Annie Tailzeour, an Orkney woman, was accused of witchcraft in 1624. Among the evidence brought against her:
1. She took profit off cattle and off the corn
2. She predicted the finding of a whale
3. She cured a boil
4. A man recognised her face among a crowd of cats
5. She cast a sickness on a man, and then removed it
6. She sent a girl into a frenzy
7. She caused a storm to come up and the sea take a woman’s peats
She was sentenced to be “wirried at ane staik, and brunt to asses.”
“wirried” = “worried” = “strangled”; “brunt to asses” = “burnt to ashes”
She would have been dragged up to the top of the Clay Loan in Kirkwall, probably in an open cart, tied to a stake, garrotted by the hangman, then her body burnt.
Orkney Archives are full of fascinating documents stretching back centuries. This poor woman’s fate was recorded by Ernest Marwick whose papers the archives hold.
George Mackay Brown wrote about such a trial and execution in ‘Witch’, a story in his first collection A Calendar of Love 1967.
To the World
To be slightly odd or eccentric or mad in the seventeenth century was dangerous. To have mental health problems in the 21st century still attracts stigma, lack of understanding, sometimes mockery. The GMB Fellowship, Orkney Minds and See Me have combined efforts to produce To the World, a compelling, timely and very handsome anthology of creative writing by people in Orkney affected by mental health difficulties, as well as other interested contributors. The anthology grew out of workshops run by poet John Glenday and counsellor and writer Rosie Alexander.
This poem is by the library’s own Gary Amos:
Out in Rain
in my fumbling
too many times
in the landscape
as the earth’s
but do not
Let’s face it, most of us experience these difficulties in our lifetimes, and when we’re not going through it ourselves, we know others who are. Very many writers go through dark times. Orkney’s own – George Mackay Brown, Edwin Muir, Ernest Marwick – all suffered from periods of deep depression. And still they wrote.
To the World is available to buy from Kirkwall and Stromness libraries.