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bound across her face with four prongs, which were thrust into her mouth. It was fastened behind to the wall by a chain, in such a manner that the victim was unable to lie down; and in this position she was sometimes kept for several days, while men were constantly with her to prevent her from closing her eyes for a moment in sleep.' Partly in order to effect this object, and partly to discover the insensible mark which was the sure sign of a witch, long pins were thrust into her body.' At the same time, as it was a saying in Scotland that a witch would never confess while she could drink, excessive thirst was often added to her tortures.' Some prisoners have been waked for five nights; one, it is said, even for nine.
The physical and mental suffering of such a process was sufficient to overcome the resolution of many, and to distract
1 'One of the most powerful incentives to confession was systematically to deprive the suspected witch of the refreshment of her natural sleep. . . . Iron collars, or witches' bridles, are still preserved in various parts of Scotland, which had been used for such iniquitous purposes. These instruments were so constructed that, by means of a hoop which passed over the head, a piece of iron having four points or prongs was forcibly thrust into the mouth, two of these being directed to the tongue and palate, the others pointing outwards to each cheek. This infernal machine was secured by a padlock. At the back of the collar was fixed a ring, by which to attach the witch to a staple in the wall of her cell. Thus equipped, and night and day waked and watched by some skilful person appointed by her inquisitors, the unhappy creature, after a few days of such discipline, maddened by the misery of her forlorn and helpless state, would be rendered fit for confessing anything, in order to be rid of the dregs of her wretched life. At intervals fresh examinations took place, and these were repeated from time to time until her “contumacy,” as it was termed, was subdued. The clergy and kirk sessions appear to have been the “unwearied instruments of “purging the land of witchcraft;” and to them, in the first instance, all the complaints and informations were made.' (Pitcairn, vol. i. part 2, p. 50.)
· Dalyell, p. 645. The 'prickers' formed a regular profession in Scotland. * Burt's Letters from the North of Scotland, vol. i. pp. 227-234. 4 Dalyell, p. 645.
the understanding of not a few. But other and perhaps worse tortures were in reserve. The three principal that were habitually applied, were the pennywinkis, the boots, and the caschielawis. The first was a kind of thumb-screw; the second was a frame in which the leg was inserted, and in which it was broken by wedges, driven in by a hammer; the third was also an iron frame for the leg, which was from time to time heated over a brazier." Fire-matches were sometimes applied to the body of the victim.' We read, in a contemporary legal register, of one man who was kept for fortyeight hours in vehement tortour' in the caschielawis; and of another who remained in the same frightful machine for eleven days and eleven nights, whose legs were broken daily for fourteen days in the boots, and who was so scourged that the whole skin was torn from his body. This was, it is true, censured as an extreme case, but it was only an excessive application of the common torture.
How many confessions were extorted, and how many victims perished by these means, it is now impossible to say. A vast number of depositions and confessions are preserved, but they were only taken before a single court, and many others took cognisance of the crime. We know that in 1662, more than 150 persons were accused of witchcraft; and that in the preceding year no less than fourteen commissions had been issued for the trials. After these facts, it is scarcely necessary to notice how one traveller casually mentions having seen nine women burning together at Leith in 1664, or how, in 1678, nine others were condemned in a single
? Dalyell, p. 657. The two cases were in the same trial in
3 Pitcairn, vol. i. part ii. p. 376. 1596.
* Dalyell, p. 669.
5 Pitcairn, vol. iii. p. 597.
day. The charges were, indeed, of the most comprehensive order, and the wildest fancies of Sprenger and Nider were defended by the Presbyterian divines. In most Catholic countries, it was a grievance of the clergy that the civil power refused to execute those who only employed their power in curing disease. In Scotland such persons were unscrupulously put to death.: The witches were commonly strangled before they were burnt, but this merciful provision was very frequently omitted. An Earl of Mar (who appears to have been the only person sensible of the inhumanity of the proceedings) tells how, with a piercing yell, some women once broke half-burnt from the slow fire that consumed them, struggled for a few moments with despairing energy among the spectators, but soon with shrieks of blasphemy and wild protestations of innocence sank writhing in agony amid the flames.
The contemplation of such scenes as these is one of the most painful duties that can devolve upon the historian; but
? Dalyell, pp. 669, 670.
