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  • Writer's pictureRosemary Gemmell

Scottish Witch Hunts and Highcrag

When I was studying Europe in the fifteenth and sixteenth century (and other periods) as part of my degree with the Open University, my own particular interest was in how women were treated in a patriarchal society.

Nothing was more horrific than the witch hunts and trials of the time, and Scotland was one of the worst offenders. So many innocent women, and sometimes men, were unfairly charged, incarcerated or killed that it was especially dangerous to be a wise woman, herbalist or healer.

As far back as the second century, Christian theologian Tertullian regarded women as “the devil’s doorway leading astray one whom the devil would not dare attack directly.” By the sixteenth century, it was suggested that the mass persecution of women as witches “addressed deep-seated fears of society that the hierarchical order, symbolised by the patriarchal family, might be in danger: such women without men might turn the world upside down.”

Whatever the excuse, history shows this attitude prevailed, and still does to some extent. Although my full-length Gothic suspense novel HIGHCRAG is set in the present, there is reference to the witch hunts of the past. One of the reasons Cate takes the job at Highcrag is because her long-ago ancestress was burned as a witch in a nearby village.

In the present, however, Cate finds that real evil may be stalking her, and affecting the house, but doesn’t know the source. As Samhain approaches, the danger increases until she has no idea who to trust.

As well as including historical details, I’ve set the story in the east of Scotland and around Fife, where many of the witch hunts took place. The village of Culross is particularly atmospheric, with much of it an excellent example of sixteenth century houses and buildings. Parts of Outlander were filmed within its streets, and the attic of the Town House once imprisoned so-called witches awaiting their fate.

If you’d like to read HIGHCRAG as we head towards the creepiest time of the year at Halloween (or the old Samhain), you can download the kindle version for only 99p/99c for the next four days until Friday 22nd October. It’s also available in paperback from Amazon, or you can order it from bookshops.

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