The song ‘Bonnie Susie Cleland’ is an interesting one. Adapted from The Child Ballads “Lady Maisry”, which tells a particularly brutal tale of a young Scots woman being burned at the stake by her family for falling in love with an English lord. Bonnie Susie Cleland is an adaptation of this tale set in Dundee, with Susie Cleland meeting a similar fate.

The name Cleland was not common in the Dundee area, and there are no records which show the song to be based on fact, but it is not without historical context. There is a local tradition that many women were killed for consorting with English soldiers who were stationed in the city in the years after the storming of the city by General Monck in 1651. Burning or hanging was also the prescribed penalty in medieval Scottish law for sexual indulgence by an unmarried woman, unless her family protected the offender or found a father for her child.

There were also witch burnings in Dundee, the last of which was Grissell Jaffray in 1669, with women accused of witchcraft to cover the real reasons behind their burnings. The Presbytery Records do not always record the name of the women who were burned. An account from the Burgh Treasurer’s Accounts of 1590 lists sums spent on the burning of a witch, which included two shillings (£0.10) to Esmie Goldman for four fathoms of rope, fifteen shillings (£0.75) for three baskets of coal, six shillings (£0.30) for two tar barrels and six shillings and eightpence (£0.33) for the hangman’s travel expenses from St Andrews. The treasurer totals the expense as five pounds, sixteen shillings and eightpence (£5.81)—but the name of the poor woman does not merit a mention!

The cruelty of the family in the ballad in burning their own daughter is unimaginable. Whether real or not, it’s hard to listen to the song and not feel awful for poor Susie Cleland.

Lyrics:

Bonnie Susie Cleland
There lived a lady in Scotland
Hey my love and ho my joy
There lived a lady in Scotland
Wha dearly lo’d me
There lived a lady in Scotland
She’s fa’n in love wi’ an Englishman
And bonnie Susie Cleland’s tae be burnt in Dundee.
The faither tae the dochter cam’
Sayin, “Will ye forsake yer Englishman?”
And bonnie Susie Cleland’s tae be burnt in Dundee.
“If ye’ll no’ that Englishman forsake
Then I maun burn ye at the stake”
And bonnie Susie Cleland’s tae be burnt in Dundee.
“I’ll no’ that Englishman forsake
Though ye may burn me at the stake”
And bonnie Susie Cleland’s tae be burnt in Dundee.
“Oh whaur will I get a little wee boy
Tae carry tidings tae my joy
That bonnie Susie Cleland’s tae be burnt in Dundee?”
“Here am I a pretty wee boy
An’ I’ll carry tidings tae yer joy
That bonnie Susie Cleland’s tae be burnt in Dundee.”
“O gie tae him my right hand glove
Tell him tae get another love
For bonnie Susie Cleland’s tae be burnt in Dundee.”
“Gie tae him this gay gowd ring
Tell him I’m gaun tae my burnin’
And bonnie Susie Cleland’s tae be burnt in Dundee.”
Her faither he ca’d up the stake
Her brither he the fire did make
And bonnie Susie Cleland was burnt in Dundee.

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As we mentioned in our ‘Black Magic & The Occult’ section, rumours have been rife for decades about witchcraft and black magic rituals being undertaken in various locations around the city such as ruined castles, parklands and gloomy, wooded areas.  If we look at the rumours on a national scale, the stories of witchcraft, devilment and sorcery all seem to blend into one; the only notable exception being the location of the proposed rituals.  Whilst of course, some of these practices are indeed happening up and down the country (sometimes with deadly consequences), the majority of people who class themselves as “witches” are very far removed from what public opinion would have us believe as dark magic-wielding hags who consort with the devil and aid his workings on us mere mortals. The idea of a “black mass” or dark ritual is abhorrent to them, and is not a path on which they walk.  There is no “evil” deity, and there is certainly no worship of it.  The misconception of Satan as someone with who they communicate is founded in complete fallacy, and is reserved for those known as “Satanists”.  Association with the devil is exactly the stigma that witches do not want – it is unwarranted, unfounded, and grossly damaging.  Of course, as with any walk of life, there will be those for whom the lines are blurred, but, for the many who practise witchcraft today, the life of a witch has absolutely nothing to do with malevolent evil or devil worshipping.

This damaged perception over the centuries has claimed countless lives. Those seen as witches were hunted, tortured and murdered on a mass scale during the witch-hunting eras. Here, in our own town, we burned Grissell Jaffray as a witch, and put a burning effigy of Hurkle Jean on a boat out to sea. We have such a fear associated with the word “witch” that we resort to savagery, closed-mindedness and the perpetuating of myth thousands of years old. With this in mind, we set about trying to wade through the good, the bad and the ugly – separating the myth from the reality to see what was really behind the mask of “witchcraft”.  It was one of our toughest challenges yet, and without the help of a pair of witches who were more than happy to help, we would have had a difficult time separating fact from fiction.  Kymmy and Ffyona agreed to answer a few of our questions so that we could show witchcraft in our city in a more positive light, and hopefully dispel one or two myths associated with the words “witch” and “witchcraft”.  If you don’t know these women, you clearly haven’t read my blog post on my time with them.  You should read that now if you haven’t already.

Read my interview with them below – there’s lots of great information and links for anyone who wishes to investigate this a bit more for themselves.  Please also remember to be respectful of everyone’s belief system – the world outside is a lot more diverse than just you and I.

