Thousands of ‘witches’ could be posthumously pardoned in Scotland

Thousands of people were convicted of practicing witchcraft in Scotland in a hunt that spanned nearly two centuries - and the majority of those sentenced to death and executed were women. Many were also tortured.

Now, a bill proposed in the Scottish parliament is trying to set the record straight, said Natalie Don, a Scottish lawmaker who introduced the proposal. It could allow for posthumous pardons to thousands of women who faced convictions hundreds of years ago.

The pardons would ensure they are “recognized as victims of a miscarriage of justice and are no longer recorded in history as criminals,” Don said Thursday in a video.

Calls for legal pardons for so-called witches or necromancers have gathered pace in Scotland, where the country’s most senior politician, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, issued a formal apology in March to those vilified under the Witchcraft Act. The act, which was in effect from 1563 to 1736, made practicing witchcraft punishable by death.

“It was injustice on a colossal scale, driven at least in part by misogyny,” Sturgeon said on International Women’s Day. “They were accused and killed because they were poor, different, vulnerable or in many cases just because they were women.”

The history of witch hunts in America and Europe

In one incident in 1679, for example, six people labeled the Bo’ness Witches were accused of meeting with the devil. According to historians, they were strangled and burned at the stake.


Documents confirm about 12,000 witch executions, the bulk from 1580 to 1650, one historian found in a timeline on the witch hunts of Europe, where some countries have issued pardons. In more than three centuries since the Salem witch trials in Massachusetts, many were officially cleared in the United States.

In Scotland, at least 2,500 people were convicted and executed on the charge of practicing witchcraft between 1563 and 1736, Don said.

Witches of Scotland, a group campaigning for those convicted under the 1563 act, welcomed the proposal.

“We are hopeful that this will bring about some posthumous justice to the thousands of people who were executed by the state during the witch hunts,” it said in a statement published by British media.

The legislation was about more than addressing the past, the group and the lawmaker have said.

“This will also signal to other countries around the world where accusations of witchcraft are a very real and current issue that this is not acceptable in the modern day,” the Witches of Scotland said.