The survival of witchcraft prosecutions and witch belief in South West Scotland

Henderson, L. (2006) The survival of witchcraft prosecutions and witch belief in South West Scotland. Scottish Historical Review, 85(1), pp. 52-74. (doi: 10.3366/shr.2006.0015)

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During the era of the Scottish witch-hunts, Dumfries and Galloway was one of the last regions to initiate witch prosecutions, but it was also one of the most reluctant to completely surrender all belief in witches until a comparatively late date. In the late seventeeth and early eighteenth centuries south-west Scotland, better known for the persecution of covenanters, took the practice of witchcraft and charming very seriously indeed, and for perhaps longer than other parts of Scotland, though the area has received surprisingly little scholarly investigation. The trial evidence is not incompatible with that found elsewhere though there is less demonic content. Accusations of witchcraft in this region were mostly concerned with the troubles of everyday life, agricultural problems, family tensions and disagreements between neighbours. From 1670 to about 1740, the very decades that were giving birth to the Scottish Enlightenment, learned interest in the supernatural was actually on the increase and the topic received an unprecedented level of questioning, investigation, and scrutiny. Ironically, the ‘superstitions’ that both church and state had been attempting to eradicate for some two hundred years were now being used to defend religion against the growing threat of atheism. The zeal of the ministers does seem to have contributed to the endurance of witch beliefs in the South West, as elsewhere. Against this backdrop, the survival of witch belief and the continued prosecution of witches in southwest Scotland is examined, thus contributing to our understanding of the individualistic nature of witch persecution and the various dynamics at play within the Scottish witch-hunting experience.

Item Type:Articles
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Henderson, Dr Lizanne
Authors: Henderson, L.
Subjects:G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GR Folklore
D History General and Old World > DA Great Britain
College/School:College of Social Sciences > School of Social & Environmental Sustainability
Journal Name:Scottish Historical Review
Publisher:Edinburgh University Press
ISSN (Online):1750-0222
Published Online:01 April 2006
Copyright Holders:Copyright © 2006 Edinburgh University Press
First Published:First published in Scottish Historical Review 85(1):52-74
Publisher Policy:Reproduced in accordance with the copyright policy of the publisher

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