Scottish Witches, Wizards and Fairies/Faeries
From the witches of Macbeth to the archetypal "crone on the moor", Scottish witches are famous in today's world.
However, the modern archetype has been filtered through several falsehoods that need some explaining.
Witchcraft in Scotland is a broad, deep and complicated subject not always easily explained, especially in light of modern "Witches" looking for justification and modern fictional accounts trying to capitalize on current fads and trends.
To start in our modern day, anyone calling themselves a modern Scottish Witch is a member of a recently developed religion.
These modern Witches are in the exact same boat as the rest of us when it comes to historical research and resources.
If modern Scottish Witchcraft can be said to have had a founder, his name is Raymond Buckland.
He developed a system of Scottish Witchcraft based on personal observation and the barest of archeological research after breaking away from slightly older versions of Wicca.
Wicca itself is a religion developed and implemented by Gerald Gardner in the 1950's, and the basis of the religion cannot be verified earlier than the 1920's.
Observing historical trends, Wicca seems to be an outgrowth of the earlier Spiritualist and Trancendentalist movements popular in the Victorian era.
Wicca and modern Witchcraft are thoroughly modern inventions, but adherents frequently try to claim "secret lineages" of their religion going back for centuries or even millenia.
Wiccans usually profess their belief in polytheism and frequently participate in magical/religious rituals with symbology either taken out of context from archeological finds or even made up on the spot.
There is not one shred of archeological evidence to verify any claims of historical accuracy.
There is also no evidence whatsoever to prove that Scottish people ever had an organized, internally consistent polytheistic religion prior to the advent of Christianity.
While Scottish polytheism or animism is strongly suspected based on Bronze Age finds, we don't know if every clan had different gods, or even what names they were called by.
Just for the record, the writer of this article is a modern Pagan and I bear no ill will or prejudice towards any religion.
However, the misconceptions caused by well-meaning modern Scottish Witches have clouded the actual, historically proven facts of Scottish witchcraft to the detriment of all.
Are modern Scottish Witches dangerous, Devil-worshipping, immoral criminals?
No, not in the least.
Wicca provides multiple ethical guidelines insisting on failure to harm anyone, obedience to local law, and leading a life free of hate and anger.
In addition, the Devil is an entity most Wiccans don't even believe in, much less worship.
The worst a modern Scottish Witch deserves is being told to go back and do better research, and only that if they insist on making wild, unsubstantiated claims.
The Scottish witches we can track through history present a much different story.
Most Scottish citizens accused of witchcraft were strangled and burned, not respected or even tolerated members of their communities.
Over 3,000 such cases have been documented in Scotland alone.
The vast majority of these cases arose over neighbor quarrels followed by the normal misfortunes inherent in an agricultural life.
Livestock is occasionally born deformed, crop failure sometimes happens, and occasional drought occurs everywhere.
During the era of the witch-burnings, people wanted to blame these normal occurences on someone, they wanted to be able to control the random chance inherent in our world, and going after the neighbor they didn't like was a way to vent frustration and fear.
Both women and men fell to this sort of community fear, although more women than men were usually accused.
The preponderance of women may have been due to the lower regard and legal protections they suffered under, but it's very difficult to say for certain.
What is certain is that the publication of the Malleus Maleficorum didn't help in the least.
This inflammatory pamphlet was published by two European laymen looking to get rich, and swept Europe like a storm.
It detailed supposed signs of witchcraft that could be interpreted to mean just about anybody.
However, it's important to remember that, in the absence of science, people really believed in and feared witchcraft.
Simple vindictiveness does not explain the amount of time and money spent prosecuting or killing witches.
These people were seen as dangerous elements in a tight-knit society.
To understand the conditions, imagine the level of fear today regarding gang members or psychotics and you're about right.
On the lighter side, folk beliefs in fairies was also a fairly common part of Scottish life.
While Scotland has been Christian for time out of mind, in fact ever since the 6th Century mission of St. Columba, belief in nature spirits has existed alongside belief in Christ for the majority of Scottish history.
Belief in Christianity and fairies was not seen as mutually exclusive, but rather blended together to form a cultural mythology unique to Scotland.
The origins of this fairy belief system is not known for a number of reasons, not least of which is that it was usually oral in nature.
Oral beliefs change greatly over time as they pass from storyteller to storyteller.
Oral traditions also change to answer the current needs and trends of the population they serve, so the fairy stories of the 1700's would show a vast difference in emphasis and tone than the stories of the 6th Century.
We can see this trend to change even today in the fairy stories we read or show to our children. "The Little Mermaid" was recently changed from a tragic tale of unrequited love into a story of connection across huge cultural boundaries with a happy ending.
If this massive sort of change can happen to a fairy tale in our lifetime, just imagine what ten centuries did to Scotland's fairy traditions!
Scottish witches, witchcraft and magical beliefs is a deep and abiding part of Scottish cultural history showing multiple faces worthy of research, from the tragic to the inspiring.
I hope you've enjoyed this brief overview, and keep looking for more in-depth articles regarding Scottish witches to appear, as research is ongoing.
Major write by L Ice, rewrites by Donald Urquhart, 2008.
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