Could you explain what a real Witch is and also what it means to you as an individual?

K – To me a REAL witch is someone who believes firmly in their Craft and has an affinity with it. Personally my Craft is very important to me, as important as going to Church is to a Catholic person. It’s a way of life for me.

F – A real witch to me is someone who lives their beliefs and lives their life in the now. Someone who takes personal responsibility for all their actions in this world.  A person who follows the lunar cycle and the cycle of the seasons and feels the changes as the Wheel turns.

What type of witchcraft do you practise?

K -I practice an eclectic mix of witchcraft, involving Wicca, Druidry, Buddhism and many more. I like to call myself a Patchwork Pagan, whatever works for me, I will go with.

F – I practice in my own way.  I have a fairly eclectic base as my beliefs are Kemetic (Ancient Egyptian) combined with the cycle of the seasons here where I live. I also borrow stuff from books to use in ritual, if it works brilliant, if not then I don’t use it again.

How long have you been a witch, and what drew you to it?

K- Like I said at our meeting, I was attracted to The Craft after being involved with the local Spiritualist Church or “Spookies”, I briefly ventured into Christianity but it really wasn’t for me, I’ve always been drawn to the Craft since my early teens.

F – I went looking for something to believe in when I was 14. I was brought up a catholic and it just didn’t work for me.  I found a book on Wicca and the things I read made more sense to me than anything I had heard before. I liked the equality of it all as it wasn’t patriarchal and had a Goddess as a central figure. This made more sense than the women playing almost a supporting role as if it were not for women man wouldn’t even be born.  I started practicing my Craft when I was around 20. I have drifted off my path for short times and always got back on.  I also like the fact that if you asked 10 Witches what they believe you would get 10 different answers and none of them would even think of telling the others they were wrong.

Does it bother you that there are still stigmas attached to the words “Witch” and “Witchcraft”?

K – It does.  Witch can be such a negative word, when really we are quite positive folks. It’s absolutely awful that there is still witch-hunting going on in this day and age.

F – It irritates me slightly that companies like Disney are still portraying witches as the” bad guys” I have no problem with identifying myself as a Witch to my friends and family. I would not put it down on a job application nor would I introduce myself to a new person as one just because there is still a stigma.  In this day where more people are turning to the Nature religions, you would think people would be more accepting but we can hope it will happen in time.

Does Dundee have a particularly high magical population?

K – I believe it does have a fairly large population, although most witches, don’t go around bragging or broadcasting their beliefs, we don’t proselytise either.

F – Dundee is an extremely powerful place. The energy coursing through the land around here is so varied it is amazing. People wise I know a good few Witches/Shaman/Druids/Heathens and others, they know others that I do not. Am sure for every one I do know there are more that I don’t due to the perceived stigma.

What dates are important in your magical calendar?  Why?  How do you celebrate them?

K – I celebrate the Wheel of the Year, which has 8 Sabbats. Previously I stuck to the traditional dates on the calendar, but I now prefer to “FEEL” for the changes in my surroundings that tell me what’s happening, like the smell of spring, the full on pulse of high summer, the melancholy yet abundant autumn, and the nestling down of winter. I do still celebrate the traditional pagan dates of Samhain (31st October), Yule or Winter Solstice (21st December), Imbolc (Feb 1st or 2nd), Ostara or Spring Equinox (on or around March 21st), Beltane (May 1st), Litha or Summer Solstice (21st June), Lughnasadh or Lammas (Aug 1st), Mabon or Autumn Equinox (on or around 21st September), but these celebrations tend to be with likeminded friends or as part of our local moot, I do my own private celebrations. We celebrate the seasons and what’s we see happening around us and give thanks to The Goddess and God for the ever changing Wheel and for the abundance the Earth provides to sustain us all. I also celebrate the cycle of the Moon, I observe each of the phases from New to full and back to Dark again. I find great comfort from the Moon which isn’t surprising as humans are made primarily from water and the moon pulls on the tides, seems only right she should have the same effect on us.

F – The dates that are important in my magical calendar mark the changing of the seasons and the solar festivals of the Equinoxes.  We celebrate them to mark the turning of the Wheel and the changes that happen in nature. I also celebrate the lunar cycle and use this to work spells if I feel that one is required for something or have possibly been asked to perform one for someone.  The celebration itself usually involves some kind of ritual from a really complicated one that takes a lot of planning to one that might just involve sitting under the full moon and soaking up the power.

What is your personal view on death and the afterlife?

K – Hmm I would like to hope I don’t just STOP and that there is an afterlife, I think we become part of all life, that our conscious permeates everything. I also think our “SOUL” has to rest and reflect on the life we have lived and then be reincarnated into another “life” I have stated that I want to be buried in an eco-coffin when I die and that I want no embalming, I want to go back to the Earth as pure as I can be and that a fruit tree be planted on top of me, so that my family and friends can eat the fruit that my body has helped to nourish. None of us truly knows what happens when we die so here’s hoping it’s wonderful.

F – I believe that when you die you essence or soul travels to the Summerlands and there you reflect on your past life and learn any lessons you lived through, see any karmic debt you may have incurred and to whom.  When you have learned all you can from the life you just lived then you are reborn to the next life to continue your travels on the Wheel and continue to learn.

Where could an interested party get involved with the magical community?

K – There are loads of online sites to connect with other magical groups and most big cities have Moots and other Pagan friendly events. It’s really just about asking around and looking out for flyers etc. The Scottish Pagan Federation is a great source of information and help also The Children of Artemis.

