​Find over 3,000 witches on this map of Scotland

Edinburgh University project geo-locates victims of Scottish 'witch-prickers' in the 16th and 17th century.

More than 3,000 witches - and some of their accusers - brought together in one map.

More than 3,000 witches - and some of their accusers - brought together in one map.

Image: Accused Witches Map project, Edinburgh University.
  • This map provides the location for people accused of witchcraft in Scotland between 1563 and 1736.
  • It includes data on others, such as sheriffs, ministers and 'witch-prickers' – a most curious profession.
  • The map also covers the infamous North Berwick Witch Trials, presided over by King James; his subsequent book on demonology inspired Shakespeare's Macbeth.

    • Proof of godliness

      Hotspots of witchery in Central Scotland.

      Hotspots of witchery in Central Scotland.

      Image: Accused Witches Map project, Edinburgh University.

      Looking for a witch but don't know where to find one? This map will help. It pins more than 3,000 people accused of witchcraft to a map of Scotland. It's the Grand Register of Scottish Witchcraft that you never knew you needed.

      But only if your interest is purely academic. You can't call or write them to cast a spell on your behalf, because they're all dead and gone. And not just because many were executed. This Map of Accused Witches geo-locates the entries in the Survey of Scottish Witchcraft database (SoSW), which covers the period between 1563 and 1736.

      Those years bookend a very specific period:
      • In 1563, the Scottish Parliament passed the Witchcraft Act, which made witchcraft a capital crime.
      • And in 1735, another Witchcraft act, this time passed by the Parliament in Westminster, made it a crime to accuse others of having magical powers or of practicing witchcraft, throughout the whole of Britain (including Scotland).
      In other words, the map covers more than 170 years of government-sanctioned witch hunting and killing in Scotland. For a state with a religious point to make, prosecuting witchcraft was an excellent way to prove its godliness.

      Mark of the Devil

      \u200bPlaces of residence of accused witches in the Greater Edinburgh area.

      Places of residence of accused witches in the Greater Edinburgh area.

      Image: Accused Witches Map project, Edinburgh University.

      In that period, more than 3,200 people were publicly accused of being witches in Scotland. Whether motivated by religious zeal or naked opportunism, witch-hunting was pursued with remarkably more fervor in Scotland than in England.

      The alleged witches in the database defy the stereotypes that later times have conferred on them. They are neither all female (15% were men), nor particularly old (half were under 40). They were also not typically widowed, nor all poor outsiders (most were 'middle class', some were nobility), nor generally practitioners of folk medicine (only about 4%).

      A conviction could result from confessions – by the suspects or by other witches – or if the Devil's mark was found on the body of the suspect. The Devil was believed to 'mark' his followers when they made their pact with him, detectable either as a visible blemish or an insensitive spot. 'Witch-prickers' used pins and knives to find those spots, and thus identify the suspects as actual witches. There are known to have been at least 10 professional itinerant witch-prickers in Scotland at the time.

      Torture and death

      \u200b23 witches were executed at Castle Hill in Edinburgh, four more just down the road, at Mercat Cross (to the right).

      23 witches were executed at Castle Hill in Edinburgh, four more just down the road, at Mercat Cross (to the right).

      Image: Accused Witches Map project, Edinburgh University.

      One of the most effective and most frequently used forms of torture used on accused witches was sleep deprivation; it leads to hallucinations, which is a very helpful tool for obtaining confessions. Physical torture was relatively rare.

      Only for a relatively small sample – 55 cases – are methods of torture mentioned, which included: forcing the accused to wear haircloth, whipping them, binding them with ropes, hanging them by their thumbs, placing them in iron and stocks, putting them in cashielaws (a.k.a. the 'warm hose': iron leg encasings which were heated until the legs began to roast).

