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October 2nd 1747

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The Witches of Kenmore

Witchcraft mania could be a fearsome thing, but by the beginning of the 18th Century the old certainties had largely disappeared. There were still accusations of witchcraft, the odd burning took place but in the main Kirk Sessions took a more enlightened view and a healthy scepticism replaced the hysterical dogmatism of fifty years before.

In the Highlands where second sight, the fairy folk and various manifestations of the supernatural had been accepted as the usual order of things, there was not the same fear of witches. In Kenmore for instance, there were no records of witchcraft before 1730 when Elspeth N’Gorrive complained to the Session that she had been unjustly accused of the crime. A similar state of affairs is reported in 1747 when Margaret Robertson complained that she was unjustly charged with “witchcraft and enchantments” . Her accuser, Janet Clerich was ordered “to be rebuked before the Session for rising and spreading such scandal, and the rebuke to be publicly intimated to the congregation on the Lord’s Day” .

In the same year, Janet and Margaret M’Intaggart were charged with using “charms and enchantments against Alexander Fisher” . It appeared that Janet had been told that “if the substance of their milk was taken away she was advised to milk three days from their neighbours’ sheep as a charm to recover the substance of their milk and that this she did and from that time she found the substance of their milk return” . The other girl had “an egg shell with some milk in it concealed in her manner” . When she was interrogated she answered that “she heard some of the wives of the town say that to go into their neighbours’ houses with an egg shell after this manner was an effectual charm to recover the substance of their milk which was taken away” .

Various women were questioned and verified what had happened though they put a certain gloss on their own behaviour. “I told her if she came in God’s name she was the Devil’s name with the egg shell and the milk I desired her to be gone” .

It would appear that the girls were doing no more than carrying out remedies for defective milk which were well known and probably no more or less efficacious than the waters of the various holy wells in which the district abounded. Janet and Margaret “compeared before the congregation and were rebuked and suitably exhorted” .

Witchcraft was no longer big news in Kenmore.

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