Read a 350-year-old Scottish witchcraft book online

By May 2, 2020Culture, News

A 350-year-old Scottish book listing names of possible witches and the towns they lived is available to read online.

The Names of Witches in Scotland 1658 was written at a time when the persecution of witches was rife and also contains notes of the witches’ supposed confessions. Those confessions of course were forced from the accused, usually through sleep deprivation.

Many accused were actually folk healers, practicing traditional medicine, however if the medicine failed they would often be accused of witchcraft.

Ancestry senior content manager, Miriam Silverman, said: “Many of us have donned a black dress, pointy hat and even green face paint to go to Halloween parties as witches, but that’s our almost comic interpretation of something mysterious and scary that people feared in the past.

“In the 17th century, people believed that the unholy forces of witchcraft were lurking in their communities, and those accused of being witches were persecuted on the basis of these dark suspicions.

“Whether your ancestors were accused witches or not, you can find out more about them and their lives by searching these – and many other collections – online today.”

Although the majority of the accused were women (over 75%), some were also men. The men were accused either because they were related to a woman who was thought to be a witch, or they were a folk healer who was thought to have abused his powers. Every person hounded by communities were once members of that community, and in many cases had once helped their neighbours with charms or medicines.

Dr Christopher Hilton, senior archivist at the Wellcome Library said: “This manuscript offers us a glimpse into a world that often went undocumented: how ordinary people, outside the mainstream of science and medicine, tried to bring order and control to the world around them.

“This might mean charms and spells, or the use of healing herbs and other types of folk medicine, or both. We’ll probably never know the combinations of events that saw each of these individuals accused of witchcraft.

“It’s a mysterious document: we know when it entered Henry Wellcome’s collections, and a little about whose hands it passed through before that, but not who created it or why.

“It gives us a fleeting view of a world beyond orthodox medicine and expensively trained physicians, in which people in small towns and villages looked for their own routes to understanding the world and came into conflict with the state for doing it

“We’re delighted to share this insight into the past with a wider audience.”

The Names of Witches 1658 (PDF)

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