Scotland’s Witchy History

Long ago, people called the Picts (or Pechts) inhabited the Scottish Highlands. They were Celtic language speaking people who lived in what is today eastern and northern Scotland during the Late British Iron Age and Early Medieval periods. Picts are assumed to have been the descendants of the Caledonii (Celtic speaking Britons) and other tribes of that era that were mentioned by Roman historians or on the world map of Ptolemy. These people were not readily distinguishable from their British, Anglo-Saxon, or Gaelic neighbors, except for perhaps their spiritual beliefs and practices.


Very little is known about religion in Scotland before the arrival of Christianity. Due to a lack of natively written documentation among the Picts, what we know of them can only be judged from other sources such as archaeological evidence and hostile accounts of later Christian writers. Their religion is generally presumed to have resembled Celtic polytheism. The names of more than two hundred Celtic deities have been noted, some of which, like Lugh, The Dagda, and The Morrigan, come from later Irish mythology, while others, like Teutatis, Taranis and Cernunnos, come from evidence from the region Gaul. Many of these deities are associated today with modern-day Witchcraft.


According to Greek and Roman accounts, in Gaul, Britain, and Ireland, there was a priestly caste of “magico-religious specialists” known as the druids, although very little is known about them. Irish legends about the origin of the Picts and stories from the life of St. Ninian, an early missionary and saint, associate the Picts with druids. The Picts are also associated with “demon” worship. One story concerning St. Columba, has him exorcising a demon from a well in Pictland, suggesting that the worship of well spirits was a feature of Pictish paganism. Roman mentions of the worship of the Goddess Minerva at wells and a Pictish stone associated with a well near Dunvegan Castle on Skye have been taken to support this case.


There are many cases of Witchcraft throughout Scottish history. During the reign of Natholocus in the second century, a famous Witch was living on the island of Iona (a tiny island off the west coast of Scotland.) Such was her renown that the king sent a trusted messenger to find out what was going to be the result of a rebellion then building in his kingdom. The Witch said that the king would soon be murdered, not by an enemy, but by one of his most trusted friends. When the messenger demanded who it was, she said it was him. After thinking it over, not wanting to report what the Witch had said, and perhaps be killed by the king in anticipation, the messenger did stab the king to death.


Reflecting the bitter crusade pursued by Protestants and Catholics alike, in their paranoia over possible “servants of the devil.” Witchcraft was first made legally punishable, in Scotland, by an Act passed by the Scottish Parliament, in the reign of Mary, in 1563. An estimated 4,000 to 6,000 people, mostly from the Scottish Lowlands, were tried for witchcraft in this period, a much higher rate than for neighboring England. There were significant series of trials in 1590–91, 1597, 1628–31, 1649–50 and 1661–62. Seventy-five percent of the accused were women. More than 1500 persons were executed according to current estimates; most were strangled and then burned. The Witch hunts subsided under English occupation after the British Civil Wars but returned after the Restoration in 1660. The resurgence caused some alarm and led to the Privy Council of Scotland limiting arrests, prosecutions, and torture. Although there were occasional local outbreaks of witch-hunting, the last recorded executions were in 1706, and the last trial happened in 1727. The Scottish and English parliaments merged in 1707, and the unified British parliament repealed the 1563 Act in 1736.


There still exists today, an esoteric religion called “Pecti Wita” that is described as similar to Wicca but with less focus on ritual and sabbat observation. Aidan Breac (1897-1989}, a respected Scottish teacher and practitioner of Scottish Witchcraft, termed it “PectiWita,” or “Pictish Witchcraft.” It is impossible to say, how far back it dates, but it is certain that it differs in many ways from the Wicca of England; of the Gardnerian, Keltic, Saxon, Alexandrian and other varieties. It is reportedly of the old Scotland and hopefully bears the authentic wisdom of the Pictish people. It stands to reason that this may be the lineage of the people that call themselves “hereditary witches” though that is only a loose observation after pondering this research. In any event, Scotland was undoubtedly a hot-bed of witchy activity for many hundreds of years.

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