TWIST – Horrific History of Scottish Witch-hunts in Paint and Verse

TWIST – horror of historic Scottish witch-hunts

Those convicted were almost always strangled at the stake and then their dead body was burned. We have records of 141 sentences specifying an execution method; 120 were for strangling and burning. Of the 17 sentenced simply to burning, many may have been strangled first—though a very small number are known to have been burned alive. In the sentences of beheading (3) and hanging (1), crimes other than witchcraft were also involved. Survey of Scottish Witchcraft, School of History and Classics, Edinburgh University

Twist by Pauline McGee

© Pauline McGee

Pauline and I share a distinctive collaboration. The painting portrays victims of the Scottish witch-finding times and the abuse of the accused. A poet absorbs the image and reacts. The big word is Ekphrasis, we call it #fuse-the-muse.

If you want to hear the poem, read by Mac Logan, you’ll find a link below.

Comments most welcome.


Slim hands extend
A raven’s beak
A bloody flower
They cannot speak … of torment, fear and brutal hate

No gentle friends
Nor fam’ly care
Nor loving touch
For no-one’s there … to love, protect and fairly serve

A sapphire eye
A crystal drop
A ruby splash
Dull spirits flop … no pleading can divert the lash

Crisscrossed skin
Harsh diamond rash
Reproachful glance
The “just” still thrash … and say the devil lies within

From lies to law
Judgement to death
Pleas unheard
A waste of breath … the kindling lies beneath the stake

A blood-red sky
On-rushing doom
Their last morn dawns
Denies the gloom … vile vengeance soon begins

Most floors wither
Yet one grows
Midst sanctimony
Heaven knows … of evil hearts disguised in duty

Exhausted eyes
Have seen so much
And yearn yet for
A loving touch … the tactile loss beyond despair

Scorching flames rise
Primal beauty
As evil hearts
Disguised in duty … lend an ear to fading screams

Ashes smoulder
Bones white glow
And peace descends
For now we know … the awful dark: depraved, unjust

Burnt away
At last they’re free
Centuries late
We hear their plea … and thoughtful eyed move on

© Mac Logan: 8th March 2016

More Fuse-the-Muse here.

Music ℗ Kyle Preston

Rosslyn isn't alone

Rosslyn isn’t alone … Must I Tread Ancient Stone Steps (video)

Ancient Stone Steps …

Can I make it? (I’m not as young as I used to be).

Worn green steps turn sharp right and stumble, smooth and slippy, into a tight cleft in ancient rock.

Sod it! I step forward with care, inching my way down where a damp, mossy wall offers secure support. Stepping cautious as a tightrope artist crossing the Grand Canyon, I inch from exposed-step to exposed-step. At last my hands make secure contact with a prehistoric outcrop … phew. My confidence grows.

The crack in the reef accepts me, closing in with every downward pace. Must I turn sideways?

In moments, my eyes are locked on a carving. A sense of antiquity and mystery grips my imagination.  I study a tattoo cut in living stone.

Am I heading towards a mysterious misty place or the very gates of hell? A chill breeze ruffles my hair with icy fingers.

And Rosslyn?

Passing the church, the old graveyard, headstones with skull and crossbones carving, an almost too neat and present-time point of reference, strode down the path towards the mysterious … what? I can’t help remembering a visit to Rosslyn Chapel on a dank day. This ancient place is reminiscent, perhaps thousands of years older.

He said I should go one day and here I am. I followed a winding path to a plinth of stone and a mysterious, some would say, “holy” well. Next mossy stairs to another world some call the Grove.

My knowledgable friend, a wise man, spoke of mysterious carvings and ancient, ISIS-like, Christian attempts at obliterating the work of eldritch chisels.

You might wonder why I picked a  dank misty day to explore an atavistic place. I can only say it seemed like a good idea at the time.

ancient stone and offeringsInto the grove

A sense of growing fascination and discovery has me moving past carvings and offerings.

I attend to my footing and barely grasp the thoughts flitting past the barrier of my concentration. Offerings? Symbols? Where is this going?

Read the next part as I explore the grove. How old is ancient? How recent? Who is using it now?

