Tuesday 30 October 2012

Witches, Ghosts and Ghouls

As Halloween draws near our thoughts have turned to the spooky and supernatural in our collections. Notable items include handwritten notes about the execution of the so-called ‘Witch of Monzie’ and the mysterious events that followed. These were found in a copy of Reverend George Blair’s famous poem ‘The Holocaust, or, The Witch of Monzie’ published in 1845.

Kate McNiven (alternately known as McNieven / Nicniven / Niven), the 'Witch of Monzie', was nurse to the Graeme family of Inchbrakie, Perthshire.  It is said that in c 1715 she was burned at the stake, which would make her one of the last women to be executed as a witch in Scotland. However other sources suggest that, if she ever existed, she must have been executed around 1615.

George Blair was pastor of Monzie parish, Perthshire around 1843-1844. His tenure was brief as he was suspended and resigned from his charge. The two documents ('Colonel Graham of Inchbrakie's Account of the Witch of Monzie’ and a memorandum regarding the Witch of Monzie both by Grace Grame) were possibly used by Blair when writing the poem. Their exact provenance and reliability are unknown. Interestingly one implies that Kate McNiven cursed the Ministers of the Parish of Monzie before her death. Perhaps the unfortunate Blair felt he was the latest victim of her curse.

Another Halloween related item can be found in the papers of the writer and hill walker Syd Scroggie which include his account of the ‘Ghost of Moss Alasdair’ and its encounters with Andrew MacIlwraith, Duncan Pitscotie and Robert Calder. Moss Alasdair was said to be a ghost who dwelt on the Glass Cairn and pushed people off, resulting in a series of fatalities.  It seems that MacIlwraith and Pitscotie had an odd encounter with a mysterious shepherd and his black dog on their way to a rendezvous with Calder on the Glass Cairn. Meanwhile Calder, coming from the other direction, discovered a skeleton and sensed another presence in the cavern he was sheltering in. He commanded it to disturb the living no more and after a flash of lightening the atmosphere changed.  At the same time the shepherd his companions were following vanished.

Scroggie presents this as a true story. However was this an account of a real event or is this manuscript a clever work of fiction by its author? We would be very interested to know if anyone can shed any more light on this story .

Contact the archives or visit us to find out more about these collections and our local history books which contain more supernatural stories. www.dundee.ac.uk/archives and archives@dundee.ac.uk

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