Witches in western Galloway

If the South Rhins is low in ghosts, it is high in its witch count, including several who came from other parts to do their worst.

In fact, the tides at the Mull Head are said to have been created by a witch who, having been spurned by a lone sailor, wove nine tides together to entrap him in his craft. Unfortunately she was not especially skillful for, unable to disentangle the spell before daybreak, the tides at the Mull remain ever dangerous to this day.

The Mull was also the stage for Luckie Agnew and Mistress Lymburn, two notorious visiting witches from Wigtown, who came to the remote cliffs to sink a passing sailing ship. They too were singularly unsuccessful and were burnt at the stake on returning home.

By the end of the 17th Century the fear of witches was at its peak and a witch hunter was imported to identify local witches in the South Rhins. Unfortunately she too lacked skill for she promptly identified most of the respectable families in the Parish as having witches in their ranks and was quickly dismissed. However, the witches had the last laugh as they put a spell on the local minister who had employed the witch hunter causing him to become speechless every time he entered the pulpit thus forcing him to leave the ministry in disgrace!

Less than two centuries ago there were three 'famous' witches in Kirkmaiden Parish: Jean Nelson, who, like so many so-called witches, was a harmless poor soul with an undeserved bad reputation through superstition and malicious gossip; Lizzy McColm, not quite so innocent, exploited her reputation to the full with a campaign of terror and extortion against the ignorant and easily deluded; and Meg Elson whose fame was enough to merit a poem in the Nithsdale Minstrel when she died.

Many so-called 'witches' were people who could deal with local health problems at a time when doctors were few and very expensive. These local women were often knowledgeable about herbs and natural remedies and the South Rhins, like many other parts, is rich in folk tales of 'miraculous cures' for all sorts of illnesses using water from local wells and springs such as the three Holy Wells of St. Medan, each curing a different ailment.

Innocent time or shady time, saintly tales or bloody legends, natural and supernatural phenomena - all are present in the Myths and Legends of the South Rhins. If only the stones could talk …..