F – Well a first point of contact locally would be Dundee Pagan Moot. We have a Facebook page, website and a YouTube channel. We also have a monthly meeting on the last Sunday of every month.  There is also the Scottish Pagan Federation. They too have a facebook page, website and a youtube channel.  In most towns and cities in Scotland there will be some kind of a pagan moot or meeting on a regular basis. There may even be a shop that will advertise things like that. This shop will usually sell things like crystals, statues, candles, incense etc. All are things that can be used magically.

Any dark or creepy stories to tell us?

K – Gods where do I begin? Well, when I was wee, my Granny was a great teller of creepy stories (bless her) and one night we were sitting in front of her coal fire and she told us about the night my Dad was out drinking down the Perth Road with a bunch of friends, he was totally bladdered and decided to walk home through Balgay, en route to Dryburgh where my Gran lived, this was before I was born apparently. On walking through Balgay, he became aware of a strange footstep behind him, kind of a “THUMP” “SCRAPE” kind of noise, he looked around but no one was there, this continued all the way through the park and he was getting a bit worried by this time. He began to pick up his pace as best he could in his inebriated state but still the strange footsteps continued, all the way through Lochee and right up to my Granny’s front door when they disappeared suddenly. He got in and told my Gran what had happened and she told him that would have been your Dad making sure you got home ok as he had been carrying a flick knife in his pocket. My Grandad had passed years before, had a limp and scraped his boot when he walked apparently.  I was well creeped out.  Another Balgay story; I was about 3 years old and my Mum had taken me and my wee brother who was in a pram at the time for a walk up Lochee Park and into Balgay, I was holding mums hand as you do and she was pushing the pram with the other. She let go my hand to see to my wee brother and right about where the Jewish graveyard is I turned round to see a wee tiny man dressed on green clothes, he was beckoning me to come over to him, I stood staring at him and tugged on mums coat unable to speak, she was too busy with my brother to see what was going on he kept on beckoning and smiling at me. I began walking towards him and suddenly mum noticed me wandering off and shouted on me, he disappeared instantly and I told her about him, she says I imagined it, but to this day I KNOW I saw him. One more…We used to stay in Lochee High Street when we were really wee and we had an outside lavvy at the time, mum had safety pinned my wee brother and I to the couch so she could go to the loo (yes they actually did that) so we were babbling away to each other on the couch I reckon I was about 5 and my brother about 4 at the time, when from the room to our right a strange figure walked past us. It was human in form but completely see though. I could see the outline of the body kind of like the “Ready Brek” man used to look, but there was a lot of lights right up the centre of the body, it walked right past us into the next room. We told mum when she came up the stairs and she said we were being daftys, my Dad believed us though but never said what he thought it was, to this day my brother and I will swear we saw this and that to us it was totally real.  I also saw my Dead uncle a week after he died, again I must’ve been about 5. I came out of our closey on to the High Street in Lochee and he was standing there it a black suit, white shirt with a red carnation in his pocket, he smiled at me and kept walking. I ran upstairs to tell mum I had just saw Uncle Jim and that he might be on the way to the pub, she sat me down and told me that he had died the previous week and that I couldn’t have seen him. I told her what he was wearing and only when I was older did she tell me that those were the clothes he was buried in. Creepy eh?

F – Not really. I have had a few encounters with the Spirits of Place (Genus Locii) and a couple of encounters with spirits in old places but not anything that creeped me out.

I’ve got to say, when I first realised I’d upset some witches earlier this year, I was a bit panicked!  I mean, it’s not every day you get a duo of witches telling you they are pissed off with what you’ve written about their craft, is it?  Well that’s what happened to me – and quite rightly too.  Dark Dundee loves everything dark, including witches, but it’s safe to say that witches get a pretty bad deal, and they have done for a long, long time.  Witches are bad and evil and cast spells, right?  There’s hardly any “good” witches, right? Well you’re wrong.  Oh, so wrong.

Amidst some friendly banter (and a few thinly veiled threats to turn me into a toad or a frog or suchlike), I agreed to meet with the witches and hear their side of the story.  I’d be lying if I told you I wasn’t apprehensive, but I diligently made a list of questions I wanted to ask them; not stupid questions, but honest, genuine questions that I thought would help shed some light onto the stigma surrounding witchcraft and what it really means.

We met at a local coffee house in town – I arrived first, armed with my questions, and totally bricking it as to what I was getting myself into.  And then the witches arrived.  No, there was no puff of smoke, no cackling (well there was, but that’s a whole different story), and there were certainly no broomsticks or capes.  They just walked, like everyone else.  Weird eh?  Who would have thought?

What struck me about them was that they were genuinely warm and caring women, with no airs, graces or pretension.  We grabbed coffees and sat down and the conversation flowed so naturally between us all that time had no meaning at all.  I asked questions and listened as the women talked about their craft, completely absorbed in what they had to say.  In the few hours that I spent in their company, I felt like I had known them forever.  In fact, we talked so much that we ended up getting chucked out of the coffee house for staying well past their closing time!  They were open, receptive and very willing to share their experiences with me.

