirried at a steack till they be dead, and thereafter to have their bodies burnt to ashes. These therefoir require and command the baylie principal off the regalitie of Borrowstownes, and his deputts, to see the said sentence and doom put to dew execution in all poynts, as yes will be answerable. Given under our hands at Borrowstownes the nynteenth day of December 1679 years,
"W. DUNDAS. "RICH. ELPHENSTONE. "WA. SANDILANDS. "J. CORNWALL. "J. HAMILTON."
Beatrix Laing, a Pittenweem witch, became a most resentful woman. Because a young lad refused to give her a few nails, she, by means of putting burning coals and water into a wooden vessel, cast a grievous sickness on the young man, which made him swell prodigiously. For this she was cast into prison, pricked, and kept without sleep for five nights and days, to make her confess her dealings in charms and witchcraft generally. After considerable delay, a confession of guilt was extracted from the woman. Among other things, she told of a big black horse that had come to her with five packs of wool. Beatrix gave the animal to her husband, but the good man soon desired to get rid of the beast. It did not look like any other horse he had ever seen; neither whip nor stick would drive it away. Under the peculiar circumstances, the poor man consulted his wife as to what was best to be done. Long deliberation was uncalled for. "Go," said Beatrix, "cast his bridle on his neck, and you will get rid of him." The docile and alarmed husband did as instructed; and lo, the black horse flew off with a great noise. Repeated attempts were made by the magistrates of Pittenweem to induce the Privy Council to bring Beatrix to trial. The Earl of Balcarres and Lord Anstruther, members of the Council, looked on her as a dreamer, and obtained her discharge after five months incarceration. This act of clemency filled the Pittenweem people with rage: they drove her from home and habitation. Hungry and cold, she wandered about for many days, till death ended her sufferings.
A Perthshire witch cured little children by various charms. A cake made of meal obtained from nine several women was an infallible medicine, when eaten by a little sufferer; and a decoction of certain herbs, infused in water from the well of Ruthven, carried by one going to and returning from the spring, silently and alone, was an invaluable preparation. A neighbour, named John Gow, had a changeling left in his house in place of a beautiful infant, belonging to him, stolen by the fairies. The sickly-looking creature proved a source of great annoyance to him and his spouse, but, thanks to a witch, it was got rid of: a dose of her medicine administered to the disguised fairy proved sufficient to despatch it to fairyland, or to some other unknown place.
Witchcraft in Aberdeen—Dean of Guild rewarded for his Diligence in burning Witches—Trial of Thomas Leyis for Witchcraft—Found Guilty—Expense of burning Thomas Leyis—Expense of burning Janet Wischert and Isobel Cocker—The Marquis of Huntly's Desire to punish Witches—Action of the Presbytery anent Witches—Helen Fraser—Man under the Protection of the Fairy Queen—Janet Wischert causing a Man to melt away like a Candle—Ruining a Man and his Wife—Margaret Clark's Power—Strathdown Witches—Merry Wives—Transforming Besoms into the Likeness of Women—Riding on Brooms—Crossing the Spey in Riddles—Disappearance of Witches—Madge M'Donald of Tomintoul—Witches' Pool—A Mountain Tale—Girl controlling the Elements—Witch Burned—Caithness Witches—Margaret Olson, one of the Evil Sisterhood—Investigation by the Sheriff—Margaret Nin-Gilbert—Helen Andrew—Shetland Witches—An Orkney Lady—Mary Lamont of Innerkip.
Judging from the number of persons burned for alleged supernatural acts in Aberdeen—sometimes as many as twenty-three in a year—that city must have been a hotbed of witches. To hunt down witches there, and to bring them to the stake, met with general approval. Men in public office, noble lords, ecclesiastics, and the common people joined in the hunt, with results truly appalling. Under date 21st September 1597, the provost, bailies, and council showed their appreciation of the diligence of William Dunn in the discharge of his duties as dean of guild; and "besides, of his extraordinary pains in the burning of a great number of witches, and four pirates, and bigging of the port on the brig of Dee."
They "theirfor, in recompens of his extraordinarie panis, and in satisfaction theirof (not to induce any preparative to deanes of guild to crave a recompence heirafter), but to incurage ithers to travel also diligentlie in the discharge of thair office, grantit and assignit to him the sum of L47, 3s. 4d. owin be him of the rest of his account of the unlawis of the persons convict for slaying of black fische, and dischargit him theirof be their presentis for ever."
