boundless cruelty

If you travel to Forres, as Shakespeare’s Macbeth did in the Scottish play, you will come across a strange, supernatural thing. Just like he did.

Witches Stones Forres (6)Not in a cavern with a boiling cauldron in the middle, not on a wild eerie heath but right in the present everyday normality in front of Forres’ police station: evidence not only of magic but also of murder.

Witches Stones Forres (3)

The witches stone in Forres is a massive granite reminder of brutal times long past. Said to be one of three stones that marked the graves of the three witches, those who prophesied Macbeth the access to the Scottish throne and instigated the murder of King Duncan, a murder by proxy. Of course Macbeth is a play but Shakespeare based the characters and events on historical research.

Witches Stones Forres (2)It seems a weird coincidence, that this stone happens to sit right in front of the local police station, there because this is where a witch found her death, a horrid gravestone in a singular graveyard without a body and a murder scene right under the eyes of the law.

From Cluny Hill at the back of the police station the witches were rolled down, stuck in a small but stout and closed barrel with spikes on the inside. An incredibly cruel torture and most of them must have been either dead or close to death by the time the barrel stopped moving, which was exactly in the place where the witch’s stone sits today. They burned the barrel right at the same spot, with the poor woman accused of witchcraft inside.

Witches Stones Forres (7)The belief in witchcraft was strong in Scotland in the 16th and 17th century.

Quite a few people still believe in the “evil eye”.


AWitches Stones Forres (8)pparently somebody had tried to take the stone away and use it for building some hundred years ago. He was stopped trying to break the stone up, which is why it is now held together by iron staples. Obviously the man did not believe in evil spirits.

One of the most notorious Scottish witches was Isobel Gowdie, a young woman who lived in Auldearn, near Forres and was tried in 1662 but never tortured. She might have been mentally deranged because she had confessed to using a broom for flying and transforming into a hare. Isobel Gowdie died on Gallows Hill outside Auldearn, strangled and then burned.

Witches Stones Forres (4)The witches stone in Forres commemorates the “witches” of Forres but also all the unknown women brutally tortured and murdered in the name of God, with no grave, no stone to tell the horrible story. So many unknown women in the Middle Ages faced fear, pain and death without hope of justice, compassion or retribution.

Therefore its location couldn’t be more appropriate: right in front of the police station.

Witches Stones Forres (5)

Liked the read? There’s more here...

Scotland is a country full of history, stories and secrets. Often, the three cannot be separated. That is what makes this country so wonderful and unique. The stories of this book have been discovered and gathered for Erkenbach’s blog, Graveyards of Scotland, over many years. Her main sources were historical travel guides from the 18th and 19th centuries, where the finds were scary, beautiful, funny, and sometimes, cruel. This unusual approach to a country’s history has produced amazing results. You don’t have to share the author’s passion for cemeteries to enjoy this book; only a small number of the stories in this collection take place in graveyards, though they do all end in them, so perhaps it helps.

The fairy hill in Inverness, a nitrate murder on Shetland, a family of left-handers, wolves, Robert the Bruce and William Wallace shown in a new light, the secret bay of the writer Gavin Maxwell, a murdering poet and so many things you didn’t know about Scotland, its clans and its history.

Scotland for Quiet Moments is available as ebook and paperback on Amazon.

4 thoughts on “boundless cruelty

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  1. I grew up here! The stories of the witches were still very much alive when I were wee. Interesting you mention the iron bands, I had never heard the story of someone trying to break up the rock. Local legend when I was a child was that it was thought the boulder splitting was the devil trying to get at the witches soul, hence the iron bands added whenever it cracked.

    1. Thank you for this contribution, it is very much appreciated.
      I am sure the local children were properly scared by those stories. Especially seeing the stone that “proves” those stories to be real….

  2. You cant have “supernatural” it is nonsense, it is just a mindless marketing genre to sell junk books on a broad subject (often loaded with misinformation). In reality you cant supersede nature. Hard to read any article that starts off by claiming “supernatural”.

    The evidence has no link to magic, other than it is what the victim was accused of. It is the site of a cold blooded murder, probably why they built the modern police station there. Inverness police station also has a person buried under it. Are the police a strange cult ?

    King Duncan was some 500+ years before these stone markers were placed so, Shakespeare was creating misinformation in his stories (no witches at Cawdor, or caves for that matter). These stones are dated to the Reformation Act period. That would have been the same period as Shakespeare’s own life time.

    Isobel Gowdie was indeed tortured, it was official standard practice to make their victims confess to anything they were accused of. It is not actually known what her fate was after the trial but, given how well documented the trial was, this is very odd. I’m inclined to agree that she would have been murdered at Gallows hill at Auldearn, method unknown.

    Men were also accused and murdered, not just women. Isobel Gowdie is the most famous in Britain. The most famous in Europe is, Peter Stübbe (or Stumpf) aka the Werewolf of Bedburg (Cologne). He was just unlucky enough to be a farmer (land owner) and was the wrong domination of Christian in that area. Don’t forget that the “Witch trials” were the ethnic cleansing between Christian sects, they despised each other. If you had land then you were a massive target, those that murdered you also took your estate.

    I would like to think that we have evolved as a species, wishful thinking.

    1. Well, you are of course entitled to your opinion. It is a modern one and in the time referred to in this post the people did believe in the supernatural.
      We both agree on the fact that Shakespeare’s Macbeth is a mixture of historical facts and fiction. Birnam Wood, Glamis and Cawdor exist. Duncan and Macbeth existed. And the three witches? I would love to be able to ask Shakespeare what he really thought about them.

      I am German and have studied The History of Witchcraft at a German University. Peter Stübbe is certainly not the most famous case in Europe.

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