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Witch Trials in Scotland

By Yona Williams    1/17/06

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The Presbyterian Church handled the persecution of witches throughout Scotland; they were never subject to the inquisition. When one was charged with being a witch, the courts were never involved because they were in agreement with the church, which took on a biased opinion of the accused. Due to this practice, there would be no outlet of acquittal for the accused.

 

In Scotland, the main reasons that some were accused of being a witch was sadly due to political reasons. Often, the accused came from a well-off family. Some of the most well-known trials involving witches dealt with the trail of Bessie Dunlop in 1576 and Allison Peeirson in 1588. They were both accused of being a member of a coven, which is an assembly of witches (often consisting of 13 members). Peirson was staked for this supposed association. The case of Isobel Gowdie involved a confession, where a perception was developed from the real or false activities that came from her statements.

 

Aberdeen Witchcraft Trials

 

Throughout the years that followed, there were many incidents and trials that dealt with witches and the way they were handled by the public and higher-ups. The Aberdeen witchcraft trials sent the public in a tailspin when seven women were accused of witchcraft. There names were: Janet Wishart, Helen Rogie, Margaret Ogg, Isobel Cockie, Isobel Strachan, Isobel Ritchie and Isobel Ogg. They were accused of using magic to murder others, as well as being charged with taking the body parts from the supposed murder victims.

 

Other charges included the raising of storms; enticing young men with magical foods; poisoning meat; casting spells on animals, as well as creating waxen figures. In the end, more than 20 women and 1 man were found guilty of witchcraft. They were punished by being tied to stakes, then strangled, followed by the burning of their bodies. Some decided to commit suicide to avoid a tortuous end, where their bodies were dragged throughout the streets until they were torn to pieces. If an accused witch was not proven, they received a brand upon their cheek and were not allowed to live in the area.

 

Another set of witch trials were held on the word of Isobel Gowdie, who named a group of witches that are most likely to have been hung alongside with her. There trials were named the Auldearn witch trials, which involved women by the name of Katherine Sowter and Janet Breadheid.

 

North Berwick Witch Trials

 

The North Berwick witch trials were well known because it marked the start of widespread acknowledge and nervousness regarding witchcraft. A deputy bailiff had his suspicions regarding one of his servants, Gilly Duncan. When confronted, Duncan admitted to attending meetings and named others who were present, including other residents and doctors. One of the names she spoke of was Agnes Sampson, who denied ever being a witch. Following a long session of torture, she eventually admitted to all charges.

 

In the beginning of the trials, the king hesitated to find the accused guilty of witchcraft because he was unsure of their guilt. It was only after Sampson whispered the exact words of his wedding vows that he found them guilty. At the end of the trials, Agnes Sampson, John Fian and Euphemia MacLean were burnt alive. In the case of Barbara Napier, she was let go because she was pregnant at the time of the trial.

 

The Pittenweem Witch Trials

 

When Patrick Morton accused Beatrix Laing of using witchcraft against him because he could not complete a job for her. He claimed that she and three others attempted to take revenge against him. To obtain a confession, each of the women endured torture. The women confessed, but instead of death, they were ordered to pay a fine when additional authorities stepped in. Two of the women, including Laing, paid their fine, but the third woman, Janet Cornfoot fled. She was found; beaten and tortured to death. Later on, it was found that Patrick Morton was a liar, causing the authorities to feel shame and remorse.

 

 

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