On this day, Agnes Sampson, the Wise Wife of Keith awoke in the beautiful cobblestone town of Castlehill, Scotland. Agnes had been chained to a wall in the standing position for weeks with steel prongs forced into her mouth and a rope around her neck. Agnes was a midwife, herbalist and town elder. She pled guilty to attempted ship sinking by witchcraft. The testimony against Agnes came from Gillis Duncan who claimed she saw Agnes summon a violent tempest late one night. Agnes, under the cover of her storm, crawled up the keel of a ship and rocked it violently while it was at sea. One of the passengers on that ship was bringing his bride back to their new home in Scotland. It was purely by God’s grace that he survived the demonic terrorism of Agnes Sampson. For you see, that man was Scotland’s young King.
On Jan 16th, 1591, Agnes was shaved from head to toe and tied to the stake. Because of the progressive mercy of the town, a tourniquet was used to choke her unconscious before the fires would burn her body. The execution cost the town $7.76. It was a Wednesday. The 31-year-old King had presided over her trial. He found Agnes’ confession to be somewhat forced but he acceptable. It was one of the first witch burnings he had been a part of. It would not be the last. For the next six years, hundred more witches were miraculously found all over Scotland. The King was beset from all sides by the devil and was so moved he wrote his first book, Demonology. In this philosophical work, the reasons, methods and justifications for witch hunting are outlined, decreed, and sanctioned by God and King. This book was well received all over Europe and the new Americas and even used as evidence for the conviction of 3000+ more witches. Demonology was so popular a young playwright Shakespeare used it as an influence for the three sisters of Macbeth.
But this King had more to say to his people. In 1604, King James would begin his second literary opus as managing editor of the Bible.
Terrorism and piety have both been used effectively to control a populace. One is a political motivation and the other is a spiritual one. Both leverage fear but from opposite poles. It’s important to remember that the people who tortured and murdered Agnes Sampson thought they were good and decent people. Some were patriotic and believed in the grace and divinity of their government. Others were spiritually motivated by a quest for purification or safety. Regardless, the populace approved of its own reflection. Society could do no wrong in the people’s eyes simply because they were a part of the society. Its members could be found guilty but society itself is always good. The absurdity of this dogma is why we repeat our own history. When has a mob looked at its own behavior and thought, “Wow, we are evil.” That’s not how evil works. Evil thinks itself is good. Evil feels itself as being the righteous one.
Evil gains power in the sanctity of its own opinion.
Government is not an umbrella of righteousness. Government is the child of the people. Children without guidance will steal things. Children without guidance will hurt others. Even today, as we crown each other with Medals of Freedom, fifty-five people rot in a prison in Cuba that’s so illegal we can’t even house it in our own country. We are fully justified because we are on the side of “freedom.” This freedom is so important to us we violate it globally and take it away from our own citizens in order to preserve it. This happened because a leader convinced his population they were in danger. And on this day in history, Agnes was murdered so that everyone could feel safer. Today, fifty-five prisoners still reside in Gitmo. Nine prisoners have died there in captivity. Fifteen years have gone by and still no trial. Does this make you feel safer?