? For a curious instance of this, see that strange book, · The Secret Commonwealth,' published in 1691, by Robert Kirk, minister of Aberfoil. He represents evil spirits in human form as habitually living among the Highlanders. Succubi, or, as the Scotch called them, Leannain Sith, seem to have been especially common; and Mr. Kirk (who identifies them with the 'familiar spirits' of Deuteronomy) complains very sadly of the affection of many young Scotchmen for the 'fair ladies of this aërial order' (p. 35). Capt. Burt relates a long discussion he had with a minister on the subject of old women turning themselves into cats. The minister said that one man succeeded in cutting off the leg of a cat who attacked him, that the leg immediately turned into that of an old woman, and that four ministers signed a certificate attesting the fact (vol. i. pp. 271-277). One of the principal Scotch writers on these matters was Sinclair, who was Professor of Moral Philosophy at Glasgow.
3 Wright's Sorcery, vol. i. pp. 165, 166. Even to consult with witches was made capital.
4 Pitcairn, vol. iii. p. 598. Another Earl of Mar had been himself bled to death for having, as was alleged, consulted with witches how to shorten the life of James III. (Scott's Demonology, let. ix.)
it is one from which he must not shrink, if he would form a just estimate of the past. There are opinions that may be traced from age to age by footsteps of blood; and the intensity of the suffering they caused is a measure of the intensity with which they were realised. Scotch witchcraft was but the result of Scotch Puritanism, and it faithfully reflected the character of its parent. It is true that, before the Reformation, the people had been grossly ignorant and superstitious; but it is also true, that witchcraft in its darker forms was so rare that no law was made on the subject till 1563; that the law was not carried to its full severity till 1590; that the delusion invariably accompanied the religious terrorism which the Scotch clergy so zealously maintained; and that those clergy, all over Scotland, applauded and stimulated the persecution." The ascendancy they had obtained was boundless, and in this respect their power was entirely undisputed. One word from them might have arrested the tortures, but that word was never spoken. Their conduct implies, not merely a mental aberration, but also a callousness of feeling which has rarely been attained in a long career of vice. Yet these were men who had often shown, in the most trying circumstances, the highest and the most heroic virtues. They were men whose courage had never flinched when persecution was raging around; men who had never paltered with their consciences to attain the favours of a king; men
Sir Walter Scott seems to think that the first great outburst of persecution began when James VI. went to Denmark to fetch his bride. Before his departure, he exhorted the clergy to assist the magistrates, which they did, and most especially in matters of witchcraft. The king was himself perfectly infatuated with the subject, and had this one bond of union with the ministers; and, as Sir W. S. says, during the halcyon period of union between kirk and king, their hearty agreement on the subject of witchcraft failed not to heat the fires against all persons suspected of such iniquity.' (Demonology, letter ix.) See also Linton's Witch Storics, p. 5.
whose self-devotion and zeal in their sacred calling had seldom been surpassed; men who in all the private relations of life were doubtless amiable and affectionate. It is not on them that our blame should fall; it is on the system that made them what they were. They were but illustrations of the great truth, that when men have come to regard a certain class of their fellow-creatures as doomed by the Almighty to eternal and excruciating agonies, and when their theology directs their minds with intense and realising earnestness to the contemplation of such agonies, the result will be an indifference to the suffering of those whom they deem the enemies of their God, as absolute as it is perhaps possible for human nature to attain.
In Scotland the character of theology was even more hard and unpitying than in other countries where Puritanism existed, on account of a special circumstance which in some respects reflects great credit on its teachers. The Scotch kirk was the result of a democratic movement, and for some time, almost alone in Europe, it was the unflinching champion of political liberty. It was a Scotchman, Buchanan, who first brought liberal principles into clear relief. It was the Scotch clergy who upheld them with a courage that can hardly be overrated. Their circumstances made them liberals, and they naturally sought to clothe their liberalism in a theological garb. They soon discovered precedents for their rebellions in the history of the judges and captains of the Jews; and accordingly the union of an intense theological, and an intense liberal feeling, made them revert to the scenes of the Old Testament, to the sufferings and also the conquests of the Jews, with an affection that seems now almost inconceivable. Their whole theology took an Old Testament cast. Their modes of thought, their very phraseology, were de