Monday, 27 October 2014

What a Witch...

We have blogged before about our love of palaeography and how it makes us feel like brilliant detectives or spies.
Usually, we are tackling old trial documents which are full of legal jargon and boring references to areas of land being contested.The above document, however, is about alleged witch Helen Isbister and all of the wicked things she was accused of doing.
It is quite hard going but so far we have discovered that she is accused of " be hir enchantment and dyvelrie, charming the meis (mice) in St Ola who went be hir enchantment into a park... thay wire found all deid in the heart of the park."
She also seems to have given a drink of milk to someone who later drowned, healed a local man of his sickness and, the sin which turns up frequently in old witch accusations, was seen with 'a black man' who was assumed to be her lover, the devil.
Poor Helen, she merely performed useful extermination services whilst handing out calcium-rich snacks and HEALING people. Medieval people sound hard to please.


  1. Wow, that's hard to read! I'm usually pretty good at deciphering old handwriting, but this is tough. Is it all in English? I can read the notes in the left margin, but not the actual text. I thought maybe there was some Gaelic or Latin or something in there. The handwriting style reminds me very strongly of the style that was used in the churchbooks in the late 1500s and early 1600s in Gemmrigheim, Germany.


  2. I looked up "cashielaws," after reading the link above which takes us to the information about witches appearing with "black men." Here's what the on-line Dictionary of the Scots Language says (I know, it's on-line so it must be true, right?):
    I just thought y'all would want to know. I am so glad we live in an age that is (ahem) much more enlightened.


  3. Hi Sue,
    The document is in Scots, which, if you are not used to it, can be difficult to understand. There may be smatterings of Latin legal phrases in there, but certainly no Gaelic.
    Thanks for looking up cashielaws, it sounds horrific. Let us know if you decipher any more of the document. Together we can crack this!


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