Comment on the proposed pardon for witches in Scotland

This is Sabine McNeill, a modern hunter of witches, who subjected a whole community of London to terror by accusing them of ritualistic rape and murder of children from 2014 onwards. McNeill is doing nine years jail time for her activities. It is vital that the narrative of those accused of witchcraft is not obscured by empty pardons and apologies, because people want past events to fit a politically correct and santised modern interpretation, as it helps those like McNeill to do exactly the sort of things that got thousands of innocent people killed for witchcraft hundreds of years ago in Scotland.

A petition has recently been submitted to the Scottish Parliament with three demands in relation to 4000 witches who were executed under the Witchcraft Act 1563 demanding: a pardon for all those convicted under the act; an apology; a national monument.

The petition has drawn a mixed response from people: Solicitor advocate Andrew Stevenson called it “shameful and absurd”, examining the legal issues around the petition; the historian Dr Peter Maxwell-Stuart of St Andrews University called it a “dishonest gesture”, an attempt to rewrite history; supporters of the petition insist that “victims of witch trials deserve a pardon”.

As both a campaigner for religious freedom, as someone who advocates for justice, and as a historian, I also have reservations about the the idea of a pardon and an apology; but support the idea for a monument.

As a historian, I feel that the trend to demand apologies and pardons for historic and unpleasant events or injustices is an attempt to hijack and rewrite history, which does neither the victims of the past, or, potentially, victims of the future, any justice. For politically correct or feel-good reasons, campaigners feel the need that if the narrative of history is added to, that in some manner it will be changed, but in doing so, they will deny a dark narrative for which the living can gain from. History is only useful if the story is something that the living can learn from, so that it is never repeated. History is saturated with injustice and dark events, but, if obscured by rewrites, people lose part of what made them what they are; for individual, community and society is the sum of all that has gone before.

The injustices and dark events of history only are helpful to the living, if they stand raw, bloody and nasty for all to see. Pardons and apologies does nothing for the dead; it does nothing to undo what the victims suffered, their lives cut short. The dead do not care, they are dead; even if some believe there is life-after-death; the dead have moved on to other things such as via reincarnation. The narrative of history is useful to the living, if people can emotionally react to the raw unfettered narrative, not a rewritten feel-good version.

I have to deal with a modern day version of witch hunting against alternative religions and innocent individuals. Just as in the days of witch hunting, people are being accused of rape, torture, murder and eating of children in “Satanic” rituals. The whole community of Hampstead in London have suffered years of witch hunting, accused of Satanic Ritual Abuse, for which they are still being harrassed for seven years after the allegations were first made in 2014. A vindictive individual called Becki Percy has accused her family and the people of Hull UK of the systematic murder, rape and eating thousands of children in Satanic Rituals. It is because of the allegations from individuals like Percy that many innocent people were murdered in Scotland due to false allegations of being witches; and it is because of allegations by those like Percy, that people in the modern day could be harmed. But, if we cannot learn from the raw narrative of injustice in history, because it has been rewritten by apologies and pardons, then the injustices of what the dead suffered will be repeated upon the living.

I ask: why must the child feel shame and apologise for the sins of the parent? The living, and the instititions they run, are not responsible for the injustices that killed thousands of people hundreds of years ago. Why must those individuals take upon themselves the shame, the responsibility of their ancestors, for apologising for the decisions and deeds of people have been dead for hundreds of years? Someone of the living is being asked to take on the burden of thousands unjustly murdered in order to justify an apology for those injustices. Shall the one who apologises, be also expected to walk naked through the streets of Scotland, pelted by rotten fruit? This is how stupid this idea is to ask the living to apologise for the deeds of the dead hundreds of years before.