Thomas Leyis, a stabler in Aberdeen, fell a victim to the over-zeal of his fellow-citizens at this time, the chief of whom was, no doubt, the indefatigable dean of guild. Leyis appeared before the Court of Justiciary held in the tolbooth of Aberdeen, to answer to the undermentioned charges:—
"Imprimis, upon Hallowein last bypast, at twelff houris at even or thairby, thow, the said Thomas Leyis, accompaneit with umquhil Janett Wischert, Isobel Coker, Isobel Monteithe, Kathren Mitchell, relict of umquhil Charles Dun, litster, sorceraris and witches, with ane gryt number of ither witches, cam to the mercat and fish cross of Aberdene, under the conduct and gyding of the dewill, present with you all in company, playing before you on his kynd of instruments. Ye all dansit about baythe the said crosse and the meill mercate ane lang space of tym; in the quhilk dewill's dans thow, the said Thomas, was foremost and led the ring, and dang the said Kathren Mitchell, because she spoilt your dans, and ran nocht sa fast about as the rest. Testifeit be the said Kathren Mitchell, quha was present with thee at the tym foresaid, dansin with the dewill.
"Secundus, the said Thomas Leyis is accusit as a common notorious witche, in using of witchcraft and sorcerie these dyvers years bygane.
"The haill assis, in ane voce for the maist pairt (except thrie), convicts and fyllis Thomas Leyis in the first poynt, that he was the ringleader of the dans on Hallowein last night about the croce, and in either speciall poynts, and as a notorious witche be oppen voce and common fame." [Thomas was burned.]
The following figures show the expenses incurred in burning the said unfortunate man:
"Item, for peattis, tar barrellis, fir, and coallis, to burn the said Thomas, and to Jon Justice for his fie in executing him L2 13 4"
EXPENSES OF BURNING JANET WISCHERT AND ISOBEL COCKER IN ABERDEEN:
"Item, for twenty loads of peattis to burn them L2 0 0 Item, for ane boll of coillis 1 4 0 Item, for four tar barrellis 1 6 8 Item, for fir and win barrellis 0 16 8 Item, for a staik, and dressing of it 0 16 0 Item, for four fadomes of towis 4 0 0 Item, for careing the peattis, coallis, and barrellis to the hill 0 13 4 Item, to Jon Justice for their execution 0 13 4"
Another instance of the Aberdonian zeal for the punishment of witches appears on 6th January 1603. A minute of the presbytery says:
"The quhilk day, anent the desyre of the Marques of Huntlie desyring the presbyterie to tak tryell of the witches, and consultares with them, and to send to his Lordship the delatioun, with the names of sic as were maist meitt to pass upon the assyse and tryell of them. The presbyterie, for obedience heirto, ordanit every minister within their precinct to tak ane subtill and privie inquisition therein—viz. ilk minister, with tua of his elderis that fearis God and are maist zealous of his glorie, at ilk particular kirk respective, tak the aithes of the inhabitants within their charge, quhat they know of witches and consultaris with them, and wreitt their depositions, and return the same to the presbyterie, with the names of sic as are metest to be assyssours to them, that the same may be sent to the Marques with all hastie expedition, conform to the desyre of his Lordship's lettre, and his Lordship may charge them."
Helen Fraser, an Aberdeen witch, caused Robert Merchant, a married man, to fall in love with Isobel Bruce, a widow—an unholy affection that continued to the day Fraser was burned.
Andrew Man, an old Aberdonian, considered himself under the protection of the fairy queen, who imparted to him a knowledge of all things, and gave him the gift of healing every disease except one—the "stand deid"—the nature of which is unknown to us. By putting a patient nine times through a hank of unwashed yarn, and a cat as often through it in the opposite direction, he cast the disease on the cat, and thereby cured the invalid.
Janet Wischert, the expense of whose execution has been given, was a prominent witch in the north. She caused a man to melt away like a burning candle; she ruined a husband and his wife, by causing them to put nine grains of wheat in the corners of their house; she raised a wind, by putting a piece of live coal at two doors, whereby she was enabled to winnow some corn for herself, when none of her neighbours could winnow for want of wind.
Margaret Clark had the power of transferring pains from one person to another. She gave a valuable charm to a widow in search of a second husband. It was to be worn round her neck until she saw the man she loved best. When she met him she was to rub her face with the enchanted ornament, which would prove sufficient to induce the loved one to return the affection. Of the success of this scheme there is not sufficient proof; but there can be no doubt that, by means of charms, she (Clark) made a cruel husband leave off beating his wife. Clark was accustomed to attend a convention of twenty thousand witches, presided over by Satan, at Athole.
Strathdown, a wild romantic place in the north Highlands of Scotland, has long been celebrated for its witches, warlocks, ghosts, and fairies. An excellent story is told of two witches in that strath, who performed extraordinary feats through Satanic power.
