Witches' maze sends Satan packing
IT IS the intriguing tale of the lord, the witches and the warlocks.
A Scottish aristocrat is creating a memorial to the men and women who were put to death on the orders of his 17th-century predecessor.
Lord Moncrieff is building a 100ft maze in the grounds of his ancestral home at Tullibole Castle, near Kinross, to honour the victims of the notorious Crook of Devon Witch Trials.
In 1662, the stronghold's then owner William Halliday presided over a court which sentenced a number of residents to death for supposedly striking a series of fiendish pacts with Satan.
Now Moncrieff is looking to right the historical wrong by constructing a Witches' Maze with the names of the victims etched on an elaborate pillar at its heart.
But despite his sympathy for those persecuted in the name of King James VI's witch hunts, the nobleman has no truck with superstition in any form. Moncrieff intends the hedged garden to become a shrine to secularism and rational thought.
He said: "Tullibole Castle, near the village of Crook of Devon, was once the home of William Halliday who, with his son John and three others, presided over a court that was responsible for one of the worst cases of witchcraft persecution that Scotland has ever seen.
"In 1662, the court sat five times, and those who survived their imprisonment and trial were taken to a mound, strangled by the hangman and their bodies thrown onto a fire.
"Sadly, there is nothing in the village to commemorate these people, so I decided to create a memorial maze in their honour."
The heart of the labyrinth will feature a five-sided "pentagon pillar" bearing the names of those who were executed, as well as those who perished in jail before sentence was passed on them. But Moncrieff said he was determined for his project to have a wider significance.
"Instead of being a simple memorial I want it to work on several levels. The witches' pillar will be protected by five stones, to symbolise the five trials, which are decorated with what I call 'good' words.
"These are words such as logic, justice, tolerance, truth and love, which were missing from Scottish society at the time of the trials."
Mirroring this, the maze also features a series of dead ends, which will be marked with negative words such as superstition, hypocrisy, prejudice and ignorance.
Moncrieff said: "If you don't use logic inside the maze you will come to a dead end.
"Appropriately, in this year of Darwin's anniversary, the maze has evolved into a plea for people to think rationally. It is my intention that the memorial to the innocents will also be a damning attack on the ignorant and superstitious beliefs of the past as well as of the present day. My plan is to have other meanings and deeper symbolism in the maze, but I don't want to explain it all at this stage."
The keen historian and heritage enthusiast is determined that the memorial maze, which he plans to open to the public, will never be adopted by modern-day champions of the supernatural.
"I really don't like how other memorials to victims of witch hunts in Salem in the US and Glastonbury in England have largely been taken over and adopted by people who believe in the supernatural.
"If society had not believed in the paranormal in the 1660s then these so-called 'witches' would not have been prosecuted. The maze will be open to everyone, but the symbolism inside makes it abundantly clear that it is very much in favour of rational thought over superstition."
Moncrieff spends much of his spare time attempting to expose bogus psychics who he believes exploit vulnerable people.
But practising witch and High Priestess of 'The Hearth' Coven in Glasgow, Pauline Reid, welcomed the memorial.
She said: "This sounds like an excellent way of honouring the memory of these victims of the witch hunts. Something like this is long overdue and I look forward to visiting it when it opens."
The maze, which is expected to open in 2011, will be made up of more than 2,000 beech trees.
Between 1550 and 1700, thousands of women and men across Scotland were arrested, tortured and executed after being accused of indulging in witchcraft.
After witchcraft became illegal in Scotland in the 16th century, an army of 'witch prickers' were employed in a bid to encourage people to confess to being in league with the Devil.
If a person who was pricked with a sharp metal object didn't bleed immediately it was taken as an infallible sign that they had made a covenant with 'Auld Nick'.
The Scottish witch hunts declined after the 1660s when the elite of society began to take a more rational view of the world.
As a result, the witch prickers were exposed as frauds and the legal system began to reject evidence from them. The last witch was executed in 1727 and the law was finally abolished in 1736.
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