The Last Witch of Scotland

People often walk by the place where I died. I have no grave, but only a stone to mark the spot where I met my fate. It still stands at the foot of someone’s private garden. There is no name on it, just a date, and I might add, an erroneous one. I did not die in 1722, but in 1727. I had no magical witches cap to put on my head and utter “back to Kintail“* as the story goes, to be whisked away and thus save myself from the hangman’s noose. Besides, I lived in Sutherland, not Kintail, in a rather modest village called Dornoch* in the highlands of Scotland.

No one remembers my real name anymore, not even I. I am referred to as Janet or Jenny Horne, a generic name given to those ignominious beings suspected of practicing witchcraft.  I did not die by the noose but rather the fires of wrath and malice.  Was I a witch?  I do remember  in my youth, dancing by the old stones at Glen Loth on the solstice. Some of us didn’t forget the old ways or the fairy folk and each year everyone celebrated the fires of Beltane*(Là Bealltainn) on top of the hill, welcoming summer with song and wild dancing!

dream hunters

But I was raised a Christian woman and I married a Christian man in the “kirk” at the center of town. Oh! he was a bonny lad! He worked hard and we lived happily for many years. When he died he blessed me and left  a small plot of land. I had lost three bairns to a fever in the early years, but a daughter survived who unfortunately was deformed of foot. She nevertheless was a good lass, fair of face, and a great comfort to me in my declining years. As I recall we only tried to help others with our potions and herbs. They used to say I had a way with the animals and I saved many that might have died without our intervention. But one year disease struck hard and many cattle could not be saved. For one reason or another my animals fared better than most.

It was at that time the villagers began to whisper. My memory during those last days was not so good and still isn’t thankfully.  Apparently my behaviours and mutterings alarmed some folk who thought of me as a nuisance. Mean spirited whispers soon became the roar of a malevolent conflagration. Even my daughter’s poor malformed feet became suspect. We were brought before the magistrate and charged with the crime of practicing the dark arts. They accused me of turning my daughter into a pony, and riding her to meet the devil! My daughter protested vigorously but when they asked me to recite the Lord’s Prayer I faltered. Sometimes my tongue would freeze as my mind wandered and for that my fate was sealed.

“and we’ll all go together to the wild mountain thyme, all around the blooming heather”

“will ye go, Lassie, go” (The Wild Mountain Thyme)- Highland Aire

One of the magistrate’s guards took pity on my daughter who was only guilty of being the daughter of a witch and with a few coins we bribed him to allow her to escape. It was harder to convince her to leave me so one of us could be saved. The tears we shed would have put out any fire. The next day they stripped me naked and tarred me, but my mind was again befuddled and I thought I was wandering through the glen as the procession made it’s way to the square. Someone said that I had warmed my hands and exclaimed “what a bonny bonfire!” before being forced into a barrel and rolled onto the pyre. No one spoke up for me but a few of my neighbours hung their heads in shame. They later scattered my ashes to the winds which was fitting as I then became one with the rivers, hills and glens of the glorious highlands of my heart’s home.

Black Isle and Moray Firth
The Black Isle on the Moray Firth

It was all so long ago and in 1736 the witchcraft laws were at last repealed. No other Scottish woman would die by hangman’s noose, strangulation and fire.  My daughter had escaped. It has been written that she later married and had children, one of whom was also born with a deformed foot.

I am long past blaming the villagers. In their poverty and misery they needed something or someone to condemn for their troubles and thus I had the tragic distinction of being the last witch executed in Scotland.

*The little Town of Dornoch is beside the Dornoch Firth which opens into the larger Moray Firth spilling into the North Sea.  Firths are named from the Norse word  Fjord. Dornoch became a royal Burgh in the seventeenth century.  Cattle and sheep were the main commerce of the area along with fishing.  Though the town was mainly royalist and supported the  Hanoverian House  there was still Jacobite activity in the surrounding countryside. The nearby Skelbo forest is part of the Highland walking tours. In modern day, Madonna’s son Rocco was christened in 2000 at the Dornoch Cathedral.

