Saturday 31 October 2015

The Ugly Truth

The imported version of Halloween which has come from across the pond is great fun by and large [although I detest Trick or Treating almost as much as Black Friday but mustn't rant]. I used to love cooking all sorts of ghoulish goodies for a themed tea and was an ace with the green food colouring. Even now I enjoy the chance to dress up and kick my heels. Behind all that though I do remember that many innocent lives were lost at the hands of those who hunted down and executed those who were held up as witches.

Janet Horne was the last "witch" to be burned alive in Britain- 1727 in Scotland. The victim [her real name is not recorded- the name used was the generic one for those accused of witchcraft- bit like Jane Doe] was accused by her neighbour of riding her daughter like a horse to the devil to be shod. Failing to change her back from her pony form was proof enough to convict here. It is now known that the daughter suffered from a hereditary condition which made her feet and hands deformed. Janet herself showed a lack of understanding of what she was being accused  of with all the signs pointing to the fact that she was probably senile. The trial was rushed through by the sheriff-depute Captain David Ross and the poor woman was stripped, tarred and paraded through the town before being burnt alive. A memorial stone in Littleton marks her demise. The daughter managed to escape. Nine years later Scotland repealed the Witchcraft Act- it was the last country in the union to do so.

This poem by Edwin Morgan records the tragedy.

In Dornoch there was a burning
With no sign of mourning
That January morning

This was the final solution
The last execution
Of an ancient persecution

For they called it witchcraft
An old woman's stitchcraft
Or a bit of leechcraft

Century of enlightenment
Still thrilled to torment
Thumbscrews and judgement

Janet made a pony, of her daughter
Says the story
Rode her for Satan's glory

They tarred her and feathered her
Bound her and gathered her
Screaming and barrelled her

Burning in the peat-smoke
While the good Dornoch folk
Paused briefly for a look

Dear God were you sleeping
You were certainly not weeping
She was not in your keeping

Today there is a garden
Where a stone stands guard on
The spot she was charred on

O heart never harden!



  1. The laws are in place, but don't humans still prosecute in the court of public opinion through rejection, people who may be different? I think each Halloween, in spite of all the good fun, about the ignorance of the past , but yet ignorance is alive and well. Good tribute post.

  2. Sadly you are absolutely right.


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