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text from Scotland's Wicked Witches
Andrew Mann (also recorded as Andro Man in written records), from Tarbruith in Aberdeenshire, was found guilty of witchcraft in 1598, a year after James VI published his book on witchcraft Daemonologie.
Mann was one of several people from this area of the country accused, tried and convicted of witchcraft in 1598. Daemonologie was published in Edinburgh the previous year but was probably compiled and written during the peak of the North Berwick trials, as many of the details and descriptions appear to be directly related to a number of the North Berwick accused.
It is clear that after 1603 James may have been more sceptical about witchcraft and witch trials; however in the early 1590s he was fully convinced of the reality of witches and their powers.
He firmly argued that Holy Scripture supported his claims about witchcraft, that it should be punished severely, and that it was the responsibility of magistrates – and particularly Godly magistrates such as himself – to ensure these punishments were carried out.
James also included Revelationary references to the end of days and how this would be manifested; this was certainly in keeping with other day of judgement theories expressed during the 1590s.
While the Aberdeenshire episode has some chronological correspondence with the timing of the publication of James’s book, it is unlikely that the book itself sparked the accusations, as they first started in February/March 1597. Andrew’s accusation was first made in October of that year. Daemonologie was not published until autumn of 1597.
Nevertheless there are descriptions in Andrew’s confession which are very similar to James’s references to the Book of Revelation, the final book of The Bible which predicts Armageddon, a final battle between the forces of evil and good, the Devil and Christ.
There are also some similarities with Alison Pearson’s relationship with the fairies or elves, as both parties claimed to have received their knowledge and skill of healing from the fairies or the ‘good neighbours’ as they were known.
Mann would appear to have been around seventy years old when he was accused, as he confessed to having been a consort to the Queen of Elfame for over sixty years. According to Mann’s testimony, the queen of elves or fairies, appeared to him when he was a boy, and requested some assistance as she was about to give birth to a baby. In return he was given the gift of prophecy and healing.
Mann claimed that he had the power to cure almost all ailments in man and beast except ‘stand deid’, and his confession contained many descriptions of healing rituals.
This was not the only reward as Mann also described how as an adult, he had a sexual relationship with the queen and fathered several children with her. However, it would appear that he was only one of several different consorts as he also described how she would pick any male of the court – young or old – to be king for the day, implying that she was quite generous with her sexual favours.
The descriptions of healing rituals are most interesting and demonstrate a sound understanding of the concept of transference. Illness or bad luck was often claimed to have been caused by enchantment or bewitchment, either deliberate or accidental. The antidote, or cure, was transference of the bad luck or illness on to some other object or person.
Mann advised Alexander Simpson to pass forward through a piece of unwoven or untreated yarn or wool. After this, a cat was passed backwards through the same yarn, nine times. As this was done Mann recited oral blessings – orisons or orations – over the man and animal. When the man recovered his health, the cat took ill and died. Somewhat harsh on the cat, of course, but cats were more expendable than other animals.
Mann’s description of the fairy court and Queen of Elfame has some similar features to that of Alison Pearson and others. However, his confession gave a far more detailed account of fairy society and their appearance: ‘[they] have shapes and clothes like men’ but they were also much stronger than mortals. Like Alison’s fairies, these good neighbours enjoyed fine food and singing and dancing, and they also rode on white ponies.
Mann described meeting not only fairies at these assemblies but also ghosts. The cultural and literary link between fairies and ghosts is strong: Alison Pearson’s cousin/uncle William Simpson may have been a ghost. One explanation for fairies is that they were, in fact, the ghosts of dead people; those who had, for some reason, been unable to progress beyond this physical realm.
A number of confessions from accused witches referred to both ghosts and fairies within the same narrative, which suggests that, culturally, the lines between the two spirit beings were blurred.
Whilst there are other explanations for the existence of fairies within Scottish folk narrative – particularly those related to nature spirits – the fairy/ghost one seems the strongest.
Mann’s ghosts were an interesting bunch and included James IV, the king who died at Flodden in 1513, and True Thomas or Thomas the Rhymer, who had something of a reputation for prophecy and implying that his skill was linked to an association with fairies, although Andrew may have been familiar with the legends surrounding Thomas the Rhymer and that the legendary seer had reputedly spend seven years in the fairy realm.
The more unusual items of Mann’s testimony related to his descriptions of a devil figure and his references to the Day of Judgement; both highly religious and quite unorthodox.
The devil/spirit was called Christonday, according to Mann’s account, although he was not the only accused from Aberdeen who used the term.
Not only could Christonday take the form of a man but it also appeared as a stag. Christonday, who could be summoned by Mann when he spoke the word ‘Benedicte’, was: an angel in white, the Devil, a ‘hynd knight’, a consort of the Queen of Elfame, and God’s son-in-law.
This spirit also told Mann about the future and that the following year (presumably 1598) would be a hard year, but that it would be followed by fourteen good ones.
In his dittay, it records that Mann claimed on the final day the ‘fire will burn the water and the earth and make all plain’ and that ‘every man will have his own dittay, written in his own book, to accuse himself’.
Christonday was clearly interpreted by the authorities and jury as the Devil: Christonday had left a mark on the third finger of Mann’s right hand and Mann reportedly would leave part of his rig unploughed and left as offering to the hynd knight.
Another version of this practice was known as the ‘Guid Man’s Croft’: some land was left as an offering to the Devil as a means of protection for the rest of the crop.
Mann was tried in January 1598 and was found guilty although not on all charges: it was not recorded which charges were proven and which were not. Presumably, as with others from Aberdeen episode, he was executed in the usual manner.
© Martin Coventry 2017