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Issue 97 - Remnants of the Underworld

Scotland Magazine Issue 97
February 2018

 

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Remnants of the Underworld

Recounting the tales of witch trials, the Wizard’s Stone and Devil’s Hill

Medieval Scotland was obsessed with wizardry, magic and witchcraft. This was never more so the case than in the reign of James VI who, in 1603, became James I of England. A complex, scholarly man, he was nevertheless convinced that the forces of darkness were out to get him. Following a storm at sea that almost drowned his bride-to-be, Anne of Denmark, he launched a fierce vendetta consigning hundreds of unfortunates (mostly women) to the flame.

The first of the Kinross witch trials took place in 1643 when John Brughe was accused of dallying with the Devil at the Rumbling Bridge and for raising corpses in the kirkyard of Gledevon. Tried at Culross, Brughe was strangled and burnt. A series of trials followed at the Crook of Devon, with 13 witches and Robert Wilson, a supposed warlock, condemned to death.

Torture to force confessions was commonplace. In 1659, Margaret Duchell from Alloa was accused of shapeshifting into the form of a dog. Bessie Paton, also from Alloa, claimed that three men had laid heavy stones upon her back and burned her legs to force her to talk. These Alloa witches, all of whom met grizly ends, were examined by the Rev Matthias Symson, a somewhat over-zealous graduate of Edinburgh University who became Minister at Stirling.

Superstition was rife. At Grassmainston, in close proximity to Clackmannan, there is a natural spring of water that seemingly possessed magical healing powers.

From Dollar, on the road that leads towards Castle Campbell, beside a footpath that runs uphill into the Lauchy Launds woodland, there is a jutting stone. This is said to mark the spot where the last Dollar witch was burnt.

Lauchyfaulds, as the spot at Lauchy Launds is also known, translates as the ‘place of the Black Goddess’, which some believe is connected to Morgan Le Fay or Morganna. In the Scottish Arthurian legend (where King Arthur of the Bretons presides over the Kingdom of Strathclyde, which stretched from Wales to Dun Edin - Edinburgh Castle), it is claimed that the woodland was visited by Merlin the Magician. This is certainly possible as King Arthur, according to historian Adam Ardrey in his book Finding Arthur: The True Origins of the Once and Future King (2013), had his round table at the King's Knot at Stirling Castle.

To the north of Dollar in Burngrens Glen there is a rock known as the Deil's Cradle and there is a local tradition that it rises into the air every Halloween and that Satan himself swings back and forth upon it.

No witness has as yet come forth to confirm this, but close by is a rounded hill where the witches of Fife, Perthshire and Clackmannan were known to gather. It is said that grotesque shadows are often seen here on stormy dark nights.