Village plans Scotland’s first official memorial to witches


A SCOTTISH village is set to create the country’s first official memorial to witches who were tortured and killed by vengeful mobs.

The 1,600 citizens of Pittenweem, Fife, are taking part in a controversial “referendum” on whether they want a memorial and where it should be.
At least 26 “witches” were tortured and 18 of them killed in the picturesque fishing village in the early 18th Century.
The local community council has written to every adult in the community asking if they agreed in principle with the plan.

This woodcutting shows a Scottish witch-hunt in progress


If they are given the green light, a permanent memorial will be constructed in the village, most likely on the site of the most notorious witch killing, that of Janet Cornfoot.
Sir Sean Connery’s ancestors were reportedly among the lynch mob that tortured and killed her in 1705.
After she was accused of witchcraft, Cornfoot was swung from a rope, stoned, and then crushed under a heavy door piled high with boulders.
To make quite certain she was dead, a horse and cart was repeatedly driven over her body and her remains buried in an area called West Braes.
Local historian, Leonard Low , author of ‘The Weem Witch’, said of the referendum: “It is just fantastic and a massive step forward. This will be the first time in Britain that such a memorial has been erected.”
Low, whose family have lived for generations in Pittenweem, spearheaded the campaign to commemorate the witches.
He added: “I was looking at the names of people who lived in Pittenweem during these events. One of the families are the distant ancestors of Sean Connery.
“The interesting thing is that the records state that everyone in the village took part in this horrific murder, so I think his ancestors would have been involved and very much a part of that mob.”
Louise Park, presiding officer for the Pagen Federation of Scotland, said the monument would be a fitting way to remember those who had lost their lives.
She said: “A memorial would be a great thing to remember the people who were victims of hunts and persecutions. It is always good to remember that people can be persecuted by people in authority.”
One proposed design for the memorial at West Brae is a tall metal structure depicting the door used to crush Cornfoot, emblazoned with the names of all 26 victims. Hands will grip the door on either side, a powerful reminder of the mob who took her life.
Margaret Laidlaw, a member of the community council, confirmed: “A questionnaire has gone out and we are waiting to hear local opinion on the matter before we thrash out the finer details.”
During the witch trials at Pittenweem, sixteen of the accused were burnt at the stake, and one died during torture.

The village as it is today


Despite the horrors and the abuses or power, not everyone agrees with the memorial plan.
The community council’s own acting secretary, David Birrell, described it as “ridiculous”.
“I know all this is going on and I can hardly believe it,” he said. “It is completely ridiculous. This all happened 300 years. To put a monument in Pittenweem for something that happened so long ago is beyond belief.”
Dr Peter Maxwell-Stuart, a history lecturer at the nearby University of St.Andrews, said the monument would be “futile”.
He said: “Apologising for what your ancestors have done in the past is futile. It is making an assumption that all these people were innocent when of course they weren’t. Practising witchcraft was against the law at the time and was considered a criminal offence and to apologise would be a mistaken view of history.
“If I was given a vote in Pittenweem I would certainly vote against the memorial,” he added.
Much of the abuse in Pittenweem was the result of local minister Patrick Cowper’s determination to ignore the laws of the day.
The authorities in Edinburgh demanded evidence that witches had used their supernatural powers in the commission of actual crimes such as murder. And even, they had to give their permission for a trial to go ahead.
Cowper imprisoned women merely on flimsy accusations of practising witchcraft. And he incited the mob to mete out its murderous brand of justice before getting permission from Edinburgh.
When the national government ordered a stop to the persecution, the few surviving women were released and the folk of Pittenweem turned against Cowper. In yet another bizarre twist, they imprisoned his cow in the same jail that had been used for the witches.
Cowper was never brought to justice although his gravestone in the village was vandalised to the point where the inscription can no longer be read.
The cost of the memorial, and who would pay for it, has still be worked out.
Alan Paul, Fife Council’s Corporate Asset Manager said the long-term maintenance of the memorial would have to be carefully planned.
He said: “It’s not just a question of building something, but also ensuring that it can be maintained in good order for the long-term.”


