Cunniger Hill

Imprisonment, Torture, Confession and Punishment

Those accused of witchcraft were subjected to horrific treatment to try to make them confess and to discover the names of others who were also witches.

They were stripped naked and dressed in a sackcloth, a long plain robe-like garment made from coarse material. They would searched all, looking for the witches’ mark which was said to be a blueish mark left where the Devil had touched them. 

Sometimes a witch pricker was employed to look for this mark and to ‘prick’ the accused person’s body using long pins. It was said that a witch would not feel a pin being inserted at the place where she had been touched by the Devil. 

James Scobie from Musselburgh was known to work as a witch pricker in the Lothians in the 1640s, and in March 1644 South Leith parish sent to ‘Mussilburgh’ for the man who pricks the witches in order to examine Margaret Thomsone.

Women at Calder were tortured using sleep deprivation. In February 1644 the Calder kirk session paid Andrew Ferguson for attending Agnes Bischope night and day for eight days. In August 1644 Margaret Thomsone described being imprisoned in Kirk of Calder vestry for 26 weeks. She was beaten, deprived of food and company, and forced to stand upright and stay awake for 26 days. She was also held in stocks. 

Near the Kirk of Calder at Mid Calder is Cunnigar hill {also known as Witches’ Knowe} where the women were taken to be killed and their bodies burned. Typically, they were tied to the stake with the pyre around them and strangled using a rope tied around their neck with a stick or rod held to twist and tighten it. After being choked to death their bodies were burned with the fire seen for miles around. 

It is believed that those found guilty were also executed and burned at another Witches’ Knowe, a hill near West Calder, and in a field on Harwood Farm that is still known as The Witches. 

It was very unusual for those found guilty to be burned alive. Their bodies were burned because of fear of the Devil. The women were denied a Christian burial and do not have graves.