© Mac Logan

Are we the Same Today? Horrors of the Scottish Witch-finding

What happens when a Scots artist and a Scots poet fuse the muse?

Scottish Witch Finding

Undergrowth a Tangled Weed© Pauline McGee 2011

This is the second effort of a distinctive collaboration between painter and poet. As in the first, TWIST, the painting portrays victims of the Scottish witch-finding times and their abuse. A poet responds to the artwork, absorbing the image and reacting. Comments most welcome.

Poet’s Eye

Studying the painting, my eye is drawn top left. I see an arm and face struggling, underwater. I recall the ducking chair and it’s use.

Towards the bottom of the work the calm, poker faces of the victims (see first two lines), hands holding back from clasping mouths in horror … Evil people have their way when good folk do nothing.

If you want to hear this poem read, follow the link at the bottom of the post.

Tangled Weed

Stay brave. Make sure those brutes can never see
Fear’s count’nance stark and twisted fix’d on me
Oh evil souls who screamed-out je t’accuse
And ‘good’ folk never dared the charge refuse
And lasht my haggard body to this chair
And gob’d their spiteful words into my hair
As up, midst cheers they rais’d me to the sky
And plung’d me down ‘mongst rank weed slime to writhe

So long as justice fails the diff’rent soul
So wicked pow’rs steal love and take control

© Mac Logan: 27th March 2016

Music ℗ Kyle Preston

spot of footie

This is what happens when a moment of rush becomes a lifetime of sadness

… any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee. John Donne

Five minutes, that’s all, I don’t know why … but I know it happened.

A moment of haste

A silver car races by, changes lanes and hurtles onto the slip road. Next, it’s hard behind another car which, intimidated, moves aside in a less than graceful (dangerous?) manoeuvre.

The racer charges on down the narrowing entry to the main road. With a flash of brake lights the speedster storms through the traffic and lunges into outside lane, speed, by then excessive. Red lights flash as the vehicle slows down to avoid rear-ending a car.

I watch the show, thinking “cruising for a bruising” then “fool”.

How many times does crazy driving happen with no consequences? Today there are repercussions. For the driver it’s a few minutes out and closing. For me it takes a lot longer.

Slow and steady

I rumble along gathering speed and settle at seventy once the traffic clears. I pass a junction. About half a mile and, four minutes later, hazard lights wink on ahead. I slow to a crawl and stop.

The cars start to split either side of the carriageway. Emergency vehicles appear. A thought flits through my mind. I feel the slight emotional rush that comes from emergency events.

Tough memory

I saw a dead woman once in an English motorway, dead, hanging from her seat belt, her car crushed vertical to the Armco, arms dangling against a steering wheel she’d never hold again. I push the thought away … but it hovers around like a mosquito.

There but for the grace of God go I. John Bradford

Moving experience

The traffic police bring order and, after a while, we’re moving. Along the road I see the silver car (is the same one? The racer?). Looks like a bashed rear end. Along the road there’s a red car: smashed windscreen, wrecked body work — like a two-year-old tried bashing things into shape.

I don’t rubber neck. A little prayer for the people involved. I drive on.

Who loves you, crazy?

I check the news. Nobody injured. Fantastic. Will they learn?

A woman still dangles from her seat belt. She’s been lolling there for thirty years. Her image, my personal memorial to an unknown victim.

© Mac Logan

This is what bloody foreigners are like … divide and rue

Bloody foreigners

… Says who? I arrived late evening, Monday, and now, Wednesday morning, I’m off. I write this on my express train. The dawn is coming.

The city centre of Hannover is lovely. It’s where the roots of our Royal Family lie – could hardly be anything else. The people say hello, it’s clean and the food’s good.

They tell me it’s less pretty where drab 1960’s architecture replaced the destruction of World War Two.

bloody foreigners breakfast

simple breakfast

It didn’t rain, so I walked 2 km through the city to a meeting yesterday.

On the way I had breakfast in a small bakery. Wonderful. The lady who served me didn’t speak English and I don’t speak German – but we managed fine in French.

Move mountains?