 

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All my fears and apprehensions were gone, and I realised that the crafts these women followed were nothing for me to be fearful of any more so than I would be fearful of someone who attended a church, mosque or any other place of worship.  They teach love, compassion and inner strength; they follow patterns of lunar and solar cycles, greeting the morning each day with a prayer (where time allows) and enjoying everything the natural world has to offer.  This is nothing to be fearful of, and, in fact, is somewhat inspiring.  How many of us take the time to be truly thankful for what we have and what we’ve achieved?  Don’t we always just want more of everything?

These women don’t even demand the respect they deserve, because they believe everyone has a right to believe whatever they want, even if that right isn’t exercised towards themselves.  They are not out to do harm.  In fact, it’s quite the opposite, as they believe that whatever you do will come back to you threefold, so to put out bad energy would not be advisable.  I’m not saying they are saints by any stretch of the imagination – I reckon they’ve got a pretty good right hook on them – but they don’t believe in putting any bad vibes into the world intentionally.

We talked so much that I didn’t take a single note, but they have agreed to answer my questions and get back to me so that I can update the witchcraft and occult section with a more balanced approach to witchcraft in Dundee.  When it boils down to it, you should never judge a book by its cover – or indeed a witch by preconceived stigmas.  Perhaps we should take a leaf from their book and learn a bit more tolerance for others as well as things we don’t necessarily have the first clue about.  Instead of making judgements, maybe we should be seeking to ask questions and listen to the answers before we go jumping to conclusions.

These “witches” weren’t wicked, evil or in any way disingenuous. I thought they were great, intelligent women with a brilliant sense of humour and real zest for life.  I think they liked me too as I haven’t been turned into a frog…yet!

I’ll let you know as soon as the full interview is available online – you won’t want to miss it.

I should also note here that men can be witches too, as you’ll see when the interview is released; it just so happened I was lucky enough to have a date with 3 spectacular ladies.  Maybe wishes do come true, after all.

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Our first video explores the story of Grissell Jaffray, famous in Dundee’s history for being the last witch to be burned in public in 1669. In this video we explore the story told of Grissell, as few of the facts remain, and how witchcraft was feared and those accused were tortured in this dark time of Scottish history.

Whilst not actually in Dundee, per se, we couldn’t let a wee treasure like Glamis Castle fly under the radar. Steeped in centuries of dark, blood-soaked history and with more legends attached to it than almost any other castle in Scotland, Glamis Castle was too hard to resist. The Castle was presented to Sir John Lyon as a gift by King Robert II in 1372 and remains in the family to this day. The Queen Mother, mistakenly believed to have been born at Glamis, in fact, gave birth to Princess Margaret there in 1930 and also tended to wounded soldiers at Glamis during WW1 when it became a convalescence home.

Glamis is the setting for Shakespeare’s Macbeth and is referred to by name, and it is widely believed that Duncan was murdered here by Macbeth (although, for each proponent of the tale, there is a counter-argument). In the armoury of the Castle, the sword and the shirt of mail worn by Macbeth are still displayed.

Bonnie Dundee was a great friend of the 3rd Earl of Kinghorne and a hero to the Jacobites. His leather ‘bullet-proof’ jacket (allegedly enhanced by the devil himself during dark magic rituals undertaken in Claypotts Castle) and boots are also on display at Glamis.

Lady Janet Douglas, the Lady of Glamis, was accused by King James V (Mary Queen of Scots father) of witchcraft, poisoning her husband and plotting to poison the king. King James hated the Douglas family because his stepfather, Archibald Douglas (who happened to be Janet’s brother) had imprisoned James when he was a young child. This hatred failed to abate over the years, and, seeking vengeance for the past, Janet was burned at the stake on 17th July 1537 at Edinburgh Castle as her son, John, was made to watch. Interestingly, no harm was inflicted on the boy, who was incarcerated until he came of age, and then had his title and estates restored. Some forty years after the death of his mother, John was murdered in an unplanned skirmish with his mortal hereditary enemies, the Lindsays.

The legend of the “Monster of Glamis” is believed to have been inspired by the infamous “Room of Skulls” – a room where the Ogilvie family sought shelter from the Lindsays and were walled up and left to die of starvation.

Many of the Stuart monarchs believed they had special healing powers, and it was in the chapel at Glamis that King James VIII (The Old Pretender) touched people for the ‘king’s evil’ or scrofula – a skin disease associated with tuberculosis which afflicts sufferers with lymph node swelling in the neck. The practice began with King Edward the Confessor in England around 1003, and continued throughout the middle ages.

These are just some of the many fascinating facets to the history of Glamis Castle, and you can find out more by visiting their website. However, don’t rush away just yet…if you want to know some more about the legends and ghosts of the castle, head over to our Local Legends section.

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Grissell Jaffray is undoubtedly the most famous witch of Dundee, having been the last witch to be executed in Dundee, but Dundee’s superstitious side was still alive and well in the 19th century, when Janet Kindy, or ‘Hurkle Jean’, was believed to be responsible for a number of afflictions that allegedly beset the town. Sickness in cattle and children was attributed to the evil presence of Hurkle Jean. Sadly for Janet, her deformed appearance only served as more fuel to the fire for the townsfolk, and thus, another legend was born. Belief in Hurkle Jean’s demonic abilities was so ardent, that, by the time it had reached its peak, effigies were being burned and exorcisms performed!

