To some others at these times hee teacheth how to make Pictures of waxe or clay: That by the rosting thereof, the persones that they beare the name of, may be continuallie melted or dryed awaie by continuall sicknesse.

Daemonologie by King James VI

Called poppets in England, they were made of pretty much anything that could be turned into a human figure; branches, carved root, clay, wax etc. They were sometimes stuffed with herbs or other meaningful things. They were used primarily by folk healers as aids but were sometimes bent towards witchcraft. The following example is from the Golden Bough (1890);

To kill a person whom he hates, a modern Highlander will still make a rude clay image of him, called a corp chre or corp chreadh (“clay body”), stick it full of pins, nails, and broken bits of glass, and then place it in a running stream with its head to the current. As every pin is thrust into the figure an incantation is uttered, and the person represented feels a pain in the corresponding part of his body. If the intention is to make him die a lingering death, the operator is careful to stick no pins into the region of the heart, whereas he thrusts them into that region deliberately if he desires to rid himself of his enemy at once. And as the clay puppet crumbles away in the running water, so the victim’s body is believed to waste away and turn to clay.

The accused Agnes Sampson and fellow witches receiving dolls from the devil.

From the 16th century, persecutions against witches raged in Scotland. A study by the University of Edinburgh found a record of 3,837 accusations between the 16th and 18th centuries. This number is several times higher than the numbers of accused in England or in Europe. The witches were persecuted over five great witch hunts. By the end of the second, King James VI had become obsessed and wrote a study on the subject called Daemonologie. It followed an alleged attempt by witches to murder him at sea by causing a great storm. The storm only succeeded in delaying the King, so they were said to have turned to the creation of a waxen image. The image was said to be passed between each of them before it was melted in a fire. According to James, the devil, being so knowledgeable of the occult, knows what ‘humours’ reside the strongest in the victim’s body. He incorporates this knowledge into the wax effigies. As the wax melts, that humour is sweated out of the victim, leaving him with a sickness. The King was said to have taken a perverse pleasure in the extraction of confessions.

These events were said to have been a direct influence on Shakespeare’s Macbeth; but King James was only one of three Scottish Kings to have fallen foul of a witches plot. King Duff in 968 was laid low for a spell by a wax figure, and in 1479 King James III had John Stewart 1st Earl of Mar burnt at the stake along with many witches and wizards for ‘roasting the king in wax’.

As James VI ruled Scotland, Elizabeth I reigned as Queen of England. Science had been blossoming during the Renaissance but was still conflated with magic. Elizabeth I’s advisor John Dee was a kind of Christian Sorcerer. His mathematical and navigational studies were comingled with astronomy, alchemy, divination and occult philosophy. Religious turmoil during this time enflamed ideas of witches and wizards and despite Elizabeth’s lenient stance she felt forced to take measures. She introduced ‘An Act Against Conjurations, Enchantments and Witchcrafts', which was actually a softer measure against witchcraft than previously. It punished a witch only for actual crimes and thus separated witchcraft from acts of heresy. Persecutions against witches did however occur in Elizabeth’s reign including one woman who was convicted but acquitted of witchcraft against Elizabeth (1589). In 1594, Ferdinand Stanley 5th Earl of Derby died suddenly of a violent sickness. A wax doll of him, stuffed with hair of his colour was found hidden in his room. He had kept his religious affiliations rather too quiet and was suspected of being a Catholic. Elizabeth’s chief minister Lord Burghley had received reports that he was in a plot to take the throne.

Elizabeth I died in 1603 and was proceeded by James VI of Scotland who became James I of England. As King of both England and Scotland he was also the first king of Britain. He broadened Elizabeth’s witchcraft law a year later. It brought acts of witchcraft into common law away from ecclesiastical law but introduced the death penalty for its mere practice. It also brought the tyranny of the so-called Witch-finder General; Mathew Hopkins.

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