London’s Wellcome Library, which specializes in medical texts and history, recently put out the first digital copy of a 350-year-old Scottish manuscript.
The manuscript, titled Names of Witches in Scotland, 1658, contains just what the title says: a register of the names of those accused of witchcraft at a time when the nation was rampant with witchcraft hysteria.
An interesting fact: torture was a common tactic to get the supposed witches to “confess” to their crimes. Sleep deprivation was a particularly favorite method.
The infamous “swimming test” was a less-used method that involved tying up the accused and pushing them into the water. If said person floated, it meant they were guilty due to being “rejected” by the water and therefore they were a “servant of the devil.” Sound logic there...
Scotland had its fair share of witch trials, but some of the more well-known trials include the North Berwick witch trials — the first mass witch trial in Scotland, or the Witches of Bo’ness who were said to have formed a Demonic pact.
It may come as no surprise that the Witchcraft Act had very little structure to it. For example, it did not specify how to execute a witchcraft trial, or even how to identify a witch in the first place.
These inconsistencies lead to 2,000 completely unnecessary deaths before the Act was repealed in 1736.
As it turns out, many of those accused of witchcraft weren’t witches at all, but rather healers practicing in the folk tradition of medicine. Often times when their remedies didn’t work, the recipients would accuse them of “witchcraft.”
Dr. Christopher Hilton, senior archivist at Wellcome Library, said about some of those accused: “This manuscript offers us a glimpse into a world that often went undocumented: how ordinary people … tried to bring order and control to the world around them. This might mean charms and spells, or the use of healing herbs and other types of folk medicine…”
Luckily, that period in history eventually came to an end. Scottish lawyers came to distrust the torturous methods being used against the victims and instead advocated for the searching of “witches marks” on the body, which usually meant unusual moles or scars.
Eventually, the Enlightenment period took over and witchcraft hysteria died down significantly.