      And only in 305 of the 3,212 cases in the database is the sentence known:

      • 205 were executed,
      • 52 acquitted,
      • 27 banished,
      • 11 declared fugitive,
      • 6 excommunicated,
      • 2 'put to the horn' (i.e. outlawed),
      • 1 kept in prison and
      • 1 publicly humiliated.

      A further 98 fled from prosecution. The first figure above seems to suggest that about two thirds were executed. For the entire group, that would mean more than 2,000 witches executed. But researchers say the sample is too small and atypical for that kind of conclusion.

      Journey of a witch-pricker

      John Kincaid was mainly active around Edinburgh, but ventured as far south as Newcastle, in England, and as far north as Brechin.

      John Kincaid was mainly active around Edinburgh, but ventured as far south as Newcastle, in England, and as far north as Brechin. There, in April 1650, Kincaid found the devil's mark on the body of Catharin Walker. She had been accused of unorthodox religious practise. And it was said she had kicked a man in the groin who had subsequently died; that people suffered after she quarrelled with them; and that she had confessed to having suffocated and poisoned her own children. She did not immediately confess, but in prison admitted that she had pacted with the Devil, in the shape of a cat.

      Image: Accused Witches Map project, Edinburgh University.

      In order to unlock the data contained in the SoSW database, the University of Edinburgh in 2018-19 launched a project to locate and visualise the various places it recorded. It was the first time this dataset of alleged Scottish witches had been geo-located so exhaustively.

      Mid-2019, Emma Carroll, a Geology and Physical Geography undergraduate student, was taken on board as 'witchfinder general': to locate the witches on the map of Scotland. "Before the internship I had barely even heard of Haddington and now I know that it is the witch capital of Scotland," she remarked on the blog detailing her progress.

      Carroll had to find locations for which the name or spelling had changed dramatically, or which had disappeared off the map altogether. Her detective work involved scouring old, detailed Ordnance Survey maps and even older maps of Scotland, contemporary to the witch trials, including the Blaeu Atlas of Scotland (1654).

      Carroll's work consisted not only of geo-locating the places of residence, detainment, trial and (if applicable) execution for the accused, but also of pinpointing locations for the more around 2,000 other people associated with the trials – ministers, sheriffs, and others.

      The detective work also shed some new light on some of the cases, like that of Marie Nian Innes, of the Isle of Skye. The fact that she was accused of witchcraft may have had more to do with local politics; specifically, with the new local clan chief Ranald attempting to assert his authority.

      Carroll prepared various maps based on the information at her disposal, including one 'story map', on John Kincaid, "a notoriously evil witch-pricker" from Tranent. Kincaid was involved in 17 cases - in one of which he was the accused.

      The North Berwick Witch Trials

      Devil's sermon and witches' brew - one of the few contemporary illustrations of Scottish witchcraft.

      Devil's sermon and witches' brew - one of the few contemporary illustrations of Scottish witchcraft.

      Image: British Library - public domain

      One of the focal points of the map is North Berwick, which was the scene in 1590-91 of the infamous North Berwick Witch Trials, presided over by King James IV of Scotland himself. The trials were discussed in the anonymous pamphlet Newes from Scotland, published in London in 1591. It contains the only contemporary illustrations of Scottish witchcraft. One of them is this woodcut (above), which shows:

      • A group of witches (center) listening to a sermon by the Devil (left) at North Berwick church on Halloween of the year 1590. Haddington schoolmaster John Fian (in between) is acting as the witches' clerk.
      • A ship sunk by witchcraft (top left). Local witches were accused of raising the storm that had troubled the North Sea voyage of Anne of Denmark, bride of King James (later also King James I of England). Although none of the ships in that party was sunk, witches were accused of sinking a ferry in the Forth, and a ship named Grace of God at North Berwick itself.
      • Witches stirring a cauldron. Boilerplate witchery, not directly related to any accusations in the witch hunts of 1590-91.
      • A pedlar (right) discovers witches in Tranent, and is then magically transported to a wine-cellar in Bordeaux, France (bottom right).
      Newes from Scotland was probably written by James Carmichael, the minister of Haddington. He both helped interrogate the North Berwick witches and advised King James on writing his Daemonologie (1597).

