Witch­ing hour

Call for me­mo­rial for ex­e­cuted Scot­tish women

Sunday Herald - - NEWS - BY KARIN GOOD­WIN

MEMO­RI­ALS should be cre­ated across Scot­land to mark the deaths of thou­sands of women ex­e­cuted dur­ing the witch tri­als, say lead­ing fem­i­nists and aca­demics.

Calls to ac­knowl­edge the “geno­cide of Scot­tish women” in­clude a net­work of plaques at sites in Scot­land where women were held, tried, tor­tured and burned at the stake. It is es­ti­mated that about 2,500 women in Scot­land were ex­e­cuted for witchcraft be­tween the mid-16th and early-18th cen­turies, yet there is no large-scale pub­lic me­mo­rial.

The calls mir­ror those urg­ing Scot­land to build a me­mo­rial or mu­seum to ac­knowl­edge the na­tion’s shame­ful role in the slave trade. Women who were burned at the stake, hanged or stran­gled in­cluded heal­ers and lo­cal wise women as well as those con­sid­ered re­bel­lious to the Pres­by­te­rian cause, in­clud­ing many who con­tin­ued to prac­tise as Catholics.

Oth­ers tar­geted in­cluded those thought of as “dif­fer­ent”, or even women sin­gled out by ri­vals dur­ing neigh­bour­hood dis­putes.

Ed­in­burgh Univer­sity his­to­rian Dr Ju­lian Goodare, who is call­ing for ac­knowl­edge­ment of the in­jus­tices, claims the few ex­ist­ing memo­ri­als are in­ap­pro­pri­ate, in­signif­i­cant, in­ac­ces­si­ble and un­known. He notes that one tiny plaque at Castle­hill in Ed­in­burgh – where one in 10 were tried – is not only tucked away but de­picts a ser­pent and a fox­glove, in­di­cat­ing that the women killed had magic pow­ers.

Oth­ers, he says, are “em­bar­rass­ing” in their his­tor­i­cal in­ac­cu­racy, like the Mag­gie Walls me­mo­rial in Dun­ning which com­mem­o­rates witches that did not ex­ist, or the Witches Stone in For­res, where it is claimed witches were rolled down Cluny Hill in spiked bar­rels – an idea not backed by his­tor­i­cal records. “I would like to see a me­mo­rial,” he said. “I en­quired whether the Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment would be in­ter- ested, but they replied that they have a pol­icy of not pay­ing for memo­ri­als so there would have to be a fundrais­ing cam­paign.”

Rosie Kane, a fem­i­nist and politi­cian turned ac­tor, who will next week­end per­form in Seraphina, a play about the Pais­ley witch tri­als, agreed with the call. “It is a huge part of Scot­tish his­tory,” said Kane, claim­ing the need for a me­mo­rial was brought home to her when the cast of the play went on a site visit to a piece of waste ground where Pais­ley witches were burned.

“We all fell silent and started qui­etly look­ing for a plaque or a marker that held some kind of apol­ogy, but there was noth­ing,” she said. “It’s im­por­tant that af­ter a war or a bat­tle or a geno­cide there is breath­ing space and then there should be a phys­i­cal re­mem­brance.

ITHINK that in ev­ery place that some­thing hap­pened there should be a plaque with the names – if they are known – and there should be some­thing that joins those to­gether and tells the story. Each area should take re­spon­si­bil­ity for that. It may help us talk about the sex­ism that we’re see­ing now in Hol­ly­wood, in pol­i­tics, in sport. If we say some­one is a witch we are still in­sult­ing them.”

Rachel Jury, creator and di­rec­tor of Seraphina, which will look at the per­cep­tion of witches to­day and make com­par­isons be­tween the per­se­cu­tion of witches and mod­ern “slut sham­ing”, added: “One man asked me: ‘ Why do you want to bring all that up again?’ If I was writ­ing some­thing about the First World War it would be ob­vi­ous why that was im­por­tant.

“Well, this is my war and it’s im­por­tant to women and it should be im­por­tant to ev­ery man too. It would be fab­u­lous to see a more wide­spread recog­ni­tion of this.”

Pro­fes­sor Lynn Abrams, chair of mod­ern his­tory at Glas­gow Univer­sity, said that the lack of memo­ri­als to those ex­e­cuted for witchcraft echoed the “dearth” of vis­i­ble mon­u­ments to Scot­tish women more gen­er­ally.

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