The laws of the time was what applied for the beliefs and needs of the time. It is a nonsense to attempt to try and rewrite the laws and judgements made hundreds of years before by trying to use modern legal systems to rewrite those long since invalid laws to satisfy modern cultural opinions and feelings. What does this achieve legally? We, in the modern world, may dislike the decisions and events of laws of hundreds of years before, but that is what they believed and acted upon in their society and time. Those peoples of hundreds of years before will seriously hate and oppose the modern laws and deeds of our modern age.

It would be legally unsafe and unreasonable in my view to do a blanket pardon for crimes of witchcraft of hundreds of years ago. If it has been the decision of the people of the time that if black magic has happened, that on conviction, the penalty is death; and if black magic is real, and there has been a victim of black magic, then amongst those thousands of cases there will be some cases justified for that outcome. If the position is taken that black magic is superstition, but that there have been people who have used the superstion of people to harm them, for which they then get accused of witchcraft, and executed; are they the agents of their own misfortune? There are ocultists in the modern age such as Nathaniel Harris of Bristol UK, who is actively casting ritualistic curses on the victims he is harrassing; and there would have been a number of individuals like Harris who have been executed for this type of abuse amongst those Scottish “witches” who have caused untold suffering on a very superstitious people. It is belief that gives many magical systems such as Voodoo their power over people, thus if an indivual believes they will die by a curse, they can die from it. In addition, in the age when witches were executed, people could be executed for stealing a horse; so if some fraud had gained a horse by reason of claiming to be a witch, the penalty of stealing that horse by the fraud is much the same as stealing it – death. To give a blanket pardon is not justice; because to be just one has to examine each case individually, where records are poor and would take up an awful lot of resources that would be better applied to the cases of unjust allegation making of the living.

Having a monument to the injustices visited upon innocent people of allegation making of witchcraft is something I fully support. A monument draws attention to the cruelty, injustice and superstition that caused the deaths of so many innocent people. Many of those victims, who a few minutes before they died due to the charge of witchcraft hundreds of years ago in Scotland, would have a position that their descendents never suffer a similar fate. A tribute to the fate of those victims would be to give them a monument, but never obscure their narrative with empty pardons and apologies; because the legacy they would have wanted is to have their fate not visited upon the children of the modern age; the deaths of those victims will be for nothing, if their raw bloody story has been lost to history thanks to politically correct touchy-feely sentiments, who dislike the dark narrative of what those victims suffered.

4 thoughts on “Comment on the proposed pardon for witches in Scotland

  1. I know a little bit about the Hoaxstead witch hunt, having earned myself a mention in dispatches here in 2015:

    John Allman warned everyone about Abe & Ella back in January
    https://hoaxteadresearch.wordpress.com/2015/08/08/john-allman-warned-everyone-about-abe-ella-back-in-january/

    and having reblogged, with my own thoughts in a preface, Karen Woodall’s excellent 2018 post about Hoaxstead here:

    The Hampstead Witch Hunt – parental alienation taken to extremes
    https://johnallmanuk.wordpress.com/2015/03/21/extreme-parental-alienation/

    after reading for myself the court judgment of Pauffley J cited in Karen’s post.

    I agree with you that acknowledging past wrongs is valuable. If the Armenian Genocide about a century ago was acknowledged, it might make us (and others nearer the crime scene) less blase towards reports of a repetition of that wrong behaviour in modern times.

    I also agree with you that posthumous pardons in bulk serve little or no good purpose, for the reasons you give.

    My interest is in preventing modern injustices for which the literal witchhunts of the past are a good metaphor. One of those injustices has been very much in the offing, although I was pleased to learn that it has suffered a set-back today, in the form of a canny reassurance addressed to the Evangelical Alliance on the part of the Prime Minister to the effect that he hasn’t been completely fooled by the mischievous hoax that is afoot.

    For there is what I judge to be a hoax conspiracy theory afoot now, which alleges that so-called conversion therapy is (it is said) “widespread” in the UK in the present day, and therefore needs to be “banned”.