An honest hard-working farmer there was constantly in great poverty. His cattle died, his sheep were worried, his ploughs broken, and his carts often overturned. Everything he did proved unprofitable. His cows' milk was bewitched; the cream would not turn into butter, the hens laid few eggs, and the chickens never throve. These misfortunes happened because he and his wife disregarded the traditions of their native country. How could they and theirs thrive? There was not an old horse-shoe nailed to one of their doors; no rowan tree lay above either door or window lintel; and the cattle were permitted to feed on the hill-side, without red thread tied round their tails. In short, the married couple lived as if no witches nor evil beings were among the glens and mountains, and as if they did not require to evoke the aid of the wise men and women in their parish.
The farmer had two neighbours, by no means noted for industry; still they throve. Their wives were comely happy creatures, beloved by close companions and friends. On one occasion, when the unfortunate farmer's wife was complaining to the other two farmers' wives, they told her that if she would take their advice she would become prosperous like them. She consented to follow their counsel. The first thing the witches did (for, as the sequel will show, they were witches deeply learned in Satan's wicked ways) was to impose on the novice a vow of secrecy; then to direct her, when going to bed, to take with her the besom, and, when her husband was asleep, to rise and come to them, leaving the besom beside him, and it would assume her appearance, so that he could not miss her.
The poor man's wife, having done as directed, hurried out to join her companions, whom she found ready to start on a journey. They had torches to light them on their way, brooms to ride on through the air, and riddles to ferry them over the rapid running Spey; for they had a meeting that night, on the north side of this river, with kindred spirits and the ruler of darkness. Every one of the three women bestrode a broom, and away they went over mountain and glen. A few minutes brought them to the Spey, where they alighted in safety. The experienced witches at once launched their riddles to cross the water; but the third woman hesitated to trust herself in the open agricultural implement. Impatient at delay, her companions urged her to follow them. Never did lover seem more anxious to meet lover than those two witches were to join the beings on the other side, engaged in mirth and revelry. At the foot of a mountain near by (on the top of which the ancient inhabitants of the north used to worship the sun and fire) orgies were being carried on, while the top seemed to be in flames. Sweet music saluted the ear, and a savoury smell arose from a huge table, on which were spread a thousand dishes. A tall man with swarthy complexion, as if he had come from a warm clime, stood to welcome all comers; and truly there were many hastening to the revel. Women flew as swiftly as if they were crows, and crossed the river as readily in their riddles as if they were mermaids. The novice became greatly alarmed, and crossed herself repeatedly. Just as the wicked witches reached the middle of the stream, she exclaimed, "Holy Mother, confound them!" The words had scarcely escaped from her lips, before the lights were extinguished and horrid yells of despair sounded far and near.
Left alone in such a fearful place, the poor woman began to think what she could do. Remembering her distance from home, she felt at first inclined to bestride a broom and fly back; but second thoughts brought to mind the fate of her two unfortunate companions, whom she believed were drowned. Resolved to walk, or rather run, back to her abode before morning dawn, she went forward over moorland wilds, staying not, nor even looking behind, until she entered her own house and barred the door. Husband and besom occupied the bed as on the previous night. Removing the latter, she quietly took its place, but not to sleep; for her nervous system had received a severe shock—indeed so much so, that for more than a week she did not rise.
Meantime the two lost women were missed; and the inhabitants far and near turned out to search for them. Every effort to discover them, dead or alive, proved unsuccessful.
When ordinary efforts to find the women failed, the disconsolate husbands sought the advice of Madge Macdonald, the wise woman of Tomintoul. This important person told the husbands there was a person not far away who could tell about the women's disappearance, and that if she did not speak out, she (Madge Macdonald) would see what could be done. Madge commenced muttering to herself, "East, west, south, north; east, west, south, north." This she said several times, and then followed a long pause. A new idea seemed to strike her; and she abruptly asked the farmers if either or both missed any of their besoms or riddles. They had not; but, search being made, sure enough, each husband missed a besom and a riddle. "So I thought," said Madge at their next interview; and then added, "Look for your wives in the Spey." No time was lost in following the woman's advice. A search was made from the source of the Spey to the ocean, without any trace of the bodies being obtained; but, most extraordinary, the riddles were found near the "Witches' Pool," a deep part of the river, known by this name to the present day.
A startling mountain tale is given of a girl who could control the elements by means of magical power. The story runs thus:—A little girl, walking with her father on his land, heard him complain of drought and want of rain. "Why, father," said the child, "I can make it rain or hail when and where I list." He asked from whom she had obtained such power. She replied, from her mother, who had forbidden her to divulge the secret. In violation, however, of a solemn promise, she said her mother had committed her to a master that did everything she desired. "Why, then," said her father, "make it rain, but only on one field." So she went to a stream, threw up water in her master's name, and presently it rained. Proceeding further, she made it hail on another field, when no hail fell elsewhere. Hereupon the father accused his wife of witchcraft, caused her to be burned, and of new had his child christened.
