CHAPTER V.

WITCHCRAFT, SECOND-SIGHT, AND THE BLACK ART.

THAT the devil gave to certain persons supernatural power, which they might exercise
at their pleasure, was a belief prevalent throughout all Scotland during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. But at the same time this compacting with the devil was reprobated, nay more, was a capital offence, both in civil and ecclesiastical law, and during these two centuries thousands of persons were convicted and executed for this crime. But during the latter part of the seventeenth century the civil courts refused to convict upon the usual evidence, to the great alarm and displeasure of the ecclesiastical authorities, who considered this refusal a great national sin—a direct violation of the law of God, which said—"Thou shall not suffer a witch to live." To arrest the punishment
which this direct violation of God's written law was supposed to incur, prayers were offered, and fasts were appointed.
As samples of the kind of evidence on which reputed witches were convicted and executed, I extract the following from the Records of Lanark Presbytery, 1650: —"Likewise he reported that the Commissioners and" brethren did find these poynts delated against Janet " M'Birnie, one of the suspected women, to wit:
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"ist. That on a time the said Janet M'Birnie follow
"ed Wm. Brown, sclater, to Robert Williamson's house 
"in Water Meetings, to crave somewhat, and fell in evil 
"words. After which time, and within four and twenty 
"hours, he fell off ane house and brake his neck" 
"2nd. After some outcast between Bessie Achison's 
"house and Janet M'Birnie's house, the said Janet 
"M'Birnie prayed that there might be bloody beds and 
"a light house, and after that the said Bessie Achison 
"her daughter took sickness, and the lassie said there is 
"fyre in my bed, and died. And the said Bessie 
"Achison her gudeman dwyned. 
"3rd. It was alleged that the said Janet M'Birnie was 
"the cause of the dispute between Newton and his wife, 
"and that she and others were the death of William 
"Geddese. And also that they fand against Marian 
"Laidlaw, another suspected, these particulars: that the 
"said Marian and Jean Blacklaw differed in words for 
"the said Marian's hay; and after that the said Jean 
"her kye died." 
They were remitted for trial. In these same Records there is in 1697 the following entry:—"Upon the recom" mendation of the Synod, the Presbytery appoynts a 
"Fast to be keeped upon the 28th instant, in regard to 
"the great prevalence of witchcraft which abounds at 
"several places at this time within the bounds of the 
"Synod."
At this time the laws against witchcraft had become practically a dead letter, but it was not till 1735 that they were repealed. Still, the abolition of the legal penalty did not kill the popular belief in the power and reality of witchcraft; and even now, at this present day.
69
we find proof every now and again in newspaper reports that this belief still lingers among certain classes. Within
these fifty years, in a village a little to the west of Glasgow, lived an old woman, who was not poor, but had a very irritable temper, and was unsocial in her habits. A little boy having called her names and otherwise annoyed her, she scolded him, and, in the heat of her rage, prophesied that before a twelvemonth elapsed the devil would get his own. A few months after this the boy sickened and died, and the villagers had no hesitation in ascribing the cause of death to this old woman. Again, a farmer in the neighbourhood had bought a horse, and in the evening a servant was leading it to the water to drink, when this same old woman, who was sitting near at hand, remarked upon the beauty of the horse, and asked for a few hairs from the tail, which the servant with some roughness refused. When the stable was entered next morning the horse was found dead. On the above circumstance of the old woman's request being related to the farmer, he regretted the servant's refusal of the hairs, and said that, if the same woman had asked him, he would have given every hair in the tail rather than offend her, showing thereby his undoubted belief in the woman's power. Fortunately for her, she lived in a storeyed building—in local vernacular, a land—or in all probability her house would have been set on fire in order to burn her. At the same time, while she was hated and dreaded, everybody for their own safety paid her the most marked respect. Had she lived a century earlier, such evidence would have brought her to the stake. In 1666, before the Lanark Presbytery, a woman was tried for bewitching cattle:—
70
"The said William Smith said that she was the death 
"of twa meires, and Elizabeth Johnstone, his wife, re
"ported that she saw her sitting on their black meire's 
"tether, and that she ran over the dyke in the likeness 
"of a hare."
This belief in the ability of witches to convert themselves into the appearance of animals at pleasure was prevalent even during this century. In 1828, or thereabout, there died an old woman, who when alive had gone about with a crutch, and it was reported of her, and generally believed, that in her younger days she had the power of witchcraft, and that one morning as she was out about some of her unhallowed sports, disporting herself in the shape of a hare, that a man who was out with a gun saw, as he thought, in the moonlight, a hare, and fired at it, breaking its leg; but it took shelter behind a stone, and when he went to get the hare, he found instead a young woman sitting bandaging with a handkerchief her leg, which was bleeding. He knew her, and upon her entreaty promised never to disclose her
secret, and ever after she went with a crutch. I have heard similar stories told of other women in other localities, showing the prevalence of this form of belief As those who had dealings with the devil were believed to have renounced their baptism or their allegiance to Christ, they never went to church, and hated the Bible. Therefore, all who did not follow the custom of believers were not only considered infidels, but as having enlisted in the devil's corps, and such people in small localities were kept at an outside, and suspected, being regarded as capable of any wickedness, and untrustworthy. I remember several persons, both men and women, against
71
intercourse with whom we were earnestly warned, and
were instructed that it was not even safe to play with
their children.
