Salem, Massachusetts may be known globally as the home of the notorious witch trials in the 17th century; however Scotland and Fife has had its own share of stories of witchcraft.
This year marks the 420th anniversary of the Great Witch Hunt of Scotland, which took place between March and October 1597 and was instigated by James VI. According to the Survey of Scottish Witchcraft, more than 3,800 people, both men and women, were accused of witchcraft in Scotland during the period 1563 to 1736, which is when the Witchcraft Act was enforced in Scotland*. It is believed that two-thirds of those accused were executed.
One of the best-known cases was that of Margaret Aitken, called The Great Witch of Balwearie. She was likely arrested in Fife in April 1597. Also in Fife, the Pittenweem witches were five Scottish women accused of witchcraft in the small fishing village in 1704. Another two women and a man were named as accomplices. Accusations made by a teenage boy, Patrick Morton, against a local woman, Beatrix Laing, led to the death in prison of Thomas Brown, and, in January 1705, the murder of Janet Cornfoot by a lynch mob in the village.
Records of Scotland’s witch trials shed light on a dark period in Scottish history, exposing a culture of fear and panic that cast a cloud over much of Scotland and Europe.
Many of Scotland’s regions have links to this time with fascinating stories and places to explore during the Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology 2017. Visitors to Scotland can pay homage to the many locations which are linked to witchcraft, as well as some tours that are taking place this year.
The Original St Andrews Witches’ Tour is a night-time walking tour of the Royal and ancient burgh. This tour takes guests on a journey into the myths and legends, ghosts and mysterious tales surrounding St Andrews. A costumed guide leads travellers through the supernatural streets and weird wynds while telling carefullyresearched tales of horror and history, phantoms and folklore. Included is the tale of Alison Pearson, a local woman accused of being a witch in the 16th century. Alison was well-known for helping to heal the sick. Unfortunately she also believed that she had help from the Fairy Queen of Elvenhome in doing her work. She was burnt at the stake in May 1588.
Tours depart from the Greyfriars Hotel, St Andrews at 7.30pm, Thursdays and Fridays from end of April 2017. For further information, visit www.st-andrewswitchestour.co.uk.