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Fairy Witches 2#: Bessie Dunlop March 24, 2013

Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern , trackback

fairy witches

Here are some extracts from the trial of one of the most interesting fairy witches of them all: Bessie Dunlop who was brought before the Edinburgh Assizes in 1576. This rendering of the trial (into English rather than Scots English) comes from Emma Wilby’s worthwhile: Cunning Folk and Familiar Spirits. Bessie’s first confession includes the information that she gained her supernatural powers from one Tom Reid, who had died in a battle a couple of years before her spells began. If that doesn’t sound much like a fairy be patient and remember that the dead often associate with fairies on the Celtic fringe.

She being asked what kind of man this Tom Reid was declared he was an honest well elderly man, grey beareded, and had a grey coat with Lombard sleeves of the old fashion, a pair of grey breeches and white stockings gartered above the knee, a black bonnet on his head, close behind and plain before, with silken laces drawn through the lippis thereor and a white wand in his hands.

Bettie had met Tom on the road out in the countryside while she was crying at the ill health of her husband and baby. Tom told her immediately that her baby would die but that her husband would ‘mend’ and this strange dead Tom then vanished into the hole of a dyke ‘that no early man could have gone through’. From there the fairy stakes get higher and higher.

She later met Tom in company with eleven others.

Bessie asked Tom who these strange folk were and he replied that they were gude wychtis (good neighbours) that dwelt in the court of Elfame [Elfhome = fairyland] who came there to desire her to go with them. And further Tom desired her to do the same, to which she answered [that] ‘She saw now profit to go along that route, unless she knew what for!’ To which Tom said ‘Do you not seem me, both meit-worth, claith-worth [well dressed and with lots of food]…’

The fairies, it is clear, could give prizes to their favourites, dead or alive. Tom certainly helped Bessie prosper and gave her roots to cure her neighbour’s children and cows including the local aristocracy. Tom also gave her a special green lace that she wrapped around the left arm of any woman in labour allowing them to deliver easily. Green, of course, is the fairy colour. Tom also helped her predict the future, claiming for example that for her present troubles with the law she would end up in Glasgow where she would be well treated by the bishop. Instead, though poor Bessie ended up in Edinburgh where she was burnt by the court after being found guilty of witchcraft, sorcery and incantation (isn’t that always the way). Fairy witches in Scotland did not get off any more lightly than their diabolical sisters. Nor did Bettie’s long list of aristocratic patrons save her. Other fairy witches: drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com