For many young people Halloween means running around in a pointy hat and a broom plastered in green makeup and fake blood, cackling as they fill their plastic cauldrons with trick-or-treat sweets but the history of Witches has a much darker side.
The Witchcraft Act was in force in Scotland between 1563 and 1736; in that period 3,837 people were accused of witchcraft – 84% of them women. Torture was used to exact confessions, and those convicted were almost always strangled at the stake and their corpse burned.
The last witch to be burned was Janet Horne in Dornoch, Sutherland, in 1727. She was stripped, smeared with tar, paraded through the town on a barrel and burned alive.
This period of history was when Christianity implemented Exodus 22:18, 'Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live' on an industrial scale.
Finding proof of devilry was no ordinary task, would-be
witch-hunters often resorted to some particularly outlandish experiments
in their quest to convict accused necromancers.
Such trials included the 'swimming test' where accused witches were dragged to
the nearest body of water and
then tossed in to to see if they would sink or float. An innocent person would sink like a stone, but
a witch would simply bob on the surface.
The accused were also made to recite the Lord’s Prayer without making mistakes or omissions or made to strip in public and examined
for signs of an unsightly blemish such as a mole, scar, birthmark or sores that witches were said to receive upon
making their pact with Satan.
It has been estimated that there was between 90,000 and 100,000 witch trials carried out in Europe, Scandinavia and America between 1400 and
1800 resulting in around 40–50,000 executions.