I had a business meeting yesterday.  We talked about life, the world and everything as one does in the quiet space before a meeting. It seems they nearly moved Hannover 10 kilometres into the countryside after the war, the devastation was so profound.

Fast train

I’ve just left the big city and hurtle towards dawn on a European ICE express … MK1 I’d have to say. The seat is comfy and I’m next to the café-bar. This is the first of four trains I’ll catch on my way to Eindhoven in the Netherlands.

Here I am travelling at speed through lovely country gradually showing off as a daylight triumphs over a pitch-black night. I’ve enjoyed my stay. The contact with people from my light breakfast to a hearty pub meal in the evening is a happy memory.

Who’s the enemy?

bloody foreigners

downtown Hannover

I am Scottish, a European. I like the Germans and, I fancy, they like me. Back home, more to the south of Hadrian’s Wall, it’s a different story of demonization and political tomfoolery. Divide and rule? or Divide and rue (the day)?

Crazy little thing called trust …

If we held a poll tomorrow to affirm trust in our politicians, would they achieve a 52/48 vote in their favour? Me, I doubt it. Would you buy a used car from BoJo?

If the politicians lost such a poll by a large margin, there’s only one question our people need to answer – why are we putting our future in their hands?

[Just as I’m about to post this I hear Theresa May may be offering to flog the NHS as part of a US trade deal – crazy little thing this trust.]

Peace in our time?

It wasn’t a guarantee then and isn’t a likelihood now as ideology and incompetence tear our peaceful world apart. Of course the EU has major failings as does the UK. They need fixing not accusation. They need thought, not incoherent rage. What price common cause?

Charging through a once ravaged landscape, I can’t help but wonder: Is this as good as gets?

Little did I know death was closing in

© Mac Logan

Toddlers know teamwork – see video – what can we learn? politicians?

Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 18:3

Toddler teamwork

It’s so easy. Watch these two little people work.
Who says problem solving needs old heads and “wisdom”? With a divided parliament, a divided UK, an in-danger-of-dividing Europe and a divided USA: what can these two teach a parliament, a May or a Trump?

These two year olds demonstrate fundamental truths. Would Parliament benefit from such ideas?

Political solution

Who honestly believes a “political solution” is required before the UK’s or humanity’s ills can be sorted?

What can we learn? Politicians?

  1. the task is clear
  2. awareness, cooperation and spontaneity moves everything along
  3. progress is there for all to see
  4. respect
  5. strong positive approval when extra-special performance is achieved
  6. a sense of affection and support throughout, even from the bosses

Is this impossible for us and our leaders?

© Mac Logan

Help - this is what happens

The Soul Now Departing … This is What Happens on the Wrong Side of the Tracks

I know that dark place so well, even the cry to God for help, the pressing weight of life’s failures, and the need to be set free. Denise C McAllister

Wrong side of the tracks

soul now departing USA

I insult him, it’s not intended, not major … a niggle, that’s all.

‘Are we on time?’ The guard blinks, oh dear, can’t unsay it. This is Germany and an express train for goodness sake.

His top lip curls, he stiffens. ‘Of course sir.’ Metallic clarity from stiff lips. He turns, red beard bristling, and marches out of the compartment. I expect he’s thinking bloody English. Like many Europeans, Scottishness doesn’t spring to mind. Neither of us know what’s coming.

I was only asking …

My question is fair, the express left Hannover a few minutes late and I’m on a tight connection. Still, it looks like he may fancy punching a bit more than my ticket as he stalks back through the door. I shrug and pull my jacket on, my luggage is lined up for departure. I check my watch, sigh and am sitting back when …

Bang! The soul now departing …

Some sounds you never forget. I’m in the front carriage and this is one: a crunching, splattering thud at the front of the train. My instinct knows what the impact means. In a split second the brakes slam on, hard, with a squealing, skidding shriek of biting metal. Hundreds of metres down the line we stop with a final spasmodic jerk.

Feet thud up the coach. My “annoyed” guard crashes through the door beside me, pulling on a high visibility waistcoat. An enticing waft of coffee trails after him, an incongruous match for his urgency. He hurtles on: feet pounding an urgent rhythm. He slams a braced shoulder into the next door. It crashes open. He’s gone, feet beating towards a hasty engagement with tragedy.

