Today is All Hallows, rather than Halloween, but I have decided to take a belated look at one of Corstorphine’s witch hunts. And some waffling. Witch hunts are an ugly stain on our history, and although it is clear a lot of pagan traditions survived in Scotland, even past the Reformation and Industrial Revolution, most of the accounts of witch trials seem to have little to do with that. (We have at least two holy wells locally – the Physic and the Lady Well – but neither of these seem to have figured in the trials.)
Please excuse any extra strangeness in my post. WordPress not spooks are responsible.
Corstorphine After Dark
Some people are openly occultist (if that is not a contradiction in terms), and some are not. I strongly suspect it is mostly the latter, although there are no reliable statistics. This phenomenon has as much to do with Charmed & Bewitched (the show not the girlband), and we can thank these for a spate of Samanthas and Darrens born in the sixties.
Some say that Corstorphine Hill is used on certain nights of the year for such purposes. Who knows? My only strange encounter up there was one night when an assertive English jogger decided to rshine his light in my face and then asked me why I was covering my eyes. I was up there to take a picture of the Moon, which appears in my book. It is about the only time I’ve been up there in the dark… If light-polluted Edinburgh ever truly gets dark.
At least one fellow blogger seems to think the hill is used for witchcraft, although I detect a tongue firmly in their cheek. (Also I must repeat Wicca has little or nothing to do with our Celtic traditions!) See here –
Real Witch Trials
Charles Kirkpatrick Sharpe wrote on local witchcraft in Memorialls; or the considerable Things that fell out within the Island of Great Britain from 1638 to 1684 (1820). In A Historical Account of the Belief in Witchcraft in Scotland, Sharpe states:
“On the 31st of July, 1603, James Reid in Corstorphin, [sic] was convicted of sorcery, and afterwards burnt. He several times at Bannie Craigs, and on Corstorphine Muir, met the devil.”
Most people tried as witches seem to have been female, but they were not exclusively so as this incident proves. In many cases, the victims were also acquitted by other courts and authorities, which is not something we tend to hear about. Mr Reid was not so lucky.
Corstorphine Muir presumably would be the slope of Corstorphine Hill. If you know where “Bannie Craigs” is, I’d be interested to hear.
Modern Halloween has been mixed up with the American version which has added a few elements from the Mexican Day of the Dead to the mix, as well as good old commercialism. Maybe I should bemoan how tumshies have been replaced by pumpkins or guising by trick or treat. You can do that instead, and please tell our kids, I mean bairns.
Recently, there has been campaign to have a national memorial to Scotland’s witches. There already is one, on the Castle Esplanade, which has of course escaped the notice of the Guardianistas who are not noted for their knowledge of Scottish history. Or anything north of Watford.