Between the 16th and 18th centuries, a Satan-fearing wave of panic swept its way across Scotland, England and Ireland. This panic, paired with the unexplained problems of the era such as disease, the failing of crops and unexplained deaths, led to many people being accused of witchcraft, which at that time was punishable by death.

In Scotland alone, an estimated 3,837 people were tried for witchcraft. 84% of those tried were women and an estimated two-thirds of those tried were found guilty and then executed and burned. The so called “Witch Trials” began in 1563 when the “Witchcraft Act” was brought in. Roughly five nationwide witch hunts followed, along with trials across Scotland. This continued until 1736 when the act was repealed. These witch hunts were often led and supported by the monarchs - the first Scottish monarch being James VI of Scotland, who was convinced that Scottish witches were harnessing the powers of the elements and creating storms to sink his new fleets of ships.

There were women who confessed to many things such as conferring with the devil, listening to the devil preach, being part of covens and even some cases of shape shifting. However, many of these confessions were the result of prolonged torture, which leaves many to question how much truth there was to the few confessions.

For the past two-and-a-bit years the Witches Of Scotland group have been campaigning for all those executed as part of the witch trials to receive official and legal pardons for all the crimes they were charged with in relation to witchcraft. The group has been doing the work to be able to have an official monument for the primarily female group who were put on trial and found guilty of witchcraft.

The reason for the most recent debates and discussion around the Scottish witch trials is the recent news that the Scottish government are moving to pardon the people killed as part of the trials. The pardons would mean, officially, that they would no longer be considered guilty of witchcraft. This has sparked somewhat of a debate as many would argue it’s “too little, too late”. Some have said they don’t believe it to have any relevance any longer as around 300 years have passed. This argument is that pardoning these people won’t undo the actions that have already been done, the decisions that have already been made and the trials that have had a verdict for some 300 years. But, also, that the decisions made reflect the beliefs and ideas of the time, which back then seemed like facts of life. So, to undo sentences given 300 years ago, disregard the fact that they were different times.

The other end of the debate argues that the key to moving forward as a society is to recognise and acknowledge mistakes made previously in history. Many feel official pardons issued by the government is that appropriate way to acknowledge the mistakes made regarding the witch trials. Some have also said they feel those wrongly accused, and therefore wrongfully executed, deserve some form of ‘justice’ even if it’s posthumously. It Is seen by some as not a matter of what is relevant anymore or not, but more what is the right thing to do out of respect for the people trialled, tortured, killed and burned under the accusations of witchcraft.