So, check this out, folks! If you ever find yourself wandering around Edinburgh Castle, amidst the hustle and bustle of tourists, you might stumble upon a little-known spot called the Witches Well. It’s a cast iron fountain with a plaque that holds a dark history. More than 300 women were burned at the stake on or around that very site!
You see, during the 15th to 18th centuries, being accused of witchcraft was a one-way ticket to a fiery demise. These poor souls were denied a proper burial, so their remains were left right here, untouched. The Witches Well is a tribute to these Scottish victims, reminding us of the horrors they faced. It’s easy to miss if you’re only focused on the grandeur of the castle itself.
Back in the 16th century, this very spot witnessed more witch executions than anywhere else in Scotland. It was a time when King James VI had this whole idea that witches were in cahoots with the devil, you know, practising Satanism and cursing people. As a result, over 4,000 alleged witches, mostly women, were put to death during the 17th and 18th centuries. Luckily, by the end of the 17th century, they switched to hanging witches instead of burning them. Progress, right? The last hanging took place in 1728.
It was a crazy time. Accusations of black magic were flying left and right. Anyone could be blamed for using the dark arts. They’d even chuck suspected women into lakes, all tied up to see if they’d sink or swim. Those who drowned were considered innocent, while those who had the audacity to survive were labelled witches and sent straight to the stake.
Now, let’s fast forward to 1894. Sir Patrick Geddes, known for his innovative ideas on urban planning and sociology, had his buddy John Duncan create this unique drinking fountain next to the reservoir. Duncan was an artistic genius, influenced by Celtic myths and legends, and you can totally see that in the sculpture.
The plaque on the fountain features these bronze relief heads of witches all tangled up with a snake. It’s all about duality, you know? Good versus evil, the whole shebang. There’s a Foxglove plant in there too, which is used for medicine but can also be poisonous. And the serpent wrapped around the head of Aesculapius, the god of medicine, and his daughter Hygeia, the goddess of health, is also seen as evil. It’s like a whole mix of contradictory symbolism.
The fountain used to have water spouting out of a hole beneath the snake’s head, but it’s dry now. Oh, and the Roman numerals on the plaque—1479 on the upper left corner and 1722 on the bottom right – is the period when witches were getting persecuted like crazy in Scotland. The sculptor’s initials and the completion year, 1894, are there too. And don’t miss those two bolts on the upper corners—they’re Wiccan symbols representing air and water.
The sculpture itself is intricate and really cool. The font shows flora with roots in the earth and branches reaching up high. On the left side, you’ve got the Evil Eye with frowning eyes and a nose, and on the right, a pair of hands holding a bowl, symbolizing healing hands.
Oh, and don’t forget the plaque above the well that was put up in 1912, too!
– The Dark Scotland website is created by Stewart and Louise – we run DD Tours, walking tours in Dundee city, covering dark local history such as wars, battles, murders, diseases, riots, disasters and executions. Walk with us for an unforgettable storytelling experience.