    • I support this Pittenweem Memorial & hope that it will be built. There already are memorials in the USA. The most famous of these is the memorial of remembrance of those killed in the Witch persecutions in Salem, Massachussetts in 1692: . In 1992, I was among the speakers at the national interfaith memorial service for those killed in Salem – it was the first memorial service held for those killed. Also in 1992, the Salem Witches memorial was dedicated as part of observances of the 300th anniversary of the trials & executions.

      • You are the first Minister to support the memorial, I thank you so much for support, I just wish it would rub of on your clergy over here who treat me as a bad smell for even bringing the subject of Witches up.

    • Pittenweem council has declared the vote out of 1600 people a draw??? so the motion fails….they had no intention of it ever getting near a positive result in my opinion.

    • I agree this should be done in Scotland and all throughout the Western World were our kind were murdered…and innocent people that weren’t ‘witches’ ….were murdered for nothing.

      @Tim Salem Mass is supposed to have a momentum to the victims of the Salem Witch Trials

  1. Dr. Maxwell-Stuart appears to be blinded by his tunnel-vision logic. I don’t care if witchcraft was against the law back then or not. Personally, I seriously doubt there was any substantial irrefutable proof of such activity in the first place. Either way, it doesn’t matter. What those people did was wrong; killing is never condonable unless in self-defense, and other scholars have concluded that most people accused of witchcraft did not actually practice it, and even fewer practiced dark magick. It is suspected however that prominent members of the Church were actually the ones practicing dark magick by sacrificing babies and then blaming the “evil” on innocent villagers just so the Church could acquire more land. Now who are the guilty ones, the accused witches or their accusers? The writers of our history always want to cover up the truth when it paints the victors & authorities in a bad light, and continue to do so to this day.

  2. Dr. Maxwell-Stuart: “A mistaken view of history?” Excuse me? If I am not mistaken, the Malleus Maleficarum actually discusses the barbarous practices I just mentioned of certain church officials to obtain greater power by selling their souls to the Devil. Where is this guy coming from? I would like to see his proof that those murdered villagers were actually practicing witchcraft, dark magick at that. While I understand Dr. Maxwell-Stuart’s stance that “[a]pologizing for what your ancestors have done in the past is futile”, I will argue that it is still a step in the right direction to make the wrong things right. Is that not what justice is? Healing the wounds of history can go a long way to healing the scars of the world. I will never admit that killing the accused witches was right just because it was against the law of the day to practice witchcraft, something that many people misunderstand and tend to demonize even to this day. Any time you mix religion and politics you always end up with a disaster, which is why my ancestors tried to escape that BS by coming to America 300 and 400 years ago.

    David Birrell: “It is completely ridiculous. This all happened 300 years. To put a monument in Pittenweem for something that happened so long ago is beyond belief.” – Is this not a part of your bloody history? I say why not put up a monument to remember this dark time when people were murdered without fair (unbiased) & proper trials. Didn’t your country put up a monument for William Wallace more than 500 years after his death? Was he not brutally murdered by the “authorities” for supposed “crimes”? Why is that monument not ridiculous?

  3. I don’t think it is ridiculous at all. I believe that in Pittenweem, like most places, those tortured and murdered were probably not “witches” at all. And yes, a monument saying we are sorry we treated other human beings so horrifically is not a bad thing. It is never too late to apologize. As for the error on the side of history? Well I believe the rolls of the dead and how they died, pretty much sum up the “history” of it all. Just because it isn’t pretty, doesn’t mean it is not true. Humans are a nasty bunch at times. A lot of religious fanatics all got together and came up with lies to satisfy their worries. Because it is always easier to “blame the witch.” We are STILL seeing this in Africa today where even children are being killed. It happened. It was wrong; so horribly wrong. Amends should be made. The monument is a good idea.

  4. In the all of Europe we need such monuments, specially in front of the Vatikan in Rom. Its so ridiculous: If they where really “witches” – they would make themselfes invisible or fly away befor they got arrestet :o)
    1836 was the last killing of a witch in Europe…

    • last Witch killing was in Ireland… Bridget Cleary in 1895….horrible case, her husband father and Ministers held her down on her house fire and burned her.

