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Scotland to Pardon Thousands Executed as Witches

The wind blew hard one fall night here in 1589. So much so that King James VI concluded that witches must have gathered in this fishing town to conjure up the storm that delayed the arrival of his new bride, the sister of the Danish king.

Much of Europe had succumbed to a mania about witchcraft, just over a hundred years before a similar frenzy swept over the town of Salem, Mass.

King James, later King James I of England and Ireland, personally interrogated many of those who were rounded up and charged with summoning the storm during a late-night mass with the devil at the town’s Auld Kirk. He later wrote a bestselling guide on how to spot a witch. William Shakespeare used some of the details from the trials in “Macbeth.”

Many of the 19 people executed in Salem were cleared in the years following the witch trials there, with another group exonerated 20 years ago.

But it is only now that legislation is moving through Scotland’s parliament to pardon thousands of women who were snared in Scotland’s great purge, including some who were tortured to death in the North Berwick witch trials.

In all, until the Witchcraft Act was repealed in 1735, some 3,837 people were accused of the crime—the overwhelming majority of them women—with some two-thirds executed, more per head of population than anywhere else in Europe.

For the campaigners working to clear their names, it is an important reckoning with Scotland’s past as it considers its future within the U.K.

“It’s not dissimilar to how Scotland needs to face up to its role in the trans-Atlantic slave trade,” says Claire Mitchell, a lawyer, who with Zoe Venditozzi, a schoolteacher and author, has been pushing for a blanket pardon since launching their #MeToo-inspired “Witches of Scotland” podcast.

Read entire article at Wall Street Journal