Witchcraft continued in all its phases in the first quarter of the eighteenth century. In the year 1718 the Caithness witches were particularly active. Margaret Olson, one of the evil sisterhood, tormented William Montgomerie, a mason at Scrabster, and his family. She became displeased at him in consequence of his coming into possession of a property from which she had been expelled. To work out her evil design, she and certain associates transformed themselves into the form of cats. One night there appeared in Montgomerie's house no fewer than eight cats, not mewing nor caterwauling, but speaking with human voices. As this kind of annoyance could not be endured, the mason boldly attacked them with a sword, and so seriously cut one of the feline crew that it appeared to be dead. Mangled, and seemingly lifeless, the carcass was cast into the open air. Next morning it could not be seen. A few nights afterwards the cats or fiends appeared again in full force, less one, and attacked a servant-man as he lay in bed. Montgomerie rushed to the rescue, thrust a dirk through the body of one of the intruders, beat it on the head with an axe, and threw the dead-like cat out before the door, as he had done with its former companion. Next day it could not be found. Rumour, with its thousand tongues, spread the report that Margaret Nin-Gilbert, a confederate of Olson, was one of the cats which had been seemingly killed. Proof was adduced that one of Margaret's neighbours saw her at her own door drop one of her legs, black and putrefied. The Sheriff-depute of Caithness-shire ordered her to be apprehended, and, when judicially interrogated, she confessed being the devil's servant. She also admitted it was she who, in the similitude of a cat, had been thrust through with a dirk and smashed by William Montgomerie. She did not attempt to deny that the neighbour who saw her leg falling off spoke the truth. She delated four women of evil repute, two of whom were Margaret Olson and Helen Andrew, the latter being the witch cut with a sword when appearing like a cat to Montgomerie. Poor Helen's injuries proved fatal; for she died, when thrown out, like a lifeless quadruped; and Nin-Gilbert soon followed her companion in sin to the grave, her broken gangrened leg having brought about her demise. Several years afterwards (1722), as seen in page 491, or, as Sheriff Barclay says, in 1727, the law was for the last time put into execution against a reputed witch in Great Britain, viz. in the county of Sutherland, a northern shire of Scotland.
Dunrossness had a witch in the middle of the seventeenth century that plagued the Shetlanders. A boat's crew having given her offence, she determined to procure their untimely end. To accomplish her diabolical purpose, she put a wooden cap into a tub of water, and then began to sing (presumably to the devil), in order that a storm might be raised, and the fishermen at sea drowned. As she sang, the water in the tub became greatly troubled, and ultimately it was so exceedingly agitated that the cap turned upside down. As the cap toppled over she exclaimed, "The turn's done." A few hours afterwards, word reached Dunrossness that the fishermen against whom she entertained the grudge were drowned.
In the beginning of the seventeenth century a cunning woman in Shetland succeeded, through diabolical art, in transferring a sore disease, which afflicted her husband, to the body of a neighbour.
An old Orkney lady removed diseases by pulling mill-foil in a particular way, repeating a few Latin words—sometimes benedictions, but more frequently maledictions—and performing certain mysterious operations at the marches of two estates.
Mary Lamont, eighteen years of age, residing at Innerkip in the year 1662, had power, like the girl mentioned in page 535, to control the elements. She could raise storms, and, if a tempest was desired in the Clyde or at sea, she only required to throw small charmed stones into the flowing tide. Then there were plenty of ships lost and men drowned. She and her diabolical companions not unfrequently made their power felt at Campbeltown, now famous for its whisky, and at the Mull of Kintyre, where many a sailor has perished on its dangerous shore, amidst the raging of the sea and roaring of the storm.
Neither Police nor Medical Men much required in Olden Times—Instruments of Torture—Torture declared Illegal—Case of John Felton—Berkly Witch—Attempt on the Life of Edward II.—Master John of Nottingham—Escape of Coventry Necromancers from Justice—Ursley Kempe alias Gray—Annis Herd's Imps—Paying Blackmail to Witches—The Rutland Family bewitched—Witchcraft of a Mother and her two Daughters—A Pendle Witch—Strange Narrative—Essex Witches—Witches of Northamptonshire—Bullet-proof Witch—Drawing Blood above the Temples—Anne Bodenham foretelling how a Law-plea would be decided—Strange Proceedings—Discovering Concealed Poison—Performing Spirits—Ride to London through the Air—Anne Bodenham dying Impenitent.
