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Orkney Witches

By Magpie

[Snip] Most of the stories of Orkney witches and their associated witch trials date from the early seventeenth century; a period in which there was a genuine and widespread belief in the existence of witches and when no one seemed to expect God to do good in compensation. These beliefs were fuelled by superstition, high mortality, and poor access to health care and propelled by a particularly twisted Christian theology and a judicial system that was constructed around it.

Folk beliefs and magical practices were abundant at this time and appear to have been widely practiced. Many of the Orkney charms and rituals seem to have their counterparts with those from the rest of the British Isles and may have been imported and adapted, but Orkney has always had a close relationship with Norway and the Norse traditions also contributed. In Norse mythology, death and disaster were caused by malevolent spiritual beings working magic against humans. Only by working a more powerful magic could these influences be countered. Most Norse witches used magical formulae or rituals – in the Christian period, these often including the sign of the Cross or the name of Christ. Another influence upon the Orkney variant of witchcraft may have been the vagabonds known throughout Scotland at this time as “the Egyptians”; they were infamous for using magic to take the “profit” from other’s crops and livestock for themselves.

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