 

Thankfully with the repeal of the witchcraft acts in 1735, Janet was protected from persecution by law; but this didn’t prevent her neighbours from demonising her all the same, as a letter from one of her close neighbours “M.G.”, submitted to the Edinburgh Magazine in 1818 tells us:

“Mr Editor,

Dundee, as you know, was the last place in Scotland where the public execution of a witch took place; and the witch burnt there was neither so old, so ugly, nor so poor, as these unfortunate persons usually are. That Grizzel Jamfre [sic] was not poor, however, was probably the cause of her death; for the lawyers who could prove the crime of witchcraft against any person, were rewarded by great part, if not the whole, of what the convict died possessed of, – no small temptation to use diligence. But though the modern capital of Angus is thus distinguished in the annals of demonology, I did not expect to find the belief in witchcraft so general among the lower classes, as you will perceive it is from the following account, the heroine of which is my very near neighbour.

Janet Kindy, otherwise Hurkle Jean, is poor, old, and deformed; her evil eye is so dreaded in this neighbourhood that the sickness of children and cattle is often attributed to it, and if she happen to cross a fisherman’s path as he goes to his boat, the fishing is invariably spoiled for that day. I verily believe that nothing but the feat of the law prevents the tragedy of the witches of Pittenweem from being acted over again, so convinced are her neighbours of her supernatural powers, and so inveterate is their hatred against her. Six years ago, a boat having been for some months unfortunate in fishing, a council of war was held among the elder fishers, and it was agreed that the boat should be exorcised, and that Janet was the spirit which tormented it. Accordingly, the ceremony of exorcism was performed as follows. In each boat there is a cavity called the tap-hole; on this occasion the hollow was filled with a particular kind of water, furnished by the mistress of the boat, a straw effigy of poor Jane was placed over it, and had they dared to touch her life, Janet herself would have been there. The boat was then rowed out to sea before sunrise, and, to use the technical expression, the figure was burnt between the sun and the sky, i.e. after daylight appeared, but before the sun rose above the horizon, while the master called aloud ‘Avoid ye Satan!’. The boat was then brought home, and since that time has been fortunate as any belonging to the village.

M.G. goes on to describe an account of another witch who transformed into a hare, and a necromancer from Forfar called William Grey…but those are stories for another day.

(Letter taken from – https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=QF0AAAAAYAAJ&source=gbs_navlinks_s)

 

Now, you might be thinking, what has Mary Slessor got to do with Dark Dundee?  Sure, she’s from Dundee, but as a missionary, she is hailed as somewhat of a heroine.  Of course she is, and we’re not denying that…but what’s truly dark about Mary Slessor are the things she witnessed during her lifetime.

Her father, Robert Slessor was a reported alcoholic, and, whilst a shoemaker to trade, became unable to continue his craft.  Relocating the family from Aberdeen to Dundee was an effort to leave behind their problems and start afresh somewhere new. Robert became a mill worker, labouring for pittance, but continued to spend the vast majority of it in the local public house. Her mother, also called Mary, had to take up work in the mills as a weaver – a trade in which she was highly skilled. By 11 years old, young Mary was working for the Baxter Brothers, spending half of her day in the mill-provided school, and the other half working in the mill itself.  Her mother would often come home from the United Presbyterian Church and would gather the children around her as she regaled them with stories of missionaries in far-off lands.  Mary felt sorry for the poor children, and the bizarre rituals which saw them murdered or abandoned and this inspired her thinking and began the first steps of what was to become an incredible life – but not one without it’s significant hardships.

Life wasn’t easy for the family, and, after years of living in the slums, Robert died of pneumonia.  The second of seven children, Mary witnessed the deaths of her brothers proceeding the demise of her beleaguered father.  Mary, began to develop an interest in religion and, when a mission was set up in Quarry Pend, close to the Wishart Church, she wanted to teach. Mary was 27 when she heard that David Livingstone, the famous missionary and explorer had died, and decided she wanted to follow in his footsteps. By the age of 28, Mary was assigned to the Calabar region in the land of Efik people. She was warned that the Efik people there believed in traditional West African religion and had a myriad superstitions.

The problems Mary confronted as a young missionary included the lack of Western education as well as widespread human sacrifice – adults as well as children! It is believed that one of the first things Mary bore witness to was voluntary human sacrifice during the burial celebrations of a prominent tribal chief.  It was widely thought that chiefs would require his wives in the afterlife, so, during the proceedings, his wives were sacrificed, much to Mary’s shock.  Not only were wives sacrificed, but, in some cases, villagers would be sacrificed to act as servants in the next life for their chief.  Such was their belief system, that they went willingly to their deaths, ready to serve their masters in the next life.

Once, during an epidemic of smallpox, people fled a village in terror, but Mary stayed to nurse and feed the stricken victims and, without assistance, buried the many of the dead. In a letter describing her experiences she wrote: “It is not easy. But Christ is here and I am always satisfied and happy in His love.”

Further to this, superstitions of violent deaths being solely attributed to witchcraft were rife.  When one of the sons of a village chief was crushed by a tree and subsequently died, blame was attributed to a nearby village.  Armed warriors besieged the village, capturing a dozen villagers to bring back to their village in chains.  Another superstition concerning the use of poison to determine guilt, caused Mary considerable alarm. The chief who had lost his son believed that if the accused were not guilty, they would not die from the poison, despite Mary’s protestations that this was not the case. After days of arduous discussions, most of which were heated and threatened extreme violence, all of the prisoners were released, and a cow was sacrificed, its blood used to soak the grave of the chief’s son in the place of  the blood of the villagers.  It was noted this this was “the first time in the entire district that a chief’s grave had not been saturated with human blood“. (www.wholesomewords.org).

