The Witch Finder Interviewed in Glasgow in 1677: Satan’s Invisible World Discovered
In the summer of 1677, Janet Douglas, a fourteen-year-old ‘dumb girle’ who had been involved in discovering witches, was interviewed, probably in Glasgow Tolbooth, At that time, Douglas was believed to have the second sight. However, the authorities had begun to think that Douglas was ‘a snare for the country’ and that her ongoing discoveries were getting out of hand.
A few years later, an account of the interview was sent to the mathematician, George Sinclair, from ‘a discreet understanding gentle-man who was one of my Scholars at Glasgow several years agoe.’ Sinclair included it in Satan’s Invisible World Discovered, which he published in 1685.
‘A Short Information anent Jennet Douglas.
Edinburgh, Octob: 8th. 1684. For Mr. Sinclar.
When I was at Glasgow in the Summer, 1677. I was desirous to see the Dumb Girle, whom you mention in your first Relation. At my first incoming she declined to entertain discourse, but by friendly expressions, and giving her some money, I gained her.
I first inquired anent her Parentage? I do not remember (says she) of my Parents, but only that I was called by the name of Jennet Douglas by all People who knew me. I was keeped, when I was very young by a poor woman that proved cruel to me, by beating, and abusing me, whereupon I deserted the Womans house, and went a begging.
I enquired next, how she became Dumb? She told me, by reason of a sore swelling she tooke in her Throat and tongue; but afterwards, by the Application of Album Græcum, [a medicine that is said to have been the whitish hardened turds of dogs, wolves etc. from eating bones which when mized with honey was used for sore throats or inflamations,] which I thought said she was revealed to me, I recovered my speech [in April, 1677].
I asked her, how she came to the knowledge of Witches and their practises? She answered, that she had it only by vision, and knew all things as well this way, as if she had been personally present with them, but had no revelation, or information from the voice of any Spirit. Nor had she any communication with the Devil, or any Spirit of that kind: only (sayes she) the Devil was represented to me, when he was in company with any of the Witches, in that same shape and habit he was seen by them.
She told me, she was altogether ignorant of the Principles of Christian Religion, but had some smattering knowledge of the Lords Prayer, which she had heard the Witches repeat (it seems by her vision) in presence of the Devil; and at his desire (which they observed) they added to the word Art, the letter W, which made it run, our father which wart in heaven, and made the third Petition thus, as on earth, so it may in heaven, by which means the Devil made the application of the Prayer to himself.
I remember, that one day, their was a woman in the town who had the curiosity, to give her a visit, who asked her how she came to the knowledge of so many things? But the young Wench shifted her, by asking the Womans name. She told her name. Says the other, are there any other in Glasgow of that name? No sayes the Woman. Then said the Girle, you are a Witch; Says the other, then you are a Devil. The Girle answers, the Devil doth not reveal Witches. But I know you to be one, and I know your practises too. Hereupon the Woman run away in great confusion, being indeed a Person suspected of Witchcraft, and had been some time imprisoned upon that account.
Another Woman, whose name was Campbel had the curiosity likewise to come and see her, and began to ask some questions at her. The Wench shifting to give her an answer, says I pray you tell me, where were you yesternight, and what were you doing? And withall (says she) let me see your arm. She refusing, the Land-Lord, laid hold upon the Woman, with some others of the house, and forced her to make bare her arm, where Jennet Douglas shewed them an invisible mark, which she had gotten from the Devil. The poor Woman much ashamed run home, and a little time after, she came out and told her Neighbours, that what Jennet Douglas had said of her was true, and earnestly entreated them that they would shew so much to the Magistrates, that she might be apprehended, otherwise the Devil (says she) will make me kill my self. But the Neighbours judging her to be under a fit of distraction, carried her home to her house. But early the next morning, the Woman was found drowned in Clyde.
The Girle likewise told me at Glasgow, being then under no restraint, that it was revealed her, she would be carried before the Great Council at Edinburgh, imprisoned there, and scourged thorow the town. All which came to pass: for about a year after she was apprehended, and imprisoned in the Tolbuith of the Canongate, and was brought before the Council. But nothing being found against her, she was dismist. But thereafter for several crimes committed within the town of Edinburgh, she was taken again, and imprisoned, scourged, and sent away to some forrainge Plantation, since which time, I have not heard of her.
There are several other remarkable passages of her which I cannot informe you of, which others perhaps may do, therefore I shall abruptly break off, and say no more, but that I am your affectionat Friend.’ (Sinclair, Satan’s Invisible World Discovered, 203-7.)
What appears ro be the same interview was recorded by the Reverend John Fraser in his Treatise Containing a Description of Deuteroscopia, Commonly Called the Second Sight (1707):
‘I know assuredly that Janet Dowglas, that was first a Dumbie, yet spoke thereafter, who had given many Responses by Signs and Words, and foretold many future events, being examined by Mr Gray one of the Ministers of the City of Glasgow, denyed any explicit or implicit Paction [with the Devil], and declared freely that the answers of the questions proponed to her were represented by a Vision in lively Images, representing persons concerned and acting the thing, before her Eyes; This Master Gray exchanged several Discourses in writ with Sir James Turner, concerning her.’ (Fraser’s text is reproduced in Hunter, Occult Laboratory, 196-7.)
As Hunter points out, ‘Master Gray’ was probably John Gray (d.1729), who after the interview in 1684 became the minister of the Collegiate church in the burgh in 1693 and the Wynd church in 1700. Gray was also probably the ‘discreet gentle-man’ who corresponded with Sinclair, as he had studied at the University of Glasgow. (Scott, Fasti, III, 432, 451.)
For other wonders of the 1680s, see here.
Text © Copyright Dr Mark Jardine. All Rights Reserved. Please link to this post on Facebook or retweet it, but do not reblog in FULL without the express permission of the author @drmarkjardine