There were other supernatural powers thought to be
possessed by certain persons, which dififered from witch
craft in this, that they were not regarded as the result of
a compact with the devil, but in some cases were thought
to be rather a gift from God. For example, there was
second-sight, a gift bestowed upon certain persons with
out any previous compact or solicitation. Sometimes the
seer fell into a trance, in which state he saw visions ; at
other times the visions were seen without the trance con
dition. Should the seer see in a vision a certain person
dressed in a shroud, this betokened that the death of
that person would surely take place within a year.
Should such a vision be seen in the morning, the person
seen would die before that evening ; should such a vision
be seen in the afternoon, the person seen would die be
fore next night ; but if the vision were seen late in the
evening, there was no particular time of death intimated,
further than that it would take place within the year.
Again, if the shroud did not cover the whole body, the
fulfilment of the vision was at a great distance. If the vision were that of a man with a woman standing at his left hand, then that woman will be that man's wife, although they may both at the time of the vision be married to others. It was reported that one having second-sight saw in vision a young man with three women
standing at his left side, and in course of time each became his wife in the order in which they were seen standing. These seers could often foretell coming visitors to a family months before they came, and even point out
72 FOLK LORE.
places where houses would be built years before the buildings were erected. The seer could not communi
cate the gift to any other person, not even to those of his
own family, as he possessed it without any conscious act on his part ; but if any person were near him at the time he was having a vision, and he were consciously to touch
the person with his left foot, the person touched would
see that particular vision. I had a conversation with a woman who when young was in company with one who had the gift of second- sight. They went out together
one Sabbath evening, and while sitting on the banks of the Kelvin the seer had a vision, and touched my in
formant with her left foot, and she also saw it. It rose
from the water like the full moon, and was transparent
;
and in it she saw a young man whom she did not know, and her own likeness standing at his left side. Before many weeks were passed, a new servant-man came to the farm where my informant was then serving, and whom
she recognised as the person whose image she had seen
in the vision, and in little more than a year after the two
were married. Deaf and dumb persons were considered to possess
something Uke second-sight, by which they were enabled
to foretell events which happen to certain persons.
This is a very old belief. I extract the following from Memorials of the Rev. R. Law
:
— "Anno 1676.—A daughter of the~ laird of Bardowie, " in Badenoch parish, intending to go fra that to Hamil" ton to see her sister-in-law, there is at the same time a " woman come into the house born deaf and dumb. " She makes many signs to her not to go, and takes her " down to the yaird and cutts at the root of a tree,
WITCHCRAFT—SECOND-SIGHT—THE BLACK ART. 73
" making signs that it would fall and kill her. That not " being understood by her or any of them, she takes the " journey—the dumb lass holding her to stay. When the " young gentlewoman is there at Hamilton, a few days " after, her sister and she goes forth to walk in the park, " and in their walking they both come under a tree. In " that very instant they come under it, they hear it shak" ing and coming down. The sister-in-law flees to " the right, and she herself flees to the left hand, that " way that the tree fell, so it crushed her and wounded " her sore, so that she dies in two or three days' sickness." Until about 30 years ago, a deaf and dumb man was in the habit of visiting my native village, who was believed to possess wonderful gifts of foresight. This dummy
carried with him a slate, a pencil, and a piece of chalk,
by use of which he gave his answers, and often he volun
teered to give certain information concerning the future
;
he would often write down occurrences which he averred
would happen to parties in the village, or to presons then present. He did not beg nor ask alms, but
only visited certain houses as a sort of friend, and infor
mation of his presence in the village was quickly conveyed
to the neighbours, so that he generally had a large gathering of women who were all friendly to him, and he was never allowed to go away without reward. When any
stranger was present he would point them out, and write
down the initials of their name, and sometimes their names in full, without being asked. He would also, at
times, write down the names of relatives of those present who lived at a distance, and tell them when they would
receive letters from them, and whether these letters would contain good or bad news. He disclosed the whereabouts
