Scottish myths 20

Witches of Storms

In the middle ages many people were convinced that certain witches were able to control the elements. They called them 'Storm witches'.
In fact in 1590 James VI of Scotland (James I of England and Scotland) was personally engaged in a trial involving storm witchcraft. He suspected that the Earl of Bothwell, Francis Stuart, had employed a coven of such witches to try to do away with him and his chosen bride, at sea.

A ship sailing to Scotland was in difficulty. Its most precious passenger was Princess Anne of Denmark who was to marry James VI. James set out on board another vessel to rescue her, and this he did. On their return voyage however, they met with a storm so severe that it almost caused their ship to founder.
As it was said that there was a witch gathering on Auld Kirk Green in North Berwick at the time of the near disaster, what was then thought to be the most appurtenant (or convenient) conclusion was made.

To make things even more conclusive, an accused schoolmaster (John Fian) confessed, adding that Bothwell was indeed also involved in the plot. Thus James VI was firmly convinced that this was true.
The confession was obtained through torture however. When Fian was to be executed, he retracted everything on the grounds that the confession was made simply to bring an end to the torture.

After questioning other accused men and women, the king was later inspired to write a book on the subject of sorcery entitled 'Dæmonologie'.

It's said that such a storm witch lived in Scourie, Sutherland. It was in fact her calling. No sensible mariner would ever set sail without first seeking her sound advice, and paying her for it, of course.

She was an impressive sight with her flapping dark, plaid shawl, standing on the rock above the Bay of Scourie. She would flourish her crooked staff pointing it at the racing clouds, strands of her straggly grey and black hair bowing in the wind. She would often sing a geason, an old Gaelic incantation, and this would either make the winds howl frighteningly, and drive the rain almost horizontally, or it could completely clear the sky of clouds, and allow the benign sun to shine, according to whatever spell she chanted.

The local fishermen respected her because even without casting any spells, she always seemed to be able to forecast the weather with amazing accuracy.

One early spring, an English captain of a three-master ship moored in Scourie Bay had heard about the storm witch in an ale-house. The fishermen there thought he would be wise to seek her counsel before setting sail, and this he did.
He asked her for fair weather with a good, easterly wind, then a north-easterly wind once clear of the bay for the following morning. She shrewdly eyed the captain, pondered for a moment, then promised him that it would be granted. On obtaining this however, the captain refused to pay her fee. He scoffed, saying that he already knew well enough how the wind would blow on the morrow.

She said nothing, and the captain with his crew set sail early the following morning as planned. Once they were well clear of the bay however, the wind suddenly changed direction and immediately grew so violent that the crew hadn't enough time to gather the sails. The vessel finally ended up a sad wreck on the rocks not far north of Scourie Bay.
And for as long as the scar of the wreck remained, it was a sure reminder of the consequences of disrespect, as well as a source of amusement for the wiser, and naturally more respectful local fishermen.

 Scottish myths 21 
Scottish myths 19

Text and photo (off Arisaig) © Mirino. Sources include Scotland Myths and Legends.     
With thanks. October, 2012

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