Len Pennie, a 21-year-old Fife student is making waves in Scotland with her poem, In Memorium. The poem honors Scots women who were persecuted for witchcraft between 1563 and 1736.
The poem was commissioned by the Witches of Scotland campaign who have lodged a petition with the Scottish Parliament seeking to secure a pardon, apology, and national memorial for the nearly 4,000 Scots accused, convicted, and executed for practicing witchcraft. Their petition states: “As with elsewhere in Europe, the vast majority of those accused, some 85 percent were women.”
Pennie describes the treatment of accused witches as “state-sanctioned murder” and pledges to “demand justice” for those who were tortured and tried under the Witchcraft Act, branding it “a punishment lacking a crime.”
One of the petitioners, Claire Mitchell said, “We thought that Len Pennie was the obviously choice as a brilliant Scots poet who uses the Scots language. We were delighted when she agreed to write a poyum for us.”
The poem includes the lines:
“Noo yer’re deid but never gone, hen, there’s them that still carry yer name
“There’s them that mind ciminals bidin in courts, heids that should hing heavy wae shame
“Auld Nick didnae ken ye fae Eve, hen, ye had but yer ain eyes tae see
“The wrang wasnae yours, the guilt was misplaced, yer innocence plain as can be.”
“Yer soul’s noo at peace wae the earth, hen, sleep and be wan wae the sky
“We’ll scrieve yer name in books they cannae burn, write a legacy never tae die
“But we willnae just beg ae yer pardon, hen, those days have lang ceased tae exist
“We noo demand justice fur aw those lit you, lang gone but eternally missed.”
In addition, a team from the Nursing and Midwifery Subject Groups in the School of Health and Social Care will investigate the stories of accused witches who were nurses and midwives. The project, funded by the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) Foundation as part of its program to celebrate the International Year of the Nurse and Midwife, will document who these early practitioners were and reflect on their practices from a modern healthcare perspective.
Team leader, Dr. Nicola Ring said: “I am delighted we have been awarded funding from the RCN Foundation to investigate this over-looked part of nursing history. Telling the stories of these Scottish women and men cruelly and unfairly accused and punished for helping the sick and women in childbirth highlights the injustices these people faced.” The research supports the Witches of Scotland campaign and the creation of a national monument dedicated to the memory of all those accused, many of whom were guilty of nothing more practicing medicine and midwifery.
Witchcraft trials may have ceased in Scotland in 1736, but they continued in America for nearly another 150 years. The last of these, the Ipswich Witchcraft Trial, was held on May 14, 1878. Judge Horace Gray presided and 22 witnesses traveled to Salem to testify against the accused witch. Just because accusations of witchcraft were no longer brought to trial in America, that didn’t mean the persecution had ceased. Mark Yama, a professor of Psychology at the University of Idaho has document cases of law enforcement harassing women suspected of witchcraft as late as the 1970s in Orofino, Idaho.
I fully support the movement in Scotland to right the wrongful persecution of healers, midwives, and practitioners of ancient indigenous religions. My hope is that a similar movement will take root in America to do the same.