The History of Leith

September 19, 2004

The Survey of Scottish Witchcraft

This is a woodcut from the pamphlet Newes from Scotland, about the North Berwick witch-hunts of 1590-1. The author was probably James Carmichael, minister of Haddington, who helped to interrogate the North Berwick witches and who advised King James on the writing of his book Daemonologie. The pamphlet was published in London in 1591, and contains virtually the only contemporary illustrations of Scottish witchcraft.


The woodcut illustrates various scenes relating to the pamphlet.

Centre and left: a group of female witches listen to the Devil preaching a sermon in North Berwick church at Hallowe’en 1590, with John Fian, schoolmaster of Haddington, acting as their clerk.
Top left: a ship is sunk by witchcraft. The witches were accused of raising the storms that troubled the voyage of James’s bride, Anne of Denmark, to Scotland, though in fact none of her ships were sunk. The pamphlet describes the sinking of a ferryboat in the Forth, and elsewhere in the trials some of the witches were accused of having sunk a ship, the Grace of God, at North Berwick.
Top right: witches stirring a cauldron—a stock image rather than a scene directly from the pamphlet.
Right and bottom right: a pedlar who discovers witches in Tranent is magically transported to a merchant’s wine-cellar in Bordeaux. This story is told in the preface to the pamphlet only to be described as ‘most false’, but this did not discourage the illustrator.
The best edition of the pamphlet Newes from Scotland is in Lawrence Normand and Gareth Roberts (eds.), Witchcraft in Early Modern Scotland: James’s Demonology and the North Berwick Witches (2000). For other works see Further Reading on Scottish Witchcraft.

For more information go to the link on the rhs

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