The birth of twins was considered a particularly evil curse. Natives feared that the father of one of the infants was an evil spirit, and that the mother had been guilty of a great sin. Unable to determine which twin was fathered by the evil spirit, the natives often abandoned both babies in the bush. It wasn’t uncommon for the mother to be banished to the bush also until the village elders deemed her “safe”, usually to the detriment of her own life. The beginnings of the gin trade created even more problems, as violence inevitably ensued between traders as well as drunks, leading Mary and her missionaries to live their lives in a constant state of alert.  All of these things – a mere snapshot of what life must have been like for her – coupled with the illnesses that dogged her throughout her life, must have been an incredible strain on her both physically and mentally.  Whilst Mary returned home on a few occasions to convalesce, her heart and soul remained with her African family. She eventually succumbed to a severe fever on 13th January 1915, having become so weak she could no longer walk, and was given the colonial equivalent of a state funeral. This amazing, remarkable woman achieved everything she did by refusing to succumb to the darkness that surrounded her every day, threatening to engulf her.  By reflecting on the horrors that she must have encountered during her time as a missionary, it makes her story all the more remarkable.

 

Booksworld.com recently reported the release of “The Common Book of Witchcraft and Wicca. What’s all the fuss about, you ask? Isn’t it just someone trying to sell a book?

No, apparently it’s not – the book is available completely free, under a creative commons license, which allows anyone to freely share and republish its contents without having to worry about copyright issues. From a spiritual point of view, we’re sure many people tuned into this way of life will find it an absolute boon. If it sounds a bit out of your depth, we hear that there’s a lot more to this book than just the release of a few spells and chants, so you may just be surprised.

Quote from www.broadwayworld.com:

“The book is a gift,” said Rev. Don Lewis, a Wiccan Arch Priest and one of the authors featured in the Common Book, “it is freely given to all, to use as they see fit. All of the contributors have given their work, without limitation, as an act of love toward the world. The work is meant to used, meant to be shared.”

“The Common Book of Witchcraft and Wicca” includes a total of 400 pages of articles, chants, and poems dealing with Witchcraft and Wiccan spirituality, ranging from creation and the nature of the soul to magical manipulation of time. There are also biographies of famous Witches and Pagans from history.

Authors featured in the “Common Book” include Pagan luminaries such as Oberon Zell-Ravenheart of the Church of All Worlds and the Grey School of Wizardry, Rev. Don Lewis of the Correllian Nativist Tradition of Wicca, Abby Willowroot of Spiral Goddess Grove, Raven Digitalis, Arch Priestess Stephanie Leon Neal, Alan Salmi, and A. C. Fisher-Aldag, among others.

“The Common Book of Witchcraft and Wicca” has been published via Eschaton Books by Witch School International (www.WitchSchool.com), the world’s premier school of Witchcraft, which is itself no stranger to controversy. Asked if he understood why some might find “The Common Book of Witchcraft and Wicca” controversial, Rev. Lewis replied:

“Of course it’s controversial – it’s about major social change. We live in a time of great unrest. People are marching in the streets. The whole world’s on fire. Old answers aren’t working any more. Old religions aren’t working any more. The world needs new answers and new ways of thinking. The old religions are drowning in blood and war and killing the earth as they kill themselves. Only a new religion, only a new way of seeing the world and interacting with it, can save the future for our children. That is what ‘The Common Book of Witchcraft and Wicca’ is about.”

Let us know what you think, if you do decide to read it. With all the other reading and writing we’ve got to do, we doubt we’ll get round it any time soon, but it’s definitely going into our “maybe” pile…

 

 

The Malleus Maleficarum (“The Hammer of Witches”) is the classic Catholic text on witchcraft and was first published in 1487.  The Malleus Maleficarum was notorious for its use in the Witch-hunts which were started on a national scale across Europe.

Two Dominican inquisitors Jacob Sprenger and Heinrich Kramer compiled it and submitted the book to the University of Cologne’s Faculty of Theology for their approval on the 9th of May, 1487.  This is usually taken as the date of publication, although earlier editions may have been produced in 1485 or 1486.  It was published in a number of editions, thirteen times from 1487 to 1520 and revived another sixteen times from 1574 to 1669.  The book was popular throughout Europe with at least sixteen German editions, eleven French editions, two Italian editions and several English editions. The English editions, however, did not appear until much later.  For its time, the Malleus was the lead authority available to the masses on the subject of witchcraft, and soon became accepted by both Catholics and Protestants, adding to there’re already religious favours.

The work was originally prefaced by the papal bull ‘Summis desiderantes’, as issued by Pope Innocent VIII on the 5th of December 1484, and which remains the main Papal document on witchcraft.  It mentions Sprenger and Kramer by name and directs them to combat witchcraft in northern Germany.  The book itself was not specifically ordered by the Catholic Church, but was written to lend credence to and enforce the bull.  To help its credulity, the writers then attached a letter of approbation from the University of Cologne, signed by four of its professors.

The book is divided into three sections, the first proving witchcraft or sorcery existed, the second describing the forms of witchcraft and the third the detection, trial and total destruction of witches.  The first two sections are thought to have been the work of Sprenger, who as a distinguished theologian put together the theological and intellectual components of the book.  Section three and the practical components of the book is most likely is the work of Kramer, who had conducted a campaign in the Tirol during the early 1480’s and had gain much experience as a trial judge.

