Sunday, 12 July 2015

The Later Witches

   An earlier post mentioned the Early Records of Witches (01/04/15), and others recorded Witchcraft in Brechin (12/04/15) and the more famous Forfar Witches (30/06/15).  This time I concentrate on later mentions of witchcraft in the county, along with some miscellaneous traditions. 

   The Dronner's Dyke is an artificial wall in the tidal Montrose Basin.  Its origins are unknown but local story says it was constructed about 1670 to enclose land belonging to the estate of Dun.  But the dyke was said to have been destroyed by a storm raised by the last witch to be burnt in the area (named Meggie Cowie). In the same district, two Montrose women and their nephew were hanged for employing witchcraft.  They bought a potion from a Mearns witch and used it to poison the Laird of Dun, hoping that their nephew would inherit the estate.  But poor Dun's body turned suspiciously black and the plot was uncovered.
   One place of execution for witches in the Sidlaw Hills was a place called the Law Knowe on Kinpurney Hill. The last witch who perished here was an old woman, transported to the place of death in a cart.  A large crowd of locals hurried up the slopes to witness the spectacle of her demise.  But the old woman smiled at their impetuosity as they rushed ahead and commented, 'Whit are they a fleein at?  There can be naethin done until I gang.'  When the cart reached the place of the stake, many people were still struggling up the hill, so the old, condemned lady calmnly took out her knitting and remarked, 'I'll just thrust a thread till the people a gather.'

   Male wizardry persisted after the repeal of he death sentence for witchcraft in 1736.  A man who could magically locate lost items in the parish of Carmyllie was denounced by ministers there in 1743.  In upland Angus at the end of the 18th century a man could obtain second sight by drinking the 'broo'  of the white adder.  An Adder Stone, situated in the Burn of Calletar, Lethnot, was described as being grey and holed.  The sacred White Adder squirmed around the stone on sunny days.  This stone was highly regarded for its curative and protective powers.  Another charm stone, used by an Angus farmer who died in 1854, was presented to the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland ten years later.
   One greatly esteemed Lethnot wizard was once consulted by a farmed whose cows were mysteriously dying.  The seer filled a basin with water and dropped a metal ball into it, invoking the name of the Holy Trinity.  He peered into the bowl and saw the face of the witch who was responsible for destroying the cattle.  The farmer also saw the woman's face, recognising her as one of his cottar women.
   In the 19th century, one of the last Angus Wise Men was James West of Ferryden, better known as Bull Waast.  Andrew Douglas, in the History of the Village of Ferryden (2nd. edition 1857) recalled the effect that this man had on superstitious fisher folk:

                          James was generally early abroad in the mornings, in order to
                          discern the face of the sky.  Many watched his motions:  and
                          if...he stood still with his hands folded beneath his jacket, they
                          would all turn into their beds again; but if his hands were placed
                          behind his back, this was an omen to proceed to sea; and if James
                          was observed drawing down his boat, there was a rush immediately,
                          and cries of 'Jamie, bring this, and Geordie, bring that' were heard
                          on every side.

   A public execution in 1785 incidentally involved witchcraft.  The condemned man was a young thief named Andrew Low, who was hanged on Balmashanner Hill, Forfar.  He was said to have been the last person executed for theft in Scotland.  Andrew had once stolen a hen from Lizzie Kinmont of Brechin, unluckily for him a famous witch.  Lizzie duly predicted that as many folk would see him die as there were feathers on her lamented hen - and of course it came true.

   One of the last Angus spae-wives was Spunk Janet, who lived in Cathro's Close, off the Murraygate in Dundee, in the middle of the 19th century.  Her customers were chiefly 'old maids, wanton widows, and impatient lassies'.  She charged half a crown for supernatural advice.  One client was a love sick girl who asked Janet to cure her of her love for a particular man.  Janet advised her to go to a certain well each morning at dawn for a week and immerse her feet in water.  The repeated exercise would soon make her forget her swain.  A maid who entered Janet's house once found her sitting as usual in an old armchair with a black pipe stuck into her mouth.  'Janet, I want my fortune,' she said.  But Janet didn't answer - she was stone dead.

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