Witches & Faerietales
Scotland has a rich mythology derived from Pictish, Celtic and Viking roots. Until the Scottish Enlightenment in the 18th century, most people took the existence of magic, the faerie folk, evil spirits and witches for granted. They were a part of every day life, and it was common to leave out a bowl of cream and some bread for the brownie (but never clothes or money, or he’d be offended). There were charms for protection against malignant magic and you would avoid certain places at certain times so as not to stumble into Elphame, the home of the fae folk. Seals were Selkies, who could put off their skins in order to become beautiful human beings, and Kelpies roamed the water and shores ready to capture anyone foolhardy enough to touch them.
Originally many mythical creatures were neither good nor evil but were rather capricious and needed to be treated with respect and caution. Even after Christianity took over as a religion, many of these traditions and beliefs remained, sometimes altered by the needs of the church or the misconceptions of the people. Magical beings turned into evil demons subject to the devil, and so the idea of witches was incorporated into the culture. They were blamed for anything and everything that went wrong.
The Scottish Parliament criminalised witchcraft in 1563, but the true persecution of witches started after King James VI, a deeply superstitious and fearful misogynist, became convinced that witches had conjured up storms targeting him and his Danish bride on their voyages across the North Sea. He stirred up panic in the populace, leading to the witch trials of the 16th and 17th centuries when thousands of people, mainly women, were tried and executed. Many of these were in East Lothian, close to Monkton House.
Scallop Shells, Mummified Cats and Blue stones
Due to these deep-seated superstitions, all sorts of protections against evil were integrated into houses in the middle ages and early modern period. When the Cistercian monks of Newbattle Abbey built the original tower in around 1450, they placed a stone of black basalt, called a blue stone, at the base to allow any witches trapped inside to escape. It acted like a safety valve: witches could only exit through the stone, not enter. They embedded scallop shells in the walls to protect the tower against magic, and dead cats were walled in to ward off evil spirits. You can still see these safeguards now, even one of the mummified cats, which was recovered during restoration work and is now on display in the Vaults.
The Boss Witch
The witch trials were times of great unfairness and tragedy, when torture of suspected witches was not only legal, but positively encouraged by King James VI. He was famous for publishing the King James bible, but before this he published a compendium of witchcraft lore entitled Daemonologie. In this he attempted to prove the existence of magic and witchcraft, and to assert what punishments practitioners of these forces deserved.
After five centuries of being locked out and hunted, we thought it was time for a witch to come back to Monkton House as a tribute to all those who lost their lives.
Anna became the Boss Witch when she started making magic wands in 2016, first for her daughter’s Harry Potter themed birthday party, and then on her website when lots of people asked to buy wands as Christmas and birthday presents for loved ones. If you would like to book a holiday with friends and family or a wedding in your own Scottish castle, she would love to speak to you. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org or you can phone her on +44 7928 889667.