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Mapping Scotland’s Grim History of Witch-Hunting

A new interactive map project from Edinburgh University charts the bloody wave of persecution directed at women accused of witchcraft in Scotland.
A mapping project from the University of Edinburgh traces "Great Scottish Witch Hunts."
A mapping project from the University of Edinburgh traces "Great Scottish Witch Hunts."University of Edinburgh

In 1662 a woman named Janet McNicol, who lived on the Isle of Bute in Scotland, went on trial for witchcraft. She confessed—possibly under torture—of having met the Devil three times, in the form of a leper, a “gross copperfaced man” and a good-looking fellow who saved her from drowning on the quayside. For reasons undetailed, McNicol managed to escape sentencing for 13 years.  When she was captured in 1673, she was strangled and her body was burnt—the usual punishment for witches in Scotland.

Thanks to a newly published interactive map, a dark passage in the history of Scotland is being brought into the light: the country’s fierce, centuries-long persecution of people accused of being witches. From the mid-16th to the early 18th century, close to 4,000 people in Scotland—overwhelmingly women—were tried for witchcraft. Up to two thirds of this number may have been executed.