Monday 25 October 2021

If we exonerate Scotland's witches there should be a memorial to their cats

There are calls to exonerate Scotland's forgotten witches. This could be widened to the whole of Europe but at the moment Claire Mitchell QC is campaigning for the exoneration of Scotland's witches who were so deeply and horrendously abused, often with their domestic cat companions, from the mid-16th and early 18th centuries. 

If we exonerate Scotland's witches there should be a memorial to their cats
If we exonerate Scotland's witches there should be a memorial to their cats. Picture in public domain.

ASSOCIATED: Time to pardon witches and their cats. I wrote this 4 years ago!

Scotland has the dubious distinction of being the country which carried out five times more executions of witches per capita than the European average according to a Euro News report. So they were particularly fervent about persecuting ordinary and no doubt decent women who were accused of being witches. Back in the day superstition was more prevalent but it still exists today particularly in developing countries such as on the African continent.

Over the course of nearly 200 years around 4,000 women were put on trial for witchcraft. Over 2,500 of them were executed. One of them was Lilias Addie. She wasn't burned at the stake but imprisoned where she died. Most women convicted of witchcraft were burned rather than buried. Addie's coffin was converted into a wooden walking stick with the engraving "Lilias Addie, 1704".

The persecution of these normal Scottish folk was instigated after the enactment of Scotland's 1563 Witchcraft Act. The identities of convicted witches was erased by the authorities and families "out of fear and shame" said Claire Mitchell QC. She wants a legal pardon and a monument to the estimated 2,558 Scots executed during what is described as "the brutal centuries of femicide".

But this was an era of the persecution of domestic cats as well. They are commonly called witches' familiars, because they were often seen as companions to witches. Not only were the humans burnt at the stake, their cats were as well or killed in some other equally barbaric way. Cats were abused cruelly. 

If we exonerate Scotland's witches there should be a memorial to their cats
Picture in public domain.

Incidentally, in England witches were hanged not burned. During the entire era of "witch persecutions" about 30,000-60,000 people in total were executed. About 75% of witches is put on trial were acquitted. It wasn't just the Catholic Church that persecuted them. All four of the major Western Christian denominations i.e. the Roman Catholic Church, Lutheran, Calvinist and Anglican churches were involved.

Men were also tried for witchcraft and in Scandinavia more men were put on trial than women. Across Europe, around 10-15% of the total put on trial were men. This information comes from Diane Purkiss a professor of English literature at Keble College University of Oxford.

We mustn't forget the cat companions of these women. Both of them were cruelly abused. If the women are pardoned and a memorial is erected in Scotland so that we can remember them, I would ask that the memorial also includes a recognition that their cat companions also need remembering. We have that obligation in the interests of decency and animal welfare.

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