One celebrated mode of detecting witches, and torturing them at the same time, to draw forth confession, was, by running pins into their body, on pretence of discovering the devil's stigma, or mark, which was said to be inflicted by him upon all his vassals, and to be insensible to pain. This species of search, the practice of the infamous Hopkins, was in Scotland reduced to a trade; and the young witchfinder was allowed to torture the accused party, as if in exercise of a lawful calling, although Sir George Mackenzie stigmatizes it as a horrid imposture. I observe in the Collections of Mr. Pitcairn, that, at the trial of Janet Peaston of Dalkeith, the magistrates and ministers of that market town caused John Kincaid of Tranent, the common pricker, to exercise his craft upon her, "who found two marks of what he called the devil's making, and which appeared indeed to be so, for she could not feel the pin when it was put into either of the said marks, nor did they (the marks) bleed when they were taken out again ; and when she was asked where she thought the pins were put in, she pointed to a part of her body distant from the real place. They were pins of three inches in length."
* Sinclair's Satan's Invisible World Discovered, p. 43.
Besides the fact, that the persons of old people especially sometimes contain spots void of sensibility, there is also room to believe that the professed pricker used a pin, the point, or lower part of which was, on being pressed down, sheathed in the upper, which was hollow for the purpose, and that which appeared to enter the body did not pierce it at all. But, were it worth while to dwell on a subject so ridiculous, we might recollect, that in so terrible an agony of shame as is likely to convulse a human being under such a trial, and such personal insults, the blood is apt to return to the heart, and a slight wound, as with a pin, may be inflicted, without being followed by blood. In the latter end of the seventeenth century, this childish, indecent, and brutal practice, began to be called by its right name. Fountainhall has recorded that, in 1678, the Privy Council received the complaint of a poor woman, who had been abused by a country magistrate, and one of those impostors called prickers. They expressed high displeasure against the presumption of the parties complained against, and treated the pricker as a common cheat."*
From this and other instances it appears, that the predominance of the superstition of witchcraft, and the proneness to persecute those accused of such practices in Scotland, were increased by the too great readiness of subordinate judges to interfere in matters which were, in fact, beyond their jurisdiction. The Supreme Court of Justiciary was that in which the cause properly and exclusively ought to have been tried. But, in practice, each inferior judge in the country, the pettiest bailie in the most trifling burgh, the smallest and most ignorant baron of a rude territory, took it on him to arrest, imprison, and examine, in which examinations, as we have already seen, the accused suffered the grossest injustice. The copies of these examinations, made up of extorted confessions, or the evidence of inhabile witnesses, were all that were transmitted to the Privy Council, who were to direct the future mode of procedure. Thus no creature was secure against the malice or folly of some defamatory accusa-* Fountainhall's Decisions, vol. i. p. 15, tion if there was a timid or superstitious judge, though of the meanest denomination, to be found within the district.
But, secondly, it was the course of the Privy Council to appoint commissions of the gentlemen of the country, and particularly of the clergymen, though not likely from their education to be freed from general prejudice, and peculiarly liable to be affected by the clamour of the neighbourhood against the delinquent. Now, as it is well known that such a commission could not be granted in a case of murder in the county where the crime was charged, there seems no good reason why the trial of witches, so liable to excite the passions, should not have been uniformly tried by a court whose rank and condition secured them from the suspicion of partiality. But our ancestors arranged it otherwise, and it was the consequence that such commissioners very seldom, by acquitting the persons brought before them, lost an opportunity of destroying a witch.
Neither must it be forgotten that the proof led in support of the prosecution was of a kind very unusual in jurisprudence. The lawyers admitted as evidence what they called damnum minatum, et malum secutumó some mischief, that is to say, following close upon a threat, or wish of revenge, uttered by the supposed witch, which, though it might be attributed to the most natural course of events, was supposed necessarily to be in consequence of the menaces of the accused.
Sometimes this vague species of evidence was still more loosely adduced, and allegations of danger threatened, and mischief ensuing, were admitted, though the menaces had not come from the accused party herself. On loth June, 1661, as John Stewart, one of a party of stout burghers of Dalkeith, appointed to guard an old woman, called Christian Wilson, from that town to Niddrie, was cleaning his gun, he was slyly questioned by Janet Cocke, another confessing witch, who probably saw his courage was not entirely constant, " What would you think if the devil raise a whirlwind and take her from you on the road to-morrow ?" Sure enough, on their journey to Niddrie, the party actually were assailed by a sudden gust of wind, (not a very uncommon event in that climate,) which scarce permitted the valiant guard to keep their feet, while the miserable prisoner was blown into a pool of water, and with difficulty raised again. There is some ground to hope that this extraordinary evidence was not admitted upon the trial.
There is a story told of an old wizard, whose real name was Alexander Hunter, though he was more generally known by the nickname of Hatteraick, which it had pleased the devil to confer upon him. This man had for some time adopted the credit of being a conjurer, and curing the diseases of man and beast by spells and charms. One summer's day, on a green hill-side, the devil appeared to him in shape of a grave " Mediciner," addressing him thus roundly : " Sandie, you have too long followed my trade without acknowledging me for a master. You must now enlist with me, and become my servant, and I will teach you your trade better." Hatteraick consented to the proposal, and we shall let the Rev. Mr. George Sinclair tell the rest of the tale.