The book begins with a discussion of the nature of witchcraft and the need for administrators to thoroughly comprehend its enormity.  This generally comprised of:  the renunciation of the Catholic faith, devotion and homage to the Devil, the offering of unbaptized children and sexual intercourse with Incubi and/or Succubi.  It also “explains” why women by their weaker nature and inferior intellect were naturally more prone to the lure of Satan.  It then goes on to declare that some things confessed by witches, such as animal transformations, were mere delusions induced by the devil to ensnare them; other acts were real, such as flight, causing storms and destroying crops.  The book dwells at length on the licentious acts of witches and the question of whether demons could sire children with a witch.

Part II deals with the three types of maleficia and how these can be counteracted.  Here they sanction all the myths, fables and folklore about the doings of witches:  their pacts with the Devil, sexual relations with devils and demons, transvection, metamorphosis, injury to cattle and crops, and a whole range of subjects normally ascribed to sorcery.  (These were the accusations put upon Grissell Jaffray, Hurkle Jean, and, undoubtedly, many people of Dundee before and after them).

The last section deals with the practical details of detection, trial and destruction of witches.  It covers the rules for initiating legal action against witches, securing a conviction and the passing of sentences.  It concludes with how much belief to place in witnesses’ testimonies and the need to eliminate malicious accusations, but it also states that public rumour is sufficient to bring a person to trial and that a too vigorous defence is evidence that the defender is bewitched.  There are rules on how to prevent the authorities becoming bewitched and the reassurance, that as representatives of God, the witch can have no power over the investigators.  It covers details of how to elicit confessions, including the sequence of torture and questioning to be used, the use of a red-hot iron is recommended, as is the shaving of the entire body of the accused in search of tokens or marks of the Devil.

Do you want to know more about the history and the use of witchcraft in Scotland and Europe? You should definitely read The Malleus Maleficarum and
the construction of witchcraft: Theology and popular belief by Hans Peter Broedel – free to download below!

TMMPR

 

“Persecution is the systematic mistreatment of an individual or group by another individual or group. The most common forms are religious persecution, ethnic persecution and political persecution, though there is naturally some overlap between these terms. The inflicting of suffering, harassment, isolation, imprisonment, internment, fear, or pain are all factors that may establish persecution. Even so, not all suffering will necessarily establish persecution. The suffering experienced by the victim must be sufficiently severe. The threshold level of severity has been a source of much debate.”

The 16th century was a time of religious upheaval caused, in part, by the Protestant Reformation and the Catholic Counter-Reformation. As the shockwave of religious division extended across Europe, fear spread that the Day of Judgement had arrived. Catholics viewed the rift as a sign that the antichrist was increasing his presence in the world, while Protestants saw the corruption of the Catholic church as proof that the devil had infiltrated the land.

Rising concerns about the influence of magic and the devil were due the revolution of print, which saw an influx of texts from all over the world, such as the Malleus Maleficarum, urging people to take action in the battle with witches and magic.  No one was safe from an accusation of witchcraft, even clergymen. However, women bore the brunt of the accusations – particularly elderly spinsters, widows, and those living alone. In fact, 80% of those tried in Britain were women.  Begging, a standard method of survival, lay at the root of many witchcraft allegations, and beggars were often blamed for misfortunes that occurred after they were refused help. More often than not, accusations of witchcraft resulted from neighbourly disagreements, inextricably bound to a deep-rooted fear of malevolent magic and the devil.

Stories of continental witch trials spread, and, as the new witchcraft laws filtered down through society, some took it upon themselves to lead the witch hunts, gathering evidence before trial as self-proclaimed ‘witchfinder generals’. The most notorious of these in England was a Puritan called Matthew Hopkins who launched an unprecedented campaign of terror against suspected English witches during the 1640s.  These led to some 300 trials and the deaths of around 100 people in eastern England. Hopkins was by no means the only witch detector, but his reputation spread far and wide and he had a profound impact on those around him. One source from the time commented: “It is strange to tell what superstitious opinions, affections, relations, are generally risen amongst us, since the Witchfinders came into the Country.”

Although the use of torture to extract a confession was illegal in England, Ireland and Wales, it was permitted in Scotland, and less ‘formal’ types of torture were often used by men such as Hopkins at a local level, often presided over by a magistrate or local constable. One such method was sleep deprivation, whereby the accused would be forced to walk back and forth until exhausted and then denied rest. In Scotland, thumb screws and leg crushers were also used.  Another type of trial was ‘swimming’ the accused to prove their guilt. The victim’s right thumb would be tied to their left big toe and they would be thrown into a nearby pond or river. If they sank, they were innocent; if they floated, they had been rejected by the water as a servant of the devil, in a type of reverse baptism.

Scotland, which has traditionally been regarded as more zealous in its persecution of witches than its southern counterparts, and tried 2,500 people, with an execution rate of around 70%.  By the late 17th century – thanks to a combination of judicial scepticism, low prosecution rates and the costs of pursuing a case through the courts – the number of accusations of witchcraft had plummeted. Many people turned instead to ‘cunning folk’ (‘wise’ men and women who practised ‘good’ witchcraft) and healers to combat the malevolent forces they believed to be at large. Witchcraft was finally decriminalised in Britain in 1736 – though people were still being accused of it as late as the 19th century.

Here is a brief timeline we found at www.womenshistory.about.com showing persecution around the world towards witches and witchcraft in general.

