The Damnable Dr Fian

Dr Fian Takes A Trip

(11) Item, filed for being coming forth of Patrick Humphery’s son’s house in the mill undernight from his supper, and passing to Tranent on horseback and a man with him: by his devilish craft raised up four candles upon the horses two lugs (ears) and another candle upon the staff which the man had in his hand, and gave such light as if it had been daylight. Like as the said candles returned with the said man while his homecoming, and caused him fall dead at his entress (entrance) within the house. (1)

At A Roads End It’s Walking Spanish Down the Hall

At all which torments notwithstanding the doctor never shrunk any whit, neither would he confess it the sooner for all the tortures inflicted upon him. Then he with all convenient speed, by commandment, conveyed again to the torment of the boots, wherein he continued a long time and did abide so many blows in them that his legs were crushed and beaten together as small as might be, and the bones and flesh so bruised that the blood and marrow spouted forth in great abundance, whereby they were made unserviceable forever. And notwithstanding all these grievous pains and cruel torments he would not confess anything; so deeply had the devil entered into his heart, that he utterly denied all that he had before avouched, and would say nothing thereunto but this: that what he had done and said before was only done and said for fear of pains which he had endured (2)


(1) Dittay (Trail record) of Doctor John Fian.

(2) News From Scotland, Declaring the Damnable Life and Death of Doctor Fian, A Notable Sorcerer, Who Was Burned at Edinburgh in January Last, 1591

L Normand & G. Roberts (ed.), Witchcraft in Early Modern Scotland: James V.I’s Demonology and the North Berwick Witches


‘The News From Scotland’, a contemporary account that dramatized select events depicted in the legal records of the accused in the North Berwick Witchcraft trails, was issued when the witch hunt was still ongoing and contains an image of this event but does not include the narrative. Few posts down the line will examine some of the interests of natural historians of the period and imagine how Doctor Fian’s lawyer could have refuted  the tale as perfectly natural. Was interesting to see Karl’s post pop up at the same time (see post below this) as I was chewing though this one (for other reasons) his example has a text without an image (or so far at least) this an image with no text.

Dr Fians torture  with the boots and final days of confinement are not mentioned in any other sources other than The News From Scotland.


Compacted Exhalation’s

Nor A Lock of You’re Hair For To Tell

Karl Steele has a nice post on legendary proof, The Werewolf painting of Poligny. This is a painting allegedly depicting three knife using werewolves and is believed to have hung for many years in the Jacobin Church in Poligny.

Legendary proof is a common device used in folktales to demonstrate truth. It is always scrupulously honest, the stone knife of  the wild girl is always lost, the toad in a gold chain buried, the letter which explains everything, destroyed. The example Karl cites differs from the normal pattern in not citing the lose or destruction of the object although later scholarship on the subject is of course scrupulously honest in this regard and fits the standard pattern.

A Body of Proof

Next post (if I don’t do corpse’s and candles first) look at a Scottish example. The traveling people of Scotland lived in fear of being burked (to be murdered by a body snatcher/burker) by Noddies (a body snatcher’s assistant). Noddies and Burkers hunted the Scottish country side at night in a black coach searching for traveler victims, which they often placed in a strange machine.

The tales are certainly grounded in a social reality, representing the lack of status traveling folk have in society; but they may also represent a truth with regard to the way the bodies of the poor were used after death. Dissection was viewed in the past with fear by all social classes but the dissection of the poor was routine. Sick maintenance provided by the Workhouse and burials had to be paid for after all.

Poor bodies could be put to work and made to pay in death as well as in life (Hopefully Ian Duncan Smith from the Department of Work and Pensions has managed to miss this post).

As the travelers came into contact with the academic community through the work of Hamish Henderson and others they were keen to demonstrate these tales to be true. They also express the deep anxiety they often felt in first coming to the University Campus in Edinburgh to record tales for the archive and being surrounded by ‘Doctors’. You can catch this distinct performance dynamic in the stories from the archive. These are not passively recorded neutral empirical records, they have a distinct and particular context.

Within this dynamic, this relationship between the collector and the collected, inflection alters and a difference is made within repetition. Life.

I would say more but unfortunately a dog has eaten my original research paper on this one.

After The Storm

Q. What is the cause of the ignis fatuus, that either goes before
or follows a man in the night ?

A. It is caused of a great and well-compacted exhalation, and, being kindled, it stands in the aire, and by the ayre, and so goes before or follows a man; and these kind of fires or meteors are bred near execution places, or churchyards, or great kitchens, where viscous and slimy matters and vapors abound in great quantity.


Robert Basset, Curiosities or The Cabinet of Nature: Contayning Phylosophicall, Natural and Morall Questions Answered, 1637

BBC News, RSPB Ham Wall ‘slime’ Baffles Experts, 18th Feb, 2013

Songs About Fucking

London, Its Degrees of Variation

“London, Latitude 51 31′ north, longitude 5′ 37″ weft from Greenwich 5 16′ 23″ eaft of the opening into the Mediterranean from the Ocean. The town is large for an European town…….

The men of the firft claff are much in the air in the morning, and ufe exercife. The live in the country part of the year, when they are often occupied in hunting and shooting. With fome exceptions, they are of conftitutions fufficiently ftrong, are feldom difeafed; their difeafes are ftrong and marked, and they bear the operation of powerful remedies.

The men who are menial fervants of this claff, like the domestic flaves of the ancients are idle, lazy, ufe little exercife, none when they can avoid it; they are thus rendered irritable, and being often exposed to all the inclemency od the weather, in the winter feason often till three or four o’clock in the morning, they are exceedingly fubject to difeafe, particularly of the thorax; and few of them attain any great age, except thofe of the highest ranks.

The women servants resemble in their conftitutions their miftreffes.

The clergy are fewer here than in almost any other country in Europe. They are very apt to be affected with hypocondriacal compliants, perhaps from an idea that they do not occupy their proper rank in life. Being in general regular in their manner of living, they often attain to a great age.

The lawyers who are occuipied in bufinefs, are often, from their great attention and labour of mind, weak, and difordered in their primae viae. Thofe who are not employed, may be confidered as in the fame ftate with the independent gentleman.

Phyficians are fo few, that it is hardly worth enumerating them. There are not much above two hundred in all, and not near half that number are employed in practice. Except when they are cut off by infectious fevers, before they are habituated to infection, although often difeafed physicians generally attain considerable age.

Attornies and apothecaries are to be considered in their manner of life and constitutions in the order of tradesmen.”


G. Fordyce, An Attempt to Improve the Evidence of Medicine, Transactions of A Society For the Improvement of Medical and Chirurgical Knowledge, 1793