Friday, May 21, 2010

Scotland's Burning of Heretics & Condemned Witches (1470's)

For the novel I'm currently writing, I'm researching the persecution of innocent souls who were condemned to be witches, heretics, or demonically possessed in 15th century Scotland. Even though Scotland is known to be a nation that was once deeply rooted in Celtic Paganism, they participated in these persecutions due to the influence of the Christian movement throughout Europe at that time.

When looking at the religious state of a country during a particular period in history, one must first consider the rulers in charge. King James III came to the throne of Scotland as a nine year old lad in 1460. His mother ruled as Regent until her death and Bishop Kennedy was guardian of Scotland. James III was a weak king and criticisized by much of the nobles of Scotland. They rallied his son against him, a lad of 15, who promised to help them only if his father wasn't harmed. In 1488, James III was killed and James IV harbored much guilt from it.

Christianity was introduced to Scotland in the sixth century when an Irish monk, St. Columba came to the Isle of Iona for his mission work. A generation later, Aidan, a missionary from Iona preached among the Angles between the present-day border of Edinburgh and England. St. Cuthbert, Bishop of Lindisfarne, worked to spread Christianity among the lowlands of Scotland (d. 687). As you can imagine, some of the pagan rituals still existed in the highlands for much longer, but were eventually converted to Christianity--especially as a result of the persecution they suffered. If a person is given a choice between conversion and being tortured to death or burned at the stake--conversion was quite convincing.

As a Christian, I grieve for this part of our history. Jesus didn't go around beating non-Christians or torturing them or persecuting them to death. He gave them love and taught those who wanted to be taught, but he never forced His teachings upon anyone. God doesn't want puppets. That's why He gave us free will. He told His disciples that if they were not received in a city or house, to wipe the dust from their feet and when they depart, take their blessings with them. (Matthew 10:14)

By the 1470's, Scotland was deep into Catholicism and still clinging to the old feudal system and their long-standing alliance with France, a Roman Catholic country. The Church was very powerful and busy acquiring lands and material gains from the people. Tension and division rose between the clergy and the people. Since the Church always sided with the crown, people and even nobles, had no one to turn to for assistance in politics or to influence the country forward in new movements with new ideas.

In 1407, a follower of the John Wycliffe movement (or the Lollard Movement) pleaded for an open Bible and a more Christian daily life. He was condemned as a heretic and burned at the stake. Bibles were only available to clergy, and people were at the mercy of hearing what the clergy chose to read to them and teach them. Also, most Bibles were printed in Latin.

Here is a list of Witch Trials in Scotland from the 1400's to the 1700's.

Why was the most preferred method of torture and persecution burning at the stake? It's because of the old belief in baptism by fire. In actuality, when the Bible refers to baptism by fire, it is referring to a spiritual baptism, but people in their lack of knowledge and education back then took this meaning in a literal sense. 

I've listed links in the above texts, but I've also used James G. Leyburn's book, The Scotch-Irish: A Social History.
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