Often easily overlooked is this fountain at the top of Castlehill near to Edinburgh Castle. It is known as “The Witches Well” and is near the site where many women were burned at the stake. Attempts at early healing include ‘magical practices’ some of which relied on herbs, bloodletting and charms before the evolution of modern medical treatment as we know it today. Certain ‘lewd’ and blasphemous behaviours often threatening the power of the church could also result in a person being branded a witch or a warlock. In many cases it was women who were persecuted if they didn’t conform to expected ‘norms’ determined by men. There was certainly much discrimination against women and minorities in 16th century Scotland and those who stood out and threatened the authority of church and state. With regard to ‘witch-hunting’ a law known as ‘The Witchcraft Act” was introduced in 1563. This Act was repealed in 1736 but by then at least 3,837 individuals were accused of witchcraft with around half of that number being legally executed.
The sculptural relief above portrays the serpent as a dual symbol of evil and wisdom. The foxglove further emphasises the dual purpose of many common objects having a association with witchcraft. The Purple Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea) figures in early folk medicine and exists as a cardio-tonic drug utilised in the treatment of heart conditions in mainstream medicine.