*The last highland Beltane fire was lit in Helmsdale Scotland in 1820. Up until then, this ancient Celtic celebration ( also celebrated as May Day) was honoured yearly. It has more recently been revived and in Edinburgh people gather on Calton Hill to light bonfires and play music.

*The Three Witches of Kintail is an old folk tale found here

Witch trials  in Scotland

tea and tarot cards and three ladies not from Kintail

89 Comments Add yours

  1. as posted says:

    A wonderful story, so well written. I visited Dornoch quite recently. The surrounding countryside is beautiful.

    Like

    1. many thanks for your visit!!!

      Like

  2. sheldonk2014 says:

    I haven’t talked to you in a while
    It’s been rough seas over here with my body, I hope all is well and you are settling into your house
    As Sheldon Always

    Liked by 1 person

    1. thanks Sheldon, I’m struggling too with some emotional issues. I’m not online as much anymore.

      Like

      1. sheldonk2014 says:

        Don’t hesitate,to reach out
        My door is always open
        It’s just who I am
        Big hugs
        As Sheldon Always

        Like

      2. many thanks Sheldon, I will be around!!

        Like

  3. DG MARYOGA says:

    Wee visit to live once again in your wonderful supernatural world after a long absence …
    You’ve your own way,Cybele,to captivate the reader in your tales and in your brooding photos.Loved the arcadic nature of your Scottish scapes and the smiles of the three ladies 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You are so lovely and thank you so much for your wonderful support!!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. DG MARYOGA says:

        Not adequate support,but always an ardent fan of your work 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  4. As a witch myself and just returning from Scotland, I too understand the pain of those that so long ago gave of themselves to help others. While there I visited a memorial to Maggie Wall, a witch burned at the stake in 1657. Once home I found her story online but not before I was literally thrown from the monument, braking my arm. When I returned home I asked why this had happened when all I wanted to do was honor her memory. The answers I got were amazing. It seems that the circle of those had died 360 years ago was coming to a close (360 degrees as in a full circle) and that I was not allowed to enter because I would have started another circle (being a witch), thus entrapping them again. Of course there was more to the message, but the knowledge that the finality of their torture would finally be concluded this year made my injury somehow not as bad. Thanks for your beautiful insight into the true meaning of witchcraft and those of us that still practice this art in this day and age. In love and light, Cheri

    Liked by 1 person

    1. oh my, what a fascinating story of your own!! and very meaningful. Thank you so much for sharing and for reading my own post. Were you on holiday in Scotland? I always miss the Highlands when I’m not there. I feel the ancient ones calling too. On a more positive note I have never been more welcomed in any of my travels as I have been in Scotland ( and Ireland). As Robbie Burns said, “In heaven itself I could ask no more than just a highland welcome!” Blessings to you and Blessed Be. I will pop over to visit you too.

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  5. Great images, and I really enjoyed reading.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. welcome and thank you so much. Glad you Visited!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Sherry Felix says:

    So sad. Beautifully told and illustrated. I’m glad I found time to give this post my full attention.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It really is! Thanks so much Sherry. We both like history I think!(even though much of it is sad!)

      Like

  7. Christy B says:

    Oh this is quite the tale.. sad.. but then there’s loveliness of your photos, oh my!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. thank you so much Christy for visiting!!

      Like

  8. Cybele, you’ve brought history to life, this shameful episode in history. I love the voice you gave to this woman and her tragedy.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. thanks so much Andrea!! I’m sure we would have been suspect had we lived in those days!!

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Such a tragic tale and so well told. My family often say to me that all my healing potions would have got me into trouble back in those days. To think that such people (usually women) probably healed dozens of their fellow humans, before their luck turned because they’d failed to find a cure. There are a few good reasons to be alive now, I think.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. agreed!! I often romanticize times gone by until I dig further!! But even today in many places fear and prejudice still cause such harm to many- esp women. thanks for reading Sarah!