Our forefathers did not so much require a detective police force nor medical men as we do. If thefts were committed, or persons became sick, cunning men or uncanny women were sent for. As rule, the offences or diseases were traced to witches or other missionaries of Satan. A suspected person received neither justice nor mercy at the hands of judges and juries. Instruments of torture were applied to wring out false self-accusations against the unhappy individual under trial. Thumbkins, or thumb-screws, were tightened on the hands; boots with wedges were put on the feet; and the flesh was torn with red-hot pincers. These and other instruments were used to make persons speak; and again, when one spoke too much, or said what became unpleasant, a gag secured silence. In addition to the torture inflicted by such articles as we have enumerated, suspected criminals were not unfrequently put in the stocks and jugs, whipped at a "cart tail," made to stand bare-headed and bare-footed before the public, or exposed in sackcloth at a church door or the market cross, to be gazed at, laughed at, and sometimes to be pelted by onlookers, rendered cruel and superstitious by their rulers and spiritual advisers.
All things have an end. Examinations by torture were declared illegal in this country in 1628, yet, notwithstanding such a declaration, examinations under torment were resorted to in 1640. As an instance of the danger of torturing a criminal, not to speak of its inhumanity, we notice the case of John Felton, accused of assaulting the Duke of Buckingham in the year last above mentioned. On the Bishop of London proposing to put Felton on the rack with the view of obtaining from him the names of his associates, the criminal replied, "If it must be so, I know not whom I may accuse in the extremity of pain—Bishop Laud, or perhaps any lord at this board." But we return to our proper subject.
An appalling story of an English witch comes down to us from the ninth century. The Berkly witch was rich and gay, living, to all appearance, a life of pleasure; but, having sold herself to the devil, a sad day of reckoning came at last. Before her death she called on the monks and nuns of a monastery, to whom she confessed that she had entered into a compact with Satan, who would, after her death, snatch away body and soul, unless prevented by means she explained. According to directions, her body was sewed into a stag's skin, and placed in a stone coffin, strongly secured with an iron chain. If the holy men and women, she said, could prevent the devil for three days from getting her, he could not after that time injure either her body or spirit. Faithfully did the monks and nuns watch over the witch's dead body, protected as far as iron, stone, and lead could do. On the first two nights minor demons kept up a loud howling. On the third night the monastery swarmed with more powerful demons, one of whom proved so strong and terrible that he shook the sacred edifice to its foundation. In spite of all the precautions taken, the big fiend burst into the church, went straight to the witch's coffin, and commanded her to follow him. With faltering tongue the dead woman said she could not stir, as she was chained down. A slight twist of his hand broke the chain into two pieces. Slowly the corpse rose; and the devil dragged his prey to the door, where stood a horse breathing fire. Away went horse, devil, and witch down to the infernal abode.
King Edward II. of England and two of his favourites had an attempt made on their lives by persons who sought the assistance of Master John of Nottingham, a famous necromancer. John agreed, for a money consideration, to assist them. He made wax images, representing his Majesty and the other gentlemen intended for death. The necromancer, his assistant, and twenty-seven Coventry men were tried for the foul offence, but escaped punishment, the evidence against them proving insufficient to warrant a conviction.
Ursley Kempe alias Gray, an English witch, killed many of her near neighbours. If her own statement could be relied on, she possessed four imps. Two of them had power to kill, but the other two could do no more than punish men and beasts with lameness. Other witches in the neighbourhood where Ursley lived controlled imps that wrought mischief on all sides, until they became a terror to the country.
Annis Herd had six little spirits like blackbirds, and six resembling cows, though not larger than rats.
About the beginning of the seventeenth century a grievous affliction befell the Earl and Countess of Rutland's family. Their eldest son died; their second son was seized with severe sickness; and their daughter, Lady Catherine, suffered from a severe malady. Witchcraft lay at the root of the whole matter. Johan Flower, a widow, and her two daughters, Philip and Margaret, were the suspected witches. They were brought before a magistrate. Philip stated that the evils referred to had been brought on the Earl's family by her mother and sister, because the latter, a servant at the castle, had been dismissed. Margaret, by desire of her mother, stole the eldest son's right-hand glove and carried it home. The mother, who had an imp or evil spirit like a cat, rubbed the glove on the cat's back, ordering it to go and kill Lord Henry (the eldest son); and it set off to perform the devilish work assigned it. That the deed might be the more quickly performed, Johan put the glove into boiling water, pricked it with pins, and buried it. Lord Henry died.
