We are outside of a small village of Dunning, located in the former parklands of Duncrub Castle, where there is a misterious monument. It’s a collection of stones about 6 meters high, topped with a cross and decorated with gifts left by visitors, like pennies, feathers, shells, fluffy stuffed animals, and tiny tea candles. Looking at it from a distance, it seems a sort of battle memorial, and seen close up, the monument quickly tells its story: the stones records the words in stark white lettering:
“Maggie Wall burnt here 1657 as a witch.”
Here, in the same place, it seems that a woman was burned at the stake. If she were lucky, first she was strangled. If not, then she died in agony on a pyre of heat and coal doused with tar, perhaps still crying her innocence as the flames around her roared and spat. But many mysteries are linked around this sad monument. First: who was Maggie Wall? And, if over 4,000 women were executed in Scotland for witchcraft in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, why commemorate her alone?
If Scotland there was nearly 4,000 people accused of witchcraft between 1500s and 1700s, the vast majority of whom were women (like in major part of the world, but it’s not always so, in Iceland, in fact, the majority of the victims of witch hunt were male), however, mysteriously, there is no record of a woman named Maggie Wall being processed as a witch. What’s more, there’s no record of the monument itself until 1866, even if a forest surrounding the monument called Maggie Walls Wood was documented as of 1829. Of course, there are local stories and it is said that the site of her cottage has even been found. But it’s odd that her name does not appear in the records at all, in a time which witch trials were carefully recorded. Diligent clerks even put down grim details such as the cost of the peat used for the fire and the rope needed by the executioner.
Some claim that Maggie Wall did exist, her records simply didn’t. Some locals think that a member of the Rollos, a powerful family that lived in Duncrub Castle, had an affair with Maggie Wall and built the monument out of guilt. Another theory is that Maggie was a part of a backlash against a group of officials trying to elect a new local minister. The group was attacked by a hoard of women, and some believe Maggie could have been singled out and punished, condemning her like a witch. In fact, Maggie Wall lived and died in troubled times, and she also had the bad luck to live in an area with a terrible reputation for persecuting witches. Six more were executed in Dunning in 1663, in the wood, a terrifying number for a village of perhaps a few hundred people, so no woman was safe.
One accepted theory is that this monument stands as a testament to all the witches murdered in Scotland during the witch hunts, and no other similar monument exists throughout the country. Only a very powerful person could have risked building it, and putting a Christian symbol on top of it was like defying the Church. Perhaps the name was taken from the surrounding wood to represent the countless and forgotten women who were killed. Occasionally a wreath is laid at the foot of the monument, as a reminder of the injustices suffered by the mysterious witch (symbolic?), Maggie Wall.