In the past paganism and traditional medicine have often been suspected of providing a coven for witchcraft by the authorities. This led to witch trials which resulted in the executions of thousands of innocent men and women across Europe. An expert panel looked at the facts behind early modern witchcraft and current Wiccans at Stirling's Tolbooth on 24 October.
People could often get in trouble for falsely accusing others of witch craft than for actual witch craft itself.
But there were witches, or rather there were people who practised folk medicine who might have been a bit strange or who had secret knowledge (remember there was no NHS in those times). Sometime these people, mostly women, fell foul of their neighbours and were accused of worshipping the Devil, and were tortured into confessing it.
Witches Craig Stirling History
The ruins of the nearby Logie Kirk (Church) date back to 1178 and today is an eerie place filled with mystery. It is said that a coven of witches was based in the hills behind the kirk, the most prominent of whom is Carly Crag, or the Witches Craig. An eighteenth-century minister at Logie is said to have spotted the Devil dancing there with his witches; the Devil was given away by the cloven hooves he was unable to hide.
Do you remember?
Those big kids with long memories will remember witches from Scotalnd's Halloween of the 60's and 70's, children went around guisin, clothes on backwards, soot on their faces and the stink of a turnip lantern while it slowly burned!
Witches and monster soon came along with the American version of guisin, called trick-or-treating.
1659: Trial of 12 women for witchcraft in the Tolbooth!
Not just Women, Men too.
In 1659 Bessie Stevinson confessed to performing charms and folk cures at the Well Green Well in Stirling, which is still standing to this day. these charms and folk cures involved washing the clothes of the sick and transferring the disease to others clothes. She was subsequently tried, found guilty and executed in what was Stirling’s largest ever witch trial, involving another 12 people!
In the space of two days in March 1659 a dozen more people were tried for witchcraft. The charges were nonsense but the consequences were awful. Most of those found guilty banished and would be strangled to death if they ever returned. And those who were not convicted would have had their lives ruined – accusations of that sort would always stick whatever the judgment.
One of the men, James Kirk, who was found innocent had been accused of playing a whistle at Witches Meetings.
Another is Barbara Erskine, who was clearly depressed, said the Devil told her to drown herself and although she was rescued by a passing man, she was then also found guilty.
The Witching Hour – A Showcase of Stirling’s Witching History
An exhibition of excerpts from Stirling Archive’s ecclesiastical records, showcasing the reporting of suspected Witches in Stirling. These are digitised records blown up to poster size and mounted. The records were accompanied by an explanation/translation by Pam McNicol – Stirling Council Archivist.
The Gallery also contained a digital display of ‘The Names of Witches in Scotland, 1658 ’, thanks to The Wellcome Collection.
Local artist Dawn McLaren showed 3 pieces at the exhibition. Dawn’s work draws inspiration from Paganism, Spirituality and the ‘natural realm’.
Artists Website: https://dawnmclaren.weebly.com/
The Witching Hour – panel discussion
As part of the Exhibition ‘The Witching Hour’, The Tolbooth hosted a panel discussion - Our Witching Past and Present. The Evening was informative with lively discussions on all things witch related.
The discussion were chaired by Jennie Cook, who is a former Breakfast Radio Presenter for XFM, Galaxy & Capital FM. The panel featured a variety of representatives from different fields, for a fun and engaging evening –
Pam McNicol – Stirling’s Archivist
Jean Fowler– High Priestess of Wicca, Honorary Pagan Chaplain at Edinburgh University, Board member of Edinburgh Interfaith Association, and Council member of The Scottish Pagan Society
Dr Lizanne Henderson – Senior Lecturer in History, Heritage Management and Environmental Humanities at University of Glasgow, A cultural historian with research interests on the Scottish, European and African Witch-Hunts
Dr Murray Cook – Stirling’s Archaeologist: Murray has excavated sites from the Mesolithic to the Edwardian period. He has undertaken numerous excavations across the region and published over 40 books and articles.
The evening began with a reception in the Gallery to peruse The Witching Hour exhibition, then moved to the auditorium for a short talk from Pam McNicol who gave us an introduction to Stirling’s History of Witch Accusations, followed by our panel discussion – which included a section of questions from the audience.
Halloween Hauntings at Stirling Old Town Jail
Ghosts, Witches, Curses, Torture….Fiendish Fun for ALL the Family!
Live Halloween performance tours at Stirling Old Town Jail with tales of spooky crimes, punishments and local myths and legends told through the ghosts of Stirling’s past with a few spooky surprises along the way.
If you’ve got it, haunt it! Prizes for best Halloween fancy dress.