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Insane World

Scotland: Thousands of women branded as witches in the 16th century set to receive officials pardons

Thousands of women in Scotland were accused of witchcraft in the 16th-18th centuries with many executed. They faced allegations of cursing the king’s ships, to shape-shifting into animals and birds, or dancing with the devil.

Now three centuries after the Witchcraft Act was repealed, campaigners are on course to win pardons and official apologies for the estimated 3,837 people, 84% of whom were women – tried as witches, of which two-thirds were executed and burned.

After a two-year campaign by the Witches of Scotland group, a member’s bill in the Scottish parliament has secured the support of Nicola Sturgeon’s administration to clear the names of those accused.




Scotland’s indefatigable pursuit of witches between 1563, when the Witchcraft Act was brought in, and 1736, when it was finally repealed, resulted in five “great Scottish witch-hunts” and a series of nationwide trials.

The earliest witch-hunts were sanctioned by James VI of Scotland, later James I of England and Ireland, who believed witches plotted against his Danish bride by summoning up storms to sink his ships.

With witchcraft a capital crime, the convicted were usually strangled to death then burned at the stake so as to leave no body to bury. Many confessed under torture, which included sleep deprivation, the crushing and pulling out of fingernails, and pricking of the skin with needles and bodkins to see if the accused bled.