The last time I performed it, my father was there. When I was done, he walked over and hugged me, saying “I am sorry that happened to you.” I do not know that this story is truly mine, I do not know that I was Alison Balfour, but I have my suspicions. One thing I do know, is that if I was not she, then we shared similar stories, for the writing of her tale was like remembering a dream, a very unpleasant dream.
I wrote & performed during the bardic year of my Druid training. It is based on the historical details of a woman (Alison Balfour) who was convicted of Witchcraft in Scotland in 1594. I share this story now, as we once again live in a time, when people are persecuted for their beliefs and their spiritual practices. I am ever thankful to live in a time when I do not have to hide my abilities for fear of persecution, but I have not forgotten, and I do not turn a blind eye on the persecution of others.
And so the story begins…
As many of you know already, I stand before you a self confessed Witch. Many moons and many faces I have worn since the days of the fire, but memories born in flame are hard to forget.
The Earl of Orkney, Patrick Stewart or “Black Patty” as he was so often called by the people of the land, was a tyrant…a greedy, arrogant son of a bastard. His father having been the illegitimate son of King James the fifth. He was a despised man, and it came as no surprise to me, that someone had tried to poison him. The word of importance here is ‘tried’.
The failed attempt at poisoning “Black Patty” was blamed on his brother John Stewart, the Master of Orkney. As you could not come right out and blame a noblemen…and someone must be brought in for questioning in the affair, his servant, Thomas Paplay was brought in. Now I do not blame poor Tom for what came next, as he was a simple man used as a pawn.
For 11 days Tom held out to their torture, even though they crushed his arms in “Caspies Claws”. Then in his defeat he named me a Witch, and a conspirator in the poisoning of “Black Patty”. It was no secret that I knew the ways of medicine, and as rumor had it….magic. They came and dragged me from my home, away from my aged husband and children and commenced to working my confession out of me.
Henry Colville, the Parson of Orphir…that vile excuse for a man of God, was called upon to “question” me. They had found a piece of wax in my home….wax , such a funny thing to bring about ones demise. This wax had come from the home of Patrick Bellenden, the Lord of Stenness. The Lady of Stenness was suffering terribly with stomach problems and I had agreed to work my charms on healing her. Its funny how ones gifts often so appreciated can quickly becomes ones bane. Henry refused to accept my answer, as he was convinced that I had used the wax to concoct a poison to kill “Black Patty”, and that Lord Bellenden was part of the ploy.
My torture or questioning, if you like was carried out in the castle of Kirkwall. They crushed my legs in “Caspies Claws” for 48 hours. I reached out to my Gods and retreated inward…refusing to confess to a crime I did not commit……..Then they brought in my family.
My husband was a great deal older then me, at 81 he had lived a long life. I loved him dearly, but could not confess. They placed him in the “Long Irons”, and proceeded to crush him before my eyes….50 stones they laid upon his chest, 700lbs in terms you would understand now. As he died before my eyes, my resolve began to crumble, but I heard his voice clear as day inside my head urging me to stand strong.
My son, came next. A strong lad…just entering manhood, handsome and brave. He stood before me and said “don’t do it ma…don’t let them condemn you for a crime that is not yours”. Even now all these years later, life times passed I find myself drawn to tears as I think on his brave soul. They placed his legs in “the boots”, drove the wedges in and crushed his feet with 57 strikes of a mallet. 57 times my heart cried out, begging the gods by all their names to stop this torture….to free my son from his earthly prison. As he collapsed upon the floor, my life slipped colorlessly before my eyes. I thought I had endured all the pain a person could take….and then they brought in my wee lass.
7 years old and bright as a sunny day. My daughter, my joy, the love of my womb…I could not believe that even the evilness of “Black Patty” could claim the life of one so innocent. But there she was, her tiny fingers being placed into the piniwinkie…and I could take no more. As they began to crush her finger I cried out my confession. I confessed to consorting with the devil, to poisoning the Earl, and to many other atrocities’ too dark to repeat. Inside I begged the goddess above to forgive me for my lies, but I could take no more. Darkness enveloped me and time took on a dimension unknown to those that have never truly suffered.
My confession earned me the punishment of execution…seeing how Witchcraft was considered a form of treason in Scotland, I would be burned at the stake. As I was found guilty, the fee for services rendered…torture, execution and such would be deducted from my families estate. The Gallows in Kirkwall was my final resting place on December the 15th, 1594. As burning is a rather noisy way to dispose of a living body…strangulation was customary, prior to the stake.
As I stood awaiting my death…the darkness of my mind cleared, and I found my voice. “I Alison Balfour, do stand here before you an innocent woman. My confessions that of a mother seeking only to spare her children!” The crowd went silent, and my soul was released from hell.
John Stewart, the Master of Orkney stood trial for seeking the aid of a Witch…for the destruction of his brother Patrick. He was acquitted, as the evidence which lead to my death was thrown out of court, on the basis that it had been obtained under torture.
Henry Colville, the hand of my torture….got his due. Traveling on the Earls business in the summer following my death, he was come upon by the Master of Orkney and 30 of his men. They proceeded to unmercifully slay him…I will leave out the details for those of you weak in the tummy.
And…Black Patty, I have saved the best for last. The son of a Bastard, the Tyrant of Orkney was beheaded in 1615 for treason to the crown.
May all those who have been persecuted find peace!