4,000 people were tortured and the majority were killed in Scottish witch hunts centuries ago, most of them women
On International Woman’s Day, Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, issued a formal apology to the 4,000 people who were tortured and largely executed under the Witchcraft Act 1563.
Addressing MSPs, she pointed out that those who were killed were “overwhelmingly women” and said it was an “injustice on a colossal scale” that was fuelled in part by “misogyny it its most literal sense: hatred of women”.
The first minister added: “At a time when women were not even allowed to speak as witnesses in a courtroom they were accused and killed because they were poor, different, vulnerable, or in many cases just because they were women.”
Campaign group, Witches of Scotland, has brought a petition to the Scottish government calling for the pardon of and apologies to all those accused.
Speaking before Ms Sturgeon had issued the apology, Claire Mitchell QC, founder of the Witches of Scotland told The Independent: “It’s really important to send out a symbolic message that we, as a society, recognise the wrongs done to people by othering them, by calling them witches and accusing them of being responsible for the wrongs that were happening in society.
“We want to send out a strong message that that shouldn’t be happening.”
Fighting for justice for the thousands who were killed, the charity Remembering the Accused Witches of Scotland (RAWS) has approached the Church of Scotland for an apology and also aims to provide schools in Scotland with education packs to raise awareness of the femicide.
RAWS has also paid tribute to the women wrongly accused of witchcraft through renaming streets in Scottish towns after the victims.
Historian Mary W Craig, who recently published a study of witch trials in the Scottish Borders told The Guardian that there are several factors which explain why interest in he accused witches has re-emerged over the past few years. She said: “With the #MeToo and Black Lives Matter movements, people also wanted to talk about the levels of historic justice available to different groups.”
Academic research into the persecution of ordinary women during the 16th and 17th century witch-hunts continues as the University of Edinburgh advertised for two interns to work on the Survey of Scottish Witchcraft, a comprehensive database of all of the known persecutions in Europe.
The SNP MSP Natalie Don is bringing a member’s bill forward for a pardon with the consultation to launch as soon as possible.