A glove of Lord Francis (the second son) was operated on in a similar manner; but, his life not being desired, he sickened only. Lady Catherine's malady was caused by a process similar to that which killed one of her brothers and brought her other brother nigh death's door. Philip admitted she had an imp like a white rat, which made Thomas Simpson love her. Margaret had two spirits, to whom she had sold herself, soul and body. Johan's spirits told her she would neither be burned nor hanged—a prediction verified; for she died from some unknown cause on the way to prison. The two daughters suffered the extreme penalty of the law.
Edmund Robinson, a boy about eleven years of age, living at Pendle in 1632, told his friends remarkable stories about witches. One day two greyhounds with golden collars came to him, and, because they would not chase a hare that happened to pass, he tied the dogs to a bush, and began to beat them. While the work of castigation proceeded, one of the hounds became like the wife of a man named Dickenson, living in the neighbourhood, and the other hound turned into the shape of a little boy. The woman beseeched Robinson not to tell she was a witch. Little Edmund imprudently said he would not keep the secret, whereupon she transformed the boy that had appeared as a greyhound into a white horse. Dickenson's wife took Edmund, and mounted the horse with him. Before they had ridden more than a quarter of a mile they came to a new house, where threescore persons were assembled at a splendid entertainment. Ample supplies came down by six visitors pulling as many ropes. By this operation smoking-hot joints, lumps of butter, and milk in abundance fell into basins placed under the ropes. Little Edmund ran away, but before he reached his father's house a boy with cloven feet attacked him most unmercifully, cutting his face and ears. What the result would have been none can tell, had not two horsemen come forward and rescued Edmund from the evil spirit. The case being reported to Charles I., he instructed one of his bishops to make special inquiry into the matter. The bishop did not credit the boy's statement, so the king ordered the liberation of several women identified by the boy as having been concerned in the witch proceedings at the new house.
At one time a band of Essex witches, numbering not less than thirteen, killed people, cattle, and horses, caused sickness, destroyed milk, beer, and batches of bread by their wicked arts, and sent their imps to burn dwelling houses, barns, and corn.
The witches of Northamptonshire were famous in their day and generation. Agnes Brown and Johan Vaughan were grievously implicated. They, out of revenge against Mrs. Belcher for insulting Johan, Agnes Brown's daughter, griped and gnawed the lady's body, and put her mouth awry. Mrs. Belcher's brother, Alexander, went to the witches' house to draw their blood, and thereby counteract their enchantments. He repeatedly struck at them, but some unseen power warded off the blows. He returned home without performing the task he undertook, and without doing his sister any good. Naturally enough, Agnes Brown and Johan were offended at the attempted outrage; and they, by their witchcraft, laid the young man on a bed of sickness. The witches were apprehended and lodged in Northampton gaol. Hither did Mrs. Belcher and her brother proceed, to draw blood of the witches. They succeeded in performing the operation, which we presume was done by cutting them above the mouth; for if the blood is not spilled "above the breath" in a case of this kind, the sanguinary deed is of no avail. The afflicted man and woman found relief for a short space of time. Scarcely, however, had they left the prison than their pains returned with double torment. That was not all. As they drove along in a coach, a man and woman, riding on a black horse, suddenly appeared. The sight was taken as an omen of mischief; and so it happened; for the horses of Mrs. Belcher and her brother fell down dead on the road.
Once upon a time, when the Earl of Essex and his army were marching through Newbury, they saw a woman crossing a river on a narrow plank, and otherwise conducting herself, so as to make them conclude she was a witch. The soldiers caught her, and, by desire of their captain, two of them shot at her. With loud laughter and derision, she caught the bullets in her hands and threw them back. One daring fellow went close to the woman and discharged his carbine at her breast, but the bullet rebounded without taking effect. Another soldier tried to cut her down with his sword, but his arm lost its power. All efforts to kill her proved abortive, until blood was drawn from above the witch's temples, and then she fell by a pistol shot under her ear.
Anne Bodenham, an English witch, told fortunes, kept imps, and held intercourse with the devil. She could raise storms, and kill and cure at pleasure. There was a law-plea between Richard Goddard and Mr. Mason, his son-in-law. Anne Styles went to inquire at Anne Bodenham how the law-suit would be decided. Bodenham made a circle on the floor with her staff, and then placed a book, a green glass, and a pan of coals, within the circle. Suddenly a high wind rose, which made the house shake; and five puny devils resembling ragged boys entered the circle, followed by Bodenham's dog and cat. Boys, dog, and cat danced round the pan of coals. After deep thought, the woman took up her book and read part of it, then she threw white seeds to the spirits, which they picked up. Dancing commenced again, and again the woman Bodenham read her book. At last she went out at the back door, followed by her sprites; and the wind, which kept blowing a furious blast all the time, ceased. Alone the witch returned, and told the messenger how the law-suit would terminate.