      Weird Sisters

      Henry Fuseli (1741-1825): 'Macbeth', Act I, Scene 3, the Weird Sisters

      Macbeth's three weird sisters, as imagined (ca. 1783) by the painter Henry Fuseli.

      Image: public domain

      Written a few years before he authorised the Bible translation with which King James has become synonymous, Daemonologie contains three philosophical dialogues that deal with demons, magic, sorcery and witchcraft. The work explains why it is right that witches should be persecuted in a Christian society.

      It is thought that Shakespeare used Daemonologie as source material for Macbeth (1606) – set in Scotland and featuring three Weird Sisters – witches whose rituals and quotes would not altogether have been out of place in Newes of Scotland.

      Daemonologie influenced later witchfinders (and their manuals), including Richard Bernard (A Guide to Grand-Jury Men, 1629) and Matthew Hopkins (The Discovery of Witches, 1647).

      A witch in the garden

      Image: © JThomas, geograph.co.uk - CC BY-SA 2.0

      The Witchstone in Dornoch marks the presumed spot where the last witch in Britain was executed.

      Women had been persecuted as witches for much longer than the period described by this map; but its end date coincides with the end of government-sanctioned witch-hunting.

      Executed in 1722, Janet Horne was the last person to be legally killed for witchcraft in Scotland – and in fact the entire British Isles.

      Janet, who was showing signs of senility, and her daughter, who suffered from deformities on her hands and feet, were turned in to the authorities by their neighbors.

      They accused Janet of riding her daughter to the Devil, to have him shod her like a pony. Both mother and daughter were quickly found guilty by the local sheriff, who sentenced them to be burned at the stake.

      The daughter managed to escape, but Janet was stripped, tarred, paraded through town and burned alive. The Witchstone, in the private garden of a house in Carnaig Street in Dornoch (Sutherland) still marks the presumed spot of her execution.

      Strange Maps #1016

      Got a strange map? Let me know at strangemaps@gmail.com.

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      7 most notorious and excessive Roman Emperors

      These Roman Emperors were infamous for their debauchery and cruelty.

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      • Roman Emperors were known for their excesses and violent behavior.
      • From Caligula to Elagabalus, the emperors exercised total power in the service of their often-strange desires.
      • Most of these emperors met violent ends themselves.

      We rightfully complain about many of our politicians and leaders today, but historically speaking, humanity has seen much worse. Arguably no set of rulers has been as debauched, ingenious in their cruelty, and prone to excess as the Roman Emperors.

      While this list is certainly not exhaustive, here are seven Roman rulers who were perhaps the worst of the worst in what was one of the largest empires that ever existed, lasting for over a thousand years.

      1. Caligula

      Officially known as Gaius (Gaius Caesar Augustus Germanicus), Caligula was the third Roman Emperor, ruling from 37 to 41 AD. He acquired the nickname "Caligula" (meaning "little [soldier's] boot") from his father's soldiers during a campaign.

      While recognized for some positive measures in the early days of his rule, he became famous throughout the ages as an absolutely insane emperor, who killed anyone when it pleased him, spent exorbitantly, was obsessed with perverse sex, and proclaimed himself to be a living god.

      Caligula gives his horse Incitatus a drink during a banquet. Credit: An engraving by Persichini from a drawing by Pinelli, from "The History of the Roman Emperors" from Augustus to Constantine, by Jean Baptiste Louis Crevier. 1836.

      Among his litany of misdeeds, according to the accounts of Caligula's contemporaries Philo of Alexandria and Seneca the Younger, he slept with whomever he wanted, brazenly taking other men's wives (even on their wedding nights) and publicly talking about it.

