The Scottish Witch Trials: From Heresy To Tourism



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This study explores witchcraft and witch-hunts in Scotland from the middle of the sixteenth century to the early eighteenth century. The research follows witchcraft into the present to understand how it was transformed from an act of heresy into a tourist industry for Scotland. The relationship between the church and witchcraft has been thoroughly explored. However, the public’s perception of witchcraft has had far less historical consideration. This thesis tracks the Protestant church as well as the Scottish crown’s stance on witchcraft throughout the years. A record of events relevant to the evolution of the perception of witchcraft in Scottish society is included. The historiography of Scottish witchcraft is well established. Many documents exist regarding the church’s stance on witchcraft (Anentis Witchcraftis, 1563), and the government’s stance on witchcraft (The Witchcraft Act of 1604). Additionally, many documents from witch-hunt trials (An Account of the Tryal and Examination of the North Berwick Witches, 1590-91) have been preserved. While documents regarding witchcraft are not in short supply, very few of the extant texts focus on the laypeople’s perception. By using surviving church and government documents, newspaper articles, folklore, art, songs, traditions, and written work of the time, this research provides a better understanding of the laypeople’s concerns and feelings towards witchcraft. This study also revealed the impact of pre-existing societal norms and beliefs, including the ways in which they played into Scottish policy-making and the public’s reactions. The conclusions of this research allow for a greater understanding of the Scottish peasantry’s perception of witches, witchcraft, and witch trials. They also provide significant insight into how the Scottish witch trials were transformed from a dark mark in history into a thriving tourist industry.



Scotland, Witch, Witchcraft, Witch trials, Protestant church, Scottish crown, Scottish peasantry, Cunning folk, Folklore, Tourism