At another time Anne Styles went, by order of Mrs. Goddard, to learn from Bodenham where a quantity of poison, concealed by the lady's two step-daughters, could be found. The witch went through all the ceremonies formerly performed, and the sprites acted their parts. One of the boys, however, on this occasion turned into a snake, and afterwards into a dog. Herbs that caused a noisome smell were burned, the book was again consulted, and a glass produced, in which Styles saw Mrs. Goddard's bed-chamber, and the poison concealed below a pillow. To punish the young ladies for their diabolical intention, Anne Bodenham sent Mrs. Goddard powdered leaves and the parings of her finger nails, to operate injuriously on their stomachs and brains. The witch offered to carry Anne Styles through the air to London—an offer that was not accepted. Bodenham often changed herself into the form of a black cat of enormous size. The witch had a tame toad that she constantly kept in a small bag, suspended from her neck. She could say the Creed backwards as well as forwards. She was condemned to death, and died impenitent, refusing to listen to psalm-singing or prayers.
Glasgow, like other towns, did not lack witches and warlocks, nor did it permit its burning faggots to be extinguished. The fury against such members of society may be judged of when it is known that repentance stools, pillars, and jugs were made, and whips prepared for ordinary church offenders—when it is known that scolding women were stuck up in jugs and branks in the most public places of Glasgow—when it is known that holy men and women were burned alive there for adhering to the principles of the Reformation—when it is known that men and women were imprisoned and whipped every day during the kirk-session's pleasure, for offences now considered venial—when it is known that, for a breach of the seventh commandment, some were carted through the streets, whipped, and thereafter banished from the town; that others, for a violation of the said commandment, were fined and ordained to stand at the cross with "fast bands of iron about their craigs, and papers on their foreheads, bareheaded, and without cloaks or plaids;" and that others again, for similar offences, were carted through the town, and lowered by means of a pulley from the Glasgow Bridge and ducked in the Clyde.
In 1649 the session requested all who knew any acts of witchcraft or sorcery against witches and warlocks in Glasgow to intimate the same to the ministers and magistrates, that the offenders might be proceeded against with rigour. As a proof that "the work goes bonnily on" (as Mr. David Dickson, professor of divinity, said on seeing Sir Walter Rollock, Sir Philip Nisbet, and Ogilvie of Inverquharty led to execution in 1645), we mention that, so frequent were the prosecutions against witches and warlocks in Glasgow, that the magistrates, in 1698, considered it expedient to bargain with the jailor for the keep of witches and warlocks imprisoned in the tolbooth by order of the Lords Commissioners of Justiciary.
Paisley would appear to have been a western centre for witches. In fact, if tradition and written history can be relied on, Renfrew, with Paisley for its capital, suffered more from witchcraft than almost any other county in Scotland. Mr. D. Semple informs us that, so recently as 1697, six poor creatures were convicted of this crime before the regality of Paisley, and were "worrit" and burned to death on the Gallows Green. So audacious were those in league with Satan, that they assailed men in high position as well as those in low degree. John P—— and others were indicted in 1692 for slandering, calumniating, reproaching, and taking away the good name of John Adams, late bailie of Paisley, and others; and for drinking the devil's health. Being found guilty, they were ordered "to go to the stair-foot of Bailie Adams, and confess they scandalised; and if not, to be taken to the mercatt cross of Paisley, with a paper on their breast, bearing these words in great letters: 'We stand here for scandalising,' etc. They all obeyed but Janet Fife, on whom the sentence was executed." Mr. Hector, sheriff-clerk of Renfrewshire, from whose work on the peculiar trials of his county we are quoting, remarks, "If this wholesome treatment was more carried out, we would have fewer long tongues."
Paying Blackmail to Witches—Breach of Contract with a Witch—Demon of Tedworth—Mysterious Drum—A Persecuted Family prayed for—Unaccountable Sounds and Sights—Satan's Audible Responses—Drummer found guilty of Sorcery—Raising Storms—A Wizard in Cromwell's Army—Florence Newton—Aldermen's Children bewitched to Death—Man kissed to Death in Youghal Prison—Witch unable to say the Lord's Prayer—Julian Cox, an old Taunton Witch—Woman in shape of a Hare—Bewitched Cattle—Mode of discovering a Witch—Selling a Soul to the Devil—Witch Executed—A Song of the Seventeenth Century.
In the seventeenth century it was not uncommon for people in England to secure themselves against witchcraft after the manner Lowland Scotchmen protected themselves from Highland robbers—by paying "blackmail." In 1612 John Davice, a Lancashire man, agreed to give a dangerous witch, residing near him, a quantity of meal annually, on condition that she would not bewitch him or his. She adhered to her part of the contract, but Davice, like a foolish fellow, ceased to implement his part of it. The covenant being broken, he was no longer safe, and she bewitched him to death.