Witchcraft persecution timeline

B.C.E. The Hebrew Scriptures addressed witchcraft, including Exodus 22:17 and various verses in Leviticus and Deuteronomy.
about 200 – 500 C.E. The Talmud described forms of punishments and execution for witchcraft
about 910 The Canon Episcopi was recorded by Regino of Prümm describing folk beliefs in Francia, just before the beginning of the Holy Roman Empire. This text influenced later canon law. It condemned maleficium (bad-doing) and sorilegium (fortune-telling), but argued that most stories of these were fantasy, and also argued that those who believed they magically flew were suffering from delusions.
about 1140 Mater Gratian’s compilation of canon law, including the Canon Episcopi (see “about 910” above), also included writings from Hrabanus Maurus and excerpts from Augustine.
1154 John of Salisbury wrote of his skepticism about the reality of witches riding in the night.
1230s An Inquisition against heresy was established by the Roman Catholic Church.
1258 Pope Alexander IV accepted that sorcery and communication with demons was a kind of heresy. This opened the possibility of the Inquisition, concerned with heresy, being involved with witchcraft investigations.
late 13th century In his Summa Theologiae, and in other writings, Thomas Aquinas briefly addressed sorcery and magic. He assumed that consulting demons included making a pact with them, which was by definition, apostasy. He accepted that demons could assume the shapes of actual people; the demons’ acts are thus mistaken for those actual people’s.
1306 – 15 The Church moved to eliminate the Knights Templar. Among the charges were heresy, witchcraft and devil-worship.
316 – 1334 Pope John XII issued several bulls identifying sorcery with heresy and pacts with the devil.
1317 In France, a bishop was executed for using witchcraft in an attempt to kill Pope John XXII. This was one of several assassination plots around that time against the Pope or a King.
1340s Black Death swept through Europe, adding to the willingness of people to see conspiracies against Christendom.
about 1450 Errores Gazaziorum, a papal bull, identified witchcraft and heresy with the Cathars.
1484 Pope Innocent VIII issued Summis desiderantes affectibus, authorizing two German monks to investigate accusations of witchcraft as heresy, threatening those who interfered with their work.
1486 The Malleus Maleficarum was published.
1500-1560 Many historians point to this period as one in which witchcraft trials — and Protestantism — were rising
1532 Constitutio Criminalis Carolina, by Emperor Charles V, and affecting the whole Holy Roman Empire, declared that harmful witchcraft should be punished by death by fire; witchcraft that resulted in no harm was to be “punished otherwise.”
1542 English law made witchcraft a secular crime with the Witchcraft Act.
1552 Ivan IV of Russia issued the Decree of 1552, declaring witch trials were to be civil matters rather than church matters.
1560s and 1570s A wave of witch hunts were launched in southern Germany.
1563 Publication of De Praestiglis Daemonum by Johann Weyer, a physician to the Duke of Cleves. It argued that much of what was thought to be witchcraft was not supernatural at all, but just natural trickery.The second English Witchcraft Act was passed.
1580 – 1650 Many historians consider this the period with the largest number of witchcraft cases, with the period of 1610 – 1630 being a peak within this period.
1580s One of the periods of frequent witchcraft trials in England.
1584 Discoverie of Witchcraft was published by Reginald Scot of Kent, expressing skepticism of witchcraft claims.
1604 Act of James I expanded punishable offenses related to witchcraft.
1612 The Pendle witch trials in Lancashire, England, accused twelve witches. The charges included the murder of ten by witchcraft. Ten were found guilty and executed, one died in prison and one was found not guilty.
1618 A handbook for English judges on pursuing witches was published.
1634 Loudun witch trials in France. Ursuline nuns reported being possessed, victims of Father Urbain Grandier, who was convicted of sorcery. He was convicted despite refusing to confess even under torture. After Father Grandier was executed, the possessions continued until 1637.
1640s One of the periods of frequent witchcraft trials in England.
1660 Another wave of witch trials in northern Germany.
1682 King Louis XIV of France prohibited further witchcraft trials in that country.
1692 Salem witch trials
1717 The last English trial for witchcraft was held; the defendant was acquitted.
1736 The English Witchcraft Act was repealed, formally ending witch hunts and trials.
1755 Austria ended witchcraft trials.
1768 Hungary ended witchcraft trials.
1829 Histoire de l’Inquisition en Franceby Etienne Leon de Lamothe-Langon was published, a forgery claiming massive witchcraft executions in the 14th century. The evidence was, essentially, fiction.
1833 A Tennessee man was prosecuted for witchcraft.
1839 Matilda Joslyn Gage published Women, Church and State which included the figure of nine million executed as witches.
1862 French writer Jules Michelet advocated a return to goddess worship, and saw women’s “natural” inclination to witchcraft as positive. He depicted witch hunts as Catholic persecutions.
1921 Margaret Murray’s The Witch Cult in Western Europe was published, her account of the witch trials. She argued that witches represented a pre-Christian “old religion.” Among her arguments: the Plantagenet kings were protectors of the witches, and Joan of Arc was a pagan priestess.
1954 Gerald Gardner published Witchcraft Today, about witchcraft as a surviving pre-Christian pagan religion.
20th century Anthropologists look at the beliefs in different cultures on witchcraft, witches and sorcery.
1970s Modern women’s movement looks at the witchcraft persecutions using a feminist lens.
December 2011 Amina Bint Abdul Halim Nassar was beheaded in Saudi Arabia for practicing witchcraft.