Satanic Encounters are a recurring theme in Scottish lore. Every notorious villain to grace the pages of Scottish history seems to have had an encounter with the devil. From playing cards or chess with the devil or agreeing to marry your daughter to Auld Nick, the myths abound.
The Scottish Reformation brought with it thundering Calvinist sermons warning about the dangers of the Devil. In an increasingly militant, polarised worldview, satanic encounters were seen everywhere. In this black and white view of the world, many of the folk beliefs became demonised. Fear grew in people’s hearts and the Scottish Witch Hunts began. Central to people’s beliefs was that those who practised witchcraft entered into a pact with the devil. This fear was fuelled by witch prickers such as Christian Caddell, who stood to make a great profit by condemning as many people as possible to be witches.
Some stories of Scottish satanic encounters can be found below:
A Pact with The Devil at Ardvreck Castle
The lands of Assynt were granted to Torquil MacLeod of Lewis during the reign of David II although his ancestors had traditionally held the area from the mid -thirteenth century. His second son, Norman, was given Assynt as his portion. Ardvreck castle was built in two phases with a simple rectangular hall block built by Angus Mor III in the late fourteenth or early fifteenth century. This was four storeys high with the upper floors of timber. However, during the sixteenth century, Donald Ban IX added a stair tower.
It is said that during the castle’s construction, the laird entered into a pact with the devil. The devil offered to help the Laird in exchange for his soul. The Laird, being a canny Scot, was not about to pass up the opportunity for free labour and besides, he dearly yearned for immortality. Negotiations were at an impasse when the Laird’s daughter, Eimhir, appeared on the scene. The devil was smitten by her beauty and seized his opportunity. He agreed to build the castle on the condition that he could marry the daughter. The deal was secured, the castle built, and the wedding took place.
Alas, it was at a time when women of gentle birth, were pawns in marriage deals and arranged weddings. The poor lass had no idea to whom she was being wed until after the marriage ceremony. To her horror, she discovered her husband’s true identity and flung herself out of a tower window into the loch below where she drowned. Now it is said that she wanders the ruins, weeping.
Satanic Encounters with the Wolf of Badenoch Results in his Death
Alexander Stewart, otherwise known as the Wolf of Badenoch, is perhaps the most notorious character ever to set foot in the north of Scotland. From his lair at Lochindorb, he began a reign of terror which extended through his lands in Northern Perthshire, to Buchan in the East and Lewis to the West. He was not a man to be meddled with, this princeling lord and great-grandson of Robert the Bruce. When his father, Robert, became King of Scots, he was appointed Lord of Badenoch. In the years that followed other titles would be added to the list including Earl of Buchan, Sheriff of Inverness and Justiciar of Scotland north of the Forth. Not only did he own great swathes of land, he was the law in the North. There would be no recourse for those on the receiving end of the Wolf of Badenoch’s violence.
There was no end to his thirst for power. He acquired lands through a marriage of convenience and expanded his territory through a land racketeering scheme. This ultimately led to him clashing with the other great powerbroker in Scotland: the church. In an act of unmitigated vengeance, the Wolf set fire to Elgin Cathedral.
Playing Chess with the Devil
Small wonder then that a myth began that on the night of his death, he was residing at Ruthven Castle. He was visited that night by a mysterious tall man, dressed in black. The stranger wished to play a game of chess with the Wolf. After several hours, the man called ‘check’ and then checkmate’. Upon calling these words, a great storm arose of thunder, hail, and lightning. The storm raged through the night. In the silence of the morning, the Wolf’s men were found outside the castle walls, their bodies charred and scorched as if they had been hit by lightning. The Wolf was found dead in the Great Hall. There were no marks on his body. However, the nails in his boots had all been ripped out. Such are the perils of entering into a game with the Devil!
