Village Plans Scotland’s First Official Memorial To Witches

The 1,600 citizens of a Scottish village called Pittenweem, Fife, are taking part in a controversial “referendum” on whether they want a memorial to witches who were tortured and killed by vengeful mobs in the early 18th Century and where such a memorial should be. At least 26 “witches” were tortured and 18 of them killed in the picturesque fishing village.

The local community council has written to every adult in the community asking if they agreed in principle with the plan. If they are given the green light, a permanent memorial will be constructed in the village, most likely on the site of the most notorious witch killing, that of Janet Cornfoot.

After she was accused of witchcraft, Cornfoot was swung from a rope, stoned, and then crushed under a heavy door piled high with boulders. To make quite certain she was dead, a horse and cart was repeatedly driven over her body and her remains buried in an area called West Braes.

Local historian, Leonard Low , author of “The Weem Witch”, said of the referendum: “It is just fantastic and a massive step forward. This will be the first time in Britain that such a memorial has been erected.”

Low, whose family have lived for generations in Pittenweem, spearheaded the campaign to commemorate the witches.

Louise Park, presiding officer for the Pagan Federation of Scotland, said the monument would be a fitting way to remember those who had lost their lives.

She said: “A memorial would be a great thing to remember the people who were victims of hunts and persecutions. It is always good to remember that people can be persecuted by people in authority.”

One proposed design for the memorial at West Brae is a tall metal structure depicting the door used to crush Cornfoot, emblazoned with the names of all 26 victims. Hands will grip the door on either side, a powerful reminder of the mob who took her life.

Margaret Laidlaw, a member of the community council, confirmed: “A questionnaire has gone out and we are waiting to hear local opinion on the matter before we thrash out the finer details.”

During the witch trials at Pittenweem, sixteen of the accused were burnt at the stake, and one died during torture.

Despite the horrors and the abuses or power, not everyone agrees with the memorial plan. The community council’s own acting secretary, David Birrell, described it as “ridiculous”.

“I know all this is going on and I can hardly believe it,” he said. “It is completely ridiculous. This all happened 300 years. To put a monument in Pittenweem for something that happened so long ago is beyond belief.”

Dr Peter Maxwell-Stuart, a history lecturer at the nearby University of St. Andrews, said the monument would be “futile”.

He said: “Apologising for what your ancestors have done in the past is futile. It is making an assumption that all these people were innocent when of course they weren’t. Practising witchcraft was against the law at the time and was considered a criminal offence and to apologise would be a mistaken view of history. If I was given a vote in Pittenweem I would certainly vote against the memorial,” he added.

Much of the abuse in Pittenweem was the result of local minister Patrick Cowper’s determination to ignore the laws of the day. The authorities in Edinburgh demanded evidence that witches had used their supernatural powers in the commission of actual crimes such as murder. And even, they had to give their permission for a trial to go ahead.

Cowper imprisoned women merely on flimsy accusations of practising witchcraft. And he incited the mob to mete out its murderous brand of justice before getting permission from Edinburgh.

When the national government ordered a stop to the persecution, the few surviving women were released and the folk of Pittenweem turned against Cowper. In yet another bizarre twist, they imprisoned his cow in the same jail that had been used for the witches.

Cowper was never brought to justice although his gravestone in the village was vandalised to the point where the inscription can no longer be read.

The cost of the memorial, and who would pay for it, has still be worked out.

Alan Paul, Fife Council’s Corporate Asset Manager said the long-term maintenance of the memorial would have to be carefully planned.

He said: “It’s not just a question of building something, but also ensuring that it can be maintained in good order for the long-term.”

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About Wicasta

Depending upon whom you ask, Wicasta Lovelace is an author, musician, artist, web designer and/or delusional lunatic (which one he is at any given moment depends upon the day of the week, really). You can find him on Google+, Twitter and Facebook. Wicasta is working on several novels and recording music with his band, Windhaven.

3 Responses to Village Plans Scotland’s First Official Memorial To Witches

  1. Angela December 9, 2012 at 9:36 pm #

    The title of this article alone, sickens me. Why not call it- Memorial for women who were accused of witchcraft? These were women, female human being’s, you guy’s talk about them as if they were alien’s or something. There never was “witchcraft” only the old ways that your Church’s didn’t like, so they made up a nice story, got everyone scared and then tortured and murdered people. Much like people in the US are brainwashed about Muslim’s. Maybe it’s time to grow up and stop being so afraid of those church’s.

    • Wicasta December 10, 2012 at 10:42 am #

      Hi, Angela. Thanks for your comments. But I think your dissatisfaction is misplaced. I never quite know how to respond when people say things such as “old ways that your Church’s didn’t like” and seem to assume that this web site is an archive directly associated with the Catholic Church. I know people mean well and get caught up in the moment, but the reality of the situation on the ground is that the people who are responsible for the transcription of the “Malleus Maleficarum”, which one finds here, are all Pagan. There’s not a “Malleus” sympathizer among us. We established this archive because at the time of its inception, one would have been hard-pressed to find a Christian who wanted to talk about the “Malleus Maleficarum”. But it was something we thought needed to be talked about.

      I feel compelled to remind people that this web site was established to remind the average person of this evil work, not to celebrate the Catholic Church or the “Malleus Maleficarum”. As our old tag line used to say, “Some things should not be forgotten”. It was never meant to be a celebration of the “Malleus Maleficarum”. It’s a reference for a historical artifact, nothing more. We are certainly not affiliated with any Christian clergy and bear about as much responsibility for the “Malleus Maleficarum” and the harm that came from it as those people who visit the web site and read the text.

      In the end, I would suggest that if anyone wants to lodge a formal complaint about the “Malleus Maleficarum” or the Catholic Church in general, the appropriate place to do so is at the official Vatican web site – http://www.vatican.va/ – which could properly be considered the official web site of all Catholics. I encourage anyone with a grievance about the “Malleus Maleficarum”, its subject matter or associated materials, to write a letter to The Pope and express their dissatisfaction. It’s largely misplaced here.

  2. Catherine June 18, 2012 at 2:43 pm #

    He said: “Apologising for what your ancestors have done in the past is futile. It is making an assumption that all these people were innocent when of course they weren’t. Practising witchcraft was against the law at the time and was considered a criminal offence and to apologise would be a mistaken view of history. If I was given a vote in Pittenweem I would certainly vote against the memorial,” he added

    How patriarchal of him.

    Having a snake in a house in UK can be deemed in 2012 that parents are into witchcraft and you can loose your children.

    Social workers and nurses etc are programmed to believe this 2012.

    So it is not his story at all.

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