      He also had an insatiable blood thirst, killing for mere amusement. Once, as reports historian Suetonius, when the bridge across the sea at Puteoli was being blessed, he had a number of spectators who were there to inspect it thrown off into the water. When some tried to cling to the ships' rudders, Caligula had them dislodged with hooks and oars so they would drown. On another occasion, he got so bored that he had his guards throw a whole section of the audience into the arena during the intermission so they would be eaten by wild beasts. He also allegedly executed two consuls who forgot his birthday.

      Suetonius relayed further atrocities of the mad emperor's character, writing that Caligula "frequently had trials by torture held in his presence while he was eating or otherwise enjoying himself; and kept an expert headsman in readiness to decapitate the prisoners brought in from gaol." One particular form of torture associated with Caligula involved having people sawed in half.

      He caused mass starvation and purposefully wasted money and resources, like making his troops stage fake battles just for theater. If that wasn't enough, he turned his palace into a brothel and was accused of incest with his sisters, Agrippina the Younger, Drusilla, and Livilla, whom he also prostituted to other men. Perhaps most famously, he was planning to appoint his favorite horse Incitatus a consul and went as far as making the horse into a priest.

      In early 41 AD, Caligula was assassinated by a conspiracy of Praetorian Guard officers, senators, and other members of the court.

      2. Nero

      Fully named Nero Claudius Caesar, Nero ruled from 54 to 68 AD and was arguably an even worse madman than his uncle Caligula. He had his step-brother Britannicus killed, his wife Octavia executed, and his mother Agrippina stabbed and murdered. He personally kicked to death his lover Poppeaea while she was pregnant with his child — a horrific action the Roman historian Tacitus depicted as "a casual outburst of rage."

      He spent exorbitantly and built a 100-foot-tall bronze statue of himself called the Colossus Neronis.

      He is also remembered for being strangely obsessed with music. He sang and played the lyre, although it's not likely he really fiddled as Rome burned in what is a popular myth about this crazed tyrant. As misplaced retribution for the fire which burned down a sizable portion of Rome in the year 64, he executed scores of early Christians, some of them outfitted in animal skins and brutalized by dogs, with others burned at the stake.

      He died by suicide.

      Roman Emperor Nero in the burning ruins of Rome. July 64 AD.Credit: From an original painting by S.J. Ferris. (Photo by Kean Collection / Getty Images)

      3. Commodus

      Like some of his counterparts, Commodus (a.k.a. Lucius Aelius Aurelius Commodus) thought he was a god — in his case, a reincarnation of the Greek demigod Hercules. Ruling from 176 to 192 AD, he was also known for his debauched ways and strange stunts that seemed designed to affirm his divine status. Numerous statues around the empire showed him as Hercules, a warrior who fought both men and beasts. He fought hundreds of exotic animals in an arena like a gladiator, confusing and terrifying his subjects. Once, he killed 100 lions in a single day.

      Emperor Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix) questions the loyalty of his sister Lucilla (Connie Nielsen) In Dreamworks Pictures' and Universal Pictures' Oscar-winning drama "Gladiator," directed by Ridley Scott.Credit: Photo By Getty Images

      The burning desire to kill living creatures as a gladiator for the New Year's Day celebrations in 193 AD brought about his demise. After Commodus shot hundreds of animals with arrows and javelins every morning as part of the Plebeian Games leading up to New Year's, his fitness coach (aptly named Narcissus), choked the emperor to death in his bath.

      4. Elagabalus

      Officially named Marcus Aurelius Antoninus II, Elagabalus's nickname comes from his priesthood in the cult of the Syrian god Elagabal. Ruling as emperor from 218 to 222 AD, he was so devoted to the cult, which he tried to spread in Rome, that he had himself circumcised to prove his dedication. He further offended the religious sensitivities of his compatriots by essentially replacing the main Roman god Jupiter with Elagabal as the chief deity. In another nod to his convictions, he installed on Palatine Hill a cone-like fetish made of black stone as a symbol of the Syrian sun god Sol Invictus Elagabalus.