Satanic Encounters with The Wizard of Gordonstoun
Sir Robert Gordon, 3rd Baronet of Gordonstoun (1647-1704) was a scholar and a scientist, particularly skilled in the fields of chemistry and mechanics. When Robert returned from overseas with his new ideas and wealth of knowledge, he was viewed with suspicion. There could only be one explanation; Robert was a wizard.
The rumours began to fly. The Wizard of Gordonstoun had ‘given himself away’ to gain more knowledge. He had sold his soul to the devil for a period of thirty years and for an understanding of science. He conducted his experiments in a building known as the round square, a perfectly round building next to his mansion. The round square was connected to Sculptor’s Cave at Covesea. This was a cave filled with the skulls of children. Here he was said to carry out his nefarious deeds.
He was said to dance with naked women and to play cards with the devil. He had slow-cooked a salamander, over the course of seven years so that it might reveal its alchemical secrets. And, the final damning proof that he had entered into a pact with the devil- he had no shadow.
A Satanic Reckoning
His thirty years came to an end in November 1704. The night before the debt was due, Robert had a satanic encounter. On the morrow evening at Midnight, the devil would come for his soul.
But Sir Robert was not about to go willingly. He enlisted the help of the Minister from Duffus to sit with him and ward off the devil. They retired to the Round Square. As midnight approached, the winds howled and lightning struck. The minister in terror fled and told Sir Robert to do the same, urging him to go to the consecrated ground at Birnie Kirk.
Robert mounted his horse and fled into the night. It soon became apparent the devil was following in hot pursuit on his black stallion. Nor was he alone for he came with an entourage of Hellhounds. As Robert approached Birnie Kirk, the hounds attacked, sinking their teeth into the poor horse’s rump. In agony, the horse threw its rider, who, as a result, broke his neck. The hounds began to devour the horse and the devil wailed in horror. Sir Robert lay dead within the grounds of the Kirk. Satan could no longer claim his soul.
Tam Dalyell’s Pact with The Devil
Tam Dalyell was notorious. It was said that musket balls would simply bounce off of him. He was not well-loved either by the common folk of Scotland. He was born at the turn of the 17th century. This was a time when it was whispered that ruthless men had come to power by making deals with the devil. Tam was one such man.
Tam Dalyell of Binns was a staunch royalist and the General and Commander-in-Chief of the king’s forces in Scotland. He was captured by Oliver Cromwell’s New Model Army at the Battle of Worcester in 1651 and imprisoned in the Tower of London. But walls could not hold such a man! Thinking that the Royalist cause looked doomed, he fled to Russia, where he served Tsar Alexis I, father of Peter the Great, in the Russo-Polish War. While he was there, he earned a terrible reputation as it was said that he roasted some of the prisoners. As a result, he earned the epithet of the ‘Muscovite De’il’.
He returned to Scotland after the restoration of Charles II and became the commander of forces in Scotland from 1666 to 1685. During this time, he introduced thumbscrews to Scotland after having seen them being used in Russia. He led the government forces at the Battle of Rullion Green. In the aftermath of the battle, his brutal treatment of the prisoners resulted in Tam Dalyell’s other epithet, ‘Bloody Tam’. Over 1,200 captured Covenanters were tortured and imprisoned in Greyfriar’s Kirkyard. There may have been ulterior motives behind the capture of some of these men for the General obtained several of the forfeited estates of his opponents.
Dealing Cards with the Deil
It was said that Tam would enjoy an occasional hand of cards with the Devil. On one occasion Dalyell allegedly used a marble-topped table when he played with the Devil. During the game, in order to finally beat his fiendish opponent, Dalyell placed a mirror behind the table so that he could read the Devil’s cards.
Angered by the cheating and at being bested by a mere mortal, Auld Nick threw the table at the General. Tam ducked and the table sailed passed him, ending up in the Sergeant’s Pond outside. The table was assumed missing, and its existence was soon forgotten in the mists of time. However, almost two centuries later, during a summer drought in 1878, the table was rediscovered at the bottom of the dried-up Sergeant’s Pond and restored to its rightful place inside the house.
