Fife conference explores Scotland’s witchcraft trials and plans for a memorial
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The two-day event takes place at the Old Kirk, in Kirkcaldy, the historic venue where women were held before being put on trial. The former church sits just ten miles from the proposed site of the memorial at St Ninian’s, Kelty, and it brings the organising group, Remembering the Accused Witches of Scotland (RAWS), full circle in the Kingdom where much of the momentum behind the campaign began.
The annual gathering takes place on May 20 and 21, and will feature guest speakers, workshops as well as an exhibition, with the focus on getting the public’s views on plans for a national memorial. It comes three years after a conference at the Carnegie Hall, Dunfermline, set out to study why Scotland found itself in the grip of so many witch trials between the 16th and 18th centuries.
Sheila Gaul, who chairs RAWS, said: “These were real people who suffered horrendously. We believe there are around 4000, but there are always names to be researched. We have to acknowledge what happened, and how it relates to today where we still demonise people.”
The conference will also welcome Irene Bissett, one of the driving forces at National Pride, the organisation which offered the land at St Ninian’s as part of its major plans to transform the former opencast land into a major ecologically friendly and environmentally sensitive health, wellness and leisure destination.
Sheila said: “The offer came out of the blue. It is at the very early stages but it is a fantastic opportunity, and we, as a group, we wanted to place the memorial outside of Edinburgh - we felt it would get lost among all the others in the city.”
The capital does have a memorial on the esplanade at Edinburgh Castle, but it doesn’t pay fitting tribute or tell the full story of the suffering and persecution the women endured.
“If we do not know about our past and learn from it, we stand to make the same mistakes again,” said Sheila. “As a society we have a habit of ignoring unpleasant issues such as witch trials. We want a place for a memorial which is easily accessible, and the opportunities for what it could be are endless. Should it be an archive centre and museum or a structure? We want the memorial to be based on public suggestions. Their ideas can help us move it forward.”
RAWS’ annual conference marks the next stage in its plans to secure a fitting tribute to the victims of witch trials, and it is open to all to attend.
It’s estimated that between 3000 and 5000 women were publicly accused of being witches in 16th and 17th century Scotland – a much higher number than neighbouring England – and 75 per cent of the accused were women. Two thirds of them were also killed. They include Elizabeth Dick, from Anstruther who went begging to the local mill and was turned away so she cursed the business and witnesses testified to say the grain it produced turned red.
Former First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, and the Church of Scotland have both given formal apology to Elzabeth and all those who were convicted for witchcraft in Scotland. A memorial remains the next major step for campaigners.