      His sexual proclivities were also not well received at the time. He was likely transgender (wearing makeup and wigs), had five marriages, and was quite open about his male lovers. According to the Roman historian (and the emperor's contemporary) Cassius Dio, Elagabalus prostituted himself in brothels and taverns and was one of the first historical figures on record to be looking for sex reassignment surgery.

      He was eventually murdered in 222 in an assassination plot engineered by his own grandmother Julia Maesa.

      5. Vitellius

      Emperor for just eight months, from April 19th to December 20th of the year 69 AD, Vitellius made some key administrative contributions to the empire but is ultimately remembered as a cruel glutton. He was described by Suetonius as overly fond of eating and drinking, to the point where he would eat at banquets four times a day while sending out the Roman navy to get him rare foods. He also had little social grace, inviting himself over to the houses of different noblemen to eat at their banquets, too.

      Vitellius dragged through the streets of Rome.Credit: Georges Rochegrosse. 1883.

      He was also quite vicious and reportedly either had his own mother starved to death or approved a poison with which she committed suicide.

      Vitellius was ultimately murdered in brutal fashion by supporters of the rival emperor Vespasian, who dragged him through Rome's streets, then likely beheaded him and threw his body into the Tiber river. "Yet I was once your emperor," were supposedly his last words, wrote historian Cassius Dio.

      6. Caracalla

      Marcus Aurelius Antoninus I ruled Rome from 211 to 217 AD on his own (while previously co-ruling with his father Septimius Severus from 198). "Caracalla"' was his nickname, referencing a hooded coat from Gaul that he brought into Roman fashion.

      He started off his rise to individual power by murdering his younger brother Geta, who was named co-heir by their father. Caracalla's bloodthirsty tyranny didn't stop there. He wiped out Geta's supporters and was known to execute any opponents to his or Roman rule. For instance, he slaughtered up to 20,000 citizens of Alexandria after a local theatrical satire dared to mock him.

      Geta Dying in His Mother's Arms.Credit: Jacques Pajou (1766-1828)

      One of the positive outcomes of his rule was the Edict of Caracalla, which gave Roman citizenship to all free men in the empire. He was also known for building gigantic baths.

      Like others on this list, Caracalla met a brutal end, being assassinated by army officers, including the Praetorian prefect Opellius Macrinus, who installed himself as the next emperor.

      7. Tiberius

      As the second emperor, Tiberius (ruling from 42 BC to 16 AD) is known for a number of accomplishments, especially his military exploits. He was one of the Roman Empire's most successful generals, conquering Pannonia, Dalmatia, Raetia, and parts of Germania.

      He was also remembered by his contemporaries as a rather sullen, perverse, and angry man. In the chapter on his life from The Lives of the Twelve Caesars by the historian Suetonius, Tiberius is said to have been disliked from an early age for his personality by even his family. Suetonius wrote that his mother Antonia often called him "an abortion of a man, that had been only begun, but never finished, by nature."

      "Orgy of the Times of Tiberius on Capri".Painting by Henryk Siemiradzki. 1881.

      Suetonius also paints a damning picture of Tiberius after he retreated from public life to the island of Capri. His years on the island would put Jeffrey Epstein to shame. A horrendous pedophile, Tiberius had a reputation for "depravities that one can hardly bear to tell or be told, let alone believe," Suetonius wrote, describing how "in Capri's woods and groves he arranged a number of nooks of venery where boys and girls got up as Pans and nymphs solicited outside bowers and grottoes: people openly called this 'the old goat's garden,' punning on the island's name."

      There's much, much more — far too salacious and, frankly, disgusting to repeat here. For the intrepid or morbidly curious reader, here's a link for more information.

      After he died, Tiberius was fittingly succeeded in emperorship by his grandnephew and adopted grandson Caligula.

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