1645: Marion Pardon’s Witchcraft

In 1822, Samuel Hibbert published A Description of the Shetland Islands, a sort of combination of travelogue and cultural study of the archipelego in Scotland. There is a section in Hibbert's book where he discusses the beliefs regarding witchcraft in the islands... and within this, he relates the following strange tale.

        According to Hibbert, in 1645 a woman name Marion Pardon from Hillswick in Shetland, Scotland, was executed along with her husband, and the reasons for this are extrodinary.

        Pardon had a reputation for possessing the ability to curse other living beings with ill luck with a mere word or glance. It was known she had verbally cursed another woman, Janet Robinson, who was thrown into fits and pains by the curse. Pardon was also said to have looked evily upon a cow, which then "crapped togidder till no lyfe was leukit for her." But these were not the matters for which Pardon was executed.

        It was said that Pardon had become malicious somehow towards the crew of a fishing-boat, and had transformed herself into porpoise and then swam out and upset the boat, drowning the men aboard. She was caught because another witch had told people that Pardon had done this; otherwise, naturally, she would have gotten away with it. Still, the other witch might have been lying; so the accusation had to be tested.

        Marion Pardon and her husband, Swene, were made to perform the simple, and well-known at the time, test called the bahr-recht... the "law of the bier." They both were commanded to lay their hands upon two of the dead bodies of the fishermen that had been recovered... and these bodies began to gush blood, one from the collar-bone, and the other from the head and fingers. This was taken as irrefutable proof of divine judgement against Pardon and her husband, and for these reasons she and her husband were executed for the deaths of the fishermen.

        Hibbert gives no source for the story, so it may have been told to him rather than found in a separate and earlier volume. Hibbert was of a skeptical nature where strange matters were concerned, so he presents the story of Pardon's execution as a factual event caused by superstitious people; for this reason I treat the execution as a possible historic event. Naturally, I would like to find an earlier manuscript that can confirm both the occurrence of the event, and the accusation made against Pardon and her husband;but I have been unable to find any evidence of the story earlier than Hibbert's book, so either it was relatively new, or it had been passed down verbally rather than recorded.

        But, whether or not the story is ultimately real, the tale of Marion Pardon stands as an excellent example of what people in Scotland in the 18th~19th Centuries expected a witch to be and act like.

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