ThomasWeir (c. 1600–1670) At age 69 or 70, Major Thomas Weir, one of the most respected citizens of Edinburgh, suddenly announced of his own volition that he had long practiced witchcraft, black magic and unspeakable sexual crimes. His fellow citizens at first did not believe him, but were nonetheless scandalized. Weir and his sister, Jean, whom he implicated in his confession, were executed for their alleged crimes, and they left behind one of the most famous haunted houses in Scottish legend.
For his entire life, Weir had been a model citizen. As a soldier, he had served Parliament in the Civil War, and in 1649 he had been appointed commander of the City Guard. He was considered a most pious Presbyterian. No one could explain what possessed him to confess to crimes which surely he knew would doom him. In fact, his confession was so absurd in light of his outward conduct that initially others believed him to have gone mad.
Weir, however, persisted in his claims. He said he had long practiced black magic and NECROMANCY, and was a servant of the devil. He had committed incest with Jean from the time she was a teenager until she was about 50. Then, disgusted with her wrinkles, he had turned to other young girls: Margaret Bourdon, the daughter of his dead wife, and Bessie Weems, a servant. He had also committed sodomy with various animals, including sheep, cows, and his mare.
Finally, an investigation was made of his claims, and at Weir’s insistence, he and Jean were arrested and brought to trial. Jean told the arresting guards to seize the Major’s staff, which she said was a gift from the devil and the source of Weir’s power. She said the staff would go shopping for Weir, run before him in the streets to clear the way, and answer the door at home.
The Weirs were charged with sexual crimes and were brought to trial on April 29, 1670. Doctors and clergy tried to help Weir, but he cursed them and said his damnation was already sealed in Heaven. “I find nothing within me but blackness and darkness, brimstone and burning to the bottom of Hell,” he said. Doctors believed him to be of sound mind, but thought Jean to be demented.
Jean voluntarily confessed to incest, which she blamed on her brother’s witchcraft. On September 7, 1648, they had traveled in a coach drawn by six horses to Musselburgh to meet with the devil, and had signed a pact with him. She also confessed to consorting with witches, Fairies, and necromancers, and to having a familiar who spun huge quantities of wool for her and helped her carry out various evil acts.
Weir was convicted of adultery, incest, one count of fornication, and one count of bestiality. On Monday, April 11, 1670, his death sentence was carried out, and he was strangled at a stake between Edinburgh and Leith. His body was burned to ashes, and his staff along with it. One witness said that the staff “gave rare turnings and was long a-burning as also himself.” Jean was hanged on April 12 in the Grassmarket in Edinburgh. To the end, she was contemptuous of everyone.
After their deaths, reports circulated that Weir’s cloaked ghost, clutching the magical staff, flitted about the city at night. Weir’s house, Bow Head, was said to be haunted. A spectral coach was reportedly seen driving to the door to take Weir and his sister away to hell. The house remained vacant for about 100 years, until the low rent lured in a poor, elderly couple. On their first night, a calf gazed at them through the window while they were in bed, so they claimed. This event, interpreted as a sign of the Devil, caused them to move out the next day. No one else ever lived there again.
Bow Head became a celebrated haunted house. As late as 1825, it was said to be full of lights and the sounds of spinning, dancing and howling. Weir’s Ghost was reported to emerge from the alley at midnight, mount a headless black horse and gallop off in a whirlwind of flame. His enchanted staff was said to parade through the rooms.
The house, in ruins from neglect, was demolished in 1830. Its site is not now known, but it is said that the Major’s staff has still been heard tapping in the Grassmarket, and visions have still been seen of Jean’s fire-blackened face.
- Guiley, Rosemary Ellen. The Encyclopedia of Witches and Witchcraft. New York: Facts On File, 1999.
- Harper, Charles G. Haunted Houses: Tales of the Supernatural With Some Accounts of Hereditary Curses and Family Legends. Rev. and enlarged ed. London: Cecil Palmer, 1924.
Weir, Thomas (ca. 1600–1670) One of the most respected citizens of Edinburgh, Scotland, Major Weir shocked the entire city in 1670 by voluntarily confessing to black Magic. For all 70 years of his life, Weir had been a model citizen: a devout Presbyterian, a soldier who served Parliament in the Civil War and a respected civil servant. His secrets could have gone to the grave with him, yet for some unfathomable reason—perhaps overwhelming guilt—he was suddenly seized with the need to unburden himself before the public. Like Isobel Gowdie eight years before, he voluntarily confessed to activities largely sexual in nature.
Weir said he had long practiced black magic and owned a black magic staff. His chief crime was incest with his sister, Jean, with whom he had sexual relations from the time she was a teenager until she was about 50. Then, disgusted with her wrinkles, he had turned to other young girls: Margaret Bourdon, the daughter of his dead wife, and Bessie Weems, a servant. He had also committed sodomy with various animals, including sheep, cows and his mare.
Despite public disbelief, Weir continued to broadcast his confessions, forcing the Lord Provost of the city to order an investigation.
Weir and his sister were brought to trial on April 29, 1670, charged with sexual crimes. While in prison, Weir cursed the doctors and clergy who tried to help him, and said, “I know my sentence of damnation is already sealed in Heaven . . . for I find nothing within me but blackness and darkness, brimstone and burning to the bottom of Hell.” Weir was convicted of adultery, incest, one count of fornication and one count of bestiality. He was condemned to be strangled at a stake between Edinburgh and Leith on Monday, April 11, 1670, and his body burned to ashes.
Jean voluntarily confessed to incest. Perhaps in an effort to save herself, she laid the blame on her brother’s witchcraft. He and she had signed a pact with the Devil, she said (see Devil's Pact). She described going to a meeting with the Devil in Musselburgh on September 7, 1648, travelling in a coach drawn by six horses. She also confessed to consorting with witches, Fairies and necromancers (see neCromAnCy) and to having a familiar (see Familiars) who spun huge quantities of wool for her and helped her carry out various evil acts.
Jean was sentenced to be hanged on April 12 in the Grassmarket in Edinburgh. To the end, she was contemptuous of the court and the citizenry.
The shocked citizens of Edinburgh were inclined to think the Weirs merely insane. But, in the climate of the times, stories of the Weirs’s witchcraft easily became embellished. Weir’s house, Bow Head, was said to be haunted, and sounds of spinning could supposedly be heard there at night.
- Sharpe, C. k. A History of Witchcraft in Scotland. Glasgow: Thomas D. morison, 1884.
- Summers, Montague. The Geography of Witchcraft. London: kegan Paul, Trench, Truner & Co. Ltd., 1927.