Edited by John Stone 1

Sat, Oct. 30, 2004


PRESTONPANS, Scotland — Eighty-one accused witches — and their cats — were executed during a wave of hysteria and religious ferment hundreds of years ago. On Sunday, Halloween, they will be publicly pardoned, according to Adele Conn, spokeswoman for the Scottish court that issued the pardons. The pardons have been granted under ancient feudal powers due to be abolished within weeks

“There will be no witches’ hats, dress-ups or that sort of thing — it will be a fairly solemn occasion,” she said.

More than 3,500 Scots, mainly women and children (and their cats), were killed in witch hunts at a time of political intrigue and religious excess there during the 1500s and 1600s. Many were condemned on flimsy evidence, such as owning a black cat or brewing homemade remedies.

Conn said 15 local descendants of executed witches had been invited to attend the pardoning ceremony and an inaugural Witches’ Remembrance Day, which will become an annual event in the township on Halloween.

“It’s too late to apologize, but it’s a sort of symbolic recognition that these people were put to death for hysterical ignorance and paranoia,” said historian Roy Pugh, who presented evidence to the Scottish court that issued the pardons.

Meanwhile in the United States, Salem, Massachusetts mayor, Stanley Usovicz, is intrigued by this Scottish township’s plan to pardon people who were executed for witchcraft. He said he will consider issuing similar pardons in Salem. “It sounds like a good idea,” Usovicz said, when told of Scotland’s plan.

During Salem’s witch scare in 1692, 19 people were hanged and one was pressed with heavy stones for allegedly practicing witchcraft. By the end of that year, 200 people were jailed under charges of witchcraft.

In 1957, many of the accused Salem witches were exonerated by the Massachusetts Legislature. Usovicz said one of the judges apologized for his role in the trials about eight years after they concluded.

“But I am not sure there has ever been an official declaration by the city government of Salem,” he said. “I would have to take a look at that.”

A good date for such a pardon might be in 2007, Usovicz said, the 315th anniversary of the Salem Witch Trials.

“But I would suggest that anytime is a good time to forgive,” he said.





1.  Material from The Associated Press was used in this story.