What happened?

In the café bar, next to my compartment, I find the steward.

‘What happened?’

‘A person is killed.’

‘How long?’ I say.

‘One or two hours delay.’

I shake my head, ‘Sad.’

‘The police have to come.’ She says. Of course, it’s a crime scene.

I buy a coffee and return to my seat.

Meanwhile, from left field …

An unkempt, burly middle-aged man wanders in. One shirttail hangs out. His hair is a tangle of spikes with a pasty, red-eyed, bearded face. His jumper, jeans … everything is wrinkled … and he wants to talk.

‘I only speak English.’

He nods. ‘It’s awful,’ he says and takes a quivering breath. He’s thinking, there’s more to come. I wonder if he saw something. He responds to a question in my glance. ‘My mother died last night.’ Brief hours ago. It wasn’t expected.

Today’s event is overwhelmed by his personal loss. We talk about grief and death. I offer a verbal hug, he half smiles, then remembers and his eyes moisten. We talk some more. For a long moment he’s somewhere in his mind but I wait. ‘My kids are meeting me in three hours.’

‘Good. They need you’ I acknowledge his envelope of pain with gentle eye contact. I bet his need is greater …whatever … waves of supportive love, regardless of rationale, ease pain.

His eyes mist. ‘I will go now.’ We share a nod and he’s gone. The door swishes gently back.

Form to fill

Another guard arrives. He stops. A pile of envelopes escape from his hands and scatter over the floor. ‘Don’t pick them up sir.’ He gathers a few strays up the passage way and returns. He’s not terribly good at bending over. Still, he scrabbles around until there’s an untidy clump under his arm. He looks at me for a moment. ‘It takes a kilometre to stop from that speed.’ He hands me a form with a brown envelope.

‘I’m an English speaker, what do I do?’

‘Ask at Hamm Station, they’ll look after you.’

‘And this?’ I wave the form.

‘You will be compensated for the delay.’ I notice the form is pre-stamped for two hours. He’s done this before. There’s a deep sadness in him. He moves on.

Gap-seat conversation

A man looks at me through a gap in the seats. He’s a clinical psychotherapist who speaks English. I join him. We consider the human damage and the mental-health consequences for the staff.

What makes a person step in front of a speeding express train? Our conversation is both interesting and painful. Like it or not, I am affected.

Conversation killer

We stop talking when my original red-bearded guard comes back. His thousand-yard stare says it all, he’s numb with shock. [His grey face and staring eyes are stark in my minds eye  as I write.] His training must be good. He’s still following an emergency routine.

The steward returns and offers water. This, she reports, is her fourth experience of death on the line.

‘It happens a lot.’ She says.

‘Does DB look after them?’ I jerk my head at the departing man.

‘Yes, they need it.’ Her calm is stoic and distant. Her thoughts are with colleagues.

A way out

wrong side of the tracksNext there are firemen in the woods by the train. They work in the brush, raking away. My first thought is they’re looking for body parts. But no, that’s not it. They build an escape route for passengers.

screen-shot-2017-01-15-at-16-40-23In ten minutes the corridor is full of people leaving the train. A crowded bendy bus awaits.

In 20 minutes I’m in Hamm station and having my travel arrangements adjusted by a pleasant and helpful DB customer service person.

She fills in my claim-form and tells me to add my address and bank details—no need for a stamp—they’ll refund half my fare. As she works I admire her multi-coloured fingernails and tell her so. She smiles and we shoot the breeze for five minutes or so.

Even I’m getting on with my day. In quiet moments I wonder about that person, so near to me at the moment of death.

40 minutes after that I’m on a fast train to the Dutch border.

It’s a people thing

Next day on the plane from Schipol I sit with a young German student who studies in Scotland. Turns out her train to Amsterdam was delayed by my train. We have a great chat.

All the people I encountered were friendly, helpful, concerned, efficient and they cared. Even an irate guard managed restraint. They looked after me. They could have been British.

© Mac Logan