Edinburgh and witches haven’t always had the best relationship, thanks to King James VI.
During the reign of King James VI (you’ve probably read his version of the Bible), there was a satanic panic that swept the nation of Scotland. According to King Jimmy, anyone who practiced witchcraft was working for the Devil. This, of course, included women with a knowledge of science and medicine as well as women who suffered from mental illness.
Edinburgh’s witch hysteria ran from the 15th Century through the 18th Century. Those who were accused were generally bound and tossed into Nor’ Loch. If they drowned, they were declared innocent and their name was cleared. But if they had the nerve to survive, they were deemed a witch and burned at the stake. By the 17th Century, most witches were hanged rather than burned. At its height, over 4,000 people were executed as witches between the 1600-1700s (the highest of anywhere in Europe), with the last hanging taking place in 1728.
Today, all that remains of the accused witches of Edinburgh is the Witches’ Well. Erected in 1894, the well depicts witches and the duality of good and evil, showing that every story has two sides. Medicine, healing, Wicca, gods, goddesses, and Christian symbolism are all entwined to honor the lives of Scotland’s supposed witches.
It’s easy to miss the modest well, even though it is on the very spot where over 300 women were burned as witches. In so many ways, we’ve come so far… and in other ways, we’re still hunting witches.
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