There is an ancient legend that an army of sleeping warriors is waiting
in a cave in the Eildon Hills until the day comes when all Gaeldom shall
rise against its oppressors. Sir Walter Scott related the following story
in his "Letters on Demonology and Witchcraft".
"The story has often been told, of a daring horse-jockey having sold a black horse to a man of venerable and antique appearance, who appointed the remarkable hillock upon Eildon hills, called the Lucken-hare, as the place where at twelve o'clock at night, he should receive the price. He came, his money was paid in ancient coin, and he was invited by his customer to view his residence. The trader in horses followed his guide in the deepest astonishment through several long ranges of stalls, in each of which a horse stood motionless, while an armed warrior lay equally still at the charger's feet.
"All these men", said the wizard in a whisper,"will awaken at the battle of Sheriffmuir." At the extremity of this extraordinary depot hung a sword and a horn, which the prophet pointed out to the horse-dealer as containing means of dissolving the spell. The man in confusion took the horn and attempted to wind it. The horses instantly started in their stalls, stamped, and shook their bridles, the men arose and clashed their armour, and the mortal, terrified by the tumult he had excited, dropped the horn from his hand. A voice like that of a giant, louder even than the tumult around, pronounced these words:
'Woe to the coward that ever he was born
That did not draw the sword before he blew the horn.'
A whirlwind expelled the horse-dealer from the cavern, the entrance to which he could never find again." Scott says that the wizard was Thomas of Ercildoune, known as the Rhymer.
Major Weir was the last man executed for witchcraft in Scotland in
1670. He lived with his unmarried sister, Grizel, in the West Bow - a
Z-shaped street near Edinburgh Castle, "composed of tall antique houses,
with numerous dovecot-like gables projecting over the footway, full of old
inscriptions and sculpturings, presenting at every few steps some darkest
lateral profundity, into which the imagination wanders without hindrance or
exhaustion ..." wrote Robert Chambers in Traditions of Edinburgh.
Major Weir was an active member of a strict Protestant sect, and was
frequently seen at prayer meetings. He officiated at such meetings - but
always leaning on his black walking staff. Robert Chambers described his
end as follows:
"After a life characterized by all the graces of devotion, but polluted
in secret by crimes of the most revolting nature, and which little needed
the addition of wizardry to excite the horror of living men, Major Weir
fell into severe sickness, which affected his mind so much, that he made
open voluntary confession of all his wickedness. The tale was at first so
incredible, that the provost, Sir Andrew Ramsay, refused for some time to
take him into custody. At length himself, his sister (partner in his
crimes), and his staff, were secured by the magistrates, together with
certain sums of money, which were found wrapped in rags in different parts
of the house. One of these pieces of rag being thrown into the fire by a
bailie who had taken the whole in charge, flew up the chimney, and made an
explosion like a cannon.
While the wretched man lay in prison, he made no
scruple to disclose the particulars of his guilt, but refused to address
himself to the Almighty for pardon. To every request that he would pray,
he answered in screams, "Torment me no more - I am tormented enough
already!" Even the offer of a Presbyterian clergyman, instead of the
established Episcopal minister of the city, had no effect on him.
tried April 9, 1670 and being found guilty, was sentenced to be strangled
and burnt between Edinburgh and Leith. His sister, who was tried at the
same time, was sentenced to be hanged in the Grassmarket. When the rope
was around his neck, to prepare him for the fire, he was bid to say, "Lord,
be merciful to me!" but he answered, as before, "let me alone - I will
not - I have lived as a beast, and I must die as a beast!"
After he had dropped lifeless in the flames, his stick was also cast
into the fire; and 'whatever incantation was in it,' says a contemporary
writer, 'the persons present own that it gave rare turnings, and was long
a-burning, as also himself.'"
I lived in the West Bow for several years. To this day, the residents remember
the tales of this wizard Major Weir, and can point to the door of his
former residence. After his death, neighbours claimed that his ghost was
seen on many occasions and mysterious noises and lights came at dead of
night from his now-unoccupied lodgings. My first publication in the USA
was a short story based on his legend, called
appeared in the magazine Amazing Stories in 1989.