Edinburgh Witches Well

Witches' Well, Edinburgh

Photo Credit: WordRidden
(Creative Commons)
The Edinburgh Witches' Well - actually a drinking water fountain - is small and easy to miss but worth seeking out if you have an imagination and a taste for the darker side of history. The Well is situated at the top of the Royal Mile, on the west wall of the Tartan Weaving Mill facing the Castle.

Witch Hunts

The sixteenth century saw an early and widespread "satanic panic". Women across Europe were accused of being witches in league with the devil. Any excuse would do for an accusation, often there was no excuse at all simply an attempt to settle old scores. Even with no evidence the accused would be taken away and interrogated (tortured). Once found guilty - almost certain to happen if they survived the interrogation and "tests" such as ducking - they were usually burnt alive at the stake.

Scotland suffered more than most countries from the witchhunts. Following the case of the North Berwick Witches some 3,000 Scottish women were accused of witchcraft over the next century. In Edinburgh alone it's believed that at least 300 women were burnt at the stake. These burnings took place at the top of the Royal Mile where the Witches Well is now positioned. Looking at it you can imagine the screams of the women reverberating down the centuries. You can almost smell the burning flesh.

The Witches Well is Edinburgh's small tribute to those poor women. The plaque above the fountain is inscribed with the dates of the first and last known Edinburgh witch burnings as well as a number of symbols that represent duality. The plaque reads:

This Fountain, designed by John Duncan, R.S.A. is near the site on which many witches were burned at the stake. The wicked head and serene head signify that some used their exceptional knowledge for evil purposes while others were misunderstood and wished their kind nothing but good. The serpent has the dual significance of evil and wisdom. The Foxglove spray further emphasises the dual purpose of many common objects.