  5. Thanks for your comments keep them coming, I wrote “the weem witch” 6 years ago simply because it was treated like a dirty secret, the story of what happened here mirrors the Salem witchhunt exactly.
    It has now featured in over 40 newspapers and magazines, its talked about worldwide now, these people were nothing but victims of religion. They deserve a memorial for what they suffered, and it should be paid for by the church that killed them.
    leonard low

  6. Its about time something was done to acknowledge those poor souls who were accused of Witchcraft, raped, beaten, tortured, drowned,hanged or burned. Most of the accused were simple people, and could not afford to defend themselves. I live in Ayrshire in Scotland where a lot of the perssicutions went on. Oh and if they were still burning Witches today, then I’d be at the top of the so called pile, being a Woman with a Cat, who also follows the Wiccan Religion 🙂

  7. I think that we humans will be doomed to repeat this sad history (in PittenWeem & elsewhere) if we forget. The proposed Memorial is a wonderful idea I think, it serves to remind us all not only what occured in the past, but hopefully how far we have come since that dark time.

  8. of course these ppl should be remembered how dare they say that torture n murder was acceceptable then at end of day these acts of attrossity should be condemned n these people should be remembered it is the same as any other war n this was a war against wiccan 12 million european witches died so why shouldnt we be remembered

  9. I also share the sentiment in support of a monument memorializing the persecuted of Pittenweem. I think that people should always be mindful of what happened in the past as not to repeat it in the future.

  10. An apology is futile. A memorial is not an apology, it is erected in memorium of those murdered souls, acknowledging it was horrific and honoring their lives. Supposed witches were often midwives, or wise women able to use herbs to heal. They challenged the power of the church. It is important to acknowledge the ways in which women were abused to remind us not to repeat anything so dark.

  11. The proposed memorial is wonderful, and, as people have already said, an important reminder for our future. It is never too late to acknowedge mistakes or history. Blessed Be, Pittenweem!

  12. On what evidence is the claim that Sir Sean Connery’s ancestors had anything to do with the Pittemweem witch trials? On his father’s side he is descended from the Connerys of County Wexford in Ireland and on his mother’s side from the Maclean’s of Mull. His recent book ‘Being a Scot’ reviles the persecution of witches and recounts how King James VI fuelled this gross misogyny in the early 17th century.

    • The Mcleans lived in Pittenweem during the Witch hunt of 1705, on the night of 30th january Janet Cornfoot was dragged by the heels down to the beach,tied with rope from a mast with the other end on the beach,
      They held her in and out the waters for 4 hours as all the population of the town watched and lobbed sticks and stones at her. She was cut down, and brought into a local house on the beach front, the locals smashed the door in grabbed her out and placed the door on her, the village collected stones placed them on the door till Janet was crushed,
      they then sliced her up with a horse drawn sled, taking pieces of her and threatening the families of the other witches “that this will happen to their daughter next” there is no proof that the Mcleans took part in the lynching, buy records from 3 sources on the night state the whole town was there.

  13. I am a professional artist from Dunfermline and I am keenly interested in this subject. I believe the term ‘witch’ tends to cloud our perception of the phenomenon of the witch hunts. In reality, this was a holocaust of women. I am surprised at Dr Maxwell-Stuart’s position on this matter and I think it reflects poorly on the University of St Andrews.

    Arguing that, by the laws of the day, the courts sincerely considered those women to be guilty is no more excusable than arguing that the Nazis were quite sincere in their hatred of Jews. These injustices need to be remembered by our society to help safeguard our current freedoms and protect us against religious or ideological zealotry.

    This sculpture would not have been an apology but a memorial. It seems that this project has exposed an unconscious misogyny still at work in the East Fife.

  14. Hi Len…

    I fully support your Memorial plan mate and im deeply saddened at the attitude of Both Pittenweem Council and Dr.Maxwell-Stuart from the University of St.Andrews as i’m up there just now studying History and Art History. We should never forget the transgretions of our past lest we are doomed to repeat them! I respect the memory of these persecuted women and thank you for bringing their case to light.

    Wishing you all the best…

    Rab Watson

    • thanks Rab, it took 260 years to get this far with the council actually talking about it. Its not over, it looks like America is lending a hand financially, Im starting a trust and the funds will go towards a monument. Even If I put it up myself!

