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In Remembrance of Meg Dow

By Laquitha Glass

Strangled and burned on Castle Hill in Edinburgh, Scotland after a period of imprisonment and a trial for alleged witchcraft.

Art credit Jan Toorop (1898), from the public domain. This is not an artist's rendering of Meg Dow.

~+~ Meg Dow ~+~

Formerly residing in Gilmerton, Meg Dow was a 9 year old girl who fell prey to the witch trials of the late 1500s. She was accused of meeting a large black supernatural being in the form of a man at 12 a.m. on the road between Dalkeith an Edinstoune with a dying child. In addition to the accusation of child murder, she was also implicated for using herbs to make a drink out of mugwart and mint, and taking milk away from cows to do so. Her trial took place on 4/28/1590 with James Wardlaw serving as the prosecutor. She was found guilty of the charges and was publicly executed by strangling and burning at the entrance to the Edinburgh Castle on Castle Hill. Most victims were not given proper burials after their executions, and were left at the site, making the area a grave for those who experienced execution during the witch trials of this time period.

~+~ My Point of View ~+~

Using a combination of written documentation and also a bit of my own intuition, I deduced that this child may have been unfairly accused by older adults somehow connected to some patriarchal order with the aid of an older woman with whom she may have been familiar. I suspect that the individuals that implicated and accused Meg chose to scapegoat this 9 year old girl. My reasoning for this is that in the trial notes, it was recorded that she "made a drink of mugwort and mint." Given the demonization of herbalists and healers during this time, the average layperson would not have known that mugwort teas are actually herbal teas used to heal and cure illnesses, not to harm. How this child may have known that and for what reason, I am not sure but if the testimonies against her were accurate then she may have learned it from someone trained in using herbs that was significantly older than her. Additionally, the idea of meeting a supernatural being at a road sounds like folklore about crossroads demons, and whether or not she was at a road with the body of a dead child at exactly 12 am is difficult to verify. Additionally, the notes stated that she actually murdered twins. Although it is certainly not uncommon for children to murder other children, and one of the most fatal threats to young children can actually be other children, this whole trial and accusation feels rife with glaring inconsistencies, or at least not enough consistency to justify strangling and burning a 9 year old girl at the gates of Edinburgh Castle. Meg was able to somehow garner the attention of authorities in positions of power at the time perpetuating unfathomable miscarriages of justice, which ultimately resulted in her untimely death. Given that many of the accused suffered torture and abuse during the imprisonment before their trials to extract confessions, it is probable that this child may have been subjected to this same abuse. Many individuals were targeted for personal reasons specific to their accusers and the establishment who benefited from the systematic torture and death by strangulation and burning in a public square, as well as the subsequent desecration of the bodies by leaving them where they died without a proper burial.

The Land O' The Leal

by Carolina Oliphant, Baroness Nairne

Air — "Hey tutti taiti."

I'm wearin' awa', John

Like snaw-wreaths in thaw, John,

I'm wearin' awa'

 To the land o' the leal.

There 's nae sorrow there, John,

There 's neither cauld nor care, John,

The day is aye fair

 In the land o' the leal.

Our bonnie bairn 's there, John,

She was baith gude and fair, John;

And O! we grudged her sair

 To the land o' the leal.

But sorrow's sel' wears past, John,

And joy 's a-coming fast, John,

The joy that 's aye to last

 In the land o' the leal.

Sae dear 's the joy was bought, John,

Sae free the battle fought, John,

That sinfu' man e'er brought

 To the land o' the leal.

O, dry your glistening e'e, John!

My saul langs to be free, John,

And angels beckon me

 To the land o' the leal.

O, haud ye leal and true, John!

Your day it 's wearin' through, John,

And I'll welcome you

 To the land o' the leal.

Now fare-ye-weel, my ain John,

This warld's cares are vain, John,

We'll meet, and we'll be fain,

 In the land o' the leal.

~+~ Resources ~+~

Survey of Scottish Witchcraft

Scottish History , School of History and Classics

The University of Edinburgh

Credit L.Glass


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