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Such a hauntingly sad tale, Cybele. I enjoyed your photos, especially the one with the sheep.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. it is very sad but oh those sheep are everywhere on the roads!! Rush hour in the highlands!!

      Liked by 1 person

  11. robert87004 says:

    Hannah, you bring back memories. 🙂 I felt more welcomed by strangers in Scotland in one day than my time in England. I had to linger over your photos a bit. Lovely. (sighing with the sure knowledge I won’t get there again. 😐 )

    Liked by 1 person

    1. “… In Heav’n itself I’ll ask no more,
      Than just a Highland welcome”—Robbie Burns. I hear you!

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Willow says:

    Sad story but to me it has a ring of all too true and a bit of possible family relationship. My family can trace itself back to mid thirteen century Scotland and we never have been exactly mainstream spiritually. So, death by fire in the burning times wouldn’t surprise me.

    On a current time note, thank you for liking my blog and the Pork with Rosemary Potatoes.
    https://whooshingthemetaverse.com/

    I’m trying to restart a blog I first started in 2015 but let languish.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. how wonderful though a sad history in many cases. Do you live in the UK? I am both Scots and Irish but alas I don’t think we can trace that far back although the Robertson Clan (one branch) is one of the oldest clans. Where in Scotland is your family? Thanks for visiting again!!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Willow says:

        I live in the southeastern US. Three brothers came over here from Scotland in the early 19th century. I had an Aunt and Uncle that were really involved in genealogy. They prepared a booklet of family history and gave it to all my father’s family.

        Sadly I don’t have the booklet. It was lost in the chaos after my parents passed so I only know what my father told me. Apparently we were actually part of a major clan that the English broke up.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. if you join a site like ancestry sometimes things pop up from other distant relatives too!! I still have cousins in the UK mind you that I do know!

        Like

  13. sheldonk2014 says:

    Simply beautiful Cybele
    As Sheldon Always

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    1. and thank you always Sheldon for your kind comments!

      Like

  14. Amy says:

    Sad… but I love your photos, Cybele!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. thanks Amy, I think I have a penchant for sad stories!! 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  15. A great story, Cybele! I also love that song, especially the version that is sung by the Corries.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. so pleased you like it Crow! Yes there are a few lovely versions of this poignant song! Thank you!

      Like

  16. Beautiful but sad story, Cybele. And the images, they’re just amazing. They give more words for the story itself…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. thanks so much for such a lovely comment Nurul!!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You’re most welcome 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  17. There is a sensibility about your work that I really enjoy.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Sally!! It’s easy and hard to write about such emotional histories!

      Like

  18. Tears welled as I read this tale. I can’t bear the thought of injustices and mob mentality. It’s a beautiful story of forgiveness, though, in my eyes. Love the various photos and music. Great pic of you, my friend! Looks like a lovely village (if that’s the proper term) and I’d love to visit the bookshop! 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I knew you would be moved by it Linda as I am too. Thank you – the song seemed appropriate too and yes those little villages are so evocative and lovely!

      Liked by 1 person

  19. Adrian Lewis says:

    I have Pagan leanings and so your tale is especially meaningful, Cybele. I’m also thinking about investigating the tarot. I like your pictures too. Adrian

    Liked by 1 person

    1. many thanks Adrian. So glad it touches you. Such history, and anything Celtic seems so mystical. The Tarot is fascinating!

      Liked by 1 person

  20. Moz Loordes says:

    I enjoyed that, Cybele! And it’s not so long ago really, that the Pagan folks were treated so badly.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. so true Moz, especially women! Thanks so much!

      Like

  21. Aquileana says:

    Witch-hunt was not a series of isolated episodes … but a conjunction of them, it started long time ago, during the Renaissance … there was even a sort of Manual in fact. “The Malleus Maleficarum” (in Latin)…
    I felt so much empathy towards the character in your short story here, dear Cybele… Beautifully penned & very moving… The images are excellent as always. Thank you for sharing… Love & best wishes ⭐

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Aquileana! Yes coming from an RC background I remember reading the history of The Inquisition ( which did not start out as being such a brutal judge) and “The Hammer for Witches!!” I felt emotion too for poor Jenny!!

