News and Commentary

Scotland May Pardon People Executed As Witches 400 Years Ago
A silhouette of a witch walking through a dark foggy woodland creating a spooky scene

Scotland may posthumously pardon people executed as witches — 400 years after the fact.

The history of witch trials in Scotland was rooted in a power struggle between the Roman Catholic Church and the aristocracy, according to The Wall Street Journal:

In all, until the Witchcraft Act was repealed in 1735, some 3,837 people were accused of the crime — the overwhelming majority of them women — with some two-thirds executed, more per head of population than anywhere else in Europe…

In some instances, people accused their neighbors of the crime to settle scores. Much of the Scottish aristocracy threw their weight behind the purges, hoping they would speed the decline of the Catholic Church and allow them to pick from its landholdings, say academics who studied the phenomenon.

Others, including King James, believed in witches and developed what they thought were scientific methods to detect them, such as pricking them with long needles to see how much they bled. If there wasn’t enough blood, it was held as a sure sign that the accused was a witch.

Some of the campaigners are invoking other blotches on Scottish history. Claire Mitchell — who launched a #MeToo-inspired podcast called “Witches of Scotland” — said that “It’s not dissimilar to how Scotland needs to face up to its role in the trans-Atlantic slave trade.”

One may think that witchcraft has ended in the Western world. However, self-proclaimed witches in the United States repeatedly butted heads with President Donald Trump during the Mueller investigation. The Daily Beast reported in 2018:

It may, on the surface, seem like a harmless way to trivialize special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential campaign. But to the actual community of witches, President Donald Trump’s constant invocation of a “witch hunt” is deeply problematic and, frankly, a bit hurtful. “Many are mad, and the rest are rolling their eyes,” said David Salisbury, a lead organizer at Washington-based witch community Firefly House.

Witches are not a constituency with which politicians normally concern themselves. And there’s little sense in the community that Trump actually cares about what they truly think. But for those who practice witchcraft, the president’s words bring up a painful period in history, when men and women were accused of being witches and murdered, both in the American colonies and in Europe.

Ironically, J.K. Rowling — the mastermind behind the Harry Potter series, which centers upon a school for young witches and wizards — has herself been the subject of multiple witch hunts. Readers of The Guardian are currently accusing the outlet of deactivating an online poll that asked people to vote on “Person of the Year” after it became apparent that Rowling would win.

Rowling — who also happens to be Scottish — has been at the center of several cancel culture controversies for her rejection of transgender ideology. In December, she mocked Scotland’s law enforcement policy that allows accused rapists to self-identify as female: “War is Peace. Freedom is Slavery. Ignorance is Strength. The Penised Individual Who Raped You Is a Woman.”