The scene darkens however, towards the close of this reign, with the increasing dominion of the Puritans. In 1640 the General Assembly passed an act, that all ministers should take particular note of witches and charmers, and that the commissioners should recommend to the supreme judicature the unsparing application of the laws against them. In 1643 (August 19), after setting forth the increase of the crime, they recommend the granting a standing commission from the Privy Council or Justiciary to any " understanding gentlemen or magistrates/' to apprehend, try, and execute justice against the delinquents. The subject appears to have been resumed in 1644, 1645, and 1649; and their remonstrances, it would seem, had not been without effect, for in 1649, the year after the execution of Charles, an Act of Parliament was passed confirming and extending the provisions of Queen Mary's, so as more effectually to reach consulters with witches, in regard to whom it was thought (though we do not see why) that the terms of the former act were a little equivocal. From this time, not only does the number of convictions, which since the death of James had been on the decline, increase, but the features of the cases assume a deeper tinge of horror. The old, impossible, and abominable fancies of the 'Malleus' were revived in the trials of Janet Barker and Margaret Lauder*, which correspond in a remarkable manner with some of the evidence in the Mora trials. About thirty trials appear on the record between this last date and the Restoration, only one of which appears to have terminated in an acquittal; while at a single circuit-court, held at Glasgow, Stirling, and Ayr, in 1659, seventeen persons were convicted and burnt for this crime.
* Just. Records, Jan. 1630.
Numerous however as are the cases in the Records of Justiciary, it.must be kept in view that these afford an extremely inadequate idea of the extent to which this pest prevailed over the countiy. For though Sir George Mackenzie doubts whether, in virtue merely of the general powers given by the act, 1563, inferior judges did at any time, of their own authority, try and condemn criminals accused of witchcraft, the same end was managed in a different way. The Court of Justiciary was anxious to get rid of a jurisdiction which would alone have afforded them sufficient employment; and the Privy Council were in use to grant commissions to resident gentlemen and ministers, to examine, and afterwards to try and execute, witches all over Scotland; and so numerous were these commissions, that Wodrow expresses his astonishment at the number found in the Registers. Under these commissions midtitudes were burnt in every part of the kingdom. In Mercer's Manuscript Diary, Lamont's Diary, and "White-lock's Memorials, occasional notices of the numbers burnt are perpetually occurring.
* Just. Ree, Dec. 164.3.
In every case of the kind it would appear that the clergy displayed the most intemperate zeal. It was before them that the poor wretches " delated" of witchcraft were first brought for examination,-in most cases after a preparatory course of solitary confinement, cold, famine, want of sleep, or actual torture. On some occasions the clergy themselves actually performed the part of the prickers, and inserted long pins into the flesh of the witches in order to try their sensibility ; and in all they laboured, by the most persevering investigations, to obtain from the accused a confession, which might afterwards be used against them on their trial, and which in more than one instance, even though retracted, formed the sole evidence on which the convictions proceeded. In some cases, where the charge against the criminal was that she was " habit and repute a witch/' the notoriety of her character was proved before the Justiciary Court by the oath of a minister, just as habit and repute is now proved in cases of theft by that of a nolice officer.