Witchcraft in Scotland

I strive to present here an overview of witchcraft and witch persecutions in Scotland during SCA period, and a bit after, as the height of the witch craze straddles the end of our era of study.  This document is still under construction.  My research here has been a bit of a rabbit hole, and many additions are coming soon.  Thank you in advance for your patience.

The Scottish Witchcraft Act

The Witchcraft Act of 1542 by Henry VIII (Tudor England) first made witchcraft a felony – punishable by death and the loss of personal goods and chattle, which at the time would have conveniently been turned over to the ruling government. (Gibson, 2006)

It was forbidden to:

… use devise practise or exercise, or cause to be devysed practised or exercised, any Invovacons or cojuracons of Sprites witchecraftes enchauntementes or sorceries to thentent to fynde money or treasure or to waste consume or destroy any persone in his bodie membres, or to pvoke [provoke] any persone to unlawfull love, or for any other unlawfull intente or purpose … or for dispite of Cryste, or for lucre of money, dygge up or pull downe any Crosse or Crosses or by such Invovacons or cojuracons of Sprites witchecraftes enchauntementes or sorceries or any of them take upon them to tell or declare where goodes stollen or lost shall become ..

The Scottish Witchcraft Act of 1563 made not just the practice of witchcraft, but consulting with witches, a crime.  This act was active until it was repealed and replaced by the Witchcraft Act of 1735 (House of Lords, post- 1707 Acts of Union, making Scotland and England part of the Kingdom of England)

sources: Gibbson, 2006; Larner, 1981; Goodare, 2005

The Witch Trials

Trends in the trial documentation of accused witches in Scotland, via the University of Edinburgh.


witch persecutions for midwiferie in all of scotland

Folk Healing

witch persecutions for folk magic in all of scotland

Accused witches sorted by gender

witch persecutions by gender in scotland

The Aberdeenshire Witch Craze:

The late 1590s were a tumultuous time in Aberdeen and the surrounding villages.  A more detailed accounting of the Aberdeenshire Witch Craze can be found here.  

Bessie Aiken, 19 May 1597, Edinburgh |  Accusations: Folk Healing 

Bessie Aiken was arrested on May 19th, 1597 and tried for witchcraft on November 11, 1597 in Edinburgh.  She was accused of folk healing and unorthodox religious practices after she was implicated by another witch.  The trial notes state that she was a member of a group of four women who appear to have been recognized folk healers who met, taught each other, cured for each other, and did general workings as (medical) professionals.  Janet Steward was named as Bessie’s teacher in such practices.    The Devil is not mentioned, however, it is notable that Bessie was implicated by another witch, that there were mentions of witch’s meetings, ritual objects, verbal formulae, and sympathetic magick.  Bessie is said to have utilized witch’s circles, use of red nettles to cure a pain in the loins, use of fresh butter as a salve, use of salt for curing, washing people, and reports that she roasted four or five kittens and used the drippings to rub a sick patient.  The ritual objects were listed as: butter, cat, garland, plant, salt, water, wood; unorthodox religious motifs were listed as: prayer, saints, and “three.” “Green wood” is also mentioned, and the implication may indicate fairie lore.

Bessie was found guilty, and sentenced to execution.  She would await her execution in the Tolbooth, Edinburgh.  She petitioned on 15 Aug 1598 to have her sentence of execution reduced to banishment, which was granted.  She had delivered a baby in prison and it is reported that she had greatly suffered as a result.


  • Survey of Scottish Witchcraft Database, University of Edinburgh
  • Books of Adjournal, JC2/3 fo. 224-229
  • Pitcairn v ii. p. 25-29
  • Pitcarin v ii. p. 52
  • South Leith Kirk session records CH2/716/1

Resource Links:

Survey of Scottish Witchcraft Database, University of Edinburgh

Spalding Club Miscellany