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  • Greg Stewart

Witch Grizzie

During the 15th century, a witch trial is said to have taken place in the seaside town of St Monans in Fife that would have an impact on future trials.

It is said that an old troublesome woman, known simply as Witch Grizzie, was accused and subsequently convicted of witchcraft, with the penalty being to be burned at the stake. In the time between being convicted and her execution, her guards are said to have been quite relaxed in watching her as she was not really seen as any real threat. As she waited, she reputedly started to fall asleep. Her guards did nothing; it would be even easier to watch a sleeping prisoner. Yet, as soon as Grizzie did enter the sleep state, she is said to have transformed into a droning beetle. Her shackles had hardly hit the floor by the time the beetle had scuttled off to a dark corner, finding a way into the fabric of the building and to safety.

The guards, bemused by what they had just witnessed, had the difficult task of reporting to the town authorities that their prisoner had escaped and hoping that they would believe their explanation.

Grizzie was never seen again, at least not in human form, yet all those who were involved in her trial were tormented with the sound of the continuous low tone of the droning beetle, as though coming from within their ears, for the rest of their lives. As a result, no accused witch was allowed to sleep after then entered into the trial system.

There are, of course, numerous problems with this story in addition to the immediately obvious one that no one can turn themselves into a beetle. During the 15th century, it is certainly possible that someone could be convicted of using witchcraft or magic in some form to commit a crime; but they would be punished for that crime, not the use of witchcraft. The punishment would be determined by that crime and would not automatically be execution. It was not until the 1563 Act that the use of witchcraft became a capital offence with the death penalty. Equally, being burned at the stake was reserved for only the most serious of crimes. So, if that were to be Grizzie's fate, it is far more likely that details of that crime would be mentioned, rather than the use of witchcraft. It is also highly unlikely that anyone in a Scottish fishing village during the 15th century could identify a droning beetle.

It would seem that the tale of Witch Grizzie is one that has been passed down through word of mouth, with a few historical authors picking it up to give it some validity. It is unlikely to be anything other than a story pieced together to explain why sleep deprivation was commonly used during the trials on the basis that if the accused were allowed to sleep, they might escape in the form of an insect just like Witch Grizzie.

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