Allan Martin started his fascinating talk to North Bute Literary Society on local girl, Bessie Nicol, by firmly stating it was not about witches.
Whilst researching 17th and 18th century superstitions in the Rothesay Session Book 1658 – 1750 Allan came across 12 year old Bessie who is recorded on the 13th February 1706 as being accused of ‘charming’.
With the caveat that there is a danger in thinking that in 1706 people behaved and thought as we do in 2015, especially regarding religion and the supernatural, Allan continued by explaining that 300 years ago there were ‘wise men and women’ who could be approached for ‘charming’. This was providing cures for illnesses (usually herbal medicines), locating lost property, or influencing events. This was for positive outcomes as opposed to ‘slander’ (accusing someone of being a witch) or ‘witchcraft’ (casting malevolent spells or meeting with the devil).
Bessie was accused of arranging ‘charming’ for the recovery of a lost gown. She was the 12 year old daughter of Duncan Nicol, a weaver. He was a respectable citizen with connections to the Town Council. After earlier failing to appear before the Kirk Session, Bessie was interrogated on the 28th March 1706. She denied the accusation in spite of having handed over the silver, salt and cloth ‘payment’ – on the grounds that she didn’t believe in charming anyway!
Inevitably Bessie was found guilty and ordered to appear in church the following Lord’s Day to be publically rebuked and humiliated.
* Read the full report in this week’s Buteman - on sale from Thursday, January 22.