Hello! And welcome back to season two of the Shetland with Laurie podcast. I’m absolutely thrilled to be back behind the mic bringing you another season and, more importantly, I’m touched that so many of you, the listeners, have asked for another season.
This episode is a solo show and it’s the findings of some recent research that I’ve done into the witches of Shetland - those who were tried and executed for witchcraft.
It’s going to be a long episode as I kept getting lost down rabbit holes in the archives and I found out so much about this shocking period in our history.
The first laws pertaining to witchcraft followed the Reformation in Scotland in 1563. The Church began to focus more heavily on controlling parishioners, ensuring their moral credentials were high. The Witchcraft Act remained in law until 1736, and the 17th century saw a manifestation of control between Church and State as a real fear of witchcraft steadily grew, fuelled by a monarch who was obsessed with his nation’s morality.
King James VI introduced revised laws on witchcraft in the early 1600s and it wasn’t long before witch-hysteria swept the nation, resulting in the well-known witch hunts and the trials of some 4,000 women and men ( it’s important to say that about 15 per cent of those executed in Scotland as witches were men), of which, an estimated 2,500 were executed and burned at the stake.
Not every witch was a woman, but every woman was a potential witch and the ingredients that made a witch tended to favour women; women were more likely to quarrel where men tended to fight, and people feared the words of women and believed that their curses could come true. Similarly, witches were often accused of sleeping with the devil, and as the devil was not believed to be homosexual, it was thought less likely that men could fall under his spell. The belief that the devil actively sought women was widely held at this time.
It’s important to say that, although today we see some of the allegations against these women as far-fetched, in the 17th century these fears were very real and they were very much believed by a god-fearing nation who explained the unexplainable with God or the Devil. Good or evil. If a sudden gale was to blow up on a summer’s day, there was no modern weather forecasting that could explain it. And just as today, people sought answers to explain disasters and, in many cases, witchcraft was blamed.
The notion that the devil could walk among people in the form of a human man, tempting those of questionable morality away from God, was not seen as outlandish. The devil was always believed to be just around the corner and people were on constant guard against him. Similarly, ordinary people believed in the power of words and curses. We’ve all heard that old saying that “the pen is mightier than the sword”. 17th century Scotland, and Shetland, was a deeply superstitious place.
Those convicted of witchcraft faced long trials. They were held in prison, questioned and often tortured. They were then tried and sentenced. Death was by strangulation before their dead bodies were burned at the stake so as to leave no form to bury.
I hope that you enjoy this episode, and I will leave a warning that it does include tales of execution so if you are feeling fragile, you might want to skip this one.
So, let’s get stuck in.
Support me on Patreon
National Database of Witches in Scotland
Lawrence Tulloch’s Shetland Folktales, buy the book
Listen to the story of the Fetlar witch
Witches of Scotland website
A little about Laurie
Hello, and welcome to my podcast. I hope that you find what you're looking for, whether you are planning that perfect holiday or maybe you're from Shetland and looking for some inspiration. Hopefully, there is something here for everyone.