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Aberdeen Witch Trials Witchcraft

The witchcraft first-hand accounts and trial transcripts have been made readily accessible by local author, Dee Lawlor, in her new book, Contagious Enemies. She has meticulously researched the Aberdeen witch trials records in the city archives and translated them from the Old Scots language. Some were also written in the Doric dialect, and she has transcribed these into English for the ease of her readers.

Aberdeen Witch Trials Witchcraft

For example, an original court account reads:

In forder attestatioun you and your sisters are qwik gangand dewills…in the likeness of ane pyit…and would have plukkit owt hir eene, were it not for the nichtbouris in the gett.

To which, Dee expertly translates to:

In further attestation you and your sisters are living, walking devils…in the likeness of a magpie… and would have plucked out her eye, were it not for the neighbours in the street.

Many of the trials speak of the witches and sorcerers recruiting people. One old leger in the archives states that these are contagious enemies, hence the title of Dee’s book. The history and development of these said servants of the Devil are discussed in the introduction. Fascinating local details are explained, such as the method and place of execution so that no physical part of the condemned men and women remained, other than ash.

Sadly, as history reveals, many were innocent and Dee explains that these bothersome people could easily be removed from local villages, towns, and our city during the witch trials, sanctioned by King James VI in 1596. Unfortunately, this also removed many who would now be deemed mentally ill. Medical knowledge has come on leaps and bounds since the 16th century.

One such example of witchcraft, revealed from court records, states:

You are indicted and accused that on the same night that the wall trembled and shook by your devilish enchantments, the Devil, your master appeared to you in the said goodwife of Petmurchis’s room, where the goodman himself was laying, in the form of a four futit (footed) beast. Sometimes like a futret (weasel) and sometimes like a cat; and ran around the said goodmans beid claithes (bed clothes), where he was so terrified that he cryit (cried).

Contagious Enemies reveals that though Aberdeen boats a Tolbooth, which in other towns and cities would have incarcerated the said witches and sorcerers, Aberdeen imprisoned those awaiting trial in the Steeple of St. Nicholas church.

This is a fascinating read into a dark period in Aberdeen’s history and will be of great interest to anyone with a passion for our local history and 16th century Scots language and our Doric dialect.

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