I was loaned a copy of The Weem Witch by Leonard Low by a friend after hearing the author talk at a local history group meeting on a different subject. This is an interesting although at times horrific read because in the early 1700s in the coastal villages of Fife a terrible kind of madness took over the inhabitants. The area had suffered badly from an economic downturn and was extremely poverty stricken. Life was miserable for most people there and it didn’t take much for people to point fingers and accuse people of being a witch. In 1704 A bucket which contained some water and coal and left outside a door was claimed to be a witch’s spell. The local bigwigs and particularly a local church minister started to cast around looking for someone to blame for their misfortunes and dragged lots of innocent women and some men into their investigations. Their victims were tortured until they would admit to anything just to make it stop.
The goings-on were objected to by the authorities in Edinburgh who obviously had a bit more common sense about them and that led to so-called witches being released, but the locals must have felt hard done by and when a young woman – Janet Cornfoot – who scraped her living by doing sewing for people was accused of being a witch by one of her drunken clients, they were determined to give her a ghastly end.
This was an interesting read, although as the author himself admitted he does ramble at times and he throws in quite a bit of earlier history to set the scene, which was fine by me, but the people of Pittenweem (which is a village very close to where the author lives) seem to have been a very nasty lot who whipped themselves up to hysterical madness and committed long drawn out murder on the beaches of the East Neuk of Fife. I’ll never feel quite the same about having a walk along those beaches!