Many have heard of the Demon of Tedworth, in the county of Wilts, in the year 1661. Mr. John Mompesson, of Tedworth, hearing a drum beaten one day, inquired what it meant. The bailiff told him that the people had for some days been troubled with an idle drummer, who demanded money from them. On learning this, Mr. Mompesson sent for the man, and, on his coming, commanded him to lay aside his drum. At the same time the gentleman directed the constable to carry the disturber of the peace before a magistrate, in order to have him punished. The fellow begged earnestly to have his drum, but it was not thought advisable to let him have it; therefore it was kept in Mr. Mompesson's house.
About a month after the drummer's apprehension, Mr. Mompesson's family were sadly annoyed by violent knocking and drumming—at times apparently in the house, and at other times seemingly on the house-top. This disturbance continued for weeks without much change, but then the annoyance became unbearable. An offensive smell pervaded the house; boards danced through rooms and passages by day; and at night, drumming was heard for hours together in the apartment where the drum lay.
To administer comfort, if not to afford protection, to the family, the minister and divers pious neighbours came to the house to pray. The clergyman knelt down at a bed-side, but soon rose again, to avoid being injured by shoes and other missiles thrown at him. Singing was sometimes heard, blue lights were seen, doors closed and opened with a bang ten times in as many minutes, although no one could be seen near them. During the time of a more than ordinary alarm, when many people were present, a gentleman said, "Satan, if the drummer set thee to work, give three knocks, and no more." Three knocks immediately followed. For further trial, the gentleman said, "If the drummer has instructed thee, Satan, to molest this innocent family, give five knocks, and no more, to-night." Five knocks were given in response, which were the last knockings heard before next day.
One morning Mr. Mompesson, seeing a quantity of wood in a corner of the house, discharged a pistol at the sticks, as he thought a person lay concealed under them. On their being removed, no one could be seen, but a pool of blood met the eye. For a whole year the family suffered by the wicked arts of the vagabond drummer. For his malicious doings he was tried at the Salisbury assizes. On the evidence of the parish minister, and of other intelligent witnesses, he was found guilty of sorcery, and condemned to transportation. It is reported that, on the voyage to the penal settlements, he alarmed the sailors and endangered the ship, by raising storms which almost engulphed the vessel. The drummer told a few confidential companions that he had served in Cromwell's army with another soldier, a well-known wizard, who instructed him in the magical art.
Florence Newton was committed to Youghal prison the same year (1661) for witchcraft. The mayor of Youghal, in giving evidence against her, said there were three aldermen, whose children had been bewitched to death by the accused kissing the little ones. The indictment also contain a charge against her for bewitching David Jones to death, by kissing his hand through the prison grating. It appears that Jones and Francis Besely were watching Newton one night in the prison, to see if she had any familiars resorting to her. David Jones told the prisoner that he had heard she could not say the Lord's Prayer, to which she replied that she could. They found, however, that she could not repeat it. David tried to instruct her; but, all he could do, she would not utter the words, "Forgive us our trespasses." Seemingly grateful for his assistance, she asked him to come near her, that she might kiss his hand. He stretched out his hand, and she kissed it through a window protected with iron bars. Subsequently Jones told deponent that ever since the old hag kissed his hand he felt ill. At times he imagined she was pulling his arm. The court found Newton guilty of witchcraft, and she fell a victim to the popular superstition of her time.
Julian Cox, aged seventy years, was indicted at Taunton summer assizes in the year 1663, before Judge Archer, for witchcraft practised upon a young maid. The evidence against her was divided into two heads: first, to prove her habit and repute a witch; secondly, to prove her guilty of the witchcraft mentioned in the indictment.
The first witness, a huntsman, swore that, while out with a pack of hounds to hunt a hare, not far from Julian Cox's house, he started one. The dogs chased the creature very close, so that it was fain to take shelter in a bush. He ran to protect the hare from being torn; and great was his surprise to find that, in place of a quadruped, there lay Julian Cox, panting for want of breath.
A farmer said she had caused his cattle to run mad. Some of the animals killed themselves by striking their heads against trees; and that nearly every one of his herd died, either through their own violence, or by a disease evidently brought on by witchcraft. To discover the witch, he cut off the bewitched animals' ears and burned them, an infallible process for bringing the offender to light. While those animal organs were consuming in the fire, Julian Cox came raging into the house, asserting she was being abused without cause. He once saw her flying through a window of her house in her own proper likeness.