    On each of the many occasions when I have asked one of the conspiracy theorists to cite an evidenced, real-life example of anybody offering so-called conversion therapy in the UK in recent years, whomever I have asked – which includes leading proponents of the conspiracy theory – has failed to cite such an example. I conclude that there is no real conversion therapy at all on offer in the UK today. (I have even offered £100 to anyone who can prove me wrong.)

    It is not difficult to work out the motives of some of the conspiracy theorists. They wish to conduct a metaphorical witch hunt of their own, targeting churches that preach traditional Christian doctrines that contradict their own LGBT-inclusive theology. This they hope to accomplish by failing to distinguish between offering bogus therapy and the practice of any religion that preaches in contradiction of the religious doctrines of their own very doctrinaire movement.

    1. Hi John, I think I remember your name from reading the daily goings on via Hoaxtead blog.

      Ten minutes walk from where I write this reply to you, individuals have suffered death after being accused of being witches. My community is the sum of all the events of history, of which the injustices of witch-hunts are part of that. History provides two useful qualities: the ability to learn from mistakes, and never repeat those mistakes; connection with ancestors and place.

      Witch-hunts has evolved in social culture to represent any movement that seeks to persecute a target group based upon a dishonest narrative. You name one such narrative, and there are often many more that will spring up in the coming years to target someone in an unjust way. So, in a way, leaving the story of the witch-hunts of Scotland untainted by modern attempts to change the story, helps to encourage people to give no support to any unjust persecutions that fall under the heading of “witch-hunt”.

  2. I don’t think the apology thing serves to rewrite history so much as to make some self-satisfactory gesture about how much we’ve “improved” as a society. I can think of several more recent atrocities that probably should have warranted not only an apology but also much more, and I have no idea if those were ever received. People talk for instance about reparations for slavery, but never is there any talk of reparations for the atomic bombs dropped on Japan during World War 2, and barely any for the bombs that were dropped across Cambodia and Laos during the Vietnam War, the force of which easily exceeded the bombings that were dropped across the Pacific during World War 2. I won’t be complaining about the monument though.

    One interesting note regarding the Nathaniel Harris thing (man, that feels like such a long time ago) and the point about belief in magic from which it springs is that it seems like the belief in magic in the sense that it had the power to curse people and cause disasters probably lead to the witch trial atrocities that are the central subject here. If you look at the history of Christian attitudes towards witchcraft, the initial position of church authorities is that it did not exist. They simply did not believe that witches could cast spells for any particular purpose, and so logically it made no sense to prosecute let alone execute people for witchcraft. Even early into the medieval era you still saw church authorities dispute the idea. It was later, after various segments of the ruling class in medieval Europe began getting interested in the subject of magic, and began believing in its powers and properties, coupled with the proliferation of heretical or rebellious movements against the Catholic Church leading to accusations of devil worship, that we begin to see the confluence and construction of the idea that witches not only existed and could cast spells and some such but also conspired with the Devil in order to hold sabbaths, defile Christianity, attack the church and harm the citizenry, leading to the witch trials. And all the while, none of the victims of these show trials ever actually worshipped the Devil, probably never managed to hurt or curse anyone, and instead at least most of them were actually Christians who happened also to be peasants, often poor, superstitious, and practicing their own brand of folk magic that mostly dealt in healing herbs and the like.

    1. Hi Aleph,

      I do strongly believe that there is an attempt to rewrite history in this petition demanding an apology and a blanket pardon of witches. But, there are strong views on this matter on both sides of the debate.

      In the Christian Bible (Exodus 22:18) they say “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.” The laws of the Romans (12 Tables) said it was an offence to cast or have a witch cast any spells on someone else. The penalty was death. Both these sources dealt with the harmful side of witchcraft rather than those who practice magic in more neutral or positive ways. Being that our ancestors were very superstitious and fearful, a situation encouraged by the Church, it only took a parnoid ruler such as King James IV of Scotland to set off the purges of witches. But, you are right, that most of the victims of witchcraft allegations are innocent and had nothing to do with witchcraft,

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