Strangely, the table was left with a distinctive feature- the back corner has a semi-circular stain. Could this be a satanic hoof mark seared into the table? Is this the mark of the Devil?
Satanic Encounters during the Scottish Witch Hunts
Perhaps the most infamous way in which the devil shaped Scottish Society was through the witch hunts of the 16th and 17th Centuries. Most cases of witchcraft began with accusations of injurious magic or maleficium. But for someone to be a witch, they needed to get their power from somewhere. In a society consumed with talk of the devil, it was natural that pacts with the devil would become central to condemning those charged with witchcraft.
The course in which these pacts were made went something like this: First the devil appeared to a recruit as a man clad in black or as a dog. He would promise the initiate greater comfort or wealth in exchange for demonic service. The witch would then agree, renounce their baptism and copulate with devil. In return they would receive the devil’s mark. In the trial that followed, the accused was often tortured and under duress might name other women she had seen cavorting with the devil.
During the North Berwick Witch Trials, a number of the accused confessed to making a pact with the devil, meeting in large numbers and performing servile rituals such as kissing Auld Nick under his tail.
Sexual Satanic Encounters with Isobel Gowdie
Perhaps one of the most notable witch trials in Scotland was that of Isobel Gowdie from Auldearn. It is from Isobel that we first hear the word ‘coven’. Much of what Isobel says with regard to demonology is fairly stereotypical. Her claim to have attended the witches’ sabbath is conventional but less conventional is her claim that while the members of her coven were waited on by spirits clothed in yellow and grass green who had peculiar nicknames like “pickle nearest the wind”, “Thomas the fairy”and “over the dyke with it”.
During her first confession, she gave an account of her first encounter with the Devil. She arranged to meet him in the kirk at Auldearn at night. Naming some others who were in attendance, including Janet Breadhead and Margret Brodie, she said that she renounced her baptism and was re-baptised by the Devil who promptly renamed her Janet. Where she differs from the confession of others is in detailing how the Devil put his mark on her shoulder and then sucked her blood.
Having admitted to entering into a pact with the Devil, she then disclosed that she had carnal relations with him, kissed his behind and that she met with him in groups as well as on her own. This is standard fare in a witch trial. Where she differs is in the salacious details of her encounters with the Devil, whom she described as being a very cold ‘meikle, blak, roch man’. Allegedly he had forked and cloven feet which he sometimes covered with boots or shoes.
Robert Burns’ Satanic Encounters in Verse
Some fifty years after the Scottish Witchcraft Act was repealed in 1736, Scotland’s great bard, Robbie Burns published his ‘Address to the Deil’. During the course of the poem he calls Satan by the many names the devil is given by the Scots- ‘Auld Hornie, Satan, Nick or Clootie’. The poem was meant as a satire to the Presbyterian sermons that had once filled congregations’ souls with dread. Auld Nick had long troubled the Scottish people, hiding in crumbling castles, turning old women into witches who ruin butter and luring native travellers to their doom.
But surely Burns’ masterpiece is Tam O’ Shanter, where the inebriated Tam stumbles upon Kirk Alloway lit up by witches and warlocks dancing while Auld Nick plays the bagpipes. It is a cautionary tale reminding people of the evils of drinking too much alcohol.
Perhaps in the nicknames the Scots gave Satan, we can hear a harking back to ancient times. Was Auld Hornie a reference to the Celtic fertility god, Cernunnos or a Gaelic/ Pictish equivalent? In the stereotypical witch, do we find reference to the Cailleach, all be it with a colour change from blue to green? At Samhain, the Cailleach was said to gather her spirit army for the wild hunt. This was a time when people blackened their faces with ash from the neid fires to hide from the hosts of the Wild Hunt.
With the coming of Christianity Samhain became Halloween, a night when the devil and his hordes of evil spirits were said to become more powerful. In time the blackening of faces would become the ‘guising’ or dressing up we know today. No doubt Scotland’s perception of the devil will continue to evolve, along with tales of Satanic encounters.