      Liked by 1 person

  22. I loved this in every way. Your words, your images and of course, Wild Mountain Thyme. it’s a fav of mine. Thank you for this beautiful post.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. oh I am thrilled you enjoyed the post. I always hope my Scots following will correct me on any errors I might make! 😀 But you know I feel that tug of Highland roots so strongly! Love the song too!! Grandpa sang it!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Listen, you are like a native my darling, in terms of your blog. I would never have followed you if I thought for a moment, here’s this wifey –we call ladies wifies here. (We laugh too when we see the sign, get your free wi fi here in cafes….) Ok. here is this wifey who thinks she knows Scotland. ( I mean let’s not even start re Amazon’s crass mistakes in Outlander.) But you have such a Celtic soul. You bring that beauty to your posts. I play that song sometimes on the mandolin. I ain’t exactly a singer but hey…

        Liked by 1 person

      2. very big 🙂 I hear you about Outlander and wondered if I was the only one who criticized!! If I get back to Scotland (hope hope) before I’m too old ( next year?) lol we will have to go to the wild mountain thyme lassie!!!

        Liked by 1 person

      3. We will indeed , that would be brilliant. (No you are not alone in certain criticism, although there is such an industry you feel like the lone wolf sticking your head above the parapet.) I reminded the Mr of our thoughts on the book when he said, ‘let’s give this ten mins’. It got seven.

        Liked by 1 person

  23. Suzanne says:

    Your photos illustrate the story beautifully. What a sad story though. What a brave woman she was. Thank goodness those days are long gone now.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. oh yes, though fear and prejudice still rule us I am afraid. Thank you Suzanne!! I felt quite emotional for Jenny!!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Suzanne says:

        Me too. I’m convinced many of us experienced similar fates in a previous life. I also think we are now healing that trauma. Your story is just one example.

        Liked by 1 person

  24. paula graham says:

    Yes, those were the days!! Beautifully and sensitively processed photos and a story, so sad.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Many thanks Paula!! I’m glad you liked it and yes, so sad and emotional!!

      Like

  25. Sue says:

    Sad story, beautiful images, Hannah!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Sue says:

        You are welcome, Hannah!

        Liked by 1 person

  26. My comment disappears, I hope no error!

    Liked by 1 person

  27. Fantastic post dear friend Cybele, engaging story. I enjoyed it. Beautiful photos ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. a thousand thanks Della!! comment is here!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Fortunately, because I can not read my own comments, Uff.. wordpress 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I can read now, thank you Cybele. Big hugs ❤

        Liked by 1 person

  28. manisha says:

    Well Written!! Thanks to share

    Liked by 1 person

  29. Peter Nena says:

    What a fine tale! Much enjoyed.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. so glad you came by Peter! thanks for reading my dear friend! So many sad histories in such beautiful places!

      Like

  30. Anita says:

    Sad tale, but soothing pictures.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. it is but felt I needed to tell it! Such a beautiful place but as with all places some disturbing histories! Thank you Anita!

      Liked by 1 person

  31. rawn homer says:

    very well told story. Interesting.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. ahh but sad and true! Thanks so much for reading!!

      Like

  32. disperser says:

    I da . . . er . . . sure well would blame the villagers!

    You might enjoy this short story:
    https://dispersertracks.com/2012/10/31/the-halloween-2012-post/

    Liked by 1 person

    1. right! but long past I fear, yet I’m sure still happening in one form or another. I will get over to read that shortly! Thanks Disperser!

      Like

  33. The images are gorgeous, and tale a sad one.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. it really is Deb but I felt moved to write a piece about her that’s been simmering for a long time. Thank you for reading!

      Liked by 1 person

  34. Maverick ~ says:

    I enjoyed reading The Last Witch of Scotland and your images are the perfect compliment.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. pleased that you like it Maverick, thanks my friend!

      Like

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