At the December meeting of Kirkcudbright History Society, Dr. Lizanne Henderson of the University of Glasgow spoke about “Hunting Witches in Galloway”. In an authoritative, carefully researched and clear presentation Lizanne spoke about a period of Scottish history when Witchcraft was a national problem and specifically between 1563 and 1736, Witchcraft was illegal. It was regarded as a serious crime and Scotland had severe punishments for those found to be a Witches
Witchcraft was not seen as due to a male dominated patriarchal system or religious upheaval or the consequence of other things like warfare but as a force of evil to be condemned and uprooted.
Significant periods in Scottish history when Witchcraft caused national panics were in 1568-69, 1590-91, 1597,1628-1631, 1640-50, and 1661-62.
Evidence was cited of over 3800 trials in Scotland for Witchcraft – of both male and female witches – and around 2000 resulted in sentence of death.
In Europe too, there is evidence to suggest 110,000/120,000 trials for Witchcraft took place with 50,000/60,000 executions.
The notion of a Witch goes back to classical times and notions of Witchcraft, the practice and belief in magical skills and abilities, varies considerably across cultures and social groups.
Illustrating her work with specific examples of Witches drawn from her research in Scotland, including Janet Miller (1656), Janet Muldritche (1671), Bessie Paine (1671), Elspeth McEwan (1696-98) and others, Dr. Henderson indicated that about 130 Dumfries and Galloway Witches had been identified from Witch trial evidence from the 16th, 17th and early 18th centuries. Of these 35 were from Kirkcudbrightshire and 15 from Wigtownshire.
These different case examples were a reminder of the range of evidence submitted and circumstances under which Witch trials occurred. They rounded off a fascinating talk.