What the numbers tell us
Our data exploration did not reveal significant disparities between how accused men and women were treated throughout witchcraft trials from 1563 to 1736. The percentage of accused women (85.63%) greatly eclipses the percentage of accused men (14.37%). The proportion of accused women to men stays fairly constant when filtering by accusation attributes, torture, and verdict.
Regionally, our data displays the overarching attitudes towards witch hunting in the Lowlands versus the Highlands. The Lowlands have more records for accusation attributes and verdict. We concluded that the presence of clans as a central authority in the Highlands rather than the State and Church allowed these areas to be less likely to engage in the witch hunt frenzy. These cultural factors are the main reason for the differences across geographic location.
Other significant aspects gleaned from this project are the silences surrounding the topic. Scottish witchcraft is often overshadowed by the witch trials in Salem, Massachusetts. However, the trials in Scotland were much more significant in their numbers of accused and persecuted witches. The silence surrounding the lack of exposure of the Scottish witch trials have resounding effects into the present day. Silencing aspects of a country’s atrocities in history is a major power play that reconstructs power roles in narrative history. There is no way to study erased history, so it gives no recognition to the past and does not alert us of wrongdoings. It is important to have a recognized history; that way, as a collective human body, we do not discriminate against certain groups of people. With all of the hatred going on in the world due to differences in perspective, unjust persecution has happened, is still going on, and may continue to worsen. We cannot let present-day atrocities get overlooked in the history books, as the Scottish witch trials did. We must be vigilant in recognizing the power structures that create history, since they have both the power to allow atrocities like this to happen, but they also have the abilities to stop them (Wimbish, 2019).
There does not seem to be a large disparity between the treatment of men and women accused of witchcraft. However, the power structures in place that allowed for a high volume of women to be accused of witchcraft are pertinent. Not only does this significance apply to the two century periods that we are looking at, but it also has everlasting importance in the present day United States.
The unification of church and state in Scotland was integral in the creation and eventual persecution of witches. The creation of witches came from the Protestant Church’s denunciation of Catholicism for its ties to the Devil and witchcraft. Linking the Scottish government with a religious institution has a significant impact on the trials. The church did not have the power to impose the death penalty upon people, so the accused witches were tried through secular courts (Goodare, 1998). Religious beliefs were enforced upon an entire populace and state institutions were imposed upon the accused because of religious doctrine. This is a significant act because it illustrates the influence and power that the Church had upon Scottish society. The interconnection between these two entities perpetuated the hunt and persecution of witches. This case study of Scottish witchcraft shows why the separation of church and state is important. For one, separating church and state would mean that events like this hopefully would not happen again — religious institutions would not impose their doctrines upon people regardless of their religious beliefs.
In addition to the persecution of witches that came from close ties between the Protestant Church and the Scottish state, the moral attitudes of the church were imposed upon Scottish women. The Protestant Church believed that having sex with the devil was an indicator of witchcraft (Goodare, 1998). When a woman had sex with the devil, she developed a Devil’s Mark, a part of the body that was insensitive to pain, so the Devil’s Mark became a preliminary figure of guilt (Levack, 1980). The criminalization of sexuality greatly affected women over men. The basis of morality for women, rooted in the creeds of the Protestant Church, could account for the higher number of female cases for witchcraft. Women were more prone to the imposition of state authority on their bodies.