74 FOLK LORE.
of sailor lads and absent lovers, detected thefts, foretold deaths and marriages, and the names of the parties on both sides^who were to be married. He wrote of a young woman, a stranger in the village, but who was pre
sent on one of his visits, and was on the eve of being
married to a tradesman, that she would not be married to him, but would marry one who would keep her counting money ; which came to pass. The tradesman and
she fell out, and afterwards she married a haberdasher,
and for a long time was in the shop as cashier. This woman still lives, and firmly believes in the prophetic gift of dummy. Another woman, a stranger also, asked
him some questions relative to herself; he shook his
head, and for a long time refused to answer, desiring her not to insist. This made her the more anxious, and at
last he drew upon the slate the figure of a coffin. This
was all the length he would go. In less than twelve months the woman was in her grave. During one of his visits the husband of one of the women who attended
him was seriously ill, and the wife, a stout healthy woman, was anxious to hear from dummy the result of her husband's illness. He wrote that the husband would recover,
and that she would die before him ; and she did die not long after. In short, this dummy was a regular prophet, and his predictions were implicitly believed by all who
attended upon him. In his case there was- no pretension
to visions, the form which he allowed his gift to assume was that of intuition. Some few men in the village sus
pected the dumm;^s honesty, and thought that he heard
and assiduously and cunningly picked up knowledge of
the parties ; but such doubts were regarded as bordering
upon blasphemy by the believers in dummy. I was never
WITCHCRAFT—SECOND-SIGHT—THE BLACK ART. 75
present at any of these gatherings, but my information is gathered from those who were present. Some months ago I was talking to an ordinarily intelligent person on this subject, and he gave it as his opinion that dumb persons had their loss of the faculties of hearing and
speech recompensed to them in the gift of supernatural knowledge, and he related how a certain widow lady of
his acquaintance had been informed of the death of her
son. This son was abroad, and she had with her in the house a mute, who one day made signs to her that she
would never see her son again, and a few weeks after she
received word of his death.
There was another phase of supernatural power, dif
ferent from witchcraft, and which the devil granted to certain parties : this was called the Black Airt. The
possession of this power was mostly confined to High
landers, and probably at this present day there are still those who believe in it. The effects produced by this power did not, however, differ much from those produced by witchcraft. A farmer in the north-west of Glasgow engaged a Highland lad as herd, and my informant also
served with this farmer at the time. It was observed by
the family that, after the lad came to them, everything
went well with the farmer. During the winter, however,
the kye became yell, and the family were consequently
short of milk. The cows of a neighbouring farmer were at the same time giving plenty of milk. Under these
circumstances, the Highland lad proposed to his mistress
that he would bring milk from their neighbour's cows,
which she understood to be by aid of the black airt, through the process known as milking the tether. The
tether is the rope halter, and by going through the form
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of milking this, repeating certain incantations, the magic
transference was supposed capable of being effected.
This proposal to exercise the black airt becoming known among the servants, they were greatly alarmed, and
showed their terror by all at once becoming very kind to the lad, and very watchful of what he did. He was known to have in his possession a pack of cards j and
during family worship he displayed great restlessness,
generally falling asleep before these services were concluded, and he was averse to reading the Bible, One
night, for a few pence, he offered to tell the names of
the sweethearts of the two servant-men, and they having
agreed to the bargain, he shuffled the cards and said
certain words which they did not understand, and then named two girls the lads were then courting. They refused to give him the promised reward, and he told them they would be glad to pay him before they slept When the two men were going to their bed, which was over the stable, they were surprised to find two women draped in black closing up the stable door. As they stepped back, the women disappeared; but
every time they tried to get in, the door was blocked up as before. The men then remembered what the lad had said to them, and going to where he slept, found him in bed, and gave him the promised reward. He then told them to go back, and they would not be further disturbed. Next morning, the servant-men told what had taken place, and refused to remain at the farm any longer with the lad ; and the farmer had thus to part with him, but he and the servants gave him little gifts that they might part good friends. My informant believed himself above superstition, yet he related this as
evidence of the truth of the black airt.
WITCHCRAFT—SECOND-SIGHT—THE BLACK ART. 77
It is a very old belief that those who had made com
pacts with the devil could afflict those they disliked with certain diseases, and even cause their death, by making
images in clay or wax of the persons they wished to injure, and then, by baptizing these images with mock
ceremony, the persons represented were brought under
their influence, so that whatever was then done to the
image was felt by the living original. This superstition is referred to by Allan Ramsay in his Gentle Shepherd:—
" Pictures oft she makes
Of folk she hates, and gaur expire
Wi' slow and racking pain before the fire.
Stuck fu' o' preens, the devilish picture melt. The pain by folk they represent is felt."
This belief survived in great force in this century, and
probably in country places is not yet extinct. Several persons have been named to me who suffered long from
diseases the doctor could not understand, nor do any
thing to remove, and therefore these obscure diseases
could only be ascribed to the devil-aided practices of
malicious persons. In some cases, cures were said to
have been effected through making friends of the supposed originators of the disease. The custom not yet
extinct of burning persons in effigy is doubtless a survival
of this old superstition. A newly-married woman with whom I was acquainted
took a sudden fit of mental derangement, and screamed
and talked violently to herself Her friends and neigh
bours concluded that she was under the spell of the evil one. The late Dr. Mitchell was sent for to pray for her, but when he began to pray she set up such hideous screams that he was obliged to stop. He advised her
7 8 FOLK LORE.
friends to call in medical aid. But this conduct on the part of the woman made it all the more evident to her relations and neighbours that her affliction was the work of the devil, brought about through the agency of some evil-disposed person. Several such persons were suspected, and sent for to visit the afflicted woman ; and,
while they were in the house, a relation of the sufferer's
secretly cut out a small portion of the visitor's dress and threw it into the fire, by which means it was believed that the influence of the /// ie would be destroyed. At all events, the woman suddenly got well again, and as a consequence the superstitious belief of those who were in
the secret was strengthened.


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