  15. Where will the memorial now go?
    This needs to be erected somewhere along the Fife coast. Leven would be a good place………….
    P.S. Has anyone had any sightings of ghosts recently that happen to have been condemned and falsely accused for practising witchcraft?

    • Ive just finished writing a History of Largo,11 witches here, again if you asked anyone on the witches of Largo, no one would know anything, you really have to dig deep to find anything. In 1650 30 Witches were destroyed in a month along the Fife coast.
      Leven is generally a new town Methil and Buckhaven being much older, no Witches were ever found in Leven but it would be a lovely spot.
      There are many instances of court records where ghosts (imps,familiars) have been recorded, all went towards condemning the acused Witch.

  16. I think there should be a memorial for these poor women, brutally tortured and murdered. Apparently only 18% from 1600 Pittenweem residents responded to the survey. 50% (144 people) of those who returned it said no to a memorial. It’s hardly representative of the 1600 residents.
    What about the folks that were born in Pittenweem, I’m still a Pittenweemer, through and through. The only reason I dont stay there is the house prices are so expensive. I’m 100% behind a memorial, I’m sure it would be great for the local economy, and i dont think there is rational argument against remembering these innocent tortured women.

    Those who forget or deny or distort the truth about past atrocities are doomed to repeat it. The MALLEUS MALEFICARUM (the witches hammer) was much like Hitlers MEINKUMF (my struggle.) in that it was used as a tool here for misogyny to hunt down, torture and burn alive hundred of thousands maybe millions of woman in Europe for a period of 300 years. This can be said to be a haulacast or gendercide conducted by the church and state. The burning times as it is termed or the witchhunts had nothing to do with, witchcraft itself or pagan practices or wicca etc. but it was the misogyny that plagued patriarchal extremist catholic and protestant Christendom of the 16th and 17th century. Christianity was suffering a power struggle in most parts of Europe so they invented women (the witch) as scapegoats in which to relief their frustrations. If you are to erect a memorial for the innocent victims of the witchhunts you may start by ending to use the terminology ‘WITCH’ against these human beings as time and logic of the 21st century has proven that it wasn’t women who started plagues, economic downfall or flew on broomsticks during the burning times. Such thoughts are prejudice, ignorant and down right idiotic. Especially when the victims burning slowly to death pleaded that they weren’t witches. By referring to them as witches in retrospect makes us no different to their oppressors. We owe them that much. The reason we right history is so that we may learn from past mistakes and not repeat them. But when atrocities of this magnitude is ignored or denied it is only to our own peril and will definitely be repeated. Maybe by erecting these memorials finally will light a spark and people will come into consciousness about the witcthunts and churches, Historians and Theologians will call out the burning times for what it truly was; the worst case of MISOGYNY in recorded history or the worst haulacast or gendercide conducted by religious extremist. Only then will we be able to free these innocent women and few men from their place of incarceration and incineration. Sadly misusing religion to persecute women has found its way into the 21st century in the new name of Honor killings. Islamic extremist of patriarchal societies are using the principles of the ,MALLEUS MALEFICARUM to brutally hunt and murder women and little girls. And thus history repeats itself! GOD bless!

  18. “Dr Peter Maxwell-Stuart, a history lecturer at the nearby University of St.Andrews, said the monument would be “futile”.
    He said: “Apologizing for what your ancestors have done in the past is futile. It is making an assumption that all these people were innocent when of course they weren’t. ”
    –RIGHT wow he makes me ashamed to like history and his (most likely) Protestant Christianity is shining through!

  19. I have a plan for a memorial, not just for the Pittenweem Witches, but all 110 that were killed along the coastline from Kirkcaldy to Crail.
    I have all the names that should go on a stone and the plan is to place something down near the beach. There is funding from outside Scotland, but again I have to have permission first from the council. And its not Pittenweem!
    If I get permission, a charity will start and I will do some charity lectures to raise funds…….watch this space!

  20. Hi There,

    I’m researching Scottish witches for a potential TV programme and wondering if anyone would be up for a chat?


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