A very brief history of witch hunting in Scotland

If you have read about witch hunts in England, such as the true cases of the Pendle Witches, do not think for a second that Scotland was immune to this phenomenon.

There have in fact been a number of witch trials that took place in counties such as Lothian, Strathclyde and Fife in 1590-91, 1597, 1628-31, 1649-50 and 1661-62. A total of 3,837 people are thought to have been officially accused of witchcraft and about 2,500 were executed.

The late 1500s also saw the Scottish Reformation which established the Scottish Presbyterian church called the Kirk, a Protestant system that brought about radical changes to society.

Often compared to English Puritanism, Scottish Presbyterianism implemented strict rules on the arts, architecture, education, and morality, while fighting against superstitious or frivolous activities.

Following the creation of the Reform Parliament in 1560, the Scottish Witchcraft Act of 1563 was passed, banning the practice of witchcraft. Meanwhile, King James VI, who ascended the Scottish throne at just 13 months, following the forced abdication of his mother, Mary, Queen of Scots.

Baptized a Catholic, but raised as a Protestant, he ruled Scotland from 1567 and, after the death of Elizabeth I and the Union of Crowns in 1603, also England and Ireland. James was quite interested in witchcraft and its abolition and with him hard times began for all those accused of witchcraft.

It was the King who questioned Geillis Duncan, a young woman accused of witchcraft and tortured, her story also appears in Outlander. During his reign, many educated people began to question the witch trials, but the King was convinced he was doing the right thing. Actually,  he became more and more convinced when he also became king of England he decided to change the English laws to make it easier to try and execute witches.

Although witchcraft was seen as a form of heresy, very few doomed witches were burned at the stake in Scotland. For most of those sentenced to death, they were strangled with a rope and then burned at the stake.

The search for the “Devil’s Mark”, however, a mark bestowed on anyone who has made a pact with the devil, began in Scotland. It involved a body search using pins to find